Free Our Data: the blog

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

Archive for the 'Ordnance Survey' Category

Is OS’s OpenSpace all it’s cracked up to be?

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Merry Christmas to our dedicated readers; and apologies for not updating more often – I did blog the launch of Ordnance Survey’s OpenSpace on the Guardian Technology blog, and thought it had been quite well covered. But we could have done it here too..

Anyway, people have had time to (as they say in the US) kick the tyres of OpenSpace. What do they think?

Ogleearth is not impressed because of the restrictions on volume. The OpenSpace FAQ says:

1.4 How much data am I allowed to use?OS OpenSpace allows your API key to access up to 30 000 tiles of data and up to 1 000 place name look-ups per day for free.

5.4 My site gets a lot of traffic, what can I do?Congratulations :! Contact us to talk about the different possibilities we may be able to offer you. If you are interested in commercialising your application, take a look at point 6.2 of the FAQs.

To OgleEarth, which is a well-read blog, that means that

So let’s say I add an embedded OpenSpace map to a blog post on Ogle Earth that shows 9 tiles. That should last me about the first 12 hours of every day. Sorry late-rising Californians, my quota is up! Should I add two such maps within 15 posts of each other, so that the front page of the blog displays a total of 18 squares, then Europe is out of luck too. Translation from OSese: Feel free to have a website that uses our maps, as long as it is obscure and unpopular.

Mm. And it adds:

this is so stupid and tone-deaf to the realities of Web 2.0 that I’m practically sputtering into my Malay gin & tonic. Pages and websites are artificial constructs in Web 2.0, as we’ve now all moved on to services aggregated from wherever they may originate. Do I really have to set up an ad-free and link to maps served from there as popups or iframes every time I want to use OpenSpace? Is OS not aware that advertising such as Google ads is ubiquitous on the blogs and hobby sites that the OpenSpace API is ostensibly for? For the overwhelming majority of bloggers — certainly those for whom 30,000 tiles per day is plenty — the ads at most help defray hosting costs, or else they are injected by web hosters to pay for free hosting services.

That’s not really a great vote of confidence. What do other people say? A Technorati search brings up a long list of results – with people who are happy that OS has done this.

The OpenStreetMap crowd (that’s a compliment – eyes, bugs, shallow) analysed the licence and found that if you generate something new, using information from the OS, which is “a severable improvement” (as in, you can separate it from the map, and it’s better), then it’s your data. A small win…

TechCrunch UK wasn’t impressed, because it doesn’t go far enough for them:

However, it is not great news for startups. The OS has “almost? come to its senses because there remains the issue that startups will not be able to create commercial businesses out of this data from the word go. Even though these are businesses from which the government could potentially extract tax revenues, again.

That’s straight out of the Free Our Data playbook, though we have to say we’ve not been in touch with TCUK. (Maybe we should.)

Blacksworld notes that the OS cartography has far more detail, which is a very pertinent point – and the one which is behind us pushing for this data to be more easily usable.

As its author notes:

The license is a license, so some people and going to love it, some will hate it and most will just get on with hacking. One thing that the guys from the OS were emphasising yesterday, was that they really want people to consult with them. That’s why we were there yesterday – so that the people who made OpenSpace could see what we thought. I think the desire of the OpenSpace team to listen to people’s feedback and act on it is a genuine one, so maybe we could all try some constructive criticism before trashing it. But hey, this is the internet.

It’s a good point. The OpenSpace API could be better; it could be unlimited; but then again, the OS has to pay for its data costs somehow. While it’s a trading fund, it can’t just give away the use of its data centres. We’ll have to wait for a more enlightened regime, perhaps.

Does this sound familiar? Virtual London removed from Second Life – at Ordnance Survey request

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

The Virtual London project has once again fallen afoul of Ordnance Survey, which this time has spread its domain of dominion into virtual worlds that have no physical existence.

So, the virtual London that the UCL team had built in Second Life has had to be un-built. The team explains:

Our Virtual London model in Second Life has been removed from the collaborative environment at the request of the Ordnance Survey.

