Rights to geospatial information

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The rights to geographic information in cartography are derived in particular from copyright . If geographic information is managed under public law, there may also be rights under surveying and geographic information law. A user of geospatial information who is not its author at the same time must always obtain usage rights for his / her usage activities if these activities are reserved for the author as exploitation rights. Acts of use in connection with geographic information are, in particular, physical and intangible reproduction, distribution, making publicly available and sending. This affects survey data , maps , plans , aerial photographs and satellite images in analog and digital form. A distinction must be made between the rights of the author and the data user, the data protection rights of the property owner and those affected in a similar way.

Anyone who creates their own maps or databases on the basis of GPS technology or other records can become the author of geographic information .

Geospatial data and state

The recording and administration of official geodata was in the hands of the state for centuries.

For reasons of military secrecy , maps were generally kept under lock and key in Central Europe until 1815. In the 19th century, many archaeologists and explorers also drew maps on behalf of the war ministries, because precise knowledge of topographical conditions was often decisive for a battle. After the Second World War, topographical maps are still kept secret in many countries, at least at medium-scale. The Soviet Union in particular was also known for falsifying maps in order to hide entire port cities or research locations. For military reasons, aerial photography was subject to strict regulations in Germany until around 1990.

Another reason for today's restrictions in the use of geospatial data from a state perspective is that one wants to avoid the circulation of outdated or incorrect information. By selling geospatial data, you can also pass on part of the costs.

The advances in data processing and communication (e.g. Internet, cellular communications, satellite navigation) have led to far-reaching changes. The navigation can be carried out using geographic reference data and GPS . Companies need geodata for administration and, for example, for planning electricity, district heating, gas, water or communication lines. Environmental pollution can be predicted on the basis of traffic data and emission values ​​(and other specialist geographic data ). The further processing and combination of the data creates an added value process that leads to its own market. The state has an interest in supporting this market with low-cost data , although the collection of geodata and maintenance is still costly today . In addition, state tasks are already publicly financed through taxes.

Because the accessibility to spatial data and the processing options are growing, the legal issues are also becoming more diverse (e.g. protection of software and databases or international law). As a result, government regulations must increasingly be measured against copyright and other laws. The demands of initiatives such as Open Access , according to which data obtained with public funds should also be publicly accessible, also come into play.

National legal situations


Maps and plans

Maps and plans are protected according to the German Copyright Act in accordance with § 2 Paragraph 1 No. 7 ("Representations of a scientific or technical nature, such as drawings, plans, maps, sketches, tables and plastic representations") and Paragraph 2, provided they are "personal intellectual creations " and / or - in the case of a card as an" analog database "( § 4 and § 87a UrhG, see below) - their" procurement, verification or representation requires an investment that is substantial in terms of type or scope ".

In the case of maps and plans, the authors according to § 7 and § 8 UrhG are the cartographers involved, but depending on the agreement , the rights of use may rest with their company or their authority under labor law or service law. According to § 64 and § 65 Abs. 1 UrhG, copyright expires seventy years after the death of the longest living co-author.

The amount of personal intellectual creation and thus the scope of protection depend in particular on the degree of peculiarity of the work. In 1998 the Federal Court of Justice ruled that copyright protection is also given if the card was produced according to a specified character specification (in general, this can be a sample sheet for a map series, for example, or a custom template). An individual service is available, for example, through generalization . The displayed content, in particular the measurement data used and the other information incorporated into the map as such, were recognized by the Federal Court of Justice in 1998 as free of copyright. In the case in question, the "Ruhrgebiet urban plan" had been scanned and revised for use in the "Yellow Pages", whereby the individual features of the urban plan had faded to a certain extent and the claims for damages were accordingly rejected by the lower courts. The BGH, however, found that the appellate court had resolved the issue of free use i. S. v. § 24 UrhG, as opposed to processing requiring a permit ( § 23 UrhG), had not sufficiently investigated, and referred the matter back (BGH, judgment of May 28, 1998, Az. I ZR 81/96, city ​​plan ).

In 2004, when Toll Collect took over around 200 MB of digital maps from Euro Cities AG (stadtplandienst.de) , a similar conflict arose. In the opinion of the Berlin Regional Court, the takeover was illegal as it violated the Euro Cities terms of use (LG Berlin, judgment of July 20, 2004, Az. 16 O 312/04). The generalization of the maps, which means "the clear and comprehensive as possible representation and organization of the relevant information" rich "for the adoption of a creative power" of. A settlement was reached on appeal to the Court of Appeal (Az. 5 U 157/04).

According to § 52a and § 53, copies of maps and plans protected by copyright are only copies for teaching and research purposes as well as for private and other non-commercial personal use.

In order to be able to prove violations of these specifications, d. H. To check whether data has been transferred from other cards, cards are often provided with deliberate errors, so-called trap streets .

