Intellectual Property Rights for Environmental Data and Information

Focus Area

NEPA Process


Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement

A potentially major barrier to sharing data in environmental and related management systems is intellectual property rights, including copyrights, licensing, and terms of use. Although state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) generally try to keep information they acquire in the public domain, they still maintain ownership over data and, in certain cases, may impose restrictions on the use of environmental data. Sometimes there are circumstances where use of the data by others could be detrimental to the state’s interest or harm individuals or businesses. Also, if the state enters into a partnership with other organizations, educational or private, depending on the objectives of the partnership, the state may wish to maintain control over the use of the data. For educational applications, there is generally a strong presumption that the data should be free and widely available. Indeed, if DOTs purchase data with state or federal dollars, then these data should be available to other organizations. However, for a public/private partnership that is expected to earn revenues and potentially make a profit, the principle of willingness to pay would govern the ability to use the data. Another important issue to consider is that potential users of the data will use a peer-to peer file sharing website, in the same manner that some people share and download copyrighted music files. Violation of copyrighted environmentally related information could potentially be an anathema to owners of copyrighted material, just as it has been to the music industry.

Proposed Research

The objective of the research would be to examine alternative approaches to the management of intellectual property rights regarding environmental data and information. The main issue is under what circumstances should environmental information and data be provided free of charge. Circumstances to examine include acquisition and use of data by states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), partnerships with educational institutions, and public/private partnerships. The study should address intellectual property rights including but not limited to copyrights, licensing rights, and terms and conditions of the use of websites. This study should also address the appropriateness of peer-to-peer file sharing procedures to allow users of environmental data and information to share files at no cost.

Urgency and Payoff

May 2013 UpdateResolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data (2001)
Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources (CGER)

Suggested By

TRB Research Needs Database, ADC10, Environmental Analysis in Transportation