The research is currently ‘pending license clearance’ as the Ordnance Survey are ‘uncomfortable’ with the use of the data.

Details on the work currently unavailable are in the post below, we are reserving comment at request on this one, but i guess you know our views…

Three Dimensional Collaborative Geographic Information Systems (3DC/GIS) are in their infancy, Google Earth opened up the concept of three dimensions to the mainstream but issues with data copyright, the inability to effectively tag data to buildings and the asynchronous nature of the platform have limited developments.

Second Life however provides a synchronous platform with the ability to tie information, actions and rules to objects opening the possibility of a true multi-user geographical information system. It has been notoriously difficult to import 3D data into the Second Life but at CASA we have managed to import our Virtual London model of 3 million plus buildings into a scrolling map. The map is built from prims that ‘res’ our of a central point to build accurate models based on Ordnance Survey MasterMap with height data supplied by InfoTerra.

We’re very interested by the concept that you can infringe copyright with data in a virtual world. Then again, maps are the original virtual worlds, aren’t they?

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

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

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.

OS: ‘we can’t give away these maps’

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

In today’s Guardian, in the “Response” column – where people or organisations can respond, unedited, to pieces that have appeared in the paper which they feel misrepresent them – Scott Sinclair, head of PR for Ordnance Survey, has written a piece that has been headlined These maps cost us £110m. We can’t give them away for free.

The crux of the argument: that “giving away” the OS’s data (as this campaign is pushing for) would mean a decline in the quality of OS data.

But in repeatedly calling for our core information to be given away, the campaign ignores the fact that someone still has to collect supposedly “free” data, and that it needs to be supported by an appropriate infrastructure. Out-of-date or poor-quality data is useless.

We agree about the need for quality data, though not the “ignores” bit. We have actually thought about this.

It cost Ordnance Survey £110m to collect, maintain and supply our data last year, but we are not “paid for by taxes”, as the campaign often claims. Instead, we depend entirely on receipts from licensing and direct sales to customers for our income – we receive no tax funding at all.

This campaign doesn’t say (not even “often”) that OS is paid for by taxes. We repeatedly point to its trading fund model, and how we think that distorts the market. Though in the sense that just under half its revenue comes from government, which last time we looked was funded by our taxes, the OS does get taxation funding. It’s just indirect.

Many local-authority websites and free-to-air services from private-sector companies embed Ordnance Survey information. We offer an emergency mapping service that helped in the response to the summer flooding. More than 30,000 university students and staff download free mapping from us.

The students aren’t free to create commercial services with it, though; nor are the local authorities, of course, while the private sector companies often find that the costs of using OS data can be downright scary. If you’re not Google’s size, you’re not going to create your own system.

Underpinning all of these examples is accurate and up-to-date information, which requires investment. Experience from around the world, and even from our own history between the world wars, shows that underinvestment can lead to a severe deterioration in quality.

As we’ve said, here if not in print, there would need to be safeguards to make sure that OS got the funding it needed to meet its present targets (where something like 95% – or is it 99%? – of changes are put into MasterMap within 6 months of being captured).

The key aim of the Free Our Data campaign is to force us to give everything away. We believe this would seriously threaten the quality of our information at a time when more people are relying on more of it in more ways than ever before.

We believe it would set off an explosion in private-sector use of the data, and lead to more companies which would create more jobs and generate more taxes. That would offset any extra taxation required to fund OS. Making the data free would also get rid of onerous and inefficient licensing schemes that tangle up central and local government departments, which wonder if they can reuse something or even display it on the web. (Search this blog for NEPHO.)

What’s interesting is that he references last week’s piece about Norway, which removed internal charging for its map data within government (though not externally) and has seen as a result that departments have leapt on the ability to create new systems and concepts as a result of not having to worry about cost or licences. Norway has only gone halfway – it still charges externally – but it shows what can happen.

Ordnance Survey launches “OpenSpace” (sort of); Guardian reports on delays in government GIS report

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Two related pieces of news.

