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Are the Show Us A Better Way winners safe from Ordnance Survey?

After the results of the Show Us A Better Way competition – the X-Factor for web services (as I think I dubbed it) – now here’s the letdown. Ordnance Survey has emailed local government organisations waving its copyright stick. And it’s quite a bit stick. One which, in effect, could prevent many – perhaps all? – of the SUABW winners (Free Our Data announcement; BBC announcement), and certainly those which might rely on local authority data that is in any way geographically related – from being implemented, certainly on Google Maps.

Which would only leave OS’s own OpenSpace product. Which as you know isn’t for commercial or high-volume use. Which would rather complicate things.

The OS, we’ve learnt, has circulated local government with a helpful Q+A about how they shouldn’t embed info on Google Maps (or of course other mapping companies such as Microsoft or Yahoo or..) if it has been “derived” from OS data.

Q I want to pass information I have captured, which has been derived from Ordnance Survey data, onto Google for Google to display on Google Maps. Can I do this?

A Any use of Ordnance Survey data, or data derived from Ordnance Survey data, should be in accordance with the terms of your licence. You are only able to provide such data to a third party in limited circumstances, for example, to your contractor undertaking authority business on your behalf, and only provided that such contractor enters into a Contractor’s Licence. (You should note that we believe the terms of the Contractor’s Licence are wholly inconsistent with what we understand to be Google’s standard terms and conditions.)

Therefore, you cannot pass such information to Google for display on Google Maps, and we must remind you that provision of data to Google in this way would be in breach of Crown copyright.

But what is “derived” from OS data? At local government level, pretty much anything if it relates to where something is.

Q What constitutes data ‘derived’ from Ordnance Survey data?

A Simply put, Ordnance Survey derived data is any data created using Ordnance Survey base data. For example, if you capture a polygon or a point or any other feature using any Ordnance Survey data, either in its data form or as a background context to the polygon/point/other feature capture, this would constitute derived data.

It should also be borne in mind that data from other suppliers may be based on Ordnance Survey material, and thus the above considerations may still apply. We therefore recommend that you verify whether any third-party mapping you use may have been created in some way from Ordnance Survey data before displaying it on Google Maps.

OK, then, how about another way of doing things? What if you run Google Maps and overlay info on top of that, rather than putting it “into” Gmaps?

Q I want to pull Google Maps onto my system and host my Ordnance Survey derived business information on top, so that no data will pass to Google. Can I use this solution instead?

A No. Although you will not be passing any data directly to Google, by displaying such data on top of Google Maps in this way and making such mapping available to the public, it appears that you will be granting Google a licence to use such data. This is the case despite the fact that you will be hosting the data on your system. Google’s terms and conditions appear to provide that any display of data on or through the Google services grants Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such data.

The terms of your licence do not permit you to license Ordnance Survey data to a third party in these circumstances.

If you’d like a copy to marvel at, then download the PDF. (Provided as a public service.)

Now, the OS is perfectly within its rights – indeed, it’s asserting its rights as required by its terms of business – to follow this.

But as implemented it would make it impossible for local government organisations to make available any geographical data about locations of objects they own. (And just for clarification, Google does not license OS’s data, not even through a third party. I’m sure I’ve heard phrases like “have to be a snowy day in hell first” but have no idea who said it.)

That means that things like school catchment areas (if given to geographical accuracy, or pulled off an OS-based mapping system) or postbox locations (if local government holds them) or recycling locations or cycling routes or toilets… gracious me, I seem to have listed the top five applications suggested for SUABW.

Let’s be clear, again: OS is perfectly within its rights to assert these rights. One can even argue that it’s obliged to. But I suspect that it’s not going to go down very well with ministers who have worked very hard to get the SUABW competition off the ground, and indeed into the stratosphere: let’s name Tom Watson (Cabinet Office), Michael Wills (Ministry of Justice) and Jim Knight (Department for Education). And of course the Department for Communities and Local Government put up some prizemoney for the competition too. Which OS – which reports into CLG – seems now to be, um, tripping up.

One could view this as a mistake. Or a political oversight. Or perhaps an attempt to force Whitehall, and in particular the Treasury, to decide whether it wants OS’s rights to prevail, or those of ministers who want more openness. In any event, I think that it might be the first test for OS’s new chair, Sir Rob Margetts, who as you’ll recall is required – according to the job advert – to

be an experienced Chair who understands how to build commercial opportunities in the public sector and who has the intellect to take forward a challenging debate about Ordnance Survey’s future strategy. S/he will have experience of change.

