to protect and receive a return on investments. Some government data providers similarly view licensing from government as an opportunity to earn revenue. More commonly, however, they use licensing to effect such policy objectives as ensuring data integrity by developing relations with known parties to whom notices of corrections and limitations may be delivered, ensuring that the most current government data are used by individuals and businesses, enforcing credit and attribution, and organizing collaboration.

From the perspective of government agencies, ownership and licensing each have benefits and drawbacks. Ownership (i.e., unrestricted transfers or purchases of data) lets government offer citizens and the commercial sector broad open access to data and any public records derived from them. This enhances the ability of citizens to check on the functioning of government, lets individuals and businesses develop markets based on the use of government information, and promotes research and society’s general education. In contrast, acquisition under license may restrict government’s ability to disseminate the data it uses and derivative products it produces. In addition, the new burdens imposed by the need to administer licenses can add to government’s overhead costs. Licenses, similarly, can add to transaction costs that commercial and nonprofit users incur to acquire government data.

Conversely, licensing can help agencies accomplish their missions more efficiently and cost-effectively. In many cases, it may be cheaper to acquire data under license than through outright purchase. Agencies may also be able to discontinue some data collection and processing tasks if accurate, reliable, and cost-effective data can be licensed from the private sector. Finally, assuming that the public’s interest in the free flow of information is accommodated, licensing may allow government agencies to shift costs from taxpayers to users by charging fees for agency data and services, although some efficiencies may be lost if costs are shifted to users.

Designing a licensing policy that balances the needs of government agencies, the commercial sector, and private citizens and citizen groups requires detailed consideration of multiple legal, policy, regulatory, and technology issues. The committee provides this guidance using the categories laid out in its Statement of Task.


Given the climate of confusion involving licensing of geographic data and services, the committee was charged with six tasks:

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