WorldMapper produces a whole variety of illuminating cartograms to show the distribution of various statistics across the world from royalties to the level of military spending. While looking at the site I immediately started to wonder about the openness both of the maps themselves and the underlying data (to my mind while the maps are lovely the datasets are in many ways much more valuable because of their greater scope for reuse).

They certainly give out all the data (and the maps as well) for easy download but as anyone familiar with previous posts such ‘implicit’ openness does not imply ‘explicit’ openness. Looking at the copyright page one finds the following:

This website and its contents are copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Permission will usually be granted to non-profit organisations, and we welcome enquiries from other interested parties.

Please contact

So far so bad. Even for non-profit organizations ‘permission’ is granted only ‘usually’ (so one will have to write to them check in each case and no transaction costs are saved). Furthermore it is unclear whether this is supposed to apply to just the maps (subject to copyright) or the underlying data which may be subject to both copyright (in the arrangement) and, here in the EU, database rights (note that one of the producers is the University of Sheffield). One might guess that they are only concerned with the maps, an impression reinforced by faq item 8, but unfortunately since the default is all rights reserved a presumption is not good enough.

Certainly the signs are that they are happy for people to use the data. After all the main data files have been brought together for easy download on the data page but no explicit statement regarding permissions is given. The data sources page further lists where all the data came from and most of those sources seem open (UN, World Bank etc) — though of course the fact that sources were open need not prevent WorldMapper from getting rights in the ‘database’ they have compiled. (One big exception to note regarding sources are Angus Maddison’s world historical statistics. which used to be freely available on Maddison’s site but access to which is now restricted to purchasers of the relevant book — see details on the world economy website. Though it should be noted Maddison’s data was likely never open, for example Maddison’s World Population, GDP and Per Capita GDP, 1-2003 AD dataset (link to ckan package page) have an explicit copyright notice attached. This makes it particularly interesting that WorldMapper makes Maddison’s dataset available for download from their data page).

However as already stated presumption ain’t enough. WorldMapper are certainly doing wonderful work and it would be even more wonderful if their data was open, free for others to use and reuse (for example we’d love to package it up and make it available via ). At present it seems like that’s the case but without an explicit statement in the form of a license one can’t be sure. One thing that is for sure is that we’ll be writing to in the near future to find out.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.