Copyrighting Storms

by on February 27, 2005 at 7:11 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

Writing in the Financial Times, James Boyle makes an interesting comparison between how Europe and the U.S. treat government produced data, everything from "ordnance survey maps and weather data, to state-produced texts,
traffic studies and scientific information."

one side of the Atlantic, state produced data flows are frequently
viewed as potential revenue sources. They are copyrighted or protected
by database rights. The departments which produce the data often
attempt to make a profit from user-fees, or at least recover their
entire operating costs….The other side of the Atlantic practices a benign form of
information socialism. By law, any text produced by the central
government is free from copyright and passes immediately into the
public domain.

Surprisingly, it’s the US which practices the "benign form of socialism."

Take weather data. The United States makes complete weather data
available to anyone at the cost of reproduction. If the superb
government websites and data feeds aren’t enough, for the price of a
box of blank DVD’s you can have the entire history of weather records
across the continental US. European countries, by contrast, typically
claim government copyright over weather data and often require the
payment of substantial fees. Which approach is better? If I had to
suggest one article on this subject it would be the magisterial study
by Peter Weiss called “Borders in Cyberspace,” published by the
National Academies of Science. Weiss suggests that the US approach
generates far more social wealth. True, the information is initially
provided for free, but a thriving private weather industry has sprung
up which takes the publicly funded data as its raw material and then
adds value to it. The US weather risk management industry, for example,
is ten times bigger than the European one, employing more people,
producing more valuable products, generating more social wealth.
Another study estimates that Europe invests €9.5bn in weather data and
gets approximately €68bn back in economic value – in everything from
more efficient farming and construction decisions, to better holiday
planning – a 7-fold multiplier. The United States, by contrast invests
twice as much – €19bn – but gets back a return of €750bn, a 39-fold
multiplier. Other studies suggest similar patterns in areas ranging
from geo-spatial data to traffic patterns and agriculture. “Free”
information flow is better at priming the pump of economic activity.

Link addded.  Thanks to Paul van Hoek for the pointer.

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