Virtual London shelved as OS refuse to license data to Google

Seen in last week’s New Scientist:

A 3D software model of London containing over 3 million buildings in photorealistic detail is now unlikely to reach the public because of a dispute between a UK government agency and Google.

The full article requires subscription, but the long and short of it is that Google wanted to incorporate the Ordnance Survey-derived data from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Awareness (at UCL) into Google Earth, and were negotiating for a one-off license fee to cover the rights. However, the British agency Ordnance Survey refused to license their data on anything but a license that required payments based on the number of users. Some mapping and visualisation experts fear that this is more significant than a simple failure of two commercial entities to reach an agreement.

Timothy Foresman, director-general of the fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth in San Francisco in June, fears that OS’s decision could set a precedent: “The OS model is a dinosaur,” he says. “If the UK community doesn’t band together and make this a cause célèbre, then they will find the road is blocked as further uses [of the OS data] become known.”

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One Response to Virtual London shelved as OS refuse to license data to Google

  1. Charles says:

    This is precisely what we’ve been campaigning about in the Guardian’s Technology section ( for 18 months – and on the Free Our Data blog (linked in my details).

    The principle: fund OS and other government data collection agencies from direct tax funding (rather than by charging every user, as at present) and make non-personal data such as OS and Met Office and UK Hydrographic Office and.. so on available for free for any sort of reuse without licensing restrictions.

    Now if that were in place, you’d have Virtual London and a gazillion other projects to boot.

    OSM is a nice idea, but can’t do the scale and accuracy of OS, and anyway relies on government funding – by the US of the GPS system.

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