“Challenging debate”. Hope your season ticket to London is up to date, Sir Rob.

52 Responses to “Are the Show Us A Better Way winners safe from Ordnance Survey?”

  1. Andrew Turner Says:

    This is an unfortunate, but not surprising, action by the OS. In fact, it is just this protectionist attitude that spawned the OpenStreetMap project.

    I would definitely suggest any projects from Show Us a Better Way – as well as companies and organizations in general – look at using OpenStreetMap instead for their data display and usage. The data is currently licensed under Creative Commons by Share-Alike and Attribution – which means that people don’t give up the rights to their data by displaying information on top of it – and data created using OSM stays open.

  2. dave Says:

    All I know about this I’d gleaned from this article but to me this seems like a google problem, not an OS problem.

    The OS appear to be saying “you can’t give our data away to google” and pointing out that (to their reading) “mashing up” any data with a google map does exactly that due to google’s TOS.

    They could be wrong about this, if not then it’s two organizations fumbling with outmoded data ownership rules.

    A good short term solution would appear to be for councils to derive as much location info as possible from openstreetmap and display it on the web on top of openstreetmap rather than google maps avoiding both traps.

  3. Rob Says:

    The license from Google is somewhat encompassing – but why are a quasi governmental organisation like the OS, so actively discouraging innovation? Let’s hope the Shareholder Executive assessment of trading funds recognises and addresses this issue.

    In this instance, OSM isn’t the solution. According to the pdf instruction from the OS, data derived from OS maps could still not be overlaid on top of OSM because of the OSM Share-Alike licence requirement. There are several other issues with using OSM, not least the fact that great chunks of the country are missing from it.

  4. dave Says:

    Rob: overlaying information on an OpenStreetMap does not in my (non-legal expert) opinion invoke the share-alike requirement, so assuming the OS derived info could be publicly displayed on a simple webpage or OS map then I don’t see why they couldn’t use OSM as a background map. It would be good if someone could ask the OS if they agree, they certainly seem to be talking only about Google’s TOS here. (The OSM wiki seems to support this interpretation).

    And the other part of the equation is, if you are say pointing out the location of all your council-run public toilets, then it would take a council staff member whose job involves visiting them half an hour to pinpoint them on OSM. Even if this is considered derivative of OSM (arguable) then it’s still a better situation than the absurd idea of the OS owning information regarding the location of these toilets as they can then be shared publicly. A cheap GPS receiver could be used to collect (duplicate!) info that is entirely untainted.

    Finally, as Flickr’s recent usage has shown[1], adopting OSM doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you can use it only when it makes sense e.g. if your local council area is covered in sufficient detail for a particular task such as locating recycling centres and your proprietary suppliers let you down with poor/non-existent data or tortuous licensing requirements.


  5. Ed Parsons Says:

    I think it might help to quote in full the clause the OS seems to have an issue with, but with the parts for some reason the OS did not mention…

    11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services…( By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. )…..This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

    I don’t think these are too onerous, the sole reason for the license is to promote the recyling map for example. Still I know for past experience there is little point arguing with OS lawyers.. so we need to find another way round the problem !

  6. Open Rights Group Newsblog : Blog Archive » Ordnance Survey cripples Gov Show Us A Better Way winners Says:

    [...] Source: The Guardians Free Our Data [...]

  7. Pete Says:

    “But as implemented it would make it impossible for local government organisations to make available any geographical data about locations of objects they own.”

    Would you care to explain that to all the local authorities that for the past 7+ years have been using software from their core GIS supplier to deliver mapping on the internet perfectly within their terms and conditions.

    Just because it isn’t using the goggle api doesnt mean it isnt out there

  8. Steven Feldman Says:

    I think you may have been a little unfair to the OS Charles. You have snipped some parts of the OS document (which I acknowledge you have made available in full as a PDF download) and you have missed out the following which appears twice in their brief document:

    “NOTE: The answer to this question is based on our understanding of which of Google’s standard terms and conditions we believe would apply.
    In the event that Google is prepared to offer you terms and conditions which do not involve you purporting to grant Google a licence of Ordnance Survey base or derived data, we would have no objection to your hosting such data on top of Google Maps in this scenario.)”

