Who reads the Terms of Service anyway..

Update : As this discussion has grown in scope, and to allow my colleagues back in the States to follow this important thread can I ask you continue posting comments at

Well in the UK almost everybody involved in the GI industry!

A while ago I made a rather cryptic blog post asking for any information regarding a communication that had been sent from Ordnance Survey to Local Authorities, this is the communication highlighted by Charles in the Guardian yesterday.

As the Guardian article points out the OS was unhappy with local authorities signing up to the Google Maps API terms of service as it required a “broad” re-licensing of the data to Google and the users of Google maps based sites.

Yesterday, Google published an updated Terms of Service for both Google Maps and Earth,  which I hope will go some way to solving this issue.

The relevant section of the new terms of service with reference to the publishing of user generated content I reproduce below..

11. Licenses from You to Google.

11.1 Content License

(a) You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Your Content. By submitting, posting or displaying Your Content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute Your Content. This license is for the purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Service.


So part (a) says.. your data is your data, Google can make no claim over its ownership. You provide Google with a license to reproduce your maps only for promotion purposes, e.g. like the screenshot below or in a powerpoint presentation.



(b) You give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to access, reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute business listings data contained in Maps API Implementations. For example, if you create a store locator application, Google may use the business listings information from the store locator to improve the Google Services such as Google Maps and local search.


Part (b) is really about improving local search, if you are opening a new chain of coffee shops (not perhaps the best time methinks) and you produce a store locator that uses Google Maps, then you are allowing Google to use your store locations in the Google Search index, so people will be able to find them from other sites in addition to you own.
For local authorities this might be relevant for the location of public offices, libraries, schools etc. Type “Teddington Schools” into Google and you get a list that looks like this..
Really useful I think..


(c) You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make Your Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.


Part (c) really just highlights how the geoweb works, it you create a google map with the location of your recylcing centres, that map may be syndicated to users of mobile phones on the Vodafone network for example, who have access to Google Maps as a standard option on their phones.


(d) You understand and agree that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Service to our users, may do the following:

(i) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and

(ii) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media.  


Part (d) is about making technical changes to the way maps are displayed to take into account bandwidth and device limitations.


11.2 Brand Features License. You grant to Google a nontransferable, nonexclusive license during the Term to use Your Brand Features to advertise that you are using the Service.


Google can use your logo to illustrate the fact you are a Google maps/earth user.


11.3 Authority to Grant Licenses. You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licenses.


This might be the difficult point, it is saying that by publishing the locations of your schools, coffee shops, crime statistics etc. you have the rights to share the information, because it is yours to share. I can see the OS view on derived data may make this currently difficult, but lets hope that that is something that can change.

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

28 replies on “Who reads the Terms of Service anyway..”

“You provide Google with a license to reproduce your maps only for promotion purposes” – are you saying that the last sentence in section 11.1(a) really makes 11.1 mean just that? That might sound fair, but even that isn’t allowed for data derived from OS mapping, which a vast amount of useful UK spatial data is. Also no-one in the UK (apart from the Queen?) has the right to grant Google any licence to display OS-derived data, so no-one can satisfy 11.3 in respect of vast amounts of UK data that is based on OS mapping.

Also it would be nice to get clarification from someone as to whether data derived from Google Maps, which in the UK are derived from TeleAtlas data, which in turn is derived from OS data, is considered derived from OS data or not. Several years ago OS Customer Services told me that tracing from Google/TeleAtlas maps did not create a derivative work, but the recent advisory note from OS suggests that this might in fact be an issue.

Very interesting to see the Met Police crime map as your example: this would appear to be the first in the firing line for maps that display OS-derived data (Census areas) using the Google Maps API.

Hopefully common sense will soon prevail, and useful maps such as this will be allowed to remain (or at least something suitable will be made available to replace the Google Maps, perhaps OS OpenSpace??).

Well done to Google for creating such a useful API, that has really made a difference to how things are presented on the world wide web! Lets hope UK sites are allowed to use it in future.

G’day Ed,

From the TOS

“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make Your Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals…”

This doesn’t specify any particular type of content, it just says ‘content’.

