A question about open databases license

Michel Roche listes.pichel at free.fr
Thu Dec 4 22:16:54 UTC 2014

Hi all,
thank you Heiki and Tobias for your answers.

First discussion with Tobias :
I'm aware of opendatabasecommons licences, but it seems to me that the
v4 of creativecommons ones have now adressed their scope to deals with
databases also. CC licences would have my preference because they have
(will have, for 4.0) french translations. Comparing two "equivalent"
licences, say ODBL vs CC-BY v4, doesn't rise to me any great difference
on the obligations and rights granted. I understand I may be wrong on
this assumption because I should go deeper in the text explanation, but
at this point I feel I can consider them as equivalent (at least,

The second pointer you gave me is very interesting
), it's kind of turning the GPL into a BSD-like license. That said, the
question in the studied case would be exactly to find the reciprocal way
: how to circumvent such a reuse. The ethics behind that is discussed
later, in the answer to Heiki.

with Heiki :
Short answer to your remarks : from my ethical point of view I totally
agree with you. Kind of "free up all the stuff and see what happens"
attitude. *But* despite this point of view has some great and important
supporters in the said organization, there are some fears around opening
data from also some key people. Not that they are alone to decide, but
because they are *the* technical person on this or that matter. So that
it would be a mistake to circumvent them in the process.
So I have two ways of giving advice : adopting a rms-savvy point of view
promoting full opening of datasets, thus risking some datasets won't be
opened at all in the end due to unadressed fears ; or trying to find a
way to circumvent the fears surrounding the opening of some datasets so
that they'll finally be opened with eventually some restrictions.
Freedom has this particularity : is it still freedom when is not total ?
I'm sure we can write tons of pages thinking about this question ;-)
Long answer comes below, argument by argument.

>> I'm currently doing some research about the best way(s) to publish
>> open data for a local administration.
> The best way for public administrations is *always* public domain or 
> CC0.

While I agree at a philosophical/ethical level, the fact is that the
organization has spent time and efforts (even some [public] money) to
produce the data. They want to see reuses of it, and they also want to
be granted, rewarded in a way. I see the Open License (or CC-BY or ODBL)
licence as an appropriate tool to adress this will while still providing
openness and freedom for the published databases.
OK, we are already less than perfect, but it sounds like a fair trade, no ?

>> 1-the database : shape files with routes and POI about a region.
> It is absolutely necessary for an European public administration to 
> waive any database rights they may have in the data collection (or 
> license those rights ­– IIRC new CC licences cover that avenue). 
> Otherwise a two tier system will result where European data users
> will be restricted by database rights, and the American ones will be
> not (the US does not recognize db rights).
Thanks for pointing that out as I wasn't aware at all that things could
be that different outside europe. I have a question about your wording :
you say waiving rights, do you mean Public Domain only, or do you mean
any Attribution licence (Open LIcence, odbl, cc-by v4) does the job of
clarifying the situation ? (even if a US based reuser could try to argue
that the licence terms do not apply to him, as they do not have
corresponding terms in US laws ?)
There's a discussion about that on the odbl FAQ page (questions 2.1 and
2.2) :
drawing the conclusion that licensing even with a controversial
share-alike provision is better than nothing since it, at least, clearly
states your intentions, eventually postponing the decision of its
applicability in a particular country to be drawn by the relevant court.

>> 2-the context : the administration makes some money selling a
>> walking guide using those informations
> The fact that the administration makes money selling a walking guide 
> should have no influence on the discussion. Merchandise sales are not
> a core competency of any public administration; if it helps them to 
> popularize the area, it is OK to engage in such activities; however,
> if a private party were to take the data and started to produce
> better guides, the administration's primary goal of popularizing the
> area would still be fulfilled. In fact, this would probably free up
> the administration's resources to better handle its core functions.
Well, maybe some additional context is needed here. As you may know,
here in France there is a strong tendency (it's an understatement :-( )
to transform public services into profitable orgs. So every one of them
tends to develop whatever is merchandisable to get a little more
resources than allocated to get their public mission done. In this
context, the said organization has applied its skills and knowledge to
the lawful objective of publishing a comprehensive guide to hiking in
the region, alongside with a collection of more cultural publications.
Needless to say that this second category of publication is far from
profitable. The situation is that years passing, publishing the guide
has become a way to balance the other editions in the income statement
of the organization.
At this point, I think you get the picture better, and begin to grasp
their fear : if we do any harm to the income of the guide, they may have
difficulties to get the difference in next year's budget.
I do agree with you that this situation is a pity, nevertheless they
asked for my advice on how they could open data, and I'm willing to give
them an answer as useful as I can. By useful,I mean advices they'll be
able to apply, and hopefully will.

>> 3-the aim : opening those data so that eventual reuses will publish
>> correct information about pathes, dangers, etc.
> This cannot be ensured by any free licensing scheme. It is important to
> recognize that the administration will not be responsible for malicious
> or grossly negligent undertakings of any private party.
I think they know that. They only hope that by making data available
reusers will tend to use them more easily thus leveraging the quality of
their reuses. No will of constraint or insurance here, only an attempt
to feed a vertuous circle.

>> 4-the dilemma : open publishing those information may serve any
>> competitor editor to build a competiting guide upon those data
> This would be a good thing!
Yes, but that's where the main fear resides. Suppose that the owner of
very good base maps publishes a direct competitor to the guide. This
would make a really great guide (I'm happy because it'll be helpful to
me), but could potentially kill the oarganization's other publictions (I
won't be happy on this side, loosing interesting thoughts). Well, it's
really because the original situation is so weird that I end up
wondering if a better map is really a good thing !
Suppose now that the new edition is a crap, but still on the vendors'
shelves. Some people will still buy them (eventually realising their
mistake afterwards) and the result can be the same, and without its
positive side.
Reading a second time this paragraph, I realise that they lead me to
play an awful role of devil's advocate ;-)

>> Let's assume the competitor wants to use the shape files under CC-BY-SA
>> along with a closed base map bought from a vendor to have a nice looking
>> printed guide.
>> => publishing such a reuse of the data seems to lead to a licences
>> conflict : the closed license would say something like "all rights
>> reserved, reproduction forbidden", where the CC-BY-SA part would claim
>> "any reuse of this data will be under this same license"
>> => How to solve that ? If it' not solvable, this means that the
>> commercial reuse cases of the data opened under CC-BY-SA are quite a
>> complicated way, which I find a reasonable manner to solve the original
>> dilemma
> This seems like a possible licence violation, but would be better left
> to the potential parties' lawyers to sort out.

Well, that's a path I'd like to explore a little much further to be able
to formulate an educated answer. Sure I'm not looking to play the match
before it occurs, but I'd like some hints.

Do you think it would be a relevant question to ask to the legal team ?

Michel Roche

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