    When you read the Google Terms of service which Ed believes are “not too onerous” you might if you were an organisation who has been established to create, maintain and license digital data on a royalty basis be quite reasonably concerned. When you read on a bit the same section of the Google Terms of Service also says:

    “11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organisations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.


    11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licence.”

    I can imagine that OS might consider 11.2 to be onerous, for example if Local Government decided to publish all of their BLPU’s which were captured against MasterMap. I would also be surprised if anyone planning to display their data on top of Google Maps felt completely comfortable with 11.4

    No doubt the OS lawyers will be reading the Google Terms with their most cautious interpretation but unless Google’s lawyers break the mould of most US legal firms they will be pretty hawkish in interpreting these clauses in their client’s interest. I wonder whether TeleAtlas agreed to these terms without some alteration?

    So I agree with Ed, we need to find a way of resolving this. At some time the Government may come up with a new funding model for OS that allows them to license data in a different way but until then it looks as if the ball is in Google’s court – maybe they could incorporate an amendment to this clause that explicitly made clear that they made no claim to OS IPR in derived data sets?

    Alternatively innovators may want to consider using OSM (even if it is not 100% complete) or there is the option of using OS Open Space API which if I remember correctly was a pet project of Ed’s when he was at OS and was designed for exactly these types of applications.

  9. Dane Wright Says:

    In practice nearly all the location data used by local authorities (LAs) has been generated using OS maps. This makes it “derived data” in OS terms and the Mapping Services Agreement (which governs the use of OS data by LAs) states that this cannot be provided to any third party unless they also have a licence with the OS.

    This is the issue which lies at the core of the problems with displaying LA data on Google maps and also with providing data to any future Show Us a Better Way system.

    The long term solution is to change the MSA (which, coincidentally, expires next March and is being renegotiated right now) to permit LAs to share data more freely. It will also be necessary to ensure that basic democratic boundaries such as boroughs, parishes and wards can be freely reproduced without OS licensing issues.

    The short term solution is to generate location data for public mapping and reuse using non-OS sources such as OpenStreetMap or Google/Microsoft maps. This is a practical way forward for relatively small volumes of data such as school catchment areas, libraries, public toilets etc but it obviously requires local authorities to duplicate work that they have already done.

    As for the OS OpenSpace API – one can only laugh when reading OS FAQ 6.7 which specifically prohibits its use by local or central government because they are commercial organisations.

  10. James Says:

    I do have a degree of sympathy with the OS here as others have said, the Google terms do seem to be rather all encompassing and asking people to give permissions that they may not have.

    Having said that I’m very pleased that Ed appears to be taking a pragmatic approach – in that trying to get a U turn out of OS lawyers is unlikely.

    Ed seems to be suggesting that this caveat:

    “This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.”

    means that Google are not trying to gain rights to use your data other than to promote the services. If this means screenshots etc then maybe the OS would be OK with it – but perhaps it needs stating slightly more emphatically.

    Wasn’t this just the sort of issue that Google had when they launched their new browser (nice browser by the way!) when they were quick enough to get the terms re-worded e.g.

    It would be great if Google could see their way to doing something similar with the mapping service – at which point OS have stated:

    “In the event that Google is prepared to offer you terms and conditions which do not involve you purporting to grant Google a licence of Ordnance Survey base or derived data, we would have no objection to your hosting such data on top of Google Maps in this scenario”

    so the “Show us a better way” ideas can move forwards. If this drags on too long it can only set back the use of spatial data in the UK.

  11. Ed Parsons Says:


    Google changed the Maps Terms of Service last night making the license requirements much more specific and clearly stating what users agree to with examples of how Google may use the information published.

    I sincerely hope this resolves the issue the OS has..

    The new terms are at


  12. William Allbrook Says:

    Whatever the licensing arguments it is time that local authorities ‘owned’ their geographic assets so they could make unfettered use of them and make them available to the wider public, who pay for them probably more than once in any case. There are ways and means of ensuring that geographical IP is free from OS copyright and local authorities should start to investigate these further.

  13. James Says:


    That’s fantastic news – its great to see that company of Google’s size can respond swiftly and pragmatically when an issue like this arises.

    I’d certainly hope this satisfies OS – can I ask if the question was put to them?

    Many thanks

  14. James Says:


    I agree – that fact that local authorities are obliged to supply OS with several data sets in the first place (thinking of addresses, road networks etc.) which then get sold back to them with onerous restrictions is verging on the farcical.

