Free Our Data: the blog

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

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…

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