This weekend the people of openstreetmap.org are going to walk/cycle/drive around Manchester with their GPS receivers, recording the locations of all the streets in the city (or as many as possible). This information can be used to make a streetmap of Manchester. They already did a similar workshop on the Isle of White.
The idea is to free the information. Although websites like multimap.com, streetmap.co.uk, and maps.google.co.uk will give you a free map of Manchester, it’s not really free. It’s copyrighted. Want to print out a poster size detailed map of Manchester? Want to show a map of Manchester on a website? Want to create a new stylised map of Manchester? You can’t do any of that without breaching copyright.
…and what about building other clever geospacial applications? Google maps have an API for acheiving many clever mapping tricks, and embedding these on your own website. But they’re all based on linking into google, and the tricks only go so far. What about new websites / software to search and manipulate map data in new and innovative ways? Can’t do it. The data is copyrighted.
Generally the open source community is pretty quick to step in, when information is not available for free, but with map data it’s tricky. The underlying data all comes from the same source: The Ordnance Survey. A government agency which should be dishing out this information for free anyway (like in the U.S.). The act of looking at any map, and drawing another map based on it, is a breach of copyright. There are ways they can detect it.
So there’s only one thing for it… They’re going to go out there with GPS receivers, gather latitude/longitude readings, build maps from scratch, and release it all with an open licence!