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The licence for OS OpenData

I was a bit concerned yesterday that the licencing terms for OS OpenData weren’t made clear in the consultation. But I needn’t have worried — as assured, it’s more or less a Creative Commons Attribution licence. There are a few extra bits, like not not implying that the Government endorses your product, but the licence is compatible with CC-BY, so there’s nothing much there to worry about.

I still don’t know what the new derived data terms are on the products that remain commercial, but that’s less worrying. Hopefully, though, they’ll be less onerous.

There’s also still a question about datasets that predate OS OpenData, and therefore were made under the old licence regime which included derived data terms. This is a pretty important question, as many existing and useful datasets may be tainted by the derived data terms. Does the new licence apply retrospectively, so that data is liberated too?

I have . We shall see.

Government response to Ordnance Survey consultation published

The government have published their response to the Ordnance Survey Data consultation, for which we made a respond online tool. It looks good. It’s 60 pages long, and I haven’t read it properly, but the broad strokes are right.

There were 441 responses overall, and our tool was used to send 128 — which means nearly a third of the responses came from supporters and their friends. I’ve been told by a friendly civil servant that this was a significant influence on the outcome of the consultation, so — seriously — you guys rock. This is overwhelmingly awesome.

On top of that, some more responses will have come via PlanningAlerts users, as used his lists there to ask people to reply directly. In the final calculation, 51% of the responses came from individuals and developers, and only 7% from OS’s business customers. An exceptional result.

The full breakdown:

OS data consultation response statistics

The products that will be released are:

  • OS Street View
  • 1:50 000 Gazetteer
  • 1:250 000 Scale Colour Raster
  • OS LocatorTM
  • Boundary-LineTM
  • Code-Point® Open
  • MeridianTM 2
  • Strategi®
  • MiniScale®
  • OS VectorMapTM District (available 1 May 2010)
  • Land-Form PANORAMA®

A pretty substantive collection, all in all. Excitingly, the presence of Code-Point means that is now officially redundant. Yay!

On the vital issue of derived data — the current licence terms that mean that Ordnance Survey has IP rights in any data anyone makes using its data — the response says:

Ordnance Survey will also be proposing changes to the derived data policy for the commercial sector, including ‘Free To Use’ data, as part of its work on revised pricing and licensing.

Ordnance Survey, The National Archives and the Cabinet Office will also work together to ensure that derived data issues do not unnecessarily impede the release of public datasets by other public bodies, balancing the significance of the data taken, the impact of release of any dataset on Ordnance Survey’s commercial business and that of its partners, and any legal or regulatory consequences for Ordnance Survey.

This reflects concerns expressed in the consultation responses about licensing of Ordnance Survey products, and in particular derived data.

To me, this feels a bit unclear on the issue of whether or not derived data rights will affect users of the products OS is releasing for free — but another friendly insider says that I needn’t worry. Whatever form the derived data licence terms end up taking, they won’t affect users of the free datasets. Only the commercial ones. The free datasets will genuinely be free.

More details are set to be released tomorrow.

Other Highlights

The message has clearly sunk in (p23):

Most respondents were, either explicitly or implicitly, supportive of the Making Public Data Public initiative and its rationale. Many noted that there would be significant economic and social benefits from releasing Ordnance Survey data more widely and for free. These included the development of innovative services and products by the private sector, and the delivery of more efficient and effective public services.

People without a vested interest clearly support #opendata (p27):

A number of respondents provided comments in this section [pricing] in support of ‘free data’. A clear majority, 300 responses (68%), felt that either some or all of Ordnance Survey data should be released for free. [...] Some, mainly competitors, thought no data should be made available for free.

Businesses can, and will, change:

A wide range of respondents thought that the overall impact of Ordnance Survey Free on the market would be positive. [...] in the short term there were likely to be adverse impacts on the market, as existing users of the data begin to receive the same products for free, while others migrated from their current paid-for products to the free product set. [...] the market would suffer a short term drop in revenue, but wider access to data would drive long-term growth in the sector as a whole allowing those detrimentally affected to re-evaluate and modify their business models to take advantage of new opportunities [...].

If you find any more — post them in comments!

Respond to the Ordnance Survey postcode consultation

Just a quick post to remind everyone that the Ordnance Survey consultation on making postcode and mapping data available for free reuse is going on right now.

Number 10 don’t seem to have noticed, but we have — and it’s so important that every right-thinking person in the land responds. We’ve got to tell the Ordnance Survey what we think — if we don’t, only incumbent commercial interests will respond. And if that happens, you can bet that whatever we end up with will be very similar to the status quo.

This opportunity won’t come around again for a long while. Please take a moment, and use our online form to send your thoughts to the Ordnance Survey.

Don’t forget to ask your friends to do the same!

Postcode Petition Response — Our Reply

Back when this all began, Stuart Harrison set up a petition on the Number 10 website:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to encourage the Royal Mail to offer a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites.”

