Ransom payments set maps free

Map Ransom Web site

A person in Massachusetts has raised enough money to centralize all official government topographic maps online for free public downloading from the Internet.

Until now, the more than 56,000 digital topographic maps have been scattered among many Web sites, said Jared Benedict, the online name of the individual behind the effort. Benedict was unavailable for comment at press time.

A significant number of states charge citizens to download the data from the Web.

Benedict recently purchased most of the data from a private vendor and then held the maps for a $1,600 ransom to recoup the expense.

“Donate or purchase maps on DVD to meet the ransom demand,” Benedict’s Web site states. “Once the $1,600 ransom is met, all maps will be handed over to the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive will make every map available for free download forever!”

The Internet Archive, a nonprofit entity that offers access to historical collections in digital format, will eventually make every map available for free public access.

Today, the maps have been liberated, according to Benedict’s site.

“All 56,000 of them are squeezing their way through my slow broadband connection right now to the safety and comfort of the Internet Archive,” the Web page states. “Thanks to the amazing and generous people at the Internet Archive, they will soon be available for download for free forever!”

The U.S. Geological Survey, which is responsible for distributing government maps, produced the maps on paper then scanned them into digital formats. They show details of physical features such as mountains and rivers, which can make them useful for families planning outdoor expeditions, students researching land change or businesses planning expansions.

Benedict’s site states that he will update visitors on the progress of the maps’ relocation.

The maps are in TIFF format with metadata files that enable geographic information system applications to georeference them.

According to the Frequently Asked Questions section on Benedict’s site, the maps have been well-preserved.

“Q: Are the maps in any danger?

A: The maps are comfortable. I have them tied up and blindfolded, but they are fed regularly and given several bathroom breaks a day. I have no intention of harming the maps. Just meet the ransom, and no maps get hurt.”

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