  15. James Rutter Says:

    As a local authority, we are making a full and concentrated effort in back track from our ‘entrenched’ position with our Ordnance Survey data. We have put extensive effort into Open Streetmap to create for ourselves and the public a map base that is free from restrictive IPR. The modern rendering engine on the OSM mapping project produces maps which are superior in my view to what Ordnance Survey is producing in terms of usability, web display and cartographic representation. We are capturing data down to individual building level from air survey material for inclusion on OSM. The mapping is also way superior to Google, Yahoo, Virtual Earth etc because there is a lot more information other than streets on OSM….although granted some areas are more complete than others.

    We are also supplying address numbering data to every building we add to the OSM project because we’re fed up with everyone making cash out of addressing information, except Local Authorities who create the address in the first place!

    Most Authorities have not yet woken up to the fact that should they ever want to use an alternative map supplier (ie they don’t want an OS licence anymore) the Ordnance Survey currently provides no way to license your data that you’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of time, effort and cash to digitise (and correct once OS hit us with the positional accuracy problem!).

    It seems to me that in not providing any reasonable migration path away from Ordnance Survey this is anti-competitive and flies in the face of all this ‘exclusivity’ stuff that that OPSI is going on about at the moment. The other problems for Authorities wanting to move away from Ordnance Survey is what to do about Boundary Line data (administrative boundary map data). Boundary line data is created on an OS map, given to the Boundary Commission on an OS map, who then give it to the Ordnance Survey, who then sell it back to the people who created it. Why is there no open source boundary data. There is an argument that I heard recently that if there is only one of something that no single organisation should have a controlling IPR in it. Makes sense to me!

    The OS licensing regime is way too restrictive for today’s world but I can’t see it changing any time soon. I’d urge other authorities to start creating there GIS data from air surveys and other map sources so you don’t get shackled with OS IPR issues. If you’re using an air survey make sure you have permission to freely derive data from it and make sure it wasn’t orthorectified using an OS mapping otherwise you’ll end up at square one again.

  16. Gary Says:

    @James Rutter – God bless your local authority for the open-minded and public spirited efforts they’ve put into Open StreetMap. If every authority did the same we can do away with OS and end this problem for good. Can you give me a clue as to which authority you work for so I can check out the improvements your data has made to OSM? I would like to bring it to the attention of my council’s GIS department who I have contact with. It would be amazing if this caught on.

    How difficult would it have been for OS to make contact with Google to seek clarification on the T&Cs or request an amendment? Instead OS don their Stormtrooper outfits and breath heavily down everyone’s necks.

    Thankfully the Royal Mail have a better license for developers and using a bit of API magic with Google Maps or Virtual Earth you can quickly plot pretty accurate data on a map without going anywhere near OS data if it’s addresses you’re after. (Of course you have to pay for RM data to begin with (Data which your council contributes to, so there’s another “we pay for it twice” clash.)

    @Charles, my competition entry is already fully licensed with regards to data and maps, so if all the other entries fall foul of OS perhaps Charles may like to get in touch and give us another chance.

  17. James Rutter Says:

    @Gary – you can check out our work here….

    Switch the rendering to Osmarender (click the plus arrow top right) and youll see the addressing. Move west from Chobham over to Camberley and you’ve got a completed road network, land use (residential, commercial), we’ve just added allotment sites, and the new Atrium development in Camberley, plus new roads you won’t see on any OS mapping yet! There are some footpaths but we propose to capture the entire footpath network by rewalking with GPS units. All the schools are on there, most of the electricity pylon network, and a lot of locality names (and even some older historic names which have fallen from use but useful from a historic perspective).

  18. Ordnance Survey locks down government spatial data Says:

    [...] the Guardian’s Free Our Data campaign reports that the Ordnance Survey has recently contacted local authorities to make it clear that any data [...]

  19. Gary Says:

    @James – thanks for that, it’s looking really good. I just realised that OSM has an export function so the tax payers who’ve payed you to collect and input data about where they live can freely download it in a multitude of formats and use it how they wish. Brilliant! Can this get to a point where you can stop the council’s OS license and rely only upon your own data?

    The savings from the OS license could possibly pay a fair chunk towards the mapping you do yourselves while allowing your local populous to freely access what they have paid for. Can’t the government see how amazing this is, plus it will get every public authority and even private bodies and developers working together and sharing so much more. Everyone will be winners. (Except OS)

  20. Marcus Says:

    As an organisation that specialises in providing true Web GIS solutions, we have just recently encountered this OS data issue within the County Council arena. In the last 2 weeks we have had online meetings and Webexes with over 18 CC GIS Managers to discuss projects and our solutions. All but 2 of them have raised the OS issue. Whilst is does not effect many of the solutions we provide, it most certainly does when trying to engage with County Councils, as boundary data is key to any public facing Web GIS solution.