Details of Petition:

“Royal Mail today sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Ernest Marples Ltd, the organisation providing a post code API allowing social projects to use post code searches. Because of this, many useful websites are no longer functioning, including, Job Centre Pro Plus and Healthware. We therefore are asking the Prime Minister to encourage to Royal Mail to offer a second free license for non-profit projects of this nature who otherwise could not afford to pay for a license, so they can offer useful location-based services for their users.”

We, of course, eagerly signed up — as did many others. The petition got enough signatures to get a response from Number 10, which has just been issued. Except… it’s not really a response. In that a respond should — well — respond to the points raised, which this one doesn’t.

Instead, we have a history lesson. It’s quite interesting (although not new to us) but it doesn’t address any of the problems raised. It doesn’t talk about the value of data or the importance of PAF or Postzon. It doesn’t even mention open data, or citizen-led web services.

Number 10 has accepted responsibility for liberating public data. They’ve appointed Tim Berners-Lee. It’s the attention that Number 10 have given this issue that led to the launch of yesterday. And it’s Number 10′s clout that we’ll need to liberate data that’s currently caught up in a web of private commercial interests and archaic bureaucracies.

And yet, on the back of people’s attempts to fix the problem, and specifically given an opportunity to do something at a time when people are engaged, listening and excited, we get the brush-off. A statement containing a lot of words that don’t really say anything.

I’m going to respond to the last two paragraphs specifically.

Postcomm has previously undertaken a public consultation reviewing how the PAF was managed. The consultation started in 2006 and finished in 2007. Postcomm took all the diverse uses of the PAF into account before reaching its decision in 2007…

Ah yes. The hallowed consultation. The one where they considered the diverse uses that the everyone who pays for PAF data puts it to. Is too much to say that a group of companies, making good money from PAF data, might have a vested interest in keeping it locked up behind a paywall? Is it any surprise that the PAF Advisory Board, containing a grand total of zero representatives of the third sector, might not represent our interests?

…announcing more safeguards for the management of the address information held in the PAF with the aim of making sure that the PAF is maintained properly and made available on fair and reasonable terms.

Rubbish. PAF is manifestly not available on fair and reasonable terms.

It is not fair or reasonable to ask tiny organisations, working for social good, to stump up thousands of pounds a year to use data that that’s as much a part of our national infrastructure as roads and telephone lines.

Royal Mail currently charge a £750 data delivery fee — in addition to the licence fee — if you elect to obtain PAF via a download. On what planet is it fair or reasonable to charge £750 for a download?

If any PAF user or stakeholder feels that Royal Mail is not complying with the terms of section 116 of the PSA 2000 or Condition 22 of its licence, they can either raise concerns direct with the company or with Postcomm. Postcomm would consider the merits of any such concerns in the light of its statutory duties.

Again — this entirely misses the point. No one has accused Royal Mail of not complying with its licence. The problem isn’t that Royal Mail isn’t complying to its licence terms — I’m sure it is — the problem is that its licence doesn’t contain the right terms in the first place.

The problem is that the licence was formed to suit industry. To suit people who resell PAF data, and who use it to save money and do business. And that’s fine — I have no problem with industry, commercialism or using public data to make a profit.

But this approach belongs to a different age. One where the only people who needed postcode data were insurance and fulfilment companies. Where postcode data was abstruse and obscure. We’re not in that age any more.

We’re now in an age where a motivated person with a laptop can use postcode data to improve people’s lives. Postcomm and the Royal Mail need to confront this and change the way that they do things. They may have shut us down, but if they try to sue everyone who’s scraping postcode data from Google, they’ll look very foolish indeed.

Finally — and perhaps most importantly — we need a consistent and effective push from the top. Number 10′s right hand needs to wake up and pay attention to the fantastic things the left hand’s doing.

Without that, we won’t get anywhere.

Ordnance Survey to release postcode data?

There have been some pretty exciting announcements during the last few weeks. Alongside those, we’ve also met with the Royal Mail to have a talk about finding a way forward.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a great meeting with the Royal Mail. They explained in some detail the background to these datasets: how they’re maintained, where the data comes from and where money changes hands. It’s all a bit complicated!


During the meeting, there was an epiphany: one of Royal Mail’s representatives realised that because we were distributing latitudes and longitudes, and not the Eastings and Northings that are present in the Postzon dataset, we were actually distributing derived data, and not Postzon data. The upshot being that a single-user licence might be enough for us to operate with the Royal Mail’s blessing.

This led to a lively discussion about whether or not that’d be workable, what the restrictions would be and how much we’d have to pay for it. We thought about crowdsourcing the money to pay for a licence and going back online with real Postzon data.

But then, there was a development. Since the meeting, the Ordnance Survey announced that they’re going to make some mapping and postcode data free for reuse. Exactly what data will be released and how isn’t yet known — so far the only real commitment I’ve seen is to consult — but I’ve been assured by people involved that the question is of how, not if, this data will be released. I think there’s a genuine willingness to make sure it’s done well.

That, combined with the imminent restructuring of Royal Mail’s licensing system, makes us think that we should hang tight for a while. If the Ordnance Survey releases a comprehensive postcode database, will be mostly redundant (about which we’d be very happy). If not, perhaps we’ll have to think again — in which case, we’d be able to look at Royal Mail’s new licensing regime and see what can be made to work.

