When we download a google map or ‘cut and paste’ to add to an invitation or an event, are we infringing someone’s intellectual property and if so, whose?
Maps have been legally protected by copyright since the 18th century but the type of data now being produced doesn’t fall easily into the traditional concept of a ‘map’.
It used to be simple – literary copyright worked for old-style paper maps because, like books, they were capable of being reproduced and sold by those who had not invested in their production – a clear infringement of copyright.
Now, what actually constitutes a map or ‘geospatial data’ is much more complicated. No longer gathered on foot using a theodolite, information comes from so many different sources - like satellites and drones – and is generated with computer programmes as well as human input. It isn’t easy to determine who owns the finished product.
These are issues which fascinate UTS Law academic, Dr Isabella Alexander. She has collaborated on a research paper exploring the many interpretations of what constitutes a map and how ownership can be legally protected in the digital age.
When data has been gathered from a variety of sources under an array of licence conditions, this has the potential to generate considerable uncertainty and risk.
Dr Alexander says copyright law can really only offer a protection when a human author who has exercised intellectual effort can be identified.
When the ‘geospatial data’ has been drawn from a myriad of sources this can prove impossible; there is clearly a gap in protection which needs to be filled.
The research paper concludes that copyright law, as it currently stands in Australia, falls short of appropriate protections for digital maps and geospatial data. The paper asks whether new legal protections need to be developed which also take into consideration the public’s need to access this important information.
If you are interested in undertaking research on this topic, take a look at our postgraduate law research degrees.