Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

Ordnance Survey in the dock again with OPSI

This week in the Guardian we’re following the travails of the Ordnance Survey again. This time there has been a formal complaint about the terms it imposes for data about boundaries created in the Census:

The complaint concerns data delineating “output areas” from the 2001 census, the most recent national headcount. These areas are the smallest units in which data from the census is released; to protect anonymity, each covers about 125 households. By working at this scale, businesses can extract a huge amount of socioeconomic data to help them to decide where to open new outlets and even what products they should stock.

As with many other kinds of data, the most convenient way to display output areas is on a map. This is where the problem lies. The boundaries delineating output areas rely on data provided by Ordnance Survey, which as a trading fund generating returns from sales, treats intellectual property as a commercial asset. Anyone may view the boundaries online, but businesses wanting to include them in a product must negotiate licensing terms.

And you can probably guess where licensing of data ends up: with complicated terms and conditions that seem to involve chasing the Crown Copyright virus to the ends of the earth. Thus the Target Marketing Consultancy has made a formal complaint to the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) under the Information Fair Trader Scheme, to which OS subscribes.

The OS previously fell foul of an OPSI decision over land gazetteer data: OPSI found against it. OS was meant to release data – but we’ve not heard anything about the OS appeal against the decision (which it said it would consider). Anyone else know more?

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