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GIS 691: Project Concept and Scope: Using Maps & Data

Responsible Use of Information

This page highlights the need to use information responsibly. When looking for information on the free web, whether they are images, maps, or data, it becomes especially important to use these resources responsibly. To do this you need a basic understanding of copyright.


An Overview of Copyright

Actions like the following involve copyright.

  • using course reserves
  • reading an article
  • copying a chapter from a book
  • writing papers
  • posting selfies
  • sharing social media posts
  • downloading
  • uploading
  • printing


In order to responsibly use information, we need to understand copyright. This tutorial is a quick introduction to the basics.

When you're done, take a moment to think about how this might relate to the need to acknowledge sources in a bibliography of list of citations.

1. Someone creates something tangible

The work must be in some form that can be seen, touched, or heard like a

  • map
  • dataset
  • image
  • audio recording

2. The creator has copyright over the work

Once a creation is in a tangible form, there are rights automatically granted to its creator. These legal rights protect the creator by limiting what others can legally do with the work.

These rights can limit others from What does this mean?
making duplicate copies of the work You may have the technology or other ability to print, download, or save a copy of a map, image, or dataset to your computer or device, but you might be breaking the law.
sharing copies of the work You may have the technology or other ability to share a social media post or embed a map on a website, but you might be breaking the law.
displaying the work publicly You may have the technology or other ability to display another's map, image, or dataset to a website, but you might be breaking the law.
modifying or incorporating the work into something new You may have the technology or other ability to create a mash-up of a basemap and data layers, or you might create a spatial database using other's datasets, but you might be breaking the law.


3. How do I know if I can legally use a work?

To determine if you can legally use a work, you'll need to do a bit of investigating. You'll have to see if the work, its website, or its publisher provides the necessary information. It may appear in an item's description (metadata record), an FAQ, an "About Us" page, a "Terms of Use" page, etc. If no information is provided, you may have to contact the creator or other responsible party or you'll have to decide what risks you're willing to take. 

  1. The first question to ask is, "Is this work in the public domain?" If it is, be happy because you are free and clear to use the work. 
  2. If it isn't in the public domain, what copyrights are in effect? How are you limited from using the work? What conditions do you need to follow? If no copyright information is available, you must assume that all rights are reserved. 
  3. If your desired use infringes on copyright, you'll need to decide if your use of the work might be protected under fair use. Look at Am I legally able to use an image|song|map from a copyrighted work?