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Ordnance Survey and Google Statements on Virtual London in Google Earth

Despite the best of our efforts we have been informed by Google and the Ordnance Survey that our Virtual London model will not be appearing in Google Earth due to data licensing issues.

The decision by the Ordnance Survey effectively puts a stop to six years of research to openly inform the public about changes to London's built form via a publicly accessible model. Negotiations have been going on between Google and the Ordnance Survey for the last year, in two distinct stages. Our model, detailed in the movie below and containing 3 million buildings has been running locally in Google Earth during this time:

The first phase of negotiations broke down 6 months ago at a time when the Ordnance Survey were under increasing pressure to justify their licensing arrangements. Full details on this aspect can be found in the Guardian Article by Michael Cross 'Copyright Sinks Virtual Planning'.

The second phase of negotiations took place recently after the notable loss of Ed Parsons at the OS and his subsequent move to Google. This combined with the publication online of the Haringey Heatloss Map which effectively uses the same data as Virtual London - as pictured below - gave renewed hope of a breakthrough:

Sadly, despite the renewed efforts at all levels negotiations have now ceased between all the parties involved.

Ordnance Survey issued the following statement:

"We have had dialogue with Google concerning commercial licensing issues around our data in CASA’s Virtual London model. There are differences in what Google wants and what our licensing framework permits that mean we have not been able to reach agreement.

We provide an open, fair and transparent set of terms for providers seeking to operate in the same commercial space as each other. We cannot therefore license Google in a different way to other providers. We are completely supportive of anyone putting our data on the web as long as they have a license to do so. Regarding the reference to Haringey, it is not the building of the model that is the difference – it is the use.

There is an existing licensing model that works for the original purpose of Virtual London i.e. the availability to
London boroughs etc. What Google wanted to do would take it out of those licensing arrangements."

Google on the other hand have issued a single worded statement - simply 'disappointed'.

While it is fair to say that Google can be demanding the lack of movement by the OS does strike of a agency out of touch with today's data requirements.

The Free Data Campaign has a number of posts and information with regards the practices of the OS. While we have not always agreed with them, and indeed have been warned off openly criticising the OS in the past by the powers that be, we cannot deny that the whole episode has been slightly Python'esk.

The OS currently does not have the ability to license models for public usage and this is from a government-funded and approved agency.

What can you do? In the first place join the Public Geodata campaign and if your publicly motivated lobby your MEP about the Inspire plan - see this article from The Guardian in the Free Our Data campaign.


  1. That's disappointing news guys. Since I started reading this blog, I've been looking forward to seeing your work on Virtual London being freely available in Google Earth.

    Good luck with everything in the future.

  2. Anonymous9:32 PM

    Very sad news, it looked like an amazing piece of work.

  3. Who benefits here?

  4. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Virtual London is dead!
    Long live Virtual London!
    Oh well, hard lines Andy et al.
    Maybe that is not the end of the matter though. There is always hope!
    So I hope you see the funny side and laugh not cry.
    Keep up the good work :-)

  5. Morons. I live in, work in and podcast about London. This would and should have been a fabulous resource for anyone who has anything to do with London. How short sighted can you get?

    Next step should be a crowded-sourced version of London. Let's get out there and do it ourselves! And stuff the Ordnance Survey and their Victorian attitudes. Open Source London!

  6. Anonymous6:16 PM

    You ponces want everything for free. Just because something exists doesnt mean you have an automatic right to it

  7. Anonymous9:22 AM


    Thanks for the comment - it wasent a matter of money, money was on the table for the data.

    The problem is the inability to license however much money is on offer.

    10 points for first use of the word 'ponce' though - it really helps explain the issue.



  8. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Sorry for the anonymous nature of this post, I encountered the site by accident, and will probably lose it again, within days, so was not much point registering.

    Personally, I feel this is rather worrying as a development. A government agency basically saying public data is not public. Would this mean then, that every classroom that uses OS maps to teach their use, is also illicit, as they are not using the data for a commercial purpose, but for a public benefit purpose?

    Also a side note, I have not looked in depth on your project, but, would it not be possible to create a false company, that lisences data from OS for commercial use, then promptly allows you to use the data for a nominal fee, say £5, for the next 100 years?

    Stephanie E

  9. Andrew Powers9:40 AM

    Is this piece of news going to make any difference to this excellent project's viability?

    ...the government said it would start "consulting on making Ordnance Survey mapping and postcode datasets available for free reuse from April 2010."