Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guardian Bashes Ordinance Survey

There is a big debate going on over the freedom (as in beer) of public(ish) geodata in Great Britain started by the Guardian (a left wing newspaper). Obviously Ed Parsons has something to say in his completely not speaking for OS blog. GeoCarta: British Newspaper Bashes Ordinance Survey also has some discussion.

My take on the issue is that Crown copyright data should be freely available as generally speaking the public taxes have paid for it so they should see the benefits. Ed of course argues that taxes don't fund OS any more, which is true if off the point. What he conveniently forgets that until recently the OS was wholly funded by tax payers. So the majority of features on OS maps were mapped by a tax funded body - has your house changed much since 2000? OK so there are new areas of building and new roads and such like to be added but that's really not that much in the overall scheme of things. It should also be noted that for the wild and inaccessible parts of the country the government already pays OS to map these areas, sort of a mapper of last resort since no one else would map them but they are needed for emergency planning etc.

So the question is would it kill the OS to free its data? I guess that depends on how they do it. Obviously if they have to continue to make a "profit" for the treasury then they would be in trouble, though I'd guess that people would still buy the printed OS maps. However if we got smart and reckoned in the cost to other government (national and local) and public-sector agencies (universities, hospitals etc) as a cost against OS we could afford to fund the civil servants like Ed directly from taxes and still show a profit. Then money OS could make from consulting, selling paper maps etc would be profit too.

Disclaimer: I like Ed - he bought me a drink once, my wife used to work for the government (so I know about the idiocy that goes on) and I have moved to the US so it won't be my taxes that pay for this!

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