First, the Ordnance Survey has launched – without any announcement we’ve spotted – an element of its OpenSpace platform, with the Explore portal. As originally conceived, this would have let people create mashups on OS maps. However, that functionality isn’t there yet; you can add “walks” (that seems to be all) to a 1:50,000 (Landranger-quality) map, though more is promised for the future.

Ed Parsons, formerly chief technology officer at OS, and now working for Google’s mapping division, comments on his blog:

Although this is nothing new – platial after all offered similar functionality a few years ago – this has been a long time coming. I was involved in some of the design work over a year ago! this is still an important step forward for the OS.

From a technology point of view the service was/is underpinned by the backend system developed to support the long delayed OpenSpace project, so hopefully there will be news about that soon.

Parsons concludes:

Although I would take issue with some of the T&C’s, this really is progress in the right direction from Southampton.

I’d not heard of Platial, but it certainly does do stuff that’s much the same (here’s a randomly-chosen “walk” in London), but using Google Maps.

The Explore page does show some Web 2.0-ness: it’s got a “blog” (more like comments) and shows the latest stuff. Except, as Parsons points out, any “walk” you submit becomes OS’s property. Eh?

Yes – here are the “portal rules“:

7.3 By submitting, posting or displaying any Submission on or through the OEP, User hereby grants to the Administrator a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty free, worldwide licence to use, copy, edit, alter, reproduce, publish, distribute and/or sub-licence the whole and/or any part of the Submission, on or in connection with the OEP and for any other purpose.

In other words, OS can resell your stuff if everyone creates walks it likes. Not exclusively, but for itself.

Which in fact is exactly the same as we want the OS to provide its data to us, the citizens. Except that things seem to have gotten turned on their head, and OS is acting like a big media company such as MTV wanting to piggyback on the submissions of its viewers. (See “Whose content is it anyway?“, from Technology Guardian 21 September 2006)

Rather unhelpfully, although the page says that

The Administrator may update or revise the OEP Rules (including the Copyright / IPR Policy) at any time, with immediate effect, without notice. You are responsible for reviewing these pages regularly to ensure you are aware of any changes made and your continued use of the OEP after the changes have been posted means you agree to be legally bound by the new OEP Rules.

it doesn’t have a “last updated” tag.

Still, it’s movement, of sorts. But what we really want is an API so we can create mashups.

Update: Ed Parsons points out in the comments that it also bans links to “any page of the OEP Portal”. Let’s see how that one lasts online.

Meanwhile, Guardian Technology this week looks at the delays in the publication of an internal government report on geographical information:

Under the government-wide programme to transform public services through IT, a geographic information strategy for the UK was due to be published by July. But it has not yet appeared – and no publication date has yet been set.

Apart from the prime ministerial changeover, there is another reason for the delay: unhappiness that one organisation, Ordnance Survey, is both the government’s official adviser on geographical information and the main beneficiary of contracts to supply it. It’s roughly akin to Microsoft being appointed official adviser on government software purchasing.

The Association for Geographical Information has called for quicker publication of minutes of the government’s Geographic Information Panel; those from the June meeting haven’t appeared on the GIP’s website yet.

One final note of interest: this week’s edition of Guardian Technology carries a large recruitment advert on the front page – for staff in geographical information. It’s a burgeoning business…

Want to put maps online cheaply? Get a paper licence and scan them

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

This will seem really strange, but tipped off by a comment on this blog from Walkhighlands, we investigated further. And it turns out to be true: with an Ordnance Survey “paper licence”, you can scan maps and put them online as you like.

Price difference compared to the digital licence: it’s about 1/50th price, or more if the digital licence waas quoted by a reseller.

There’s more at Paper maps rather than digital ones save site 99% in OS fees, which looks at the problems that Walkhighlands – an enterprising new small business based in Skye, which offers walks in those most beautiful (and remote, and in need of urban visitors looking to spend some time and cash, such as the picture above of Skye) – had in trying to put digital versions of the maps of its walks online.

Set up only this February, it operates from Staffin, in northern Skye, and already gets an average of 600,000 hits every month from about 18,000 visitors a month. It has recently been chosen as one of 26 new businesses to receive funding from Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, and features more than 250 walking routes, which its organisers are expanding all the time.

