An Example Of Free Data Creating A Booming Industry

from the how-free-benefits dept

It’s certainly not a new idea to point out that making certain things free can have tremendous benefits in both business and society, but it’s always good to have another example. Copyfight points to an interesting Financial Times article from James Boyle comparing weather data in the US and the EU. In the US, weather data is available for the “cost of reproduction.” Having that data (which is, now, a commodity) lets plenty of people, companies and researchers build more value on top of that data — which is exactly what’s happened. In contrast, over in Europe, weather data is protected by copyright — which, you’ll recall is only there because we’re told it helps create the right business models to build businesses. Except, that’s not what happened. The US has used that weather data to build a thriving private industry which simply doesn’t exist in Europe — because all that data is so expensive. In fact, a study shows that while the EU invests 9.5 billion euros in weather data to get a return of 68 billion euros, the US invests 19 billion euros and gets a return of 750 billion euros (they’re not spending euros, of course, but since it’s the Financial Times, that’s what they’re using to compare apples to apples). That means, the US is getting much more value, and building a much bigger industry, even with “free” data. It’s more evidence to show to those who insist that there is no way “free” can help business grow. When people recognize that free, commoditized products become inputs, rather than the final output of a product, suddenly the economic scenarios look much brighter for “free” things. However, we still have people insisting that once things become free or commoditized there’s no way to make money.

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Comments on “An Example Of Free Data Creating A Booming Industry”

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Brian Carnell (user link) says:

You have to wonder. . .

You have to wonder why European governments bother to produce weather data in the first place. If its valuable and they’re going to extract user fees, privatize it (and presumably competitive pressures would make it cheaper than the gov’t can provide). If they’re going to pay for it out of tax dollars, then provide it free.

I also see this bizarre view on the part of Euro governments with their government docs. For the most part, any reports, etc. that the U.S. government produces are automatically in the public domain. In the UK, however, they are almost always copyrighted.

Makes absolutely no sense for routine government documents to be copyrighted.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

output must be protected though

However, we still have people insisting that once things become free or commoditized there’s no way to make money.

Of course in many cases for this claim to be false there has to be a way to protect the output… for example Free software needs the protection of copyright law to stay free. (But to forestall the obvious rejoinder: yes, you also have to be careful not to be guaranteeing that the buggy-whip makers then never face the chance of going out of business when the world changes).

gp says:

Re: output must be protected though

Great thread. What if it could be established empirically that “free” software would create more social good if it were freely resellable? What would keep the original volunteers from allowing that, envy, ego?
“Keeping it free” is a mantra but it carries with it a lot of ideological baggage that may in fact reduce the overall benefits that the model is purported to create.

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