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  1. #1

    Default State Map Plagiarism

    Hello Cartographers,
    First time, zero rep poster here with what is probably a pretty dumb question; please humor me:

    Suppose I want to illustrate a county map for a state in a piece of literature I'm creating. The easiest way to do this, it would seem, is print a state map with county lines off from a quick google image search and trace over this. Question is, is that plagiarism?

    Follow up questions: how are any new state maps or graphics of state outlines made legitimately? Are there some sort of surveying national standards for the state outlines on which all state maps are based? Or are a lot of state graphic illustrations created as simply as I was first inclined to create one, by copying another outline of the state?

    Sorry, I'm sure this is a stupid question but I plainly need to be told the answer. I've done enough research to give it up and just ask this in a forum of pros.

    Thanks in advance to anyone kind enough to field this.

  2. #2
    Guild Expert Jalyha's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure that if the only thing you traced was the county outline, you'd be safe... I just had a similar issue with my Goat Island thread... and you can't *own* the shape of the land (from what I understood of the answers I was given)

    However, if you want to be safe, county lines are a matter of public record, and the website for whatever city is the county seat should tell you how you can get a (non-copyrighted) outline/guide/whatever.

    We had to get bunches of them for upgrades to the farm, and there were never any copyright things on the pages

    EDIT: of course, you still have to add your own info to the map, in your own way... but you'd be doing that anyway, right?
    Have you "liked" a post today?

  3. #3
    Guild Adept foremost's Avatar
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    Well, I'd find a outline that's in the public domain (like government maps).

    Here's a map of my state that's in the public domain.
    The best maps are the ones we like the most after looking at the longest.

  4. #4


    Jalyha, foremost:
    Much obliged for your responses. I'm sure you're right that there are plenty of available public domain sources available, and foremost's link led me to find National Atlas home page, which looks like a great resource and starting point for my work. Much thanks.

  5. #5


    Whether or not it's plagiarism depends on who actually made the image you're using. Google image search conveniently lets you filter by license type. If you click "Search Tools" right below the input bar in your search, it will open a second line of options, among which is "Usage Rights."

    Most publications by the US Government are in the public domain and can be used without limit and without credit by anyone at any time. A handy source for the kind of information you want is the National Atlas home page.
    Quote Originally Posted by
    Nearly all information collected by the Federal Government is in the public domain and use of National Atlas Data produced under this project is not restricted in any way.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  6. #6
    Guild Expert Hai-Etlik's Avatar
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    If you credit the source, it's not plagiarism. It might still be copyright infringement though, and probably is in the case of Google Maps (Which is why OpenStreetMap have very strict and often repeated "Don't Trace Google Maps!" warnings for its users). Look for a public domain source, like Natural Earth, or one available under an open license like OpenStreetMap or Wikipedia (in which case make sure the license is compatible with the particular use you are making)

    National mapping agencies (NRCan, Ordnace Survey, Swistopo, USGS, etc) often release some data under open licenses, and less frequently in the public domain.

  7. #7


    Whoops! Good catch, Hai-Etlik. Always a good idea to properly define the terms.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

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