    We have spent the last 3 years (at great cost) developing a solid core architecture that creates a “black box” 80% completed solution for any project, so apart from being the most technically advanced Web GIS solution, our key benefit is that we only have to do 20% bespoke development work on any project. This means we can deliver very complex solutions in days not months, thus drastically reducing costs, particularly to those organisations who hire external contractors on a Time and Materials basis.

    It is therefore completely anti-competitive for OS to monopolise a huge market sector in this way. Hopefully things will be resolved very soon, so that Government organisations can benefit from a freedom of choice, when investigating solutions.


  21. Colin Henderson Says:

    @James – Does your council’s approach provide a cost-benefit to tax payers? Presumably it costs time (salary) to capture the data from aerial survey as well as the cost for raw materials, hardware, software etc. Not to mention the on-going cost to maintain the data. Does this overall cost work out cheaper than paying your MSA fee? If not, does the potential benefit of moving to an OS license free environment outweigh the cost increase? I’m sure a lot of people will want to know if this is a financially viable option, especially in the current economic environment!

  22. Colin Henderson Says:

    A lot of focus has been on using Google/Microsoft/Yahoo APIs on externally facing websites, but what about intranet based applications? In this arena even the “angels” fall foul of outdated licensing:

  23. James Rutter Says:

    @Colin….yes it does cost to capture data, primarily in time because we have all the hardware and software we need anyway. That said, when you’re interested in a project, you tend to get involved in your own time which is also what we do with Open Streetmap. Regarding cost / benefit, who knows? We’ve no idea how much the second iteration of the MSA is going to cost yet. The point is that we’re investing time in something upfront which will be free for us to use and free for the public to use. We can put what we like on the map…things which are useful to us, instead of just the stuff OS gives us. We are not looking at Open Streetmap in isolation from other data….we’re looking at a bigger picture which may result in us not having to sign an MSA because we’ve built our own mapping data…..and we’re not the only ones doing this!

  24. A P Says:

    @James R… But surely you will still need to sign up to the MSA. Otherwise you will not be able to receive any other OS derived data from neighbouring local authorities, central government bodies etc as you won’t have a license for the same data. You have also not found a way around the boundaryline issue. Since you will still need the MSA, is recapturing the OS data yourself really a cost benefit to the public, or a mini crusade?

  25. James Rutter Says:

    @A P – I never said I had all the answers. Boundaryline is an unresolved problem. Regarding cost / benfits and mini-crusades, we’re simply building a map base which we feel is more suitable for use in our Authority. Open Streetmap provides us with a very flexible platform to put ’stuff’ onto that we are interested in…with the added bonus that everyone can benefit from it. Rather than sitting back waiting for things to change regarding OS licensing, we’re doing something about it. Of course we still use OS data within the Authority, but we’re simply removing our ‘blinkered’ approach to getting spoon fed with OS data all the time. With regard to MSA arrangements in the future…who knows, but I’d rather be involved with change rather than sitting on the sidelines.

  26. Andy Says:

    All credit to James and his colleagues for some excellent work.


    Here in our large local authority, we have several *thousand* miles of public rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and assorted tracks). The effort involved in re-plotting them without reference to OS mapping would be colossal. And rights of way have to be plotted with scrupulous accuracy with reference to the landscape features and boundaries around them. Get it wrong by a few yards and you cause all sorts of trouble.

    Having used OSM, I have to say that it’s pretty variable in its completeness and accuracy. I should know – I tried to use it to create a map for a cycle ride I was helping to organise, and discovered that half the minor roads over the Marlborough Downs were missing. So I added them in, based on a combination of GPS tracklogs and out-of-copyright maps. How accurate were my additions? Good enough for a driver or cyclist to navigate by, but certainly not good enough to settle any disputes about exactly where the public highway runs. Even my GPS is only accurate to 4 metres or so – at the best of times. Don’t ask about its accuracy in woodland or between high buildings! I suspect the same is true of most of the OSM data.

    And rights of way is just one example. Many local authority purposes need mapping to an exacting level of detail – 1:2,500 is a good starting point. I suggest that OSM just doesn’t hack it for that at present, and that the effort required for a local authority to set up its own cartographic department and create maps at that level would be prohibitive.

