Copyright - License Agreements

About License Agreements

Licensing agreements are legally binding contracts between spatial data providers and spatial data users.  These agreements protect the spatial data provider and the user by clearly defining what the data may be used for.  This helps prevent any legal disputes that may otherwise arise over use of the data.  Essentially, these agreements are extensions of existing copyright laws.  The primary purpose of license agreements is to prevent the data purchased by the user from being resold by the user, or used in an unauthorized way.

When an organization buys a spatial data set, what they are actually purchasing is a license to use the data, except for US Federal government publications.  The license agreement outlines what the license allows them to do.  Data is licensed, not sold, to circumvent the "doctrine of first sale," (section 109 of the 1976 Copyright Act Title 17 of the United States Code) which states that once a copy of a copyrighted work has been sold, the copyright owner loses legal rights to that particular copy.  This would allow that copy to be resold or rented.  Free distribution of this type would result in lost revenue to the spatial data provider, and the removal of responsibility from the purchaser should their resold copies be illegally copied.

Most license agreements contain an assurance of quality to the user.  This assurance specifically states what action should be taken if the data received does not match the purchase criteria.  This is to protect users, and maintain a high level of quality in data sets.  It also serves to inform users of the terms of the warranty on the data as laid out in the Uniform Commercial Code.

Many spatial data providers have a variety of licensing options to best suit the intended use of the spatial data set.  Educational facilities, non-profit organizations, and government organizations can often obtain data licenses which are less restrictive, with better duplication rights than corporations.  Sub-licenses may be added to a license to allow a specific use of data, such as web publishing.

Components of a license

Issues covered include, how and by whom the data can and cannot be used.  If a user were to purchase a spatial data set, the license could read that the user may analyze, process, and display the data set, or products generated from the data set within the purchasing organization without limit.  This flexibility is not uncommon, as the data provider does not need to be informed of the purchasing organizations plans for the data. 

A data license should also cover transference of the license and how it applies to contractors that may be processing the data for the user.  Generally, license agreements allow contractors to work with the data contingent on the license extending to the contractor and the return of the data upon contract fulfillment.  Many licenses also permit sale of the data, but sale of the data implies sale and transferrence of the license as well

One of the most important issues is reproduction, publishing, and distribution of the data and of products generated using the data set.  This section of a license agreement will generally cover how data can be distributed as a product, and if it can be sold as a product.  Products may include brochures, posters, CD-ROMs, and web publishing.  Many data providers include measures in a data license to prevent reverse engineering of a product to create a data set.  Also covered are textual and non-image reports generated from the data set.  This is critical when using spatial data for research that may be published.

Ownership Rights
Most licenses end with a statement reserving for the spatial data supplier any rights not expressly granted in the license.  This prevents creative misuse by users through means not considered when the license was written.   License agreements cover many data usage issues but they are primarily a specific statement that the spatial data supplier owns the data.  If the data were to become property of the user, a license agreement would not be needed, as all rights to the work belong to the owner. 

Custom Data
In the instance that a custom data set is created on contract, that data set is subject to whatever terms are agreed upon in the contract.  These works generally become property of the commissioning organization, who can then use the data internally or license it to other organizations. When negotiating a contract, many factors must be considered.  A Checklist of important issues to cover in contract and license agreement negotiation is essential (Orrick, 2002).

Federal Works

Works generated by the United States Federal Government are not protected by copyright, license agreements, or any international convention as laid out in Public Law 94-553.  These works can be freely used, altered, copied, redistributed and even sold.  Many federal documents are subject to different acquisition and usage rules in the interest of national security.  These are primarily military data, and they can only be acquired through the generating agency and specific channels for specific purposes, and may not be redistributed.


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