Garmin gets support for KML overlays — implications

Late last week Garmin came out with a beta update for its Colorado, Dakota and Oregon GPS devices that displays uploaded KMZ files containing geopositioned overlays. Garmin’s announcement and instructions are here. This is the first time I am aware of that a mobile device renders KML overlays.

GPSTracklog covers the news, and has some usage tips. GPSFix has detailed instructions, tips on using GPS Visualizer’s generated overlays, and an exhaustive list of tools and resources.

I happen to have an Garmin Oregon 300, and since I love it whenever a gadget I own gets better simply by aging, I did the (Windows only) upgrade and some testing myself this past weekend. The verdict:

  1. garminfaraway.jpggarmincloseup.jpgAlthough it is beta, this is a very robust update — the KMZ overlay of satellite imagery from the likely underground nuclear processing plant in IRan blogged a few weeks ago works seamlessly. That’s a 36 megapixel JPEG and a 16 megapixel JPEG in a 11MB combined KMZ file, into which I could zoom to see sub-meter objects! Screen refreshes are obviously not as rapid as on my MacBook Pro, but for a gadget meant to show a position in context it is plenty fast. I was expecting the file to completely bog down the Garmin, but the device didn’t even blink.
  2. Feed the Garmin a KMZ file with mixed KML-based objects, such as placemarks, polygons and overlays, and it wil ignore all the components except for the overlays. No complaining, no error messages. Just the overlays.

Some further thoughts:

  1. In its instructions, Garmin writes in red ink:

    However, please be responsible and only create a Garmin Custom Map from a map that is in the public domain, you hold the copyright in, or you have permission to use from the copyright holder.

    I think that statement is a bit odd, and am not at all sure it is justifiable. I understand how the sharing or distribution of maps can require copyright permission, but that is the case for any map, online or offline, digital or paper. What I am having difficulty with in Garmin’s statement is the attempt to parse a difference between owning a map and using a map. As far as I am concerned, owning a map but not being allowed to use it is a nonsensical demand.

    To put it another way: Of course I should be able to scan a paper map I own, overlay it in Google Earth and import it into my Garmin. What’s that got to do with the copyright owner?

    Sharing the resulting file with an online community? Yes, that could require permission.

    But it gets trickier: There are many, many thousands of map and imagery overlays accessible online as KMZ files. In all cases, they have been made available with the expectation that they be displayed on a screen attached to a computer. Until now, the application most likely doing the rendering will have been Google Earth (or possibly Google Maps, or Microsoft Bing), but that is by no means a limitation of the KML markup language. KML is an open standard, and any device is allowed to parse KML. Do any of these KMZ files come with the condition that they may only be viewed using some applications but not others, or may not be viewed in combination with other functionality, such as a GPS positioning function? I think not. So why would it be okay to view such files in Google Earth while running a GPS tracking tool, but not on a Garmin while running its GPS tracking function?

  2. Why would anyone want to upload KMZ overlays to a Garmin in the first place? There is a very good reason, actually: No other portable device currently supports the display of KML overlays; Google Earth for the iPhone will likely get such support one day, but the iPhone is not an ideal GPS device, because it can only do one thing at a time, and tends to require a connection to the internet. If you’re a nuclear weapons inspector headed for the hills outside Qum, this latest Garmin update is your friend.

2 thoughts on “Garmin gets support for KML overlays — implications”

  1. I think you are going a little far in interpreting Garmin’s suggestion about copyrighted material. First, it’s mostly intended to make you think about it. It got you to do that. If it gets most people to at least