    Creating our own maps is re-inventing the wheel, and it’s one heck of a big wheel to re-invent. Of course our problem is that the inventor of the wheel seems to have an everlasting patent on it, and expects us to pay royalties every time we pull the cart from place to place.

    The crux of the licensing issue seems to be that wonderful term “derived from Ordnance Survey data”. The OS seems to interpret that however it likes, and eveyone just rolls over and accepts it. I think the interpretion of “derived” data is far wider than it should be, and it’s about time someone challenged it. Sadly I have been informed in no uncertain terms that we aren’t going to be the ones to stick our necks out this time – it’s someone else’s turn!

  27. James Rutter Says:

    @Andy…..cheers for the comments.

    On 1:2500 scale or 1:1250 scale data….we’re not going to use OSM data for those scales….although we’re adding building detail, essentially it’s still large scale mapping.

    You’re right…derived data is the main crux of the issue. I would not mind if there was some fair play license fee that we could pay (if for instance we did not want to sign an MSA) which would enable us to continue using historic derived data….but there is no mechanism for this at present.

    Re footpath data…our definitive mapping data I’m pretty sure is derived from 1:25 thou small scale mapping and is not suitable for display with large scale mapping so I’m surprised about your comments on accuracy.

    I also agree with you that the situation differs with different authorities. Not everyone will find it easy for example to create good coverage of OSM data but OSM will slowly evolve.

  28. Andy Says:

    @James – I believe our definitive rights of way map was created at 1:10,000 scale. I don’t know how typical that is though.

  29. UK Ordnance Survey pushes back against PSI re-use Edu Blog Says:

    [...] Free Our Data blog reported on November 12 that the Ordnance Survey, the UK’s mapping agency, has been contacting local [...]

  30. Paul McCann Says:

    I may be thick, but from what I understand the problem is with using data that is generated from base OS info.

    So im guessing if I set up an application using google maps, that for instance allows members of the public to place markers where toilets were or local recycling centers are, with that information being provided by members of the public using local knowledge then thats OK? Its basically just if data is taken from a database or similar which at some point got its information from OS and not the man on the ground ie the public ?

  31. Terry Paul Says:

    @Paul: But why should the government provide a loo finding website, whose accuracy and success depends on the number of toilets identified by random people marking up a Google Map? Local and Central government agencies (tax payers money) generate 50% of OS revenue, the OS has a database of every toilet and pub in the land, this would allow the government to provide a comprehensive and accurate loo finding service?

    Comments to this post suggest that now council employees are walking around the country with GPS to create half arsed maps because of the poor service they get from the OS – yet more tax payers money being squandered as a consequence of the government setting the wrong targets and mission statements for trading funds.

  32. Gary Says:

    Something’s got to give soon. I can feel the rebellion building against OS and if they didn’t feel it they wouldn’t have sent out that menacing letter last week. But I don’t think they quite appreciate the momentum of the rebellion and the anger or frustration a lot of people have.

    It can only go one of two ways in the end:
    1) The OS eventually wake up and realise they could lose their income or monopoly if they don’t change and start offering hugely better licencing and much more free data. They appease enough people to shrink (but not totally destroy) the unhappiness.
    2) The Government (this one or the next) wake up first and force OS to change their ways, maybe restructure the department, and do stuff that OS bosses don’t like but will win favour with the public and other government bodies.

    Maybe there’s a 3.
    3) Gordon Brown does a deal with Google who give him £10b towards our economic/pension deficit in exchange for an unrestricted license to government and crown data! The government promptly burn the data to 1000’s of CDs and get Dave’s Courier Service to deliver it. ;-)

  33. Marcus Says:

    Or, you pull a nice little PR stunt…..

  34. Andy Says:

    @Paul: Yes, you’re right. In that case there wouldn’t be a problem. However, for many services, it’s the council who are best placed to pinpoint those services on a map. They run the services, they know when a service is going to be relocated or closed; they can provide links to more information.

    So here’s the problem. Someone in the council logs into its wonderful GIS and creates a data layer of all the libraries in the area, by clicking on a map in the places where he knows the libraries are. Bear in mind that the libraries are *not* marked on the OS’s base map: our man is simply using the OS map as a tool to help him identify the co-ordinates of the spot where he knows the library to be. (e.g. he knows that the new Central Library is at the junction of Regent Circus and Commercial Road: he uses the OS base mapping to find the co-ordinates of that junction.) Because the map he used as background reference happened to be an OS map, the OS claims that *it* now owns those data points – they are “derived” from the map. Even if we present those points using a Google map as background, the fact that the person who created the set of data points was using an OS map as background means that the OS claims rights over the data.