But when Paul Webster, who runs the site, inquired into the costs of putting printable Ordnance Survey maps on the site (which already offers links to buy the full printed versions), he was horrified by the cost quoted by a reseller: £20,000 per year for the licence for the digital data. (OS says that it did not give a direct quote for that data). Trying to pay that would bankrupt the site.


instead, he turned to paper. “As long as you have purchased a ‘paper’ licence, you can scan maps and put them on the internet – as long as the webpage and the map doesn’t contain advertising,” he explains. He insists that the OS put this permission in writing – which it did, with a letter from a “senior service advisor”.

(We have seen a copy of the letter.)

This confirmed that “paper map extracts currently displayed on your website are covered by your Paper Map Copying Licence”. This, the letter says, is because “

  • the map extracts are being used as an information tool on your website to enhance your business
  • the mapping is not being sold and you are making no financial gain from the use
  • the map extract would need to be used in conjunction with the whole map sheet to give your extract context
  • there is no advertising on the same pages
  • “.

    Now, digital maps have far more utility than scans of paper ones – you can do all sorts of things with them that you simply can’t with a paper one, as Google and Streetmap and Multimap demonstrate. (You can’t dynamically calculate a route or a distance on a scanned map, unless you’ve done some very clever work locating corners.)

    But given that OS has to cover its costs, and that the paper licence only costs £50, it can’t be economical to issue the licence. It must cost more to administrate than is received. It would, surely, be cheaper and more efficient for OS to make paper map licences free.

    Which would be a start.

    Of course, as the article points out,

    this is not OS’s decision: ministers determine how it is funded. But with the trading fund model now being investigated, and OS under fire from a number of other government departments, the time is ripe for a radical revision of its funding regime.

    Time for ministers – perhaps with OS’s help, if it could say how much it costs to issue a paper licence – to have a think.

    (Afterthought: see, we do read your comments – and we do act.)

    Virtual London online plans killed off by Ordnance Survey licensing demands

    Friday, August 17th, 2007

    The map to the side was created by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, showing air pollution (redder means worse; bluer less bad). It’s the sort of map that would have all sorts of uses, if you could make it interactive and navvigable online: you’d be able to determine how polluted the street where you were looking to buy a house was; or (as a planner) where congestion was worst; or (as a scientist) where to site experiments.

    But you won’t find a navigable map like that – only snapshots. Reason being that longstanding attempts by Casa and Google to persuade the OS to license the use of the map online have foundered.

    The reason: Google wanted to make a one-off payment for the MasterMap data the map derives from; OS insists that it must be a per-user system, as applies to all sorts of other people (and which has scuppered other plans in the past, longstanding readers will recall – see “Travel maps of Britain.. measured by time, not distance” in May 2006. There too it was OS’s licensing model that meant that work funded by the Department of Transport couldn’t be shown online).

    In Want to see a great 3D model of London online? Ordnance Survey says no we look at what’s been lost:

    Virtual London, developed by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College, London, represents all of the capital’s boroughs in 3D, including 3m buildings. It was intended to help citizens visualise the impact of new developments and hazards such as air pollution and flooding. The mayor’s London Connects e-government programme has also sent copies of the model, running in Google Earth, to each of London’s 33 local councils.

    Then the problem emerged. Virtual London contains spatial data derived from OS’s MasterMap, the definitive crown copyright database of Britain. Licences to use MasterMap data are a valuable income stream to OS, a trading fund required to earn a profit for the Treasury by selling products and data licences. There was no problem with London’s boroughs using the 3D model in-house, because, like virtually all government bodies, they have licences to use OS data. What they could not do was post Virtual London on websites for London’s citizens to use.

    The Virtual London team blogs their disappointment:

    While it is fair to say that Google can be demanding the lack of movement by the OS does strike [smack? – CA] of an agency out of touch with today’s data requirements.

