I recently contacted a couple of State clearinghouse coordinators to pick their brains about data sharing and redistribution of their GIS data products. I asked what they thought about the practice of commercial firms grabbing free data from public servers (or ordering CD/DVD sets) only to turn around and package them up for sale or resell online or via other sales channels. The response from one coordinator... We’re quite familiar with the practice and, you may be surprised to learn, not terribly appalled or concerned about it. Several items they outlined in point form.
We’re working hard to get out of the data sales business - As technology allowed us to drive down the cost of managing data orders to near zero, we eliminated the fee when customers relied on self-service (i.e. Internet download). Our principal customers – governments, at all levels – benefit from freely available publicly-financed data and, as a result, have been more inclined to share their own data, as well. This model has proven wildly successful.
What is the proper function of government? - When applying GIS to the public policy issues, efficiency increases as investments are leveraged. There’s more to be gained by encouraging state agencies and local governments to invest cooperatively in standardized and shared data then to make $100 here, $50 there trying to sell and resell public resources.
We’re working hard to stay in the data sales business: If you call and request packaged data you’ll find that we’re still very happy to charge you for the service at, it turns out, competitive prices.
So in short... the next time you buy a DVD set from a government agency, simply duplicate the CDs and start sending them to your friends and colleagues, the agency is trying hard to get out of the data sales business, and they are also, at the same time, trying to stay in the data sales business... sounds to me like there's no clear agenda for the business model here. Or, how about a data sharing network? There's already an active group in Florida who cooperate online and via an electronic list... how about this.. the next time you buy the TIGER Line files, a county set of DOQQs or aerial photos, simply post via a data sharing list and we can all share the data.... not a bad idea. I would think the USGS DEMs would be a great place to start since the USGS won't distribute these data but rather, lets several commercial vendors handle the distribution. Any thoughts???