Free Our Data

The Guardian technology section has launched an excellent campaign to ‘Free Our Data’. I’ve been banging on about this for years, so it’s good to see the idea gaining momentum.

The Guardian uses the example that it’s easier to create UK maps using the American Google Maps than our own Ordnance Survey. This is because the OS charges for this data. This is not the case in America where any information created or collected by a public body is copyright free.

See my article: ‘Why we must cut the costly Crown Copyright’

The late Peter Weiss, of the US National Weather Service, did the most comprehensive analysis of the American versus the European system of restrictive copyright. In his paper Borders in Cyberspace: Conflicting Public Sector Information Policies and their Economic Impact, he mentions a 2000 study for the European Commission carried out by Pira International, that points out the enormous economic benefits of the US approach. The US and EU are comparable in size and population; but while the EU spent €9.5bn (£6.51bn) gathering public sector data, and collected €68bn selling and licensing it, the US spent €19bn – twice as much – and realised €750bn – over 10 times more.

Weiss stated: “Governments realise two kinds of financial gain when they drop charges: higher indirect tax revenue from higher sales of the products that incorporate the … information; and higher income tax revenue and lower social welfare payments from net gains in employment.”

Articles in the Guardian:

2 Responses to “Free Our Data”

  1. Flotsam says:

    There’s a big difference between the OS and Google.

    The OS makes maps. The OS has a measly budget derived from sales of mapping info.

    Google is an advertising company. Google has squllions to give away on freebies that make it look good to the masses.

    Many people mistakenly repeat the Google mantra about not doing evil. The actual words Google use are “Don’t be evil” which I see as an admonishment to their users rather than a coporate philosophy. They have latterly changed it to “You can make money without doing evil”. I always mentally add “But it’s much easier if…”

  2. vaci says:

    Google may have lots of money to spend, but the ultimate source of a great deal of their geospacial data is the US Government, who provide it for free.

    The OS is a government department with a monopoly on UK geospacial reference data. Like any monopoly, it stifles innovation through high prices, restrictive market practices and inefficiency. The OS retains its monopoly solely from the good grace of the UK taxpayer, so we should be entitled to reap the benefits which we have already paid for.

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