Crown copyright

Learn how OS map data, our brand and trade marks are protected by copyright laws.

Intellectual property (IP)

Ordnance Survey’s mapping and geospatial data has a reputation for accuracy and reliability and it underpins up to £136 billion-worth of economic activity in Great Britain. Ordnance Survey’s ‘brand’ is one of the most recognised and well-loved in the country.

Our data and our brand are protected by a variety of intellectual property rights (including copyright, database rights and trade marks), and our primary income comes from licensing these IP rights to Government, public sector organisations, commercial businesses and consumers.

Copyright and database rights

Copyright and database rights subsist in our digital mapping data and geospatial data. Copyright also subsists, amongst other things, in our paper maps, the software we develop, our corporate logos and our website content.

With effect from 1 April 2015, Ordnance Survey (OS) has operated as a Government owned limited company – Ordnance Survey Limited. Prior to this date, OS was not legally separate from the Crown and was a Crown body. The copyright and database rights which arose in the mapping data were automatically owned by the Crown. That is why we referred to Ordnance Survey mapping as being Crown copyright and Crown database rights. 

As part of the transition to a Government owned limited company: 

1. The Crown copyright (and Crown database rights) which existed in the Ordnance Survey mapping as at 1 April 2015 remain owned by the Crown. However, under the terms of the Crown Rights Agreement with The Keeper of Public Records, OS is granted an exclusive right to use, license and manage this IP on behalf of the Crown.

2. All other IP which existed in any other existing materials (e.g. software) as at 1 April 2015 has been assigned to, and is therefore now owned by, Ordnance Survey Limited.

3. Where Ordnance Survey Limited updates, or creates, new mapping data and products which fall under its Public Task, the copyright and/or database rights which arise will automatically on creation be assigned to the Crown1. As with 1 above, OS is granted an exclusive right to use, license and manage this IP on behalf of the Crown.

4. Where Ordnance Survey Limited creates new mapping products: (i) which fall outside its Public Task, and (ii) without using data in which the IPR is already owned by the Crown, the copyright or database rights which arise will vest in Ordnance Survey Limited.

5. Any IP (including copyright or database rights) arising in other materials, will vest in Ordnance Survey Limited.

Historical mapping

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, ‘Crown’ copyright exists for a period of 50 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published. This means that any Ordnance Survey mapping which was created prior to 1 April 2015 will be protected by Crown copyright for a period of 50 years from its first publication. Accordingly, if an Ordnance Survey map was first published over 50 years ago it can be copied or otherwise used without a licence from OS.

Following the transition to a Government owned company, the position now differs because our mapping and other materials are no longer being created by ‘employees of the Crown’. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the copyright arising in the updates to our mapping, or in new mapping data, software, or other materials, after 1 April 2015, will last for a period of 70 years following the death of all the persons involved in creating it. It is only after expiry of this period, that the mapping can be copied or otherwise used without a licence from OS.

The ‘OS’ brand/trade marks

Our  logos are protected by copyright and by UK trade mark registrations. However, the ‘OS’ brand consists of more than just our logo.

Ordnance Survey Limited is the proprietor of a large number of UK and Community Trade Mark registrations. These include the names ‘Ordnance Survey’ and ‘OS’; the’ OS MasterMap’ suite of product names to represent our most detailed, current and comprehensive mapping datasets of Great Britain, and the names ‘Explorer’ and ‘Landranger’ for our iconic, world renowned, paper maps.

The use of our Trade Marks on products, services and solutions provides customers with a clear indication that those products and services originate from Ordnance Survey, or include OS content, or have our endorsement.

We have established significant goodwill and repute in our corporate colours, our ‘get up’ and other elements of our brand. Our verbal brand sums up what we stand for and who we are as an organisation, who we want to be, where we see our future, and the values that we stand for. These elements of our identity are protected by copyright, trade mark law and the law of passing off.

View the list of product names and trade marks owned by Ordnance Survey Limited. These trade marks (and other elements of our brand) may only be used with our permission.

View our style guide (PDF). This sets out information on how and when our customers need to use copyright and other IP acknowledgements. It also includes a specific set of branding guidelines on how Licensed Partners may promote the use of OS data in their products or services. These ensure that the quality of our joint partnerships and the data we share, is endorsed in a way which we can all be proud of, whilst at the same time protecting Ordnance Survey Limited’s intellectual property rights.

1 However, since such data has not been created by  ‘Crown employees’, the copyright in the data, although owned by the Crown, will not be  ‘Crown copyright’ as defined in section 163 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.