2004.09.16

You know me, your friendly neighborhood license examiner…

When we last spoke I was all in a tizzy about the Movable Type License, well it’s time to move on, and look at another license. Next!

I signed up with Geocaching.com, you know the deal, create an account, log in, use the site, you do it everyday. Now, you can download what are known as ‘Waypoint files’ which have an extension of .loc and are really just very simple XML files. I’d show you here, but I don’t think I can, so I’ll describe it. (I hope that’s ok.) They contain information about a cache, an id, a name, coordinates, and a url that points to the Geocaching.com site. All good? Sure…

If you are not logged in to the site, it tells you that you have to log in to read the Waypoint License Agreement. Once you log in you can then read the Groundspeak License Agreement. I know, I just gave you two different names, which both seem to point to the same thing. It’s confusing like that… When I get to the page in question it tells me I’ve agreed to the license agreement, seemingly even before I’ve read it. It then presents a copy of the agreement for your records.

A copy for your records? I wonder if I’m the first user to actually make a copy of it for my records, let alone read the thing…

Oh, but I did read it, that’s what the friendly neighborhood license examiner does!

I don’t think I can excerpt any of it here, because I would probably violate it, but I’ll give you the gist of it.

First, they (“they” will be “GROUNDSPEAK, INC.” for the rest of this.) retain exclusive ownership of the data. I know, the users entered the data into the system, and perhaps they gave up their rights to it at that point, but let’s move on…

You can make one copy of the original data for archive purposes. Does this mean if you backup your hard drive more than once you are in violation of the agreement? I think so…

There’s plenty of nice bits about what you can do with the data for internal purposes, the data can pretty much be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered” as long as you do it internally. That’s good.

You cannot sell, rent, or lease the data. This is reasonable, and for a commercial entity, heck, for any entity, this is the “right thing to do” and I totally agree.

But… you also cannot provide access to the data to unlicensed third parties. Does this mean if I upload data to Geocaching.com it then becomes their property and I can’t tell you about it unless you have also agreed to the license? Can I post it on my weblog?

Ok, this next one is just wacky. It reeks of some lawyer who has never used a computer. Ready? You shall not reverse engineer or disassemble the data format, because, you know, you might try to dupe their proprietary and copyright-protected data model and export format. This is an 8 line XML file, which you can read with almost any computer manufactured in the last 20 years. If there is a job out there reverse-engineering tiny XML files, I want it! Seriously, anyone who has ever seen HTML can probably reverse-engineer this thing by quickly glancing at it.

Oh, there also seem to be a number of applications that can use these files. I wonder if all of the developers have agreed to some sort of license, or had to pay some fee. Surely they didn’t just reverse-engineer the format!

There’s one more bit worth mentioning. Something about how they will be willing to license the data to you for a fee. Yes, they will sell, rent, or lease the data to you for a price.

So what’s the deal? Well, Geocaching.com (dba Groundspeak) has to protect themselves, and their data, and have to make sure they can make money from it, and prevent others from making money from it, since that could cause them to not make money. That all makes sense right? Sure some things bother me, like my interpretation that your data becomes their data and you lose the rights to it. I had thought that when you create something, you are by default the copyright holder of it, is there a transference of copyright in this case? Maybe that’s in an agreement somewhere I missed. Probably when I created an account on the site. I’ll probably get kicked off soon and have to wander the wastelands unable to geocache…

Perhaps a Creative Commons license could be of use here, allowing non-commercial use of the data. Of course I always wonder about that too, what if I provided some web site with the data, free of charge (non-commercial) but then had ads appear on the site (commercial) how is that handled? I’d like to use the data to do interesting things, and I can – internally – but it seems that if I show you that data, I’m in trouble.

So why in the heck do I bring this stuff up? (Besides being a troublemaker who likes to complain a lot…) Because people need to be aware of what they are doing with their data. We’ve talked before about exit strategies and the importance of such in relation to your data, and we’ve talked about people agreeing to licenses and violating them. Exit strategy good. Data lock-in bad. Violating licenses bad. Reading licenses good.

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