From Gaia with love

Gaia is was “an attempt to reverse engineer famous Google Earth and implement its functionality in open, portable, customizable and extendable way.”

Ivan Serezhkin Anonymous from Russia [Ivan is the hoster], has been working since May on harnessing Google Earth’s encrypted imagery for his own map and virtual globe. He went live with it in October, and it managed to fly under the radar until it hit Digg.

The problem? Licensing. Gaia’s home page now sports this:


What’s interesting is the reactions that followed, ranging from the downright sophomoric to quite a few spirited defences on Digg of Google’s right/obligation to protect its licensing agreements with vendors.

World Wind blog The Earth Is Square takes another tack:

Nice to see that Google is keeping on the ball with “Thou Shall Not Use GE Imagery Outside of a Google OK’ed Medium”. Which is a “Bad Thing” because people don’t realize that giving their imagery to Google means you can only view the imagery with what Google says you can view it with. Which takes the imagery out of the public domain.

In the comments, KoS takes issue with what constitutes “taking imagery out of the public domain”, and I agree. To wit: Google’s dataset is a mix of public domain and licensed imagery. The public domain imagery is a copy of data that is available elsewhere. Google doesn’t take it out of the public domain by duplicating it on its own servers. It couldn’t even if it wanted to, as the original source of the public domain data is out of Google’s control.

But this brings us to another issue: It’s not just a licensing question: Google is serving data via viewer applications and APIs. That’s a service which costs Google money, which it has built, owns and to which it can restrict access. Hence the EULAs we agree to, including when something is free. It’s my understanding that even if all of Google Earth’s imagery were public domain, Google could still restrict its use when served from its own servers. The same principle applies to NASA World Wind’s base dataset — otherwise, who would pay if a very popular web service were to start leeching off World Wind’s servers? US taxpayers? Would NASA be obliged to upgrade its servers to stop World Wind’s performance from being degraded? That would be absurd. Instead, you would ask the leechers to stop.

6 thoughts on “From Gaia with love”

  1. FEF is an admirable project, and I agree that it would be wonderful if such data were to be made free and unfettered for any client. But FEF will face some interesting questions: Free and unfettered for pay services as well? What about submissions to the archive from third parties, like Bergen or the Canary Islands, if they have different licensing requirements re, for example, altering imagery or giving credit or commercial use?

    FEF, Google, MSFT et al are all going to find themselves at a different spot on the resolution/demand indifference curve for free data, with (I suspect) Google Earth’s data farthest along that curve for the foreseeable future. The challenge to every operator is providing a sustainable service. I suspect that the further along that curve FEF progresses, the harder it will become to provide that service, and priorities may have to be taken — for example, you might decide to require the registration of an API key and then set quotas per day.

Comments are closed.