Monday, 7 July 2008

GROS to end monopoly on its data?

An article in yesterday's Sunday Herald claims that the Scottish Government is about to advertise licenses for access to some of the GROS material that it makes available through the ScotlandsPeople website, currently owned by Brightsolid (formerly Scotland Online). The site currently offers access to births, marriages and deaths information, taken from the post-1855 statutory and pre-1855 OPR records, as well as the 1841 to 1901 Scottish censuses. If true, it would be a remarkable turnaround.

For some time, both the GROS and Ancestry have been at loggerheads over access to the images of the censuses, an index for which Ancestry has placed online at its website. The index was created after Ancestry purchased microfilms containing the census images from the GROS. In response, such microfilms were withdrawn from sale, and the GROS has since had a complete monopoly over the images, for which it holds the copyright (as Ancestry's index is its own work, there was no breach of copyright involved here).

So what is going on? A few thoughts! The first, and perhaps most likely, is that this may simply be the GROS advertising the license for their images as part of the tender process for the renewal of the license granted to Scotland Online, which expires next year. The second may be that this is just a legal ploy to allow access to the material to FindmyPast, which was acquired by Brightsolid earlier this year, but which cannot use the Scottish material just now. If the two sites were on the same legal footing, it would perhaps make it easier to integrate them. The third is that the GROS may actually be about to follow the example of the National Archives in England, which licenses its material to many different competitors, which encourages competition and forces the price down for the consumer.

Personally I think the article is just a storm in a teacup by the current license holder over the first option, which will see Brightsolid lose a substantial part of its investment if it loses access to the GROS data, but it will be interesting to see what transpires! It should be noted that prior to the ScotlandsPeople website having access to the GROS data, it was formerly provided by Scots Origins. When this company lost access to the Scottish data, it initially offered a look up service but rebranded itself as the Origins network, and now makes its money from access to Irish and English material.

The Sunday Herald article can be read online at License Sale May Mean Money Doesn't Grow on Family Trees.

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