According to § 5 UrhG, official works are also excluded from copyright protection , in the case of maps and plans, however, only if they were published explicitly in connection with an official announcement. Topographical national maps are usually not official works within the meaning of Section 5 (2) UrhG.

When reprinting maps from the land surveying offices, however, particular attention is paid to compliance with the indication of the source in accordance with § 63 UrhG and the laws for land surveying: reprints of this type must not only bear a reference to the map source, but also the approval for their reproduction.

Maps as databases

According to Section 87a of German copyright law, a card is subject to database rights if “the acquisition, verification or presentation requires an investment that is substantial in terms of type or scope”. What is an “essential investment” is not defined in more detail and is therefore subject to the discretion of the competent judge in the event of a legal dispute. Section 87b prohibits the duplication, distribution and public reproduction of a significant part of the database in terms of type or scope, provided that these actions run counter to the normal evaluation of the database or unreasonably affect the legitimate interests of the database manufacturer.

For example, a topographic map 1:25 000 (TK25) according to the judgment of the Munich Regional Court I (judgment of November 9, 2005, Az. 21 O 7402/02, database protection for topographic maps - topographic map sheets , GRUR 2006, p. 225) an analog database according to § 87a UrhG, accordingly it enjoys legal protection due to the investments made in its production. The extraction of data from a TK25 by digitization for the purpose of further processing is therefore subject to a license.

Aerial and satellite images

Aerial photographs can be viewed as photographs in Germany within the meaning of Section 72 UrhG. According to § 72 Paragraph 3, the copyright therefore expires “fifty years after the appearance of the photo or, if its first permitted public reproduction was made earlier, after this, but already fifty years after production if the photo did not appear or within this period has been legally reproduced in public. ” According to § 69 UrhG, this relates to the end of the calendar year in which this event took place.

Since Section 72 (1) UrhG also applies to “products that are manufactured similar to photographs” , this regulation can also be applied to photos taken by satellites.

When using images, the author usually has to agree. If images of this type are offered for free disposal, it should be clarified before use whether they include provision and use abroad or, if applicable, commercial use.

In addition to the copyright aspects, when using high-resolution satellite data, the Satellite Data Security Act and the supplementary Satellite Data Security Ordinance must also be taken into account since December 1, 2007 .

Survey data and databases

The raw data are not protected by copyright.

The use is primarily determined by the state laws, for example in § 12 of the Rhineland-Palatinate state law on official surveying (LGVerm of December 20, 2000; reservation of use: " Basic geographic information may only be used for the purpose for which it was transmitted A conversion, dissemination or publication of the geospatial base information requires the approval of the responsible surveying and cadastral authority. ” ) or § 2 , § 14 of the Surveying Act for Baden-Württemberg. As early as 1987, the Federal Court of Justice expressed doubts about the provisional approval requirements in its decision on topographic maps .

For databases and maps (in printed and digital form), the argument is based on protection by further laws:

In summary these are:

Section 1 of the UWG states: “This law serves to protect competitors, consumers and other market participants from unfair competition. At the same time, it protects the general public's interest in undistorted competition. "

The regulations for the protection of databases in the Copyright Act have their background in the EC Directive 96/9 / EC of March 11, 1996, which protects the investor. In its judgment on case C-203/02 of November 9, 2004, the European Court of Justice made it clear that this only protects investments in the acquisition and final verification of data, but not in their production or primary verification. For geospatial data, protection as a database would generally only come into question if a manufacturer combines data from different sources in a uniform collection or - according to the arguments of the Regional Court of Munich I mentioned above - creates a complex topographic map from it.

A protection period of 15 years from publication (or from production if not published) according to § 87d UrhG applies to databases . As soon as the database is significantly changed and a substantial investment was necessary, the period starts again from the beginning, although it is not clear whether the outdated version also retains protection.


According to Section 7 of the Austrian Copyright Act , public geographic information is expressly excluded from the freedom of official works :

"2. Map works produced or processed by the Federal Office for Metrology and Surveying (Section 5 Paragraph 1) and intended for distribution (Section 16) are not free works. "

The same applies to the geodata of the countries that are protected by state law. This applies to the printed matter as well as the electronic data that are publicly accessible via AMAP or Geoland , for example . (→ see there also the list of state survey servers)


In Switzerland, the Federal Geoinformation Act (GeoIG) came into force at the beginning of July 2008.

See also

Literature and Sources




Land surveying and geographic information law:

Data protection law:

Comments on laws:

  • Dreyer, Kotthoff, Meckel: Heidelberg Commentary on Copyright . CF Müller Verlag; Born in 2004; ISBN 3-8114-2349-5
  • Kummer, Möllering: Surveying and geographic information law Saxony-Anhalt; Comment ; 3. Edition; Municipal and school publisher; Born in 2005; ISBN 3-8293-0746-2




Web links

Wikisource: Geoinformation Law  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Legal problems with the OpenStreetMap ( Memento from March 14, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  2. BGH, ruling v. July 2, 1987 - I ZR 232/85 [topographic maps]