Copyright of data published on maps

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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cat
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Copyright of data published on maps

Post by cat » Sun May 15, 2011 10:00 pm

Hi, we have created several maps for our website. I am a bit confused about credits and references as we used quite a few.

First of all, the outlay of the map is not exactly copied, it is drawn by us, but we used the Wikipedia Open Source map as a base. Basically we looked at it and drew a similar contour, or should I say shape of a specific town. The map is not done to scale or precise, it is used as a guide only, we used it to illustrate different data.

1) We used this as a base for a postcodes map. Postcodes applied on top of it are a combination of different data: from Google, Wikipedia, our own, etc.

2) For another illustration, the same map was used, but we applied different data from some other site. The map we produced doesn’t look like their original, but never the less we used their data, even if we didn’t apply it in exactly the same way. However, they don’t state on their website where the data comes from.

3) We also used traffic pollution data from one website, which reference it to the Environment Agency, but the Environment agency reference it to another source, so I am confused as to which we should refer to.

Sorry that I have so many questions in one post, but they are all related as the same base was used for all of them.

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Mon May 16, 2011 10:30 am

Hi Cat,
This is quite a complicated issue for a Monday morning! Also from the details you have given it is difficult to say precisely where you stand. So here's quite a lengthy reply which I hope will give some guidance.
Let's start with the copyright issues. Generally speaking facts and ideas cannot be subject to copyright. So, data in the wild is not usually protected, only the expression of it in some format through the skill and labour of an author. Maps are graphical (ie artistic) representations of physical facts: contours, roads and buildings, rivers etc, so the copyright exists in the way a cartographer has represented these features, rather than the fact that at a particular latitude and longitude there is a cross roads. The fact that you have based your map on someone else's will only amount to copying (and therefore infringement) if it uses substantially the same information in the same way as the original. From what you have described, especially if the mapping is open source, then re-creating a map for your own needs is probably not infringing if it is limited in its extent (eg not the whole of the UK etc).
The next issue is the data you have overlaid on your map. This is the complicated bit. Data is frequently presented in the form of databases, and these attract a different right – known as database right. The existence of this right (which was created in 1997 following an EU Directive on the subject) is protect the sometimes considerable commercial investment necessary to assemble and present factual information (data) which itself usually cannot be 'owned' by anyone. As long ago as the nineteenth century court cases were being brought over the copying of telephone and trade directories, using copyright law, and the test then was: were these literary works which were the result of human originality and labour? With the arrival of computers the compilation tasks associated with such data-gathering rarely had much human skill or labour involved and so it was possible to challenge the idea that a collection of data was a literary work. Thus was born the database right which changed the criteria. A database is defined as a collection of data where there had been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying and presenting the database. This definition no longer required purely a human labour element and the word 'investment' could include labour, technical resources or be financial in nature. Note that the investment has to be in the collection and arrangement, not on the creation of the raw data. For instance say it costs £5,000 an hour to run a complicated scientific computer program which outputs data about the human genone. This output then goes into a database. The £5,000 cannot be considered part of the financial investment which went into creating the database.
So assuming that the sources you have used for your data are in fact databases within the definition given above, what can you extract from them without infringing the owner's database right? Broadly, any extraction or re-utilisation of all or a substantial part of the contents of a database without permission would be infringement. Extraction includes all forms of copying, be it automated or manual. Re-utilisation means presenting the data to the public in any form. Substantial can be judged on qualitative grounds (a small but significant part) or quantitative (using a large proportion of not very significant data). There is a fair-dealing exemption for which a defendant must show that his use is lawful (for instance he hadn't hacked into a computer system to obtain the data), that extraction was for the purposes of teaching or research and not for any commercial purpose, and that sufficient acknowledgement of the source of the data is indicated.
Finally you mentioned about which source you should quote. Given that you do not know how much investment has gone into the collection of data prior to you acquiring it, and as I have indicated the cost of creating the data is irrelevant, I think you are best to cite the actual source that you have used. You should check any legal notices or terms and conditions which appear on the sites you are using as sources for any specific limitations which they have placed on re-use of the data. Ignore any general copyright notices because as I have said these are likely to apply to the written structure and coding of the site, and not to the database itself.
If you think the sources you are using are definitely databases (ie they have had substantial investment in their creation) and that your use of their data is substantial, then you should consider obtaining a licence from the source organisation.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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