German Society for Civil Rights sues for the right to publish geographic data concerning wind power

Skip to first unread message

Robbie Morrison

Dec 13, 2022, 7:26:02 AM12/13/22
to openmod list

Hello all

Current litigation in Germany could well result in a seminal ruling in relation to the openness — or otherwise — of energy data.  Indeed, this legal judgement may have implications for Europe as a whole.  Two recent articles on the German Society for Civil Rights (GFF) v Bavaria case:

Unofficial translation of GFF statement cited above (with bolding by me):

Together with journalist Michael Kreil, the Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V. (GFF) is today taking legal action against the State of Bavaria. The aim is to obtain a court ruling that Kreil is allowed to use data from an official database containing geographical information for a journalistic publication. The Bavarian State Office for Digitalization, Broadband and Surveying (LDBV) had filed a criminal complaint against the journalist. The accusation: Kreil had made a database with allegedly copyrighted geographic data available online for download. Today, Kreil published a research in the daily newspaper taz on the remaining area for the construction of wind turbines under the respective distance rules of the states on the basis of this data. The data used was not only collected from public funds: several federal states also already make them openly available for reuse for their respective areas.

With the lawsuit, GFF wants to have it clarified by the courts that the publication of the research is lawful and that authorities may not prohibit the use of public sector data sets by invoking copyright law. Such a ruling would strengthen freedom of the press and information in the long term. "Through its repressive actions, the State of Bavaria is putting pressure on a journalist and thus endangering the fundamental right to freedom of the press. The state should support the use of official data in the public interest instead of suppressing it by abusing copyright," says Felix Reda [see elsewhere for Reda's GFF credentials].

The Bavarian government bases its accusation on the so-called [96/9/EC] database right, which goes beyond regular copyright protection. This property right has been criticized since its introduction because it protects databases regardless of the respective creative achievement in the arrangement of the data sets.

"We have only seven years left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Restrictive rules on wind power development will not achieve that. Instead of addressing this problem, the state government is suppressing information that could fuel an overdue social debate. If the State of Bavaria had its way, I wouldn't be allowed to publish my research," says data journalist Michael Kreil.

Kreil's research and the geographic data on which it is based are highly relevant to society: they show that in Bavaria, the expansion of renewable energies is particularly restricted. The use and dissemination of this data is covered by freedom of the press and freedom of information — it must not be restricted under the pretext of copyright.

[Translated with (free version)]

Additional information:

  • e.V. : Eingetragener Verein / like a registered society under UK law
  • Felix Reda : wikipedia
  • GFF : Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V., Boyenstraße 41, 10115 Berlin, Germany / Society for Civil Rights / wikipedia
  • LDBV : Bayrische Landesamt für Digitalisierung, Breitband und Vermessung / Bavarian State Office for Digitalization, Broadband and Surveying
  • taz : Die Tageszeitung / wikipedia
  • ZSHH : Zentrale Stelle Hauskoordinaten, Hausumringe und 3D-Gebäudemodelle / Central databank for house coordinates, house perimeters, and 3D building models [unofficial translation]

Note that the prior case against Michael Kreil is criminal.  Germany (unlike the US, for instance) provides for criminal sanctions in its copyright legislation and custodial sentences are possible.  (So beware all you energy modelers out there who equate data access with permission!)

There was an earlier and similar dispute around the ZSHH building stock databank but the data activists appear to have shifted focus to wind power data instead.  I presume the exact same arguments apply to both.

Thanks to Mirko for the heads up.  I fully support the comments made by Michael Kreil.  With regard to criticisms of the 96/9/EC database right, Lion and I made this submission to the European Commission some five years back:

The essential problem with open data in Europe (and other jurisdictions too) is that there is no robust legislative support for information of public interest. The intellectual property law covering data is aimed at enshrining private property rights.  And the European digital single market project seeks to strengthen and extend those rights and then maximize the benefit to society through trading — here I am simply repeating the official rationale which, incidentally, reads like a defense for proprietary software crafted prior to the current revolution in peer production as enabled by open source licensing. When those automatic property rights (copyright in collections and 96/9/EC database protection, primarily) become unclear or uncertain at the necessarily fuzzy legal boundaries, then the presumption for risk‑averse users must be that those rights necessary apply.  So I see this GFF case as representing an attempt to push back those boundaries though case law in relation to information of public interest.  Dedicated legislation would be the far better route but then Brussels would need to soften its neoliberal stance on digital markets in the process — indeed their key pillar of "access" does not equate to "open", despite those two concepts often being smeared into one by the news media. The fallback is to push for Creative Commons CC‑BY‑4.0 licensing on energy datasets and databanks from official and scientific sources.

with best wishes, Robbie

Robbie Morrison
Address: Schillerstrasse 85, 10627 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49.30.612-87617
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages