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July - September 2002
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Imagery Licensing Is Serious Business

The advent of the Internet and the ease of copying and transmitting digital files have created a renewed emphasis on the licensing terms associated with the purchase and use of imagery. Digital imagery files, unlike other data sources or software applications, are typically not encrypted, node locked, or registered. While some imagery datasets are closely coupled with proprietary viewers, most imagery can be used by many types of GIS and image processing programs. For example, ArcGIS and its extensions, as well as earlier versions of ArcInfo, ArcView, and their extensions, can directly open most imagery files.

Therefore, much of the responsibility for policing such licensing terms falls upon the user and/or purchaser's organization. In general, government agencies and established commercial firms carefully avoid abuse of a vendor's license terms. Buyers should diligently review the vendor's license terms and conditions of use prior to any imagery purchase. As more organizational data becomes available to the public through Web sites, it is essential to understand any and all limitations on data use. Unauthorized "free" or other illegal or improper distribution of data can unfairly damage a vendor's market. Conversely, proper distributed quality commercial imagery can benefit the distributing organization and the public or constituency the organization serves.

Some typical licensing issues are listed in Figure 1.

Number of users

Single, multiple stand-alone seats, or multiple networked users

Number of related organizations

What are the usage rights for jointly purchased the data?

Are rights limited to a single agency or do they cover multiple agencies?

Physical location

Where can the data be used?

Is use restricted to one office or multiple offices or is it limited geographically (i.e., local, domestic, or international use)?

Data copy, distribution, and publication rights

What authorizations are given to print hard copies of digital files?

Are there limitations on the sale of digital files or hard copy reproductions of digital files?

What are the Internet viewing rights?

Are there resolution reduction specifications for copying, distribution, and/or resale of data?

License Period

Is the data right a perpetual license, one-year renewable license, or a selected application license (e.g., the right to use imagery in one movie, advertisement, or video game)?

Data Replacement Warranty for Defects

What time period is covered?

How is "defect" defined?

What are the costs to replace data, (if any)?

Getting Assistance with Imagery Purchases

A third party data broker or independent data reseller can help GIS users deal with the wide range of issues associated with geodata purchases. Individuals or organizations experienced in data licensing and purchasing can rapidly find the right options for data sourcing, save the buyer money and time, and limit stress by helping the user obtain the right imagery and associated data the first time around. In addition, an experienced broker can often negotiate specially tailored license terms to match the buyer's unique requirements.

Questions to ask a potential data provider, whether a data broker or a reseller, could include

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who are your customers?
  • Who else has successfully used the datasets being recommended?
  • Have others used the selected datasets for applications similar to your application?
  • Are you knowledgeable in all aspects of the intended geodata purchase and its use?
  • Do you offer data products from multiple vendors?
  • Do you provide prompt and detailed technical support, independent of the data vendor's support?

The provider/broker should be able to supply relevant references and have a solid reputation for quality service. In summary, a successful data purchase typically involves an educated and thoughtful buyer; an experienced, buyer-oriented, reputable broker/reseller; and a quality, cost-effective data source vendor.

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