I don’t understand how google could take my content as displayed on maps and repurpose it for other media, considering they’d need to ‘borrow’ it from my servers & work on the files, then host my content themselves & give it away, wiping out my business in the process.

It seems to me that this requirement would really only apply to Mymaps where the user is putting the data/content into google in the first place?

I don’t believe Google is planning to ‘borrow’ all my virtual tour content and give it away, but the terms seem to say they can.

Thanks, Aaron Spence.

I believe another important issue is missing here – TOS for developers who are doing mashups development. Those guys are not data owners but they usually register an API key in order to run maps on their development servers. I think either a special ‘developers’ TOS or sand-box API key might be a good solution for this problem.

I’m afraid that the clarifications offered by Ed in the blog post don’t actually help. It’s the Terms of Service themselves which have to include the limits he outlines.

11.1(c) doesn’t just say that Google Maps for Mobile will include Your Content; it says it can be syndicated to anyone who has a relationship with Google. I certainly don’t want my geographic information (for which companies are actually prepared to pay money) syndicated for nothing. Nor do I really want it to happen with 11.1(b) either.

It would be far more helpful if Google were to say that they will extract this data from information given to them (in a GGeoXml call, for example) than simply take it from a site using the API.

I find it interesting that introducing advertising on API maps was mooted at the very beginning, but it wasn’t present so developers said to themselves “We’ll deal with that when it happens” and carried on. But simply appropriating My Content because I happen to use Google’s API to display it isn’t in the same league at all; and had that been included the original TOS no-one would have taken up Google Maps. As it is, an enormous amount of effort has been invested in developing maps using the API, and Google are now suddenly saying “Thank you very much: we’ll have that data. Oh, you don’t like it? Throw away your investment and start from scratch with Virtual Earth.”

And that’s just me: that’s entirely without involving Ordnance Survey.

I do agree with Colin and Barry: some sort of engagement with developers prior to issuing new TOS would have been useful. As it is, Google just looks like Big Brother who can appropriate whatever takes its fancy.


The syndication point is fair I was not impliying this was just about GMM , but I used it as an example of the type of syndication possible.

If you chose to publish information on the web implicitly you are sharing that information with whoever uses your site, of course you always have the ultimate recourse not to publish your map in the first place or use another service which ether has TOS you prefer or who may actually do the same thing thing but are not as explicit in their terms.

This really is not a land grab conspiracy by Google, I would take a look at some other TOS for other online services to compare with this, I think you wlll find there is nothing unusual here.



I think the distinction is we are now required to give an explicit license (I maintain there was reasonable doubt before) to the content. We don’t give a license to a visitor – unless we choose to – they can view it but have limited permission to reuse it. (but it doesn’t stop them in reality)

In terms of the ‘geoweb’ being indexed by bots – which is basically just allowed by omission, unless you say no, then it can be indexed. But in theory search engines should still have to abide by copyright. With this licence – which has NO opt out – Google is demanding an actual licence to the data, and once its been granted there is no recorse to have it removed. Google could quite rightly say ‘but we have a licence to the data, a developer used it in a API mashup’

Don’t get me wrong I want to share the data in most cases – much of it even listed in sitemap files, but dont want to give it up in perpertuality. For the duration of the terms we are effectively granted a license to display data, but we dont get to keep it at the end of it.

Geograph which involved with even requires users to adopt a Creative Commons license to submission – about the only restriction is needs to attribute reuse. Now Google could happily reuse that, but the license laid down in the Terms is even more liberal than that – not even attribution is required.

It gets worse when the API developer is using data from others – they have probably have a certain license do something with the data, but we have no power (as required by the terms) to grant anyone else a license. Ok maybe it said that now we should get a license to do this, – but then with entities like the OS, that simply wont be possible (in the short term at least)

> I think you will find there is nothing unusual here.
Which why havn’t used some many of them. But I’ve jsut checked now, and non appear to require an actual irrevocable license to the data – it exists for the term of the use. But if the terms are not as explicit in demanding a licence, but the entity says it does then there is then grounds to refute

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