    The Free Data Campaign has a number of posts and information with regards the practices of the OS. While we have not always agreed with them, and indeed have been warned off openly criticising the OS in the past by the powers that be, we cannot deny that the whole episode has been slightly Pythoneque.

    The OS currently does not have the ability to license models for public usage and this is from a government-funded and approved agency.

    (Obviously OS would argue about the “government-funded” part of that last sentence. But since just under half its revenues come from licensing to central and local government, it’s at least partly correct.)

    The Virtual London team – while saying that they are merely passing on the link (to the world) while “worrying slightly in a ‘we need to distance ourselves from all this for the sake of our career[s]’ sort of way” – point to an article on the matter by the Londonist about OS entitled “Ordnance Survey are not our friends”:

    You’ve seen those adverts for a well known building society, right? – the ones with the annoying chap explaining that it ‘doesn’t work like that’.

    Change the building society for the Ordnance Survey (our national mapping agency) and make Google the customer for a farce that has made London the laughing stock of the mapping world.

    Google – Can we publish the Virtual London model from the guys at CASA? We’ll pay, and even put on your logo so that you get the credit.

    Ordnance Survey – Doesn’t work like that.

    Google – OK how does it work? Lets find a way around this, after all it is in the public’s interest and what with the Olympics coming up…

    Ordnance Survey – Doesn’t work like that.

    When you consider it like that, the whole thing really is Pythonesque. It could have come straight out of Life of Brian.

    Departments weigh in on select committee Ordnance Survey enquiry

    Monday, July 23rd, 2007

    While we transcribe our meeting with Michael Wills – which was very interesting, but needs a proper transcript to do it justice and be sure it’s correct – here’s something to chew over. The Communities and Local Government select committee is holding an enquiry into Ordnance Survey, and ahead of any oral hearings has been gathering written evidence.

    And very interesting reading it makes – notably that from Defra, which is hardly the chummy stuff one expects from one government department about another (even if it is a trading fund):

    Defra and OS have enjoyed a close working relationship throughout the recent negotiations on INSPIRE. However, the Defra Network also experiences difficulties in sharing data derived from OS mapping with our wider delivery partners. [Emphasis added – CA]

    Difficulties, eh? There’s more:

    Defra co-ordinated and maintained the UK government position for INSPIRE. Officials worked closely with OS to safeguard the interests of Trading Funds. The EC starting point in negotiations had been that no charges should be allowed for licensing of data between public sector organisations.

    However, the Directive will require license terms and conditions for geographic data to be consistent across Europe and consistent with the objectives of the Directive, which are to support sharing and re-use of environmental data.

    OS mapping underpins a wide range of Defra Network activities including, for example, the administration of farming subsidy payments and the management of animal disease outbreaks.

    We also need to share data derived from OS mapping with our wider delivery partners, non-government organisations and the public. OS licence terms and conditions can constrain our ability to share this information. [Emphasis added – CA] It is our understanding that these difficulties arise at least in part from the dual role of OS as a public information holder and a commercially operating organisation, which is a specific area of interest for the Committee.

    There’s plenty more from other organisations. Any gems you’ve noticed?

    If councils move to Google Maps does that help or hinder Ordnance Survey?

    Thursday, May 31st, 2007

    Today’s Guardian Technology looks at how a number of councils, notably including the London Borough of Brent, and even some central government organisations, are moving to use Google Maps for their consumer-facing displays of map data.

    In Councils bypass Ordnance Survey for Google Maps, Heather Brooke looks at the shift, which councils are making because in the first instance, Google Maps is free and comparatively easy both to program and use:

    Traditional geographical information systems provide “complex data, complex systems”, said Dane Wright, IT service manager at Brent council in north London, at the annual conference of GIS in the Public Sector earlier this month. Google Maps, by contrast, provides “complex data, simple systems”.

    Wright told the conference: “What we are doing is moving to Google Maps as the primary interface for casual use by public users. This will leave the GIS system for more specialist users. The reason for doing this is to provide a better user experience – familiar interface, easy to use, integrated aerial imagery, attractive, no need for training or large manuals.”

