[Talk-us] Baltimore County GIS Data is now public domain

stevea steveaOSM at softworkers.com
Tue Oct 1 19:29:46 UTC 2013

Here in California, thanks to at least one major judicial decision, 
all (geographic) data produced by public entities (incorporated 
cities, counties/divisions/departments/bureaus of the state itself, 
et cetera) is hampered neither by requiring "permission" from the 
state, nor acceptance of so-called "Terms of Use" or specific 
"license agreements."  Specifically, the relevant case is the 2011 
County of Santa Clara v CFAC decision in the California Supreme Court.

We have here what is called the California Public Records Act (CPRA) 
which outlines what a state actor (the "trustee" of the public trust) 
may or may not include/exclude as a public record when asked for by a 
member of the public (both "executor" and the "beneficiary" of the 
public trust).  The requesting party might be a member of the press, 
or somebody just like you.  The CPRA is similar to the federal 
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but it is for records (data) held 
by state entities, not federal records (data).

In brief (from the decision):  "the CPRA contains no provisions 
either for copyrighting [this work] or for conditioning its release 
on an end user or licensing agreement by the requester.  The record 
thus must be disclosed as provided in the CPRA, without any such 
conditions or limitations."

Yes, I know (from personal experience with CPRA requests), even with 
the CPRA, it can be difficult to pry the data out of their hands, but 
a recent incident with someone on talk-us wanting to use building 
outline data from City of Palo Alto made him ask talk-us "The City 
has an onerous Terms Of Use license...can I use these data?"  I 
answered basically by saying the above:  the City isn't allowed any 
longer to add such restrictions:  the CPRA says so and the California 
Supreme Court has affirmed this.  No need to bully them, just remind 
them of the truth of the law and what courts have to say about it -- 
without accepting "no" for an answer.

It is very likely that other states besides California have "public 
record laws."  So, geographic data held by state actors certainly 
fall within this jurisdiction (I am not an attorney, just an informed 
Citizen).  OSM contributors in the other 49 states would be well 
advised to do a bit of simple research and find out:  whether 
affirmed by high court decision or not, it is possible that you 
already have statutory provisions for using public (geographic, and 
other) data -- simply by asking for the records.

Elliott's suggestion does go a certain distance towards explicitly 
and effectively doing the same thing, though I believe that 
clarification of Public Record laws is a correct legal "remedy" to 
address this issue.  It may be "shorter" and/or "easier" than 
permission in the form of an explicit ODC PDDL or CC-Zero declaration.

Conclusion:  explicit law may already give us permission to use (our) 
data any way we see fit, simply by asking for them.  Read up on your 
state's laws on Public Records, see if there are any court decisions 
affirming, and armed with this knowledge, ask away.  Happy mapping!


>On Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 4:19 PM, Elliott Plack 
><elliott.plack at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  Greetings OpenStreetMappers,
>>  I am very excited to announce that my organization, Baltimore County
>>  Government Office of Information Technology is releasing our GIS data to the
>>  public in a free and nonrestrictive way!
>Wonderful news!  I'm thrilled to hear that you intend to make the Data
>of The People, By The People and For The People, available to The
>People.  :-)
>Your use of "public domain" in the subject is potentially confusing,
>since there is no reliable method for you to declare that the data is
>in the public domain.  Please see the wiki article linked.
>It would be wonderful if you would choose and attach the following
>license(s) to the data, and your web site on which they are published.
>  ODC PDDL (preferred, because it is specific to data), CC-Zero.
>Casual references to "making the data public domain" are common, and
>are probably clouding the matter even further.  :(  Sorry to play the
>license-pedant-card and harsh your mellow.  You are clearly trying to
>do the right thing.  So many other places / institutions make the same
>casual references to "making the data public domain" that it is no
>surprise that you got caught by it.
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