Category Archives: Research Project

Research Area: Copyright and Privacy Law Issues Arising from the Geoweb

Professor Elizabeth Judge, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

Year 1: “Implied License for Downstream Uses of Copyrighted Information
on the Geoweb”

How does copyright law apply to material individuals submit to
government-operated websites, such as original compilations of
geographic data, surveys, or maps?

Authors of copyrightable works are the first owners of copyright and
have a bundle of exclusive rights, including the right to prevent others from
copying and publishing their works. Copyright arises automatically,
and authors need not actively affirm or register their copyright to obtain
protection. Moreover, individuals do not waive their copyright by a failure
to exercise their rights. However, certain actions by a copyright owner
may constitute an implied license or waiver of copyright, permitting
others to do activities that would otherwise be copyright infringing.

The Geoweb promises to connect individuals seamlessly, to allow individuals to
communicate with government, and for governments to use these inputs to
fashion policy responses. Copyright is potentially an obstacle to
realizing the potential of the Geoweb, especially the ability of the
public to contribute and use the information, as it may be difficult to
determine what information is protected by copyright and what uses the
government and the public may make of information posted online by

The research will discuss which material is subject to copyright
and examine how the legal mechanisms of implied license and waiver may
apply to information that individuals contribute to the Geoweb. It will
discuss the legal framework for addressing whether government may make
such information publicly available and what uses the public can
subsequently make of these works, and it will suggest best practices to
facilitate public participation in a copyright-compliant manner,
including licensing.

Crowdsourcing Ventures in the Canadian Public Sector


Ventures in the Canadian Public Sector

Daren C. Brabham

University of Southern California

As crowdsourcing ventures become more widespread in the Canadian public sector and abroad, many questions arise as to how these ventures come into being from an institutional standpoint; what motivates participants to engage these ventures; how citizens perceive these ventures as extensions of democratic governance; and what the impacts of these ventures may be on public sector employees and budgets.

This research project aims to tackle these questions. Students will help in the collection and analysis of data, the creation of interdisciplinary literature reviews, and the reporting of findings in scholarly and professional formats.

The first phase of this project will identify crowdsourcing cases from across the country and some other cases abroad for comparison’s sake. Students will assist in finding these cases through searches in popular and trade publications and through partner networks, and cases will be classified according to accepted crowdsourcing typologies.

The next phase will be to contact key figures in these various governmental entities to set up interviews and collect archival data on crowdsourcing projects. These interviews and analysis of documents will help round out case studies on these crowdsourcing ventures, focusing on institutional dynamics and tensions that went into the launch (and maintenance) of crowdsourcing programs.

The final phase will involve surveying or interviewing citizens who participated in these projects, to get a sense of their appraisal of the programs in terms of democratic principles and to understand what motivated them to participate in these programs.

Resulting case studies will dovetail with the case study projects of other researchers in Themes 1 and 6. If you would like more information or would like to be involved in the study, please contact Daren Brabham, brabham (at) usc (dot) edu.

Admin note: Daren is our primary American researcher on the grant and has just joined the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He is well known for his research on crowdsourcing in the American public sector and has just published his first book called Crowdsourcing.

Open Everything

Theme 4: Open Everything

Hello, I am Dr. Claus Rinner, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and program director of the Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) at Ryerson University. My research focuses on the decision support function of maps and geographic information systems (GIS), and the underlying concepts of cartography, geovisualization, public participation, and multi-criteria decision analysis. I plan to contribute to the GeoThink research partnership through students at all levels of study.

Edgar Baculi, a second-year undergraduate student in Ryerson’s BA in Geographic Analysis, is co-funded by Geothink and the Ontario work-study program. Edgar started an exploration of the City of Toronto’’s open data portal,, with attention to the data formats and data types available for download. He found that 91 of Toronto’’s 133 open datasets have a geospatial component. About one half of these are available in ESRI’’s shapefile format. Edgar plans to extend his contents analysis to the open data catalogues of other municipal partners of GeoThink. This complements a planned longitudinal survey of municipal open data initiatives by two other GeoThink researchers, Dr. Peter Johnson and Dr. Pamela Robinson, within Theme 4. Edgar will also start to examine the demand side of open data in terms of their use by local journalists in news reporting and by Ryerson professors in Geography classes and GIS labs.

Together with Dr. Pamela Robinson of Ryerson’’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, I am also collaborating with the Neptis Foundation, a key GeoThink partner. With funding from Neptis, incoming MSA student Michael Markieta has upgraded and installed the Neptis Geoweb tool on a Ryerson server for use in research and by other GeoThink partners. The tool includes a mapping interface with a rich collection of datasets for the Toronto region, including a settlement development layer that Neptis combined from the individual land-use plans of dozens of Ontario municipalities. The tool also includes a discussion forum, and Michael’’s Master’’s research will examine the analytical and decision support function of such participatory Geoweb tools.

