Free Our Data: the blog

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


Ordnance Survey reviewing paper map licences – with a view to removing them?

You think you’ve got something good going, and then it gets pulled away.

We’ve seen a letter from the OS to someone considering a paper map licence – which, as noted earlier, can save thousands of pounds over the “web-based” licences, by allowing you to put scans of maps online.

At the time we queried whether the Paper Map Copying Licence (PMCL), which costs about £50 per year, could possibly be cost-efficient, since it would surely cost more than that just to administer.

Possibly someone heard us in OS. The latter from its licensing department reads, in part (emphasis added, by us):

We should let you know that the PMCL is currently undergoing an internal review. It was originally created a number of years ago and the intention behind the display and promotion rights was only to permit some very limited uses, such as a business showing their location to customers. With time, we understand that these rights could be interpreted more widely than was intended and overlap with other ways in which we license businesses to use our data.

Should you now choose to take out a PMCL, it will remain valid under those terms (subject to termination in accordance with its provisions) for 12 months. After that time, depending on the outcome of our review, we may need to inform you that other licence terms will cover your use. Of course, we will give you as much notice of this as possible.

Ordnance Survey does endeavour to achieve consistency in its licensing terms so that comparable uses are licensed on comparable terms. However, the number of uses to which our data are put – which are continually growing – sometimes means that there is unintended and unanticipated overlap between licences.

Translation: this seems to be a loophole, so we’re going to try to close it. Lots of administrative effort and pencil-sucking meetings and civil service – sorry, trading fund – biscuits will be expended on trying to find legal wordings which preclude you from putting stuff on the web (where so much of business now happens) without paying us lots of cash.

I’m giving a presentation to EPSI Plus next week, about the Free Our Data campaign. I’m toying with the idea of showing how Google would look if it implemented OS licensing on IP.

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