Consumers the losers with Virtual Map shutdown

Virtual Map, the company that runs StreetDirectory.com has shut down its website after losing a lawsuit to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

According to the Straits Times, SLA, which originally issued Virtual Map a licence for its maps of Singapore, sued the company in January 2007 for continuing to use the SLA maps even after the licence had expired. Virtual Map lost it case in the District Court, and was ordered to stop using the infringing materials. It appealed to the High Court, but lost again.

The company is now considering quitting its business in Singapore and focusing elsewhere. It also has online maps in Indonesia and Malaysia.

I am shocked and disappointed to learn that things have turned out this way. I use StreetDirectory.com all the time to find directions, usually from MRT stations to my point of destination. It isn’t the most fantastic online map I’ve used, but it’s certainly by far the best in Singapore.

In contrast, SLA’s StreetMap is pathetic. There are so few details in SLA’s maps I just gave up after using it once. Unlike StreetDirectory.com, StreetMap does not provide a facility to search for bus and driving directions to that location.

There was another map website that ST highlighted, but when I visited its site, it said, “ShowNearby is on debugging mode. During this time, users may undergo a bumpy surfing experience.”

In any case, those maps have even less detail than SLA’s maps.

I really don’t understand what SLA was trying to achieve by suing Virtual Map and forcing them to stop using the maps. I mean, at least let them pay for the license and continue using it right? Now not only is a budding local startup forced to shut down its core business, but thousands of consumers like me who rely on online maps are going to be, literally, lost.

So much for promoting entrepreneurship. So much for consumer rights.

There is one sliver of hope though. They are considering making a final appeal to the Court of Appeals. Let us, powerless consumers, keep our fingers crossed.

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