Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Society of Cartographers Summer School

Posted in People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on November 7, 2005

I’m reading Mapping Hacks at the moment and, I admit, I am increasingly obsessed with maps. One of the interesting issues to me is the availability of all government data in the USA in the public domain while in the UK the data is under Crown Copyright. The data is resold. Heather Brooke has written a wonderful article explaining why the UK’s approach is folly in The Times Law section:

“Perhaps the claim is that making activities recoup their own costs will allow us to expand the information that is made available,” says Boyle. “But that argument fails empirically. There is considerably more geographic and weather information available in the US, which gives it away free, than in the countries that use Crown copyright.”

Rufus Pollock, of the Open Knowledge Foundation cites the $500 million, copyright-free US weather data as the reason why the US weather risk-management industry is ten times bigger than the European one, for example. That means more jobs, producing more valuable products, generating more social wealth.

Lawyers will know about Westlaw and LexisNexis, and these, too, are American companies that developed initially from copyright-free US public data.

Research carried out in 2000 by Pira International for the European Commission found that the US information industry was five times larger than its European counterpart, even though the two economies were almost equal in size. The main difference, the Commission stated, was the much more liberal rules on re-use of federal information in the USA.

Then I found these PowerPoints from the Society of Cartographers’ summer school at the University of Cambridge in 2005. Most interesting is one PowerPoint by the CTO of the Ordnance Survey, Ed Parsons. It has some interesting numbers, including the ones on slide 22, which compares the OS with the US Geological Survey (USGS):

Budget 04/05:
USGS £70.5m($130m)
OS £105.7m

USA 9,100,000 sq Km
UK 216,000 sq Km

USGS 25 + years
OS < 1 year

The remaining slides are presumably accompanied by his explanation that the USGS is underfunded rather than the OS being inefficient. He is nice enough to leave his business card at the end and the work he describes is frankly rather impressive and professional. I couldn’t resist keeping my own copy of the slides.

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