British newspaper The Guardian launched a campaign last week called Free Our Data. The British government has collected data on the UK for years through offices such as the Ordnance Survey and UK Hydrographic Office and Highways Agency funded by taxpayers. The crown is claiming that it has an exclusive copyright on this data, and charges individuals and companies to access this data.
The campaign has been gaining steam; they now have a website and a blog. Their most compelling argument in my opinion is that organizations who provide open access to data, such as Google and Wikipedia are vastly more useful and profitable than organizations that charge restrictive fees to access the data. They also argue that if the UK expects to compete with the US in the highly competitive field of organizing the world’s data, they’d better give UK developers some data to organize.
The largest organization they are going after is the Ordnance Survey, the governmental agency in charge of keeping a detailed map of the UK. That agency has responded to the campaign. They point out that the maintenance of the maps is quite expensive (an average of 5,000 changes every working day, totaling £105.7m in 2004-05 ), and only £60m is funded by tax payers, the rest comes from licensing fees. While that is a large sum, I agree with Free Our Data’s assertion that it would be more than made up for in tax revenue from developers using the data for web-based applications funded by text ads.