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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Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

13 thoughts on “Consumers the losers with Virtual Map shutdown”

  1. If you could recall, I believe the stated news item had launched similiar per copyright regulations aka ODEX type

  2. virtual map had the license from SLA but it was terminated. Virtual Map continued to use maps derived from SLA sources and basically using pirated contents for profit. SLA sues Virtual Map who then loses the case and the appeal. The evidence is very clear that virtual map is in the wrong. There are alternative map solutions. Virtual Map can appeal again but it will not succeed. You should do business with ethical practices. An entrepreneur that sells stolen goods is a crook.

  3. but wat is the reason for termination of the license? Probably the SLA sees that it is a pot of gold and want it for themselves.

    palmist

  4. It is possible that SLA see its as a pot of gold for themselves.

    The crux of the whole case was that Virtual Map had used content from SLA without paying license. After losing the case, they had to shutdown the website.

    Yes. Consumers are the losers as they had no better alternatives. If there are entrepreneuers out there, they should look at filling in the gap left by Streetdirectory.

    As for SLA, I have no doubt that the next company that ask for the license will be charged a king’s ransom. Then they will sell the license to a goverment subsidiary or whatsover and keep it all in the family.

    Regards
    Newcastle

  5. Before Virtual Maps company is been condemned, did anyone even bother to use his brain to ask if Singapore Land Authority has any right to profit from Taxpayer and not returning the profiting to the nation ? What right has them in the first place to license this technology to other companies with no accountability to Singaporean ?

  6. Hi all
    I will not be shedding any tears for VM.
    It threatened to sue website owners who used these maps accusing the websites of infringement of copyright.Many paid up.
    Now that it is proven that they do not have copyright and in fact had been successfully taken to task by SLA for a similar infringement,I wonder if website owners who paid up have any case to seek redress?
    Friends, don’t be too quick to pity.

    Dr.Huang

  7. Doing it legally is one thing but doing it illegally, whatever the consumer thinks, is still illegal.

    The potential for precedent in intellectual property cases was too high for SLA not to have followed through. The ramifications in IP could have been immense.

    Whilst I used to use the VM service all the time I now use an alternative in google maps.

  8. Heng-Cheong – I really don’t know the whole story. But from the ST report, it seems that SLA refused to sell the license to VM. Probably–and I’m just guessing–VM was willing to renew the license but SLA refused. So VM went ahead and continued using the maps, resulting in the lawsuit.

    I’d do more research on the timelines if I had time, but I believe SLA launched its lawsuit after it came up with its own online street directory.

    I think there’s more than meets the eye (and more than what our ‘nation building’ press has been reporting)

  9. Dear Gerald,

    It may be more than meets the eye but as Dr Huang had mentioned, VM was quick to threaten to sue people who had used VM’s map in the past for using its website and infringing its copyright.

    As mentioned, the cruz was that VM had used content from SLA without license. Maybe SLA has its own agenda, maybe SLA had wanted to develop its own online map, maybe SLA just wanna wield the stick on VM, maybe SLA slapped a ridiculous fees on VM for the use of the map…

    yes, it will be good to trace the timeline but the going-ons behind the scene can only be revealed by VM and SLA.

    I will not be surprise if a GLC launch a online map similar to VM’s services.

    Yes, I am inconvenenice by the loss of VM.

    No, I do not shed a tear for VM. They had proven in the past to be just as trigger happy in threatening to sue people who had used their maps and infringing their copyrights.

    Regards
    Newcastle

  10. Hi Newcastle,
    Big fish eat small fish who eat smaller fish!
    In real life most of us are mere plankton!
    Cheers

    Dr.Huang

  11. Hi Dr Huang,

    Yes, that is a reality of life and it sums up the whole VM Saga. :D

    Cheers
    Newcastle

  12. It’s happened before. Small private bus companies forced to merge, then ‘absorbed’ into history. Yellow top taxis are now part of NTUC?

    If it’s profitable, you bet your ass it’s not going to be private for long, and I don’t mean it getting listed.

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