My PhD student Victoria Fast will also be involved in the GeoThink project. Victoria recently presented a novel framework for understanding volunteered geographic information (VGI) through a ““systems perspective”” ( On this basis and a survey of existing VGI projects, Victoria wants to outline a path for effective deployment of the Neptis Geoweb tool in climate change adaptation planning, an important consideration for municipalities and regions worldwide.

If you’ would like to participate in research around mapping tools for land use planning and decision support, open data formats, implications of participatory mapping for news media, or tools for urban and regional climate change adaptation, please contact me at crinner at ryerson dot ca.

Privacy Challenges in Open Government

Prof. Teresa Scassa is interested in Privacy Challenges in Open Government and welcomes your input and participation.

The open government movement promises greater access to government information and proactive disclosure of open data. If it unfolds as promised, a growing volume of information will soon flow from governments to individuals and to the private sector. Such information flows will be relatively free of physical and technological barriers, as well as restrictions on reuse. Canada’s federal government has expressed a commitment to open government, and provincial and municipal governments are also committing to varying degrees of openness. The values underlying the open government movement – greater transparency and accountability, and greater citizen engagement in government processes – are crucial to establishing and maintaining a vibrant democracy.

Open government, however, may conflict other important principles such as privacy. Public sector data protection and access to information laws have long sought to balance the need for access to public information with the protection of personal information. Yet these laws may not be adequate to cope with open government policies that move beyond models of access driven by individual requests. This project will explore the extent to which the open government movement may create or exacerbate tensions between the public interest in privacy and the public interest in open, transparent, and accountable government. I will examine three contexts in particular. These are: where already public information containing citizen personal data is made more readily accessible; where information is about both an identifiable individual and something else; and where de-identified information may nonetheless point to individuals as a result of data matching activities.

You can reach Prof. Scassa at

Mobile Feedback Applications for Base Map Editing

If governments wish to maximize citizen contributions on issues as varied as fixing maps, reporting potholes and commenting on social housing, they likely need easy-to-use tools for citizens to do so. One answer could be on mobile phones. Tool-building is more than a technical issue. Mobile devices have an increasingly central role in our daily activities; they become intermediaries for our interactions with each other, the environment, businesses, and institutions. Recent advances in mobile device and computerized mapping (geographic information system, or GIS) technology have presented us with the potential to develop applications that mediates citizen interactions with government, using geographic base maps as a conduit. This project asks how mobile device technology can allow citizens to contribute to the updating and editing of official maps of their home city. This asserted information would then be incorporated into an authoritative map product. We move beyond the simple citizen-as-sensor or crowdsourcing paradigm to explore how governments not only accept volunteered citizen content (volunteered geographic information, or VGI) delivered through a mobile device, but how citizens become partners with government. This two-way relationship can be formalized through the development of a specific workflow where government workers verify citizen map edits and provide feedback to citizens. In this way, VGI may be integrated into formal governance and decision-making channels.

We anticipate that mobile applications will be the next generation platform for Open 311 and open government. Many issues will arise about their utility and around authentication of data. We want your ideas about and participation in this research! Contact Peter Johnson,, or Rob Feick,

Geoweb and Open Data in Canada: Mapping the Terrain

There is much hope expressed about the cultural, economic, political and social opportunities afforded by Geoweb and open data initiatives. Much of the fanfare focuses on how best to harness the power of information and communication technologies in order to beget the economic, political, and socio-cultural benefits that supposedly will follow. Such a view gives rise to two concerns. First, it places technology as the primary agent, or driver, of change. Second, it advances a form of historical amnesia about expectations for the democratic, economic, political, and social virtues of previous communication technologies, from electrification, through telegraph, radio, television, and the Internet, to mobile phones (see, Marvin 1990; Mattelart 1996; Mosco 2004; Standage 1998).

Geoweb and open data initiatives may enhance efficiencies, bring about greater transparency and foster enhanced levels of civic engagement. But this does not capture all the complexity. Such initiatives, and the technologies that enable them, are inherently political and their politics are directly impacted by the contexts within which stakeholder decisions are made about such things as the platforms to employ and the policies to implement. A cursory examination of the history of technology teaches us that, if we are to succeed in unraveling the myths about the supposed progressive and emancipatory powers of Geoweb and open data initiatives we need to be much more precise than all too frequently is advanced in mainstream accounts. Geoweb and open data initiatives operate within specific socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts.

We are collaborating with a graduate student from the University of Ottawa and colleagues from the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto. The objective of
our project is to begin “mapping” the complex soci-political and economic terrain within which policy decisions about open data are made at federal, provincial and municipal levels. In these early stages the project has two principal objectives: identify key stakeholders (government, industry, civil society) in open data in Canada at federal, provincial and municipal levels; and create an electronic depository of policy documents, company reports, and NGO reports relating to open data in Canada.

