[OSM-legal-talk] OS coyright issues

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Tue May 9 21:01:48 BST 2006

David Groom wrote:

> 2a) Can I use an OS map to decide when to start my mapping. I'm not 
> being critical of others here, but just making a point - I note from 
> some of the gpx tracks for people getting to / from the IOW workshop 
> that some of contributors travelled on motorways.  As these were 
> unlikely to be included on 50 year old OS maps then either:
>  (i) people were very lucky to have happened to stumbled across a 
> quick route to the Isle of Wight that included motorways; or
> (ii) people may have used a copyrighted source in order to determine 
> how to get to the Isle of Wight and start mapping (and incidentally 
> create the gpx track of their route to the Isle of Wight)

This is a really difficult one to try and answer, mostly because it's a 
lot less black-and-white than many of the copyright issues we're 
dealing with.

It's important to remember that OS cannot copyright facts, just their 
own representation of facts. The OS doesn't have exclusive rights on 
the fact that the M3 goes from London to Southampton.

For starters, you could have picked that information up from a non-OS 
map (and there are a few about, though not many). You could have picked 
it up from observation, e.g. by seeing the "M3 Southampton" signs on 
the M25. Or aerial photography... and so on.

But more interestingly, I believe there's a convincing legal argument 
that publishers are, to a certain extent, offering some information 
into the public domain by publishing it. Let's take the example of the 
Mirror's recent story about John Prescott's affair. The BBC can, and 
did, follow the story up, reporting that crucial fact. The other 
newspapers did the same. I can post it on this mailing list.

Yet none of us have to ask the Mirror for permission... even though the 
work they went through to stand up the story is a damn sight more than 
the OS did to ascertain just that the M3 goes to Southampton. The fact 
has entered the public domain. It's kind of like an application of the 
"fair use" principle.

There may be some degree of contract law involved here. An OS map is 
actively marketed and sold to you as a navigational tool (the 
Landranger slogan is "Your passport to town and country", IIRC). 
Therefore, under the Sale of Goods Act, it is probably reasonable for 
you to be able to expect to use it for navigational purposes, no matter 
whether you have a GPS receiver sitting on your dashboard or not.

IANAL, etc.

OSM has thus far adopted the policy of erring on the side of caution, 
which I believe is very sensible. Bear in mind that the OS is famously 
litigious (I've almost been at the sharp end of their legal department 
before, for the maps at http://www.castiron.org.uk/VisionDoc.php - 
actually drawn from out-of-copyright surveys, personal memory and GPS 


> b)  it was suggested that there might be an OSM workshop in the Lake 
> District.  However it was pointed out that it would be totally 
> reckless to go wandering the Lake District without having made 
> reference to a current OS map.

I think these people might disagree with you:


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