Google Maps Ordnance Survey

Ordnance Survey and the Google Maps API

If you work in a UK Local Authority, I would be grateful if you could send me (confidentially if you prefer) any communications you may have received recently from the Ordnance Survey in reference to the potential use of the Google Maps API on your website.



Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

12 replies on “Ordnance Survey and the Google Maps API”

Cryptic indeed – and since I’ve not heard anything I’m feeling just a little left out – even though we’re using the API …

A couple of months back I did ask the OS if I could use the API but got a clear no. (I am afraid I didn’t keep the email).

OS it appears are not happy with Google claiming IPR on anything published on Google Maps and this in their eyes is a breach of the MSA. Hopefully MSA II will resolve this.


I am aware that the OS has sent out at best confusing advice to its customers. The facts are however that Google does not claim rights in any data you publish, other than a license to use it. The IPR remains with you the publisher.. in full the relevant section in the TOS is;

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 hope that is clear, its your information it is up to you where you publish it.

Unfortunately currently if the data is derived from OS underlying base data its not our data to do what we want with. If local government had got their act together in the days of the old SLA we wouldnt be in this silly position now. Where anything we create over the top of OS base maps they can claim a right to.

While I would never try to claim that the OS position on derived data is anything other than overly protectionist (they have a long track record of this don’t they !), in their defence is google clause in 11.1 not rather all embracing ?

I can understand google need some rights to be happy that they can re-display the data without re-percussions – and I accept what Ed says that they don’t claim IPR – but they do claim a right to do what they like with the data in terms of reproducing, adapting etc etc.

Not being I laywer – I don’t really understand these things – but it seems to me (and from what I hear the OS lawyers) that they are worried that once their data (or derived data) is displayed on google – google then has rights to do what it likes with the data subsequently – and I can see why the OS would be unhappy about this – some LA displays data on google – and google then have rights to do what they like with that dataset ??

It seems to me that if google limited its rights to using the data through the website that was displaying it – that would be much fairer – google is protected from potential copytight issues – but the OS need no longer worry that this will then be taken and displayed elsewhere (even built into the core of google maps ??).

There is the last sentance which says “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.” – but again its not clear – to me at least – quite how far reaching this might be ?

It was exactly this statement that caused such a fuss when google Chrome was launched – and google were quick enough to completely strike that whole clause when they got a lot of bad publicity from it. Can’t the same be done for maps (and what about Picasa whilst we’re at it …)

I hope that this is all resolvable – if google and OS can agree on terms that they can both live with. If they don’t I fear that the use of google maps in the UK is going to be very severely compromised – as the OS are waking upto the position and start to make their decisions clearer.

I don’t believe that google is really out to try and steal peoples data using a buried clause – but if Ed can resolve this by agreeing a position with the OS that would be fantastic – we can all get on with producing innovative mapping using great data. Here’s hoping !


Of course Google is not out to steal anybody’s data…

There does however need to be some form of relationship between somebody publishing information using the maps api and google, to allow the published data to be shared as widely as possible.

Google would not want to have to go back to each Google api sites developer and ask each time a new website was released that used Google Maps, is it OK that site x uses your data as well ?

For me the key point is “who’s data is it anyway”, the Local Authority or the OS ?


“who’s data is it anyway” – well the OS lawyers would have you believe it is theirs – and they have done quite a good scare campaign to maintain this stance – though to my knowledge its never been tested against a LA. The fault was when the original agreements were entered into as “Another Local Authority” points out – but that would be a big one to reverse (though you would be universally (almost) loved if you achieved it !)

And I’m all for data being made as widely available as possible – but I can also see the argument that someone who has invested considerable money in collecting a dataset – may be happy to have it available for viewing on websites where they have licenced the use of the data (by means of a fee of other mechanisms) – potentially ontop of google maps – but would be unhappy that that then means the data is truely in the public domain and can subsequently be used by anyone without further payment (in extremis that potentially actually ends up reducing the quality of datasets available in the long term – the OS may be restrictive in their licensing – but in the UK we do have much better quality datasets that many other places in teh world)

If googles stance is really that the data should be truely free for anyone to use – then its an admirable stance – but I can’t see anything but an impass with the OS – which ultimately may not be a good thing.


This suggests that you believe that not only google – but also any other google maps site – potentially has the rights to use the data as they see fit? And surely if developer X adds some data to google maps and then developer Y wants to use that data on a different site – its down to X to talk to Y – how come google has to broker any arrangements like that ?

If this is google stance – and a compromise can’t be reached with the OS – what it will mean is that data is less available to the public – as LAs won’t be able to publish their (OS derived) data so easily either – and many will be scared off even trying.

Is there not a case for having a licence that allows commercially paid for data to be freely dispayed to the public on a particular site – but for the rights to display that data not go beyond that site without additional payment / negotiation ?

The irony of all this is that depending on the technology used to display the data ontop of google maps – the data may not actually be available for anyone else to use anyway (at least without a lot of work) – e.g. a site which draws data from a secured database or a secured WMS service – but apparenly this isn’t enough to stop the OS worrying.

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