Mapping Without a Licence

An odd story out of California, reported on by Vice’s Chloe Xiang, from earlier this month. Ryan Crownholm’s website,, sells residential and commercial site plans. California’s Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists has fined him $1,000 for practising land surveying without a licence and ordered him to shut down the site. He’s fighting the citation in court with the assistance of the libertarian Institute for Justice: see their page on the complaint. Their argument is that California surveying laws are vague enough that a literal interpretation would make any map drawn in California, no matter how informal or non-authoritative, illegal.

It’s unlikely to say the least that the Board intends to ban Google Maps or every California-based instance of GIS. This is an edge case. Crownholm’s defence turns on his drawings being “non-authoritative” and a disclaimer that these are not legal surveys. The Board apparently thinks that’s insufficient. A spot of litigation seems required to clarify things.

Copyright and Cartography

Copyright and Cartography is a research project exploring the historical relationship between cartography and copyright law.

Throughout history, maps have been made and used in different ways and for different purposes. They can be seen as cultural artefacts, artworks, sacred objects and tools for wayfinding. Often their purposes are legal—they can be used to administer property regimes, resolve proprietary disputes or make territorial claims. But what about the laws that regulate the maps themselves, that decide who can own them or who can distribute them? This website explores these questions, juxtaposing images of maps with the legal documents intimately involved in their creation and circulation.

The project focuses on mapmakers in London, Edinburgh, Melbourne and Sydney, and seems to be in the early stages, with only a dozen cases, relating to infringement and other copyright disputes, listed.

This project is limited to cases in the U.K. and Australia. Back in 2000, J. B. Post compiled a list of cases of copyright litigation in the U.S. from 1789 to 1998: the page is no longer online but can be accessed via the Wayback Machine.