OpenStreetMap, a global "wikipedia of maps", demonstrates that volunteer collaborations are a force to be reckoned with in the geography world. Increasingly, crowd-sourced Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) projects are addressing mapping needs in crisis situations. The 2010 Haitian earthquakes provoked a blossoming of such initiatives, with a mileau of volunteer mapping efforts put forth to assist with relief efforts. Similar mapping efforts are now cropping up to assist in the context of forest fires, floods, hurricanes and other disasters.

Whether you are contributing to VGI or relying upon the information, there are some key legal issues and potential legal risks that arise in this exciting new mapping environment.

CIPPIC is grateful to the GEOIDE Network (Network of Centres of Excellence program) for financial support for its work on legal issues associated with volunteered geographic information.


Reliability of VGI

Participating in VGI


General Information

Platform building websites

  • Open Street Map, is a free world-wide map where users can edit and build on existing maps.
  • Crowd Map, allows you to collect information from cell phones, news and the web, aggregate that information into a single platform and visualize it on a map and timeline.
  • Google Map Maker, enables users to update Google Maps with the user’s local knowledge.

Disaster Relief

  • Bushfire Connect, a site which aims to empower citizens to report on bushfire situations.
  • Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing information that has already been used in various situations for crisis mapping.

Court Decisions

Academic sources:

  • Bayus v Coquitlum, [1993] BCJ No 1751. Courts state that the city is negligent in not having up-to-date maps.
  • Rosenberg v. Harwood, (2011), Case No 100916536, Utah Dist Ct, Central Div. Courts state that the service provider does not owe a duty of care to users of the map.
  • Jennifer A Chandler & Katherine Levitt, “Spatial Data Quality: The Duty to Warn Users of Risks Associated with Using Spatial Data” (2011) 49 Alberta Law Review 79.
  • Ian J Duncan, “Negligence and Professional Malpractice Related to GIS Datasets” (Paper delivered at USGS Digital Mapping Techniques ’03 – Workshop Proceedings, 2012).
  • Marc Gervais, “On the Importance of External Data Quality in Civil Law”, Fundamentals of Spatial Data Quality, eds. Rodolpe Devillers and Robert Jeansoulin (London: ISTE Ldt. 2005).
  • Michael F Goodchild, “Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography” (2007) 69 Geojournal 211.
  • J.L. Phillips, Information Liability: the Possible Chilling Effect of Tort Claims against Producers of Geographic Information Systems Data,
  • Andriy Rak et al, “Legal Liability Concerns Surrounding Volunteered Geographic Information Applicable to Canada” (Paper delivered at the GSDI World Conference, 2012).
  • Kerrin Stewart, George Cho and Eugene Clark, “Geographical Information Systems and Legal Liability”. 8 JL & Inf Sci 84 (1997).
  • Albert Yeung & G Hall, “User Education and Legal Issues of Spatial Database Systems” (2007) 87 GeoJournal 219.
  • Matthew Zook et al, “Volunteered Geographic Information and Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief: a Case study of the Haitian Earthquake” (2010) 2 World Health & Medical Policy 7.