Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Virtual Maps Scam

Recently I received a very legal-looking letter from Virtual Map (S) Pte Ltd, which advised that I am liable for license fees for using a image reproduced from Singapore Street Directory. The image concerned was on the contact page of my company's website, and was acknowledged as supplied by Street Directory.

Recognising that my use of the map was inappropriate, I immediately removed the image, and replaced it with a link to an aerial view of my location using Google Maps (for free). Google Map provides both a physical and map view, with clear labels for surrounding buildings, so it's a better option anyway.

The letter as it turns out, is a marketing scam. The letter did not ask me to cease using the image from Street Directory, but merely to meet the good folks at Virtual Map (VM) "with a view to reaching an amicable settlement". On the Street Directory website, there is a link to estimate the cost of licensing such an image for one's website. I checked and the cost is US$ 2,117.65. It's not clear whether this is a one-time perpetual license, or an annual fee. The license terms state the territory is Singapore, so it's unclear if this is intended to cover international use (which would certainly be needed for an Internet website).

I called and wrote to the folks at VM and informed them that I had removed the image from my website, and had no money to pay for maps. I even offered to link to the map on the Street Directory website - which would bring traffic to their advertisers. Apparently deep linking is also something they want to charge for. They still insisted on a meeting to discuss terms of settlement. My view is that they have not even asked me to cease using the image - they simply want my money! I have informed them that if they want to discuss settlement, I will do so as part of mediation by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

Then, today I spotted an article in the Straits Times which clearly states that Virtual Maps does not even have a clear copyright to the map data. The map data was licensed to them by Singapore Land Authority (SLA), and apparently they have not paid the license fees since 2004. SLA demanded over a year ago that they cease using the data. Yesterday a judge ordered VM to cease "dealing in maps which are reproductions of SLA's street directory vector data", and further ordered an inquiry into damages due to SLA.

Even the Wikipedia entry for Virtual Map has highlighted the disputes between VM and SLA on the one hand, and its users on the other.


VM's Ex-employee said...

This company is a sucker! They copy SLA's map, change it a bit, and told their staff to lie in the court. The worst thing is they sue people who use their map while they stealing SLA's map. Thieve yelling thieve!

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Justice maybe? Now that Virtual Map has been found in violation?

Anonymous said...

Justice definitely.