Edmonton Sun violates the EPS Crime Map Terms of Use

Back in July, the Edmonton Police Service launched its Neighbourhood Crime Mapping site. Like most people I was quite enthusiastic about the site, until I read the terms of use and realized how restrictive they were. Basically you can look at the numbers, but you can’t do anything with them (such as publish them on a blog). The Crime Mapping site is not open data. I emailed back and forth with the EPS, and was told that they wouldn’t be changing the terms of use. And, they haven’t.

That didn’t stop the Edmonton Sun, however. They apparently ignored the terms of use altogether, and published an article on December 20th summarizing a number of statistics from the website:

Some of Edmonton’s roughest neighbourhoods faced markedly fewer crimes in 2009, according to police statistics.

The statistics came through a new crime mapping system launched by Edmonton police last summer.

I had asked for permission to do something similar and was turned down. After reading the Sun article, I emailed the EPS to find out if the terms of use had been changed (despite the text on the website staying the same). Here’s what Acting S/Sgt. John Warden wrote back:

The Edmonton Sun did not have the EPS’ permission to use the information from the Crime Mapping website and the EPS is dealing directly with the Edmonton Sun in relation to this.

I emailed back a couple of follow-up questions, but have not yet received a response. The Edmonton Sun article is still active on the website, so I’m not exactly sure what “dealing directly with the Edmonton Sun” means.

I’m annoyed by this, obviously. Was it an honest mistake? Maybe. Is it a case of a large media organization getting off the hook? Maybe. Will it happen again? Probably. No one reads the fine print, we all know that.

I don’t think the current terms of use is appropriate, and I strongly urge the Edmonton Police Service to change it.

9 thoughts on “Edmonton Sun violates the EPS Crime Map Terms of Use

  1. No, but I think this is a good learning opportunity for everyone involved. I hope that this example will make it easier for other organizations that start to open up data to realize that licensing is a real concern that should be considered from the beginning.

  2. Yup, I agree! But open data shouldn’t be restricted to the public sector, and private organizations will look at what the EPS, the City, and others have done as examples.

  3. I share your opinion regarding how the data should be licensed, but what could/should be aside, you missed a possibility: that they knew perfectly well about the licensed, and simply chose to ignore it. They aren’t exactly building a mashup, so I suspect it’s pretty tenuous as to whether or not a court would actually uphold those terms against a media entity quoting some basic statistics from a public organization’s own tool.

    Chances are, the EPS would rather let it slide and enjoy a little free publicity for the tool than to go ahead and test this in a courtroom against a media company (and one that isn’t against above taking sucker punches at that).

  4. I can’t speak for any other organization, but I know that when I saw all the data, I started drooling at all the possibilities for story ideas.

    Though, all we were permitted to print was the fact the site exists, and not what it contains (as per the Terms of Use).

    Was it frustrating, yes. Was it unclear, no.

  5. If you really want the data, just submit a FOIP request for the raw database data and then analyze/summarize the information yourself. I have no idea how they would be able to attach any “licencing restrictions” to data disclosed through FOIP. And while they might argue there are privacy implications stemming from disclosing the raw data, which there probably are, this might be a hard argument for them to support given that they already effectively publicize the information via the map website.

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