Geo Rights Management (GeoRM) DWG

NOTE: This group was formerly the Geospatial Digital Rights Management (GeoDRM) Working Group.



A great deal of work has been done in the area of data ownership and rights management. This work is of interest to the Geospatial community in that many geospatial data providers need to manage or control who has access to their data and how it is used. The lack of a Geospatial Rights Management (GeoRM) capability is a major barrier to broader adoption of Web based geospatial technologies. The mission of the GeoRM Domain Working Group is to coordinate and mature the development and validation of work being done on digital rights management for the geospatial community.

The GeoRM DWG has developed the Geospatial Digital Rights Management Reference Model (GeoDRM RM), an abstract specification for the management of digital rights in the area of geospatial data and services. This document has been approved by the OGC membership, who will use the GeoDRM RM in developing OpenGIS Implementation Specifications for open interfaces and encodings that will enable SDI and diverse systems to participate in transactions involving data, services and intellectual property protection.

Background and Problem Statement

As geographic content (geodata) and services become more widely available in digital form over ubiquitous networks, data becomes easier to distribute, share, copy and alter. While this is generally a good thing, many organizations involved in the production and trading of geodata find the need to manage their Intellectual Property (IP) assets through the digital distribution value chain. Organizations want to specify, manage, control and track geodata distribution within open, secure and trusted environments. A system of operating agreements and interoperable technologies is needed to enable broader distribution and use of geodata while managing the rights of producers and users. Also, users need such a system if they are to have concrete terms-of-use that reduce their legal risks.

In e-commerce models for dissemination and use of Intellectual Property (IP) assets, geodata are treated as commodities to be priced, ordered, traded and licensed. Direct monetary reward, however, is often not the motivation or is only secondary behind the desire for more rigorous control of IP assets. Harlan Onsrud of the GeoData Alliance argues that the incentive structures implicit in "library systems" are an appropriate model for motivating data producers, collectors and traders to document, share and otherwise disseminate their geodata. Onsrud observes that the library system is a "chaordic" framework of seemingly ad hoc agreements among stakeholders that strikes a balance supporting "...strong public goods, access and equity principles while fully protecting the intellectual property rights of authors and publishers.[1]

Rapid technological advances have tipped the balance of laws that establish incentives for producers to make their content available while maintaining the access, use and equity rights of users. Onsrud envisions the establishment of a framework of operating agreements, similar to that in which libraries develop and share resources, as one way to establish a way for geodata to be more accessible and useful to a larger numbers of users.

The specific requirements for managing IP rights by controlling geodata distribution and use, however, are extremely complex and vary widely depending heavily on factors such as:

  • The "business" of the organization (i.e., the motivations of commercial, public-sector, and academic organizations to make their geodata available)
  • The type of data and media formats (e.g., physical, electronic, text, graphic, audio, video, vector, raster, observation, etc.)
  • The content distribution channels (e.g., size of content, network bandwidth, types of end devices)
  • The types and granularity of intellectual property rights to be managed and the contractual obligations for its use (e.g., unlimited distribution, license to use, license to reuse parts, limited distribution, sensitive/classified, etc).

Just as the requirements vary, so does the enabling technology. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a popular term for a field that emerged in the mid-1990s when content providers, technology firms and policymakers began to confront the imbalance of technology and laws caused by the effect of ubiquitous computer networks on the distribution of copyrighted material in digital form. DRM is about creating, packaging, distributing, controlling and tracking content based on rights and licensing information. DRM is closely integrated with Content Management System (CMS) technology for creating metadata, storing and organizing digital content in support of workflow, search, browse, access and retrieval processes by users in workgroups, enterprises and information communities. It is also dependent on Information Security technologies to provide the trusted infrastructure for DRM and E-commerce to address the financial transactions necessary to procure rights to geospatial content.


The objectives for the GeoRM Domain Working Group are:

  • Enable business models for web-based geospatial services and SDI by identifying or developing a trusted infrastructure for purchasing, managing and protecting rights to digital content.
  • Guide the development of OGC specifications and best practices recommendations to permit the exploitation of mainstream DRM approaches, technologies and standards wherever possible
  • Test, verify and mature as necessary the technologies required for geospatial DRM including electronic commerce and information security.
  • Develop specifications for geospatial DRM that build on the OGC technical baseline.

[1] Harlan Onsrud, "Exploring the Library Metaphor in Developing a More Inclusive NSDI."