The Null Device

Ordnance Survey vs. local councils

Britain's local councils and government departments have started to embrace web-based mapping technology, and using systems like Google Maps to display geographical information, from the locations of public toilets and recycling facilities to crime statistics. Of course, the Ordnance Survey, that troll under the bridge of UK geodata, doesn't like this one bit, and has started making threatening noises at local councils, warning them that they are prohibited from putting any data that has ever touched Ordnance Survey data on Google Maps. Of course, they might be willing to take a more agreeable line if the councils (and consequently, the taxpayers) paid them more to license the data (which was gathered using taxpayers' money, and subsequently privatised in line with Thatcherite-Blairite ideology) for web-based maps; in the meantime, they have offered the councils their own Google Maps substitute, which comes with its own poisonous licensing conditions:
The move also seems to block most of the winners of Cabinet Office's recently completed £80,000 Show Us A Better Way competition to find innovative ways to use government-held data. The winner of that competition, a site called Can I Recycle It?, would rely on locating local recycling centres - which OS could argue has been derived from its maps if a council keeps them with any sort of geographical referencing. The same would be true of another winner, Loofinder, which aims to make locations of public toilets available in a map online, just as described above.
Although OS issued a press release congratulating the competition winners and offering them "full access" to its Google Maps-like OpenSpace system - which has similar programmability - the OpenSpace licence limits the number of viewings allowed per day, and bans any use by business, central or local government. Furthermore, OS claims ownership of any data plotted on an OpenSpace-derived map. And the use of derived data would break its licence with authorities.
However, this time this may have consequences the OS weren't anticipating; some councils are now making noises about buying a few GPS units and paying people to go around, collect coordinates of boundaries and facilities, and plug them into OpenStreetMap, essentially telling the Ordnance Survey to go jump.

There are 1 comments on "Ordnance Survey vs. local councils":

Posted by: gjw Sat Nov 22 09:44:20 2008

My job involves gathering a lot of spatial data from government departments to use in GIS for ecological research - a wide variety of maps and satellite imagery. It is often a lot easier to obtain this data from US government departments than Australian ones. I think because Americans are so anti-tax, the ironic result is that people DEMAND free public access to the data that was paid for my their taxes. In Australia (and, I imagine the UK, although I haven't dealt with them), public agencies tend to have an attitude of "this is OUR IMPORTANT WORK, you're not getting your grubby little hands on it", leading to expensive data access fees and ridiculous licensing agreements. A recent project I was working on was funded by a grant that partially came from a government Land Information office, and we had an in-kind-contribution agreement with them...but it still took 6 months worth of negotiation to talk them into letting us scan some 30-year old aerial photographs.