    But, you say, OS is the source for pretty much all of Google Maps data – and where it isn’t then the company that is sources that from OS.

    That’s true – but it does mean that OS becomes vulnerable if Google decides that it would like to shift to someone else for its mapping data. And without knowing the precise details of the Google Maps licence with OS – does it pay per map displayed, per frame downloaded, or is it a lump sum? – one has to wonder what the effect will be.

    Meanwhile, even the government’s Directgov system for finding a school in a locality uses Google Maps (although a number of other Directgov systems don’t). Other examples of Google Maps (or indeed Yahoo! Maps or Live Local Maps) being used rather than OS for customer-facing products are welcome. Seen any?

    APPSI comes out in favour of Ordnance Survey on addressing – but it’s two-edged

    Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

    Deep waters here: this is a case where what goes on in public is more subtle than at first appears. Read on, and you’ll find – we think – that the government is being forced to define precisely where the Ordnance Survey’s “national obligation” ends and its “commercial” (that is, optional, non-core) activities begin…

    Today in The Guardian we report on how the Advisory Panel for Public Sector Information has determined in favour of Ordnance Survey in the row between OS and Intelligent Addressing, which runs the National Land and Property Gazeteer (NLPG).

    The APPSI said that it couldn’t really rule on the matter – which drew what could be seen as an affronted response from the Office of Public Sector Information, which said that APPSI was making a “literal interpretation” of the rules governing PSI.

    As the article explains,

    Intelligent Addressing, which operates a gazetteer compiled and run by local councils, complained in February 2006 about the way Ordnance Survey licenses its address database, called AddressPoint.

    Intelligent Addressing complained to OPSI, formerly Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, which oversees two compliance mechanisms: the public sector information regulations and a “fair trader” scheme. In July, OPSI’s report backed some of the firm’s complaints. Both sides then asked the APPSI, an expert group responsible to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, to review the findings.

    In a 17-page report published on Monday, the advisory panel says that Ordnance Survey’s AddressPoint product is not part of the mapping agency’s “public task”. As such, it cannot breach regulations covering the supply of public sector information. The APPSI recommends that the company take any further complaints to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

    Here’s the interesting point. If AddressPoint isn’t something that OS needs to do (because it’s not “public task”), then that must be something that lies on the commercial, not PSI, side of its operations. In which case there must be other data that needs to be defined as being the public task.

    But equally, one would expect that like the Met Office, which has to charge itself fairly for the data it collects and then resells, this will prevent the OS cross-subsidising itself. In effect, it would strip back what the OS does to a “public task” bone.

    Richard Susskind, the head of APPSI, may have made a clever move by palming this off. It in effect forces OPSI to determine what OS’s public task is, and what the limits of PSI are.

    We’ll watch with interest.

    Ed Parsons, formerly of Ordnance Survey, now of Google

    Sunday, April 8th, 2007

    Ed Parsons, formerly the chief technology officer until last December at Ordnance Survey (whose reason for leaving was never made clear), now has a new job and a

    new office…:

    “This week I joined Google as the Geospatial Technologist for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and to say I am excited would be somewhat of an understatement.”

    This is intriguing news, really, for OS. The launch last week of Google’s My Maps (, which lets anyone create their own annotated maps, means that Google is encroaching more and more on territory that the OS could once – before the web – have called its own.

    Now, OS will still have a grip on low-level mapping down to the metre-accuracy level (companies wanting to dig up streets need to be sure where buildings are) for now.. but if Google really sees a market in something, that might not be the case for long. And it might also be true that Google is repurchasing OS data.. but not all of it.

    Things are changing. And this is quite a change. Will OS now go ahead with its OpenSurvey project, which Parsons tried to make happen?

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

    Thursday, April 5th, 2007

    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…

    ‘What happens at the next Lockerbie?’ – the risks of killing NIMSA

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

    One of the points that I made during the Open Knowledge Foundation meeting in London last week was that the Ordnance Survey knows when everything changes. It has a mission to map the UK, and pretty much anything the size of a garden shed will get noticed by its overflights. (Wouldn’t local authorities love to know about changes in their areas that conformed or didn’t to planning permission? How much do they have to pay if they do?)