So — for now, at least — we’re going to sit back and see how things develop. When the Consultation is announced, we’ll be responding to it. I’d encourage anyone who has an opinion on the issue to reply as well.

Curiouser and curiouser

Things have been a bit quiet around here, but there’ve been two developments that I thought I’d share.

First, we’ve now got a date for meeting the Royal Mail — we’ll be off to see them on Monday (2009-11-23). The meeting’s with one of their senior customer relationship managers, so I’m not sure quite what to expect, but it’s great that they’ve agreed to meet and we’re hopeful. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Second, the ever-marvellous Heather Brooke of Your Right To Know sent the Royal Mail a FoI request last month asking about other instances where legal action has been taken for intellectual property infringements. The response has just come back and reveals that two other companies — Situation Publishing (aka: The Register) and Wikia Inc were sent legal threats at the same time as us. Very interesting.

We’ve no idea why, and if anyone has any inside knowledge or has heard a scurrilous rumour that might shed some light, please !

Interview with me about Ernest Marples

Paul Canning very kindly interviewed me about the whole ErnestMarples saga after Government 2010 last week. We don’t have much news (hence the radio silence!) but if video’s your thing, you might want to have a watch. We talked about the site, what it did, how it worked, some of the policy background and what people can do to help.

Write to your MP!

It’s certainly been an eventful week.

Since we had to close, we’ve had numerous emails of support, several very detailed behind-the-scenes stories about how all this stuff works inside the Royal Mail, stories on websites far and wide, an article in the Guardian’s Technology Supplement… we even got an email from a relative of Mr Marples himself, asking if there was anything he could do to help. It’s been quite amazing.

I’m writing now to say that things have picked up a bit, and there’s stuff that everyone can do to help! Tom Watson MP has tabled an early day motion asking the Royal Mail to create a new licence for not-for-profits to use postcode data for free. This would allow sites like and to function without having to rely on unreliable sources for postcode data.

So, please — write to your MP and ask them to sign the early day motion (EDM2000). Tell them the story, explain why you think it’s important, and ask them to add their name. Use your own words if you can. If lack of postcode data has affected you personally in some way (perhaps there’s a site you wanted to make that you couldn’t) mention that too. If you haven’t already, you could also sign the petition at Number 10.

Finally — and importantly — please also, blog, tweet, and tell your friends that you’ve done these things. We need everyone who cares about this to know that it’s going on!


Well, it’s been quite a first-half-of-the-week.

Since going offline, we have been overwhelmed by expressions of support. At one point on monday, my entire Twitter client was filled with people retweeting things about ErnestMarples, to the exclusion of everything else. Quite astonishing.

There’s also been an amazing amount of media coverage — from the BBC, the Guardian, BoingBoing, the Register, Computer Weekly, and more besides. Many thanks to everyone who’s written about us or helped to spread the word.

So, what now for ErnestMarples?

We didn’t start with the intention of making money from the service. It was always here to be used by sites like PlanningAlerts, Healthwhere and JobcentreProPlus, which are socially useful tools that create tangible benefit for people. We hoped that the Royal Mail would let us be, but things don’t seem to have turned out that way.

We’re genuinely interested in finding a constructive way forward. We haven’t heard back from Cameron McKenna, or the Royal Mail, but we’ve sent them the following letter all the same:

Dear Sirs, was set up primarily to provide a service to socially useful websites: mostly non-commercial services that operate in order to create real, tangible benefit to individuals.

This is very much in line with the Government’s current policy, produced by the Power of Information taskforce, to promote innovation in third sector provision of public services, particularly online.

It was our sincere hope when starting the service that it would be possible to reach an agreement with your client to continue operating it on terms that they find acceptable.

As you have requested, our service has now been disabled. Since then, we have received overwhelming expressions of support from a wide variety of people and organisations from NGOs and Parliamentarians to blogs, news publications and hundreds of individuals.

There is a significant need for postcode data to be made available on more practical terms. We would very much like to open a dialogue with your client in order to see if a productive and mutually beneficial way forward can be found.

We would be grateful if you could pass this offer to your client. We look forward to their reply.

Yours Faithfully,

Harry Metcalfe & Richard Pope

Download this as a PDF

We really hope that they’ll take this letter seriously and have a genuine conversation with us about what should happen next.

Update: Tom Watson MP has also written to the Royal Mail.

Ernest Marples Postcodes has been threatened by the Royal Mail

On Friday the 2nd October we received correspondence from the Royal Mail demanding that we close this site down (see below). One of the directors of Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd has also been threatened personally.

We are not in a position to mount an effective legal challenge against the Royal Mail’s demands and therefore have closed the API effective immediately.

We understand that this will cause harm and considerable inconvenience to the many people who are using or intend to use the API to power socially useful tools, such as HealthWhere, and For this, we apologise unreservedly.

In respect of these letters, we would be very grateful for any advice that anyone can offer:




We hope that at some point in the future this service may be able to continue to operate, but we’ve no idea when, or indeed if, that may happen.