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Make Google Earth pay you

12 June 2012

You can walk down any street in the country and see what Google's StreetView cars can see.

You can fly a light aircraft over any town in the country and see what Google Earth sees.

So why all the fuss about plans by both Google and Apple to use aircraft fitted with high resolution cameras to enhance and update their respective online offerings?

In fact, when I first read about the concerns being voiced by some, I thought "what's there problem?"

For as long as I can remember, governments and local councils have been performing "aerial mapping" of towns, cities and countryside, using aircraft fitted with special high-resolution cameras.

Anyone willing to spend a bit of time and some coin could, in many cases, just drop into the council offices and peruse these aerial photos or buy a copy of those they wanted to take away.

So how does Google and Apple offering the same service for free change anything?

And then I got to thinking...

On reflection, perhaps I can see the issues here.

Councils and local authorities want the right to peer into your back yard from the air so that they can spot unpermitted constructions, pools and other features that may interest them.

By law, they have a right to stick their nose into your yard and your business because, by law, you are supposed to get their permission to do almost everything -- despite the fact that this is your own property.

The same can't be said for the street-gang across town who are looking for some "easy pickings" on their next burglary raid.

How handy is it for them to browse the streets and towns of your city, looking for convenient pedestrian lanes, signs of affluence normally hidden from a street view, or even that nice new boat parked behind your garage and all ready to tow away on its trailer?

This time, the phrase "only those with something to hide have anything to fear" is very true -- and who doesn't want to hide their valuables from potentially criminal eyes?

But what can concerned individuals do?

Not much I suspect. Moves to ban Google and Apple's aerial mapping activities would have to come from a government level -- and that's rather unlikely.

But I wonder -- perhaps there is a way...

What if you fill your back yard with a "creative work" which is going to be clearly visible from the skies.

A nice painting on your driveway or the garage roof. A lovely tile mosaic around the BBQ -- or something equally as artistic.

Let the Google and Apple planes fly overhead. Let them take their images.

And, when those images appear online, sue them for copyright infringement.

Use of *your* intellectual property (which is automatically protected by copyright as soon as it's "published") without license or payment is an offense punishable by the courts. This would be particularly enforceable, since Google/Apple would clearly be profiting from the use of the "copies" they are illegally publishing.

If you want to go the whole hog - register your creative work and then you can claim not only actual damages but punitive ones.

Earn money from these spies in the sky -- if that's what you want to do.

At the very least, this action would cause Google and Apple to carefully fuzz-out any back yard that might appear to contain such creative works - as they do now with faces and car license plates. Using this strategy there's a good chance that you'll get your privacy or your money.

Or will you just accept that, in the second decade of the 21st century, privacy is a concept that really only exists in history books.

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