Commodification of public interest information

There is a push within the European Union under the rubric of a digital single market to commodify data including data of public interest. This civil litigation case, Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V. v Free State of Bavaria, currently before a court in Berlin, highlights that dynamic. This particular case is in reaction to early civil and criminal action by the State of Bavaria, noting that willful copyright infringement can constitute a crime under German law.

The case centers on a database recording the remaining area available for the construction of wind turbines in Germany based on mandatory separation rules. An earlier incarnation of this dispute covered the ZSHH database of buildings by type and energetic performance.

As GFF reports (the translation provided here is unofficial):

“Together with journalist Michael Kreil, the Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V. (GFF) is today taking legal action against the Free 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 his research in the daily newspaper taz on the remaining area for the construction of wind turbines under the respective distance rules of the various federal states on the basis of this data. The data used was not only collected using public funds: several federal states also already make them openly available for reuse for their respective areas.”


“The Bavarian government bases its accusation on the so-called 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 Free 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."

Further reporting:

Some abbreviations:

  • taz : a German newspaper, see wikipedia
  • GFF : Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V., a non‑profit based in Berlin, see wikipedia
  • LDBV : Bayrische Landesamt für Digitalisierung, Breitband und Vermessung
  • ZSHH : Zentrale Stelle Hauskoordinaten, Hausumringe und 3D-Gebäudemodelle (databank)