Book Review and Reader Discount: Copyright and Cartography

This is a review of Copyright and Cartography: History, Law, and the Circulation of Geographical Knowledge, by Professor Isabella Alexander, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. This book is available in both hardback and digital open access. For those wishing to purchase the book, a discount code has kindly been provided by Bloomsbury for IPKat readers, below.

This book tells the story of how copyright came to be applied to maps and explores its role in the creation, publication, commercialisation, circulation and use of maps as well as the geographical information they contain.

The book is advertised as being of interest to historians, historians of the map and print culture, as well as those interested in the history of knowledge and how legal control over data has been exerted overtime and intellectual property scholars. I would add to that list those interested in the relationship between competing interests in copyright and core concepts of copyright such as authorship and originality. I can’t speak for the historians but, as a certified copyright nerd and the IPKat book review editor, I have read hundreds of books about copyright. So, it is a real delight when I come across a book that is truly novel, memorable and thought-provoking. Copyright and maps is not a topic that I would have predicted as such, but what I found in this book, in this context, with Alexander’s style and delivery, was a new lens with which to view familiar concepts in a refreshing and fascinating way. 

Kat Maps

Some people are gifted with the ability to make any topic interesting (there are also those who have the opposite skill, of course!): Alexander is one for the former. As I tell you what this book is about, dear reader, don’t underestimate the joy of reading it based purely on the contents. A question as simple as “what is a map?” becomes a story with main characters and several plot twists. 

Viewing maps as cultural, creative, and commercial material artefacts means that examining their production, circulation and use can also inform our understanding of the relationship between copyright, creativity and cultural production.

The book explores the delicate balance in copyright between protecting creativity and not protecting knowledge, in this instance geographical knowledge. Alexander begins her main exploration from the start of the eightieth century and continues to the outbreak of World War I. During this period, she explains, London became the global leader in mapmaking. Alexander discusses how maps and geographical information played a vital role in the accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of the British Empire. 

The introduction probes into questions of ‘what is a map?’ and the history of mapmaking.  Chapter two then provides an overview of mapmaking in premodern Europe, considering how early English mapmakers sought to make use of patents and privileges that predated the modern copyright regime.

Chapters three, four and five focus on the eighteenth century and the development of three Engravings Acts in 1735, 1767 and 1777 leading to ‘maps, charts and plans’ being encompassed by the subject matter of copyright. Chapter four focuses on the impact of this legislation through six legal disputes involving maps, and chapter five examines another series of litigation relating to the road book. 

Chapters six, seven and eight then consider the nineteenth century developments, in particular, the emergence of state mapmaking through official state bodies. Chapter six focuses on the Ordnance Survey and the shift from privately funded mapmaking to being directed by the state. Chapter seven looks at the UK Hydrographic Office, considering copyright and the circulation of naval charts. Chapter eight explores how the private mapmakers responded to the changing economic and social conditions as well as the rise of new map uses. Chapter nine brings the reader into the early twentieth century, comparing the divergent attitudes of the Ordnance Survey and the Hydrographic Office on copyright. 

As an author myself, I am careful not to comment on things that I feel are “missing” from other people’s books. (There’s nothing like a reviewer 2 comment suggesting you include another entire body of law, because, dear reviewer, we cannot write about everything, every time!) So, this next comment is made with admiration and perhaps for another book rather than this one, but I would love it if Alexander would bring us all the way up to date. How does all this play out in the world of Google Maps and Waze? As these are more like social media apps than maps. Although this feels less surprising having learned what I have from this book!


Published: 2023

Format: Hardback and digitally open access

Edition 1st

Extent 328

ISBN 9781509958337

Imprint Hart Publishing

Dimensions 234 x 156 mm

Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing

Order online at  – use the code GLR BE1UK for UK orders and GLR BE1US for US orders to get 20% off!

Book Review and Reader Discount: Copyright and Cartography Book Review and Reader Discount: Copyright and Cartography Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Sunday, January 28, 2024 Rating: 5

No comments:

All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.