Copyright information for UK mappers

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It is vital for the public reputation and long-term viability of the map that the OSM database never infringes Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) belonging to other people or organisations. The main forms of IPR here are copyright and database right.

These guidelines are for mapping in the United Kingdom. The linked pages contain more detailed analysis:

  • The number one best way to avoid breaking copyright is to go outside and survey it yourself. When you signed up for an OSM account you (probably) agreed to the Contributor Terms so that all your contributions are granted to the OSMF under a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable licence. In turn, they licence everyone else in the world to use it.
  • Copyright issues can be subtle. By being very strict about data sources we ensure that data from OSM can be used without question.

Important prohibitions

  • Ordnance Survey produce highly detailed maps of the UK. Their work is government property under 'Crown copyright' and cannot be copied. (The only exception is old maps that are out of copyright: see below.)
  • Many organisations obtain a licence from Ordnance Survey to use data products in their own work, for example local councils under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) or One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA).
    • These organisations frequently lay their own data over an OS map, and they have ownership of the intellectual property in that data because they produced it.
    • However, because the overlaid data is usually mapped against features already found in the OS map, OS usually considers overlaid data to be 'derived data' and claims that OS simultaneously has its own rights in it.
    • 'Derived data' cannot be copied: even if the other organisation gives its permission, OS's permission is also required.
    • Data that is independently surveyed/produced and overlaid on an OS map without the OS map contributing to the way the data was constructed is not 'derived data' and can be copied/imported (but of course the underlying OS map cannot).
    • Determining whether data was derived or not can be contentious, so organisations can apply for a declaration from OS that it considers that no derived data is included and they can then publish their own data under an Open Government Licence (OGL), or any other licence of their choosing, without fear of disputes with OS.
    • As local councils are provided with OS products for free under the PSMA they mostly default to using it. This causes issues if/when they publish geographical Open Data.

Important rights and exceptions

  • Ordnance Survey maps published more than 50 years ago are out of copyright and can be used by anyone for any purpose.
  • Copyrighted Ordnance Survey maps can be used as a research tool. For example, you may use an OS map to find a public bridleway, complete a ground survey to confirm its existence and route, then enter it into OSM using your own generated information. However, the access provisions themselves (e.g., public footpath, bridleway etc) cannot be copied from an OS or other copyrighted map. So if you complete a ground survey and find that a track is marked as bridleway at one end but footpath at another (these sorts of things do happen!) tag as a public footpath, but add a fixme tag: you may not use the OS map to 'adjudicate'.
  • UK Government Open Data consists of many datasets. These are often published under the Open Government Licence (OGL). They can be used in OSM, however this licence does not guarantee that the data provided is untainted by copyright. Any dataset should be questioned via Talk-GB and/or the OSMF Licence Working Group.
  • The UK Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is an example of OGL data that has been checked and ratified. The addresses/postcodes held in it can be used in OSM. The locations are postcode centroids generated from PAF-based geocoding and should only be used as a guide.
  • An address/postcode from a web site contact page. For a shop/restaurant/store/etc. with a single site or a small group, say up to about half a dozen premises, then you can use the address(es) listed on their official website. They are published un-copyrightable facts. For chains with multiple stores the addresses of each branch may be regarded as forming part of a database. They are then covered under database rights and cannot be added to OSM unless you get specific permission from the business. [1]
  • citation required