    This raises the possibility that we could go back into the GIS and subtly re-position every data point using an out-of-copyright historical map as background reference… but that’s just getting silly.

  35. Peter Says:

    I have been following this debate with great interest, being on the original MSA working group 4/5 years ago.

    On the issue of derived data, correct me if wrong, but that goes back beyond the MSA to the SLA days i.e. always been there. Tracing an OS map with a pen invokes the derived data clause. Problem was they treat it like someone photocopying a book; now in the digital age that is difficult to prove, so scare everyone with a blanket policy ‘you can not use it or we will sue’. This is similar problem the music industry faces in digital format, it is difficult to fingerprint.The geographic shape of my garden and house is always that shape if from OS maps or not, problem is someone is threatening me not to use it. I understand the OS’s point that companies that reuse their information and sell it on, steal tax payers’ information, but go after them not the innovative people who just want to make local services more available. Thus: the formation of ‘Free Our Data’.

    Other point is, if you want change; chase down the people writing the next MSA as let down local government the first time round, the I&DeA. It would be interesting to see if MSA 2009 was consulted on behalf of Local Government or on behalf of the OS (i.e. we need Local Gov to sign this again)?

  36. James Rutter Says:

    @Peter – Correct, the issue with derived data predates the MSA. The crux of the issue is that Authorities have always digitised over Ordnance Survey data because there was never another option.

    Now, for the first time, we have choices for map data, but we can’t take advantage of those choices because we’re saddled with years of derived data which we need to run our business applications but have no way of licensing it other than through the MSA….and MSA2….and MSA3…. The cycle has to break sometime soon. I mean….after all…what would the OS want with a conservation area boundary, or a land parcel, or the position of a protected tree. That’s local authority data….we’ve been paying OS license fees for years, lets free up some of this data.

    You only have to look here to get a flavour of what local government pays Ordnance Survey…

  37. Andy Says:

    @Peter: No, it’s different from the “tracing a map” argument, though the OS is trying to pretend it’s the same.

    Take the public toilets example. We (the local authority) open a new public toilet. The OS doesn’t know about it yet, and it doesn’t appear in any OS mapping product. We use our GIS, with its *licensed* OS map data, to determine the geographical co-ordinates of that toilet, based on *our* knowledge of where the toilet is. So all we’ve “derived” from the map is a set of co-ordinates for a point determined by us. The OS does not own the rights to the georeferencing system, so it’s hard to see how it gets away with imposing conditions on the use of a co-ordinate set.

    If the toilet were already marked on the OS map, and we were extracting that data from the OS map rather than providing it ourselves, they might have a point.

  38. James Rutter Says:

    @Andy – what you’ve said about OS not owning the rights to the georeferencing system is contrary to what I’ve just read here…

    OS claims it does own the national grid and any coordinate transformation algorithms….they just don’t charge licence fees for them….yet!

  39. Richard Fairhurst Says:

    There is no way that OS owns rights to the National Grid (though yes, they have claimed to!). It was introduced in the 1930s. Ordnance Survey copyright expires after 50 years, as we have used to good effect at

  40. Andy Says:

    @James – as Richard says, while the OS may have claimed to own the Grid, they’ve never successfully made that stick in court. As I understand it the counter-argument is two-pronged:

    (1) The Grid is an idea – a formula for creating a grid covering the UK, not a copyrightable work as such. In theory they could have *patented* it, but they didn’t. Even if they had, the patent would have expired many years ago, and anyway they didn’t come up with the formula themselves, they got it from a friendly academic.

    (2) Even *if* it were accepted that the Grid was copyrightable, it’s appeared on published maps since the 1930s (complete coverage by the 1950s) so the copyright would have expired by now.

    Interestingly, if you look around the OS website you will find plenty of copyright notices about the maps, but none for the National Grid.

  41. Andy Says:

    @James again: The link you gave is to a closed user group – and they won’t let me join! Could you summarise?

