Last week started with an interesting email in the PostGIS-list containing a link to Public Geo Data. It’s a campaign aimed to stop the European Parliament from adopting the INSPIRE proposal. Honestly, I was pretty sceptic about that campaign. Of course INSPIRE is not exactly brilliant, but I thought it’s better than nothing, better than the current situation. To make a long story short, I tended to see the glass half full instead of half empty.
Now, one week later and after reading the arguments stated on that site, I see the glass three-quarter empty. Have a close look at this section of the site. Isn’t it simply unbelievable how our public NMAs (National Mapping Agencies) are building back doors side by side where they can leave the directive without guaranteeing access to anything? Anything, ok that’s not quite correct. As far as I remember the text of the proposal they are obliged to make at least metadata publicly available (if thereby intellectual property rights are not violated of course).
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about demanding from our NMAs to give away everything free of charge. I’m well aware that production and maintainance of some of their data is quite cost-intensive. Even if they are fully public funded I would agree that they generate some income by partly licensing their data. Not every single taxpayer takes advantage of geodata to the same degree. As well I understand and agree that access constraints might be a result of national security issues. But enabling access constraints for information created by public authorities just for reasons of intellectual property rights is going way too far!
“the most competitive and knowledge-driven economy by 2010″
(EU heads of state and government, Lisbon, 2000)
If the current INSPIRE proposal will be adopted without any further changes than the Europe based geospatial industry can remove the word “innovation” out of its vocabulary. Why? Well, I’m thinking that a considerable part of innovation is done in “garages”, by small companies or even single developers, where decisions are made fast and uncomplicated and ideas are not blocked by administration. Usually those companies/developers are not blessed with too much budget, so they need some affordable or free data to build and test their geospatial applications, services, ideas, etc.. So which data sources would you consult/suggest in Europe? LANDSAT, VMap0, UNEP, GEOnet Names Server, ESRI Data & Maps (if you call an ArcGIS license your own)… if you can tell me a european one I’ll willingly add it to the list.
Public benefit of public geodata
Last weekend I helped a friend out. His hobby is his website where he and a few others provide information about reptiles in Austria. In one section you can submit information via a form if you have seen a rare species. Once a year this information is handed over to the Natural History Museum in Vienna, all for free of course. Part of the form is information about the place where the animal was found, including coordinates. The user was asked to look up the place in the official topographic map of Austria, paper or online, and enter the sheet number and coordinates, all manually. So I asked him why not embeding something like a Google map where the user can simply click and locate the place. The coordinates would be passed directly to the database. We overworked the form on sunday afternoon, not a big deal, just making use of Google’s API. The feedback of some users was quite impressing.
This friend asked me then why the Austrian Mapping Agency isn’t offering something similar, something simple like this Google map. Well, appearantly it’s part of their policy to keep geodata behind closed doors. They have their own product online where you can view the austrian topographic base map. If you want to embed this map in your website just like we did on this sunday afternoon you’ll have to license it through the “Web-Service License”, a pay-per-click license model. I’m still talking about the topographic raster base map. If I would have told this friend that we have to come to a license agreement with the Austrian Mapping Agency he probably would have answered: “Ok, forget about the map, just add the lat/lon form fields”.
So Google helped us to create a simple non-commercial mapping application for the public benefit (assuming that protection of species is a matter of public interest), something our NMA should do.
What I basically expect from INSPIRE:
- EU-wide interoperable public geodata
- guaranteed access to public geodata
- open access to freely available base maps
I discussed the arguments listed on Public Geo Data and the INSPIRE proposal in my company with my senior. Resulting that I’m allowed to sign the petition as employee of the Austrian Institute for Regional Studies and Spatial Planning – Information services (ÖIR-Informationsdienste GmbH).
If you’re living in Europe you should sign too!
For further reading I recommend the article “Why Europe Needs to Provide its Own Public Geodata” by Jo Walsh.