Arguments for Economic Benefit of Open Geodata

The PIRA Study

A study prepared for the European Commission in 2000 by PIRA estimated very large benefits from open access to public sector information (of which geodata is a central part). They concluded:

  • “Cost recovery looks like an obvious way for governments to minimize the costs related to public sector information and contribute to maximizing value for money directly. In fact, it is not clear at all that this is the best approach to maximizing the economic value of public sector information to society as a whole. Moreover, it is not even clear that it is the best approach from the viewpoint of government finances. […] Estimates of the US public sector information market place suggest that it is up to five times the size of the EU market.” (emphasis added)

European tax payers should get open access to the geographic data collected with their own money

Currently Geographic Information is often collected by tax-funded National Mapping Agencies. If the INSPIRE directive is adopted these agencies will be encouraged to copyright all that publically funded information, making it more difficult and expensive for businesses and citizens to use and build services using geodata.

The United States has a competitive advantage for public geo data availability

See Weiss: Borders in Cyberspace

  • “Charging for public sector information may be counter-productive, even from the short term perspective of raising direct revenue for government agencies; Governments should make public sector information available in digital form at no more than the cost of dissemination; The fledgling EU market would not even have to double in size for governments to more than recoup in extra tax receipts what they would lose by ceasing to charge for public sector information”

The cheapest and most effective way to improve interoperability is to open access to geodata

Europe faces interesting problems in translating spatial models between different census systems, schemes of unique identifiers for spatial objects, kinds of environmental classifications and different languages. Widespread and extensive research carried out by many different academic research groups, small businesses and NGOs is the best way to effectively address these problems. Restricting access to geodata by charging for it will impede different kinds of experts from getting involved, problems won’t get resolved, and centralised solutions to them will be more expensive.

What’s wrong with the INSPIRE directive in its present form?

It does not provide open-access to state-collected geographic Data

Open access is the only way to realize the true social and commercial potential of state-collected geographic data. If we want to live up to the goals of the Lisbon Agenda [1] then open access is the only way to proceed.

It entrenches existing misguided cost-recovery approaches

See Analysis Of INSPIRE Text for details on how INSPIRE, as it has passed through the EU co-decision process, has acquired increasing emphasis on intellectual property rights which effectively provide a blanket get-out clause for public agencies not to share data.

It does Not Adequately Reflect the Interests of Stakeholders

Many potential stakeholders who collect and distribute geographic information were not consulted in this drafting of the directive. The Directive talks a lot about public authorities sharing data with each other. Many local government agencies have a lot of uses for geodata – managing voting processes, land use development planning, management of waste services, parks services etc – a monopoly pricing policy on the data they need will have a serious financial impact on them. Businesses and citizens whose lives are affected by spatial data services every day, have had no voice in the creation of INSPIRE.

The European Commission itself has criticised the Council’s Common Position

From the communication of the Commission to the European Parliament of 16 February 2006: “The Commission does not agree that intellectual property rights held by public authorities should be among the list of grounds for limiting public access to spatial data.”