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Release of Datasets

This Freedom of Information request concerns the release of Datasets

FOI16657– Request for information


Thank you for your email of 11 March 16, requesting the following information from Ordnance Survey in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

You state that refusals were because OS "considered the risk of release of the dataset, to OS or our partners, outweighed the positive impacts of a release of the dataset."  Could you explain how such a decision is reached and perhaps give some generalised examples?

Our response

Whilst the above request is not a request for "information" under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), I am happy to provide the following information in accordance with our duty to provide advice and assistance under section 16 of the FOIA. 

As previously noted, OS makes a decision to refuse an exemption where OS considers the risk of release of the dataset, to OS or our partners, outweighs the positive impacts of a release of the dataset.

To make its decision, OS analyses each request that is made, and considers a range of criteria in relation to the relevant dataset, including the following.

  • Would granting exemption status have a negative impact on Ordnance Survey’s commercial business and ability to operate as a sustainable business, or create a precedent that may have such an impact?
  • Would granting exemption status damage Ordnance Survey’s reputation or brand?
  • Would granting exemption status release a dataset that would compete with (or act as a substitute for) an existing or planned product or service offered either by Ordnance Survey or by one of Ordnance Survey’s business partners?
  • Would granting exemption status infringe (or potentially infringe) the IP of a third party?
  • Would granting exemption status be for the public good, or in the public interest?
  • Would granting exemption status support the effective delivery of government or citizen services?
  • Would granting exemption status enable greater efficiency in Government – reducing costs or supporting cross-Government initiatives?
  • Would granting exemption status support government policy; for example the Transparency agenda and Public Data Principles?
  • Would granting exemption status fulfil statutory or legislative obligations?

Where possible, exemption requests are dealt with by our Pricing and Licensing Team; this is the case where previous exemption requests have set an applicable precedent.  Where no precedent applies, the request is discussed at our Pricing and Trading Group where the pros and cons of agreeing to exempt the dataset are discussed.  The process is set out in diagrammatic form below.

In relation to your request for generalised examples of requests which have been refused, two examples are a Generalised Land Use Dataset and polygon based planning datasets, as described below.

Generalised Land Use Dataset

This was an early exemption request that was refused.  The derived data in this example, even with the addition of the applicant’s own attribution for each point, line or polygon feature to identify land use, clearly formed a ‘substantial copy’ of Ordnance Survey licensed data, in that the area shown copied exactly the data from which it was derived; see the two images immediately below, the first being taken from the Generalised Land Use Dataset, the second from OS MasterMap Topography Layer.

Planning datasets

There is still ongoing discussion concerning applications to exempt planning datasets, but a number have been refused an exemption due to the nature of the relevant dataset for which an exemption was sought.

For example, polygon based planning datasets (see above image for an example) have been refused where the dataset contained property boundaries, address, UPRN and X, Y co-ordinates.  The property boundaries are a substantive copy of the OS features, and as such would have been likely to have a negative impact on Ordnance Survey’s and our licensed partners’ commercial business.

It should also be noted that applicants whose exemptions requests have been refused already have broad licensed use rights under the terms of the PSMA (or OSMA) Member Licence; these rights enable Members to use the data for their Core Business (defined as any public sector activity in central and local government and health services).  Core Business excludes Commercial and Competing Activities, which instead need to be licensed on our commercial licence terms, so as to be fair to all our licensees in compliance with our regulatory obligations.

Internal review

Your enquiry has been processed according to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000. If you are unhappy with our response, you may request an internal review with our FOI Internal Review Officer, by contacting them as follows:

FOI Internal Review Officer
Customer Service Centre
Ordnance Survey
Adanac Drive
SO16 0AS


Please include the reference number above. You may request an internal review where you believe Ordnance Survey has:

  • Failed to respond to your request within the time limits (normally 20 working days)
  • Failed to tell you whether or not we hold the information
  • Failed to provide the information you have requested
  • Failed to explain the reasons for refusing a request
  • Failed to correctly apply an exemption or exception

The FOI Internal Review Officer will not have been involved in the original decision. They will conduct an independent internal review and will inform you of the outcome of the review normally within 20 working days, but exceptionally within 40 working days, in line with the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

The FOI Internal Review Officer will either: uphold the original decision, provide an additional explanation of the exemption/s applied or release further information, if it is considered appropriate to do so.

Appeal to Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
If, following the outcome of the internal review you remain unhappy with our response, you may raise an appeal with the Information Commissioner’s Office at:

The Case Reception Unit
Customer Service Team
The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane


Telephone helpline: 0303 123 1113 or 01625 545745 for advice, Monday to Friday.

Thank you for your enquiry.