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What if Ordnance Survey’s maps aren’t covered by copyright because they’re right?

A very intriguing story in today’s Technology Guardian, based on the analysis that you’ll find

New study casts doubt on Ordnance Survey’s copyright control points out that

According to a new study by government-funded intellectual property lawyers, some users at least have a legal right both to extract items of data and to pass them on to third parties. A study by Charlotte Waelde of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law concludes that a geospatial database does not enjoy copyright protection, as Ordnance Survey claims, but rather is protected by the European Database Directive.

What does that mean?

Unlike copyright law, which can be used to block the reproduction of almost any part of a creative work – even John Cage’s 4′33″ of silence – the database directive allows users to copy information, provided that it is not a “substantial” part of a database. The use must also be lawful and “not conflict with the normal exploitation of the database or unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the maker”.

You can find Mike Smith’s original posting on this.

OS, as you might expect, OS sees it differently:

“We haven’t been able to consider the report in detail,” said spokesman Scott Sinclair, “but there is absolutely no doubt that intellectual property rights exist in MasterMap – it would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. In all our topographic information, there is copyright as in artistic works. Therefore use of those works without licence is an infringement.”

Now, over to the lawyers…

8 Responses to “What if Ordnance Survey’s maps aren’t covered by copyright because they’re right?”

  1. David Scott Says:

    You can find the report at

    http://edina.ac.uk/projects/grade/

  2. David Scott Says:

    Readers might also be interested in the news that it was announced yesterday (5 April 2007) that Canada has decided to make its own topographic mapping data available to all users free of charge over the Internet.

    See http://www.news.gc.ca/cfmx/view/en/index.jsp?articleid=290039&

  3. Rebecca Seymour Says:

    To get a copy of this Report by Charlotte Wealde go to:
    http://edina.ac.uk/projects/grade/gradeDigitalRightsIssues.pdf

  4. Richard Fairhurst Says:

    When Scott Sinclair says “there is absolutely no doubt that intellectual property rights exist in MasterMap”, the paper isn’t disputing that. Rather, it’s saying that the IP rights in question are database right, not copyright.

  5. maps » What if Ordnance Survey’s maps aren’t covered by copyright because … Says:

    [...] stevecla01 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptA very intriguing story in today’s Technology Guardian, based on the analysis that you’ll find. New study casts doubt on Ordnance Survey’s copyright control points out that. According to a new study by government-funded intellectual … [...]

  6. James Whyte Says:

    There’s an error of law in this story – I’m not saying that it does or does not have any bearing on the substantive issue, but it ought not to go uncorrected. It is in the paragraph quoted above after the words “What does that mean?”.

    Under UK copyright law, any part of a copyright work can be freely copied as long as it is not a “substantial” part of the work. This is because of s.16(3) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, which provides that
    “References in this Part to the doing of an act restricted by the copyright in a work are to the doing of it— (a) in relation to the work as a whole or any substantial part of it”. Thus copying of any insubstantial part is not an infringement of copyright, which is exactly the opposite of what is implied in the text.

  7. Michael Cross Says:

    Thanks for that, James, you’re quite right and I should have looked at the 1988 act rather than relying on memory. The point I was trying to get over is that in practice the courts can and have ruled that very small parts of a copyright work, a few words of a song lyric for example, may count as substantial under the 1988 act; the opinion of the Edina study seems to be database rights are more generous to copiers.

    As journalists, we get rudimentary training in copyright law but we’re advised to consult experts the moment anything gets tricky. Good advice, I think.

  8. Roy Says:

    Except that supposedly the OS’s base date is Crown Copyright, not privately copyrighted content. Does anyone remember when OS attempted to copyright the TOID (Topical Identifier) which is the smallest instance of measurement in MasterMap? It was viewed worldwide with incredulity and some degree of hilarity, akin to attempting to copyright the inch or the centimeter.

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