Free Our Data: the blog

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

Public money paid for it – but the public can’t view because of crown copyright

The longer this campaign goes on, the more we seem to generate headlines like that on this post. The latest example is the project by University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis,

(image from the CASA blog; see below for link)
In Copyright fight sinks virtual planning, Michael Cross points out how the Virtual London project can only put clips on YouTube and small examples on its blog, because it is barred from putting the whole project online – which would let any of us zoom through a virtual London, and see how the Olympics projects might look, or model flooding, or planning or any of a host of truly useful activities – by, yes, the licensing restrictions imposed by Ordnance Survey.

That’s because the model lays the OS’s Mastermap (with details of all buildings and heights in the UK) over a Google Maps system. For London, it’s very impressive – see the Casa blog.

Is this, strictly, OS’s fault? Not really – it’s the fault of a government attitude which insists that every bit of data must be sweated as an asset; OS must cut its cloth to fit that insistence.

The real obstacle is crown copyright. For data gathered with taxpayers’ help, and by organisations answerable to the government, crown copyright makes less and less sense in a world where the free movement of data enables more activity.

After all, isn’t this the same administration which abolished museum charges? What was the rationale for that? Interestingly, less than a year after doing so, museum visits were up by 62%. We suspect that if you scrapped data charging you’d see a lot more than a 62% rise in the use of data such as the OS’s. (If anyone can find the cost of the free museums initivative, we’d like to hear.)

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