  42. OrdnanceSurvey Says:

    Just to clear up any misunderstandings…

    Any Police Force can display our data on the web to show crime information within the terms of their current licenses. Many are already successfully doing so and we will continue to support them. We are also supportive of the opportunities offered by platforms like Google Maps. We believe that geographic information in any form is a useful tool to aid communication with the public.

    However, the current Google Maps licence grants Google the right to reproduce, modify, publish and distribute royalty-free, any data displayed in conjunction with their mapping.

    Ordnance Survey operates primarily though our business partners in this area and it is important that we provide equivalent terms to each of them so they can continue to maintain vibrant businesses. Providing unconstrained rights would be seriously detrimental to the work they do.

    Ordnance Survey’s business model allows us to maintain a highly accurate and up-to-date mapping infrastructure but this is not compatible with the granting of in-perpetuity royalty free license terms.

    We are in ongoing dialogue with Google and are aware that they did recently revise their terms. However, these changes have not significantly addressed the problem and the rights granted to them. We have given feedback to Google and we are working hard to find a resolution that satisfies the needs of all the parties involved.

    In relation to the “Show us a Better Way” competition, Ordnance Survey is very committed to supporting the winning entries and developing their proposals. We are working with the organisers of the competition and are offering extensive support to all the competition winners.

  43. Ordnance Survey move raises political stakes | Technology | The Guardian Says:

    [...] avoid OS.Still not happyOne council, Surrey Heath, has already started: one employee, James Rutter, commented on the Free Our Data blog that: “OpenStreetmap provides us with a very flexible platform to put ’stuff’ on to that we are [...]

  44. » Blog Archive » Ordnance Survey move raises political stakes Says:

    [...] council, Surrey Heath, has already started: one employee, James Rutter, commented on the Free Our Data blog that: “OpenStreetmap provides us with a very flexible platform to put ’stuff’ on [...]

  45. Ordnance Survey move raises political stakes » Faceblog.CN - New Concept Blog in Web2.0 Times Says:

    [...] council, Surrey Heath, has already started: one employee, James Rutter, commented on the Free Our Data blog that: “OpenStreetmap provides us with a very flexible platform to put ’stuff’ on [...]

  46. TP Says:

    @Ordnance Survey: Not exactly sure what you have cleared up with your last post, but sounds like you need to change your business model!

  47. Richard Fairhurst Says:

    Incidentally, OS now appears to have admitted that they have no rights over the National Grid to/from lat/long conversion, as they’ve released a JavaScript library to do that – under the uber-permissive BSD licence.

  48. David Earl Says:

    In their letter, Ordnance survey says “if you capture a polygon or a point or any other feature using any Ordnance Survey data, either in its data form or as a background context to the polygon/point/other feature capture, this would constitute derived data.”

    So the tens of thousands of books, magazines and so on that have published grid references over the last hundred years as a means of identifying where photos were taken or in describing rambles etc. are infringing OS copyright.

    Don’t you have to defend copyright, though, in order for it to be valid. OS hasn’t sued everyone (anyone?) who has geolocated a photo or a walk or whatever in print, has it?

  49. Peter Says:

    @OS without going on and on about issues: to me your main problem is you image and the perceived attitude that the OS are the ‘party poopers’. You need to make clear guidance, stop the legal talk, and show us good examples that you fully support and how that came about, please. Then change your rules…
    @Charles – great feature in today’s paper, some it up nicely.
    @Andy and David – tracing a map or making your our version based from OS information, even just using it to locate thing, always invoked copyrights which the OS team would look at and approve. All publication are covered by this, the problem now is with the Internet the publishing world rules don’t exist or are impossible to police.

  50. Andy Says:

    @Peter: I think you’re falling into the trap of equating “tracing a map” (copying points/lines/areas of interest marked on the map) with a *licenced* use of OS mapping as a reference tool to find the grid co-ordinates of a point already known to the user. One is derivation of OS-copyright data, the other is not. The OS can’t change that just by issuing public statements.

    The Internet doesn’t change this fundamentally, as David’s examples demonstrate. If anything it makes it easier for the OS to play hunt-the-infringement, as they can simply surf the Web looking for maps.

  51. Yep Sport » Blog Archive » iFreeThePostcode Says:

    [...] way geographic and demographic research in the UK can be effectively disseminated to the public. Worries about viability of some of the bright ideas in Show Us A Better Way is a case in [...]

  52. The Ordnance Survey For Sale? Says:

    [...] had to change, that point we all came around to agree on. The Sunday Times suggests tomorrow that the Ordnance Survey along with other state owned [...]

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