A £20 million settlement between Ordnance Survey and the AA focuses the mind on the pitfalls of reproducing maps.
Who: Ordnance Survey and the Automobile Association
When: March 2001
After years of litigation, the AA and Ordnance Survey finally settled, at the doors of the court, a dispute over alleged infringement of copyright in maps. The AA agreed to pay a sum not unadjacent to £20million in respect of over 500 different AA atlases, town maps and fold-out maps. The AA had denied infringing Ordnance Survey’s copyright, but OS said detailed analysis of the AA maps revealed slavish copying of stylistic features in OS originals such as the width of roads in each map. The large settlement sum resulted from a combination of the OS tariff and over 300 million copies which AA printed of the offending maps over the period in question.
Why this matters:
One of the commonest myths in the ad law pantheon is the belief that maps are somehow in the public domain and free to all to copy at will. Clearly the AA were not guilty of such an attitude in this case, but checks should always be run and suitable licences organised where appropriate, whenever maps are looking likely to feature in marketing material. Heed should also be taken of another myth, namely "tweak a few lines and change a few symbols and it’ll be alright on the night."!