New Zealand geographical data released under Creative Commons

Two major environmental databases are set to become more accessible and easier to use following the re-release of these digital maps by the Ministry for the Environment.

The Land Cover Database and the Land Environments New Zealand classification layers, widely used by agencies in environmental and resource management planning, will now be issued online with a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Ministry for the Environment’s Len Brown says this will promote the free exchange of environmental data, allowing more people access, use and benefit from the data.

“Improving access to the Government’s spatial information is a goal of the New Zealand Geospatial Strategy, one that the Ministry is committed to supporting.”

The Ministry will be using an existing online service from, a New Zealand company, to distribute the data. An off-the-shelf data licence from Creative Commons will allow the data to be freely used and shared while maintaining Crown copyright. This move does away with licence fees and the cost and effort of issuing and maintaining end-user licence agreements.

The move to make the digital maps available under a Creative Commons licence was prompted by the need to replace the existing supply agreements that were due to expire.

“The new licence will allow the public to freely share and distribute environmental data and information without having to ask for permission if they want to use the data in different ways.

“Terralink International and Landcare Research, the previous suppliers, see the potential growth of the user-base as an opportunity for them to provide more value-added services,” Brown said.

The licence agreements for the distribution of LCDB and LENZ have expired and alternative arrangements were being reviewed at the time the State Services Commission was preparing their Open Government Information and Data Re-use discussion paper.

The Internet has developed a capacity to deliver large amounts of data to consumers which did not exist five years ago when LCDB and LENZ were first made available and when CDs and postage were the accepted distribution mechanisms.

The LCDB was licensed to Terralink to distribute on the Ministry for the Environment’s behalf from 2004, and LENZ was licensed to Landcare.

Creative Commons licences enable us to distribute data and encourage sharing and re-use while retaining Crown copyright. There is no longer any need to have users sign an End-User Licence Agreement which contains restrictions and conditions on how the data can be used.

Terralink and Landcare can still continue distributing the data with the new licences. This initiative is the result of improvements in technology. Both companies are willing participants and will benefit from the change.

The current user-base is around 100 users for LCDB and 150 users of LENZ.
We expect that free and easy access to the data will increase the user base and with that, the market for value-added services.

Landcare Research has informed us that following this announcement, it will be issuing a release announcing its intention to release its own underlying LENZ layers with a Creative Commons licence. These layers are Landcare Research’s IP and were used to create the Ministry’s LENZ classification – which is an aggregation of these underlying layers. They are/were separately licensed products for LENZ users who require more detailed data.

The benefits of using Creative Commons licences are:

* Users know, up-front, what they can and can’t do with the data without having to read the legal code
* Users don’t have to ask for permission if they want to use the data in different ways
* The Ministry doesn’t have to go to the expense and effort of creating and maintaining licence agreements with every user
* Creative Commons licences are standardised, off-the-shelf products that can be used for a wide range of Government data and information.

Creative Commons licences provide copyright holders with control over how their works can be used. Core licences of the Creative Commons can be used to:

* Credit the originator of the work
* Prohibit commercial exploitation of the data
* Ensure derivative works are shared with the same licence as the original work.
* Prohibit the creation of derivative works.

A Creative Commons licence does not mean the data is “Public Domain”. Crown copyright will still be maintained. The Government will still be the primary, authoritative source for LCDB and LENZ even though anyone can share the data.

Not all Government data can be distributed this way. There are cases where privacy and confidentiality need to be preserved and where commercialisation is in the public interest.

Other governments overseas have been looking at opening access to public sector information.