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

stevea steveaOSM at softworkers.com
Wed Oct 2 18:03:35 UTC 2013

>  >>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!
>Good point. RCFP just published a guide to open 
>government records law for all 50 states, which 
>you can find here here: 
>The guide is simply the text of state 
>legislation, so you won't find anything in the 
>way of interpretation or application. For that 
>you'd better look closer to home.
>In Virginia we have a public records law that 
>places most public records in the public domain, 
>but interestingly (or frustratingly) every 
>jurisdiction in the state asserts copyright over 
>the data. Here is the text of that copyright:
>"Information shown on these maps is derived from 
>public records that are constantly undergoing 
>change and do not replace a site survey, and is 
>not warranted for content or accuracy.	 The 
>County does not guarantee the positional or 
>thematic accuracy of the GIS data. The GIS data 
>or cartographic digital files are not a legal 
>representation of any of the features in which 
>it depicts, and disclaims any assumption of the 
>legal status of which it represents. Data 
>contained on this Web page/site is Copyright © 
>York County, Virginia. The GIS data are 
>proprietary to the County, and title to this 
>information remains in the County. All 
>applicable common law and statutory rights in 
>the GIS data including,but not limited to, 
>rights in copyright, shall and will remain the 
>property of the County."
>My take is that this language was crafted in the 
>early days of paleo-GIS and was intended as a 
>CYA by local governments who feared getting sued 
>for inaccurate data. I'm not sure of the 
>implications for importing into OpenStreetMap. 
>Insights welcome.

OK, Steven, here are my insights.  Again, I am 
not an attorney, just a reasonably informed 
Citizen, and I most certainly do not know 
everything in this realm.

It would seem Virginia has a situation similar to 
California's a few years ago, BEFORE California 
Supreme Court's 2009 decision:  one where 
statutory law (California Public Records Act, 
part of California's Government Code) conflicted 
with a copyright/Terms of Use by a public entity 
(Santa Clara County).  The California First 
Amendment Coalition (CFAC) requested geographic 
data from the County of Santa Clara free of the 
County's onerous copyright and/or Terms of Use 
(asserting it under CPRA law, as enacted), the 
County refused, so CFAF sued, demanding as its 
remedy access to the data unfettered by copyright 
or other restrictions.  Long story short, it went 
all the way to the California Supreme Court, and 
CFAF won.

The best part about this is that "open access to 
public records" isn't just enacted law, it is 
enacted law AFFIRMED BY HIGH COURT, about as good 
as it gets when such or similar questions arise 
in the future.

What you (or somebody else, preferably with deep 
legal pockets!) might do is something similar: 
explicitly reject the copyright as a direct 
conflict of statutory law.  It appears you have 
to understand what Virginia's law says, be 
prepared to challenge the jurisdiction's actions 
(assertion of copyright) as illegal and be 
convinced court(s) will see it your way.  I 
think.  Or at least, be prepared for that to 
happen:  that's what happened here.

A similar, recent (July 2013) case between the 
Sierra Club and Orange County can be read about 
where again, the court ruled that the County must 
provide the GIS data without licensing or 
restrictions on distribution.

Once the data are "cleanly yours," THEN there are 
good questions to ask whether the data might or 
should find their way into OSM.  That is an 
entirely different thread!  (One which has been 
addressed many times and in many ways regarding 

I hope this helps,

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