Admin note: An underlying question at Geothink is whether there is there anything new with these geographically based Web 2.0 technologies? And do we believe that technology will rescue us from long-standing and difficult to realize processes like civic participation? At the same time, the technology appears new because it allows non-experts to share information—for us, geographically tagged information—and to contribute from anywhere, at anytime and do so anonymously. With the open data movement, government has taken unprecedented steps to release the raw data undergirding decision-making. Geothink will help us and help local governments to understand if there’s anything new going on.

If you have thoughts on this, please email Daniel Paré,, and Leslie Shade,

Making Waves

Making Waves: Developing, Testing and Deploying a Smart Phone App to Share Examples of Good and Poor Water Conservation in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia by Prof. Jon Corbett

Here at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, we have just hired two students, Andrew Barton and Emily Millard, to work on the Geothink project. They are being co-financed by Geothink and the British Columbia Work Study program. Together with our SSHRC partner, the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and a new partner, the Okanagan Science Centre, we have co-developed a proposal that we have submitted to the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia entitled “Making Waves: Developing, testing and deploying a smart phone app to share examples of good and poor water conservation in the Okanagan Valley.” We are proposing to work directly with youth (age 10 -13) in the North and Central Okanagan to co-design and develop a mobile application that will allow members of the public to share photographs and short commentaries of good and poor water conservation. The app will work in conjunction with existing web-based mapping software ( that we developed for a prior grant; it also will include discussion tools. The resulting information, displayed on a website, will make this volunteered information accessible to the general public as a means to make them more aware of water conservation in the valley and provide them with a direct medium through which to engage with this issue.

The Okanagan has among the highest per capita water demands and lowest per capita water supplies in Canada. The environment is semi-arid, and the southern portions of the watershed include Canada’s only designated desert.  Research conducted by Dr. Stewart Cohen and other scientists at UBC and partner institutions have projected serious impacts of climate change on the Okanagan water supply. Yet, the sense among the general public and visitors is that the valley is rich with water. One of the greatest challenges faced by the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is to make people more aware of the increasing need to conserve water. As a result OBWB has developed the Okanagan Waterwise program that has the clear mandate to bring residents of the Okanagan valley together with the understanding that the valley’s water source is connected — and that all residents share the same resource. Hopefully it would increase awareness among valley residents about water issues in the Okanagan, support Okanagan residents in making positive changes in their own water habits that will protect the quality and quantity of the valley’s water, and share ideas about how all the valley’s residents can do something to preserve the unique character of the region.

Our proposed project will bring together three leading organization in the region to directly address these four established, and much needed, objectives. Our proposed project and the Water Conservation app will act as a medium to bring together members from throughout the valley to share their views and perspectives on current water use, to increase awareness of all users of both their own and others use of water; for example users might contribute photographs and their perspectives on xeriscape gardening or low water use public facilities. Through raising this awareness our hope is to support change toward more efficient water use in order to create a more sustainable water management practice in the future.

We welcome your participation in this and other projects, especially since we hope that this project can be generalized to other activities. If you’d like more information or a status report, please email Emily Millard (, Andrew Barton ( or their supervisor, Jon Corbett (

PhD students at work in GeoThink – Harrison Smith

Read Harrison’s biography at I am a third year PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information (

My research is broadly oriented around geo-locative social media and consumer surveillance to theorize new practices of social sorting and digital discrimination within mobile and cartographic information infrastructures. My PhD thesis specifically researches geo-locative and mobile based dating services due to their significant investment in collecting and analyzing personal information, as well as their emphasis on creating affective relationships with surveillance databases. I have worked as a research assistant broadly situated within political economy and surveillance studies. For this project I will be researching the political economy of the geoweb under the direction of Dr. Leslie Regan Shade. This project research will focus on the institutional forces and power relations at play within geoweb infrastructures. The forces and relations will show up largely through understanding the processes of ownership, control and labour, as well as considering alternate forms of geoweb applications that might transcend private sector models. I am very excited to be part of this project, and hope to continue researching mobile and geoweb infrastructures as a core part of my academic research interests.

Admin Note: This research is in Theme 6, the political economy ( of the geoweb, but you can see many of our themes will overlap. Harrison’s research will have aspects related to Theme 3, on law and public policy related to the geoweb, especially where it concerns privacy. It is difficult to talk about the political economy without acknowledging the huge privacy implications of placing so much of our personal information on the web and being able to mine that and other datasets. This is a challenge to be faced by society at large and for governance at all levels of government. We’d appreciate your thoughts on this research and would welcome your participation. Please email harrison [dot] smithatmail [dot] utoronto [dot] ca or leslie [dot] shade [at] utoronto [dot] ca.