    I’ve been to OS – which apparently six of the eight past ministers in charge of OS haven’t – and seen the work they do loading the overflight data onto the MasterMap. It’s impressive. The OS target is to get 99.6% of changes in the database within six months.

    However the end of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA) last year means that the OS gets no subsidy to map areas that are out of the way. If it’s having to compete with a growing number of commercial services (apparently the latest one Vanessa Lawrence is concerned about is China’s mapping agency), how can it justify mapping remote areas at that speed?

    Ed Parsons, former chief technology officer at Ordnance Survey, says that it won’t. “Areas in cities will get updated, but in Scotland your new garden shed might not be noticed for five years.” Nice for your garden shed – but what happens when a plane or a tanker or some other disaster happens in that remote area that has been neglected because of the death of NIMSA?

    That is why the Free Our Data campaign says that Ordnance Survey is valuable – and that the government has a responsibility to citizens to make sure the UK is well mapped, within the public sector. Duncan Shiell of OS, who spoke at the NCeSS event, said that between the wars, councils did a lot of the mapping – but that when the OS was re-funded back to strength and took it over, it discovered that many of the maps didn’t join up across county boundaries... explains what happened between the wars in the comments (Any errors are mine, from misremembering.)

    We think the point remains though. That’s why you need a well-funded – taxpayer-funded, not privatised – OS.

    Hospital health mapping project blocked.. yes, Ordnance Survey again, this time vs Department of Health

    Monday, February 26th, 2007

    Yes, you’d rather read about how successfully we’re being in getting the government to listen to this campaign. (Well, we hope to have some more news on that later this week.)

    Meanwhile, you can read about how the North East Patient Health Observatory (Nepho) wanted to map data such as life expectancy, mortality and so on by local authority.

    Sorry, said the Ordnance Survey, but no. Hence the announcement:

    This service is currently suspended at the request of Ordnance Survey until an agreement for the use of certain data files and software has been reached between OS and the Department of Health. We regret we are unable to provide this service at this time.

    So have we got this right? One arm of government needs permission from another (very much smaller) arm of government to create maps of data that would help the very much bigger arm of government – and the taxpayers wanting to know what’s happened to their taxes in the bigger government department – find out what’s happening.

    Maybe it’s just me, but this seems daft.

    Update 1 March: Ordnance Survey’s PR has got in touch, and sends this response:

    NEPHO chose to withdraw from the pan-government agreement for mapping data when the Department for Communities asked them to pay a contribution like everyone else. They withdrew but continued to use unlicensed data. That situation is unfair to the other members of the agreement and we were required to ask them to stop. In order to find a solution we are actively working with NEPHO and advising them that they can access the data they need under the agreement as a contractor for the Department for Health. It is not a matter of us versus the Dept for Health as you claim in the headline.

    We’ll see if we can get some clarification from NEPHO.

    Who owns Scotland? Now without maps!

    Friday, February 23rd, 2007

    The owner of the Who Owns Scotland site, which aims to document the ownership of the land in Scotland (durr), gets in touch to tell us about how the Ordnance Survey (sorry, yes, them again) kept switching its position on whether and how or even if he could use its maps on his site.

    As this page he outlines his problems:

    All Ordnance Survey (OS) digital mapping was removed from this website on 23 February 2007. This was due to the unilateral termination of my contract by OS in October 2005 and my unwillingness to accept the new terms that were being proposed by them due to excessive costs, continuing contractual uncertainty and a breakdown of trust.

    The problem arose because depending who he spoke to in OS, he either was allowed or wasn’t allowed to use their maps on his site. Eventually, just as he was trying to decide whether to renew his licence (he was paying, like a good protesting but law-abiding citizen) to use the maps, the OS told him that it had summarily ended the contract about six months earlier.

    It was recently established that OS has “no more than sewven lawyers, amounting to 6.2 full-time equivalents”. One feels that they’re spending time undoing each others’ work. Now, if there weren’t any copyright issues…