Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Spatial Information Science and Engineering


Harlan Onsrud

Second Committee Member

M. Kate Beard-Tisdale

Third Committee Member

Silvia Nittel


Advancement in digital archiving technologies provides researchers with a multitude of methods for sharing their research and data digitally with others. However, when acquiring data from others directly or indirectly the law often imposes an assumption of copyright in the dataset acquired. This creates a difficult legal situation affecting future use and creation of derivative works from the data. A digital commons may be defined as a shared resource in which creators of contributed materials (data) grant a legal right for all others to use the material under the provisions of an open-access license. This thesis hypothesizes that an approach can be developed that automates the intellectual property rights and licensing management for contributors to a commons of geographic data. In addition, an approach can be developed such that contributors receive credit for their data, and the source of the data can be identified even through generations of alteration and reuse. The technological approach presented centers around embedding both visible and hidden identifiers in contributed data files. The identifiers, which remain intact through reuse and derivatives of the data, display the open-access licensing provisions to future users of the data. The research also involves using the identifiers to retrieve standards-compliant metadata records for the data and preserve links between different versions of the data. Because contributors of data are more likely to receive credit and recognition for their contributions of data when used by others and legal clarity is increased, this new approach may provide incentives to contributors to more openly share data and thereby provide greater benefits to the community through its availability.