I am planning to deliver our geo data in Licensed File Geodatabase format. This option was quite impressive as customer can have good look of the data with limitation and expiry date before purchasing.

Before using this Licensed File Geodatabase, I have performed some tests how other software handle this Licensed File Geodatabase. Here are my observations:

  1. With in ESRI environment (tested Arcgis 10 and Arcgis 10.6) everything is perfect. You cannot open the data without installing license file.
  2. In Safe FME also you cannot open data.
  3. Most interestingly, Mr. QGIS 3.0 can open this secure data with possibility of export this data to any format :)

Here is the workflow to open this data in QGIS:

You should use QGIS OpenFileGDB (default driver) to open this data. If you have OGR FileGDB Driver installed on the machine then first uninstall it otherwise, you cannot open the data (Tested with QGIS version 3.0.0-Girona).

Here you can find the Licensed File Geodatabase for your test.

  • 1
    Another option would be to provide only a small subset of the data, perhaps with some screenshots displaying the entire data set.
    – csk
    May 9, 2018 at 20:10
  • Essentially, this old question on video streaming applies: if you give users access, all bets are off: your Alice is identical with Eve, game over. In other words, a determined user can circumvent your policy, all that changes is the amount of effort required. The only workable way is non-technical: "if you don't buy a license, you're not allowed to use the data." This suffices for most of the interesting cases. stackoverflow.com/questions/1790190/… May 10, 2018 at 9:51
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    @Piskvor I agree in principle, but when your goal is, "Pay me for a license," increasing the level of effort to bypass the requirement is a legitimate strategy. It's especially effective if bypassing the license requirement is more expensive (in time, hardware, etc.) than just paying. In this case, just encrypting the data (separately, for each client/license) would be a fairly simple mechanism that drastically increases the level of effort required to bypass the requirement. Sure, someone could just share their copy and license, but someone buying one license is better than none.
    – jpmc26
    May 12, 2018 at 1:57

3 Answers 3


The gdal OpenFileGDB driver was reversed engineered.. I guess this reverse engineering didn't include the licensing component! Suffice to say - if current versions of gdal can freely open this data, I don't think there's any way you can prevent savvy users from doing that.


There is this blog post (in french, dated june 2015) that explain that the data are not encrypted but merely renamed with the prefix ''GDB_SecureCopy'' that ESRI product doesn't seem to by able to see or open without the licence file.

As Qgis (at this time 2.8) was able to open it (in less time that it would have taken to install the licence file to open it with arcgis) their conclusion was that this licencing stuff gives a false sense of security and that is worse than no security at all (or in other words that ESRI sucks at security and should look beyond its own closed ecosystem...)

  • Very nice blog post. A perfect analysis of ESRI Licensed File Geodatabase.
    – iRfAn
    May 10, 2018 at 14:36

If the data is compressed and licensed it is effectively not readable. It's not encrypted, so it's possible it could be read, but it's difficult.

  • Thanks Lance, this is exactly the workaround suggested by ESRI support. I have tested the workaround and its works but not secure enough for us. As I said above I will drop the idea. Thanks for your input anyway.
    – iRfAn
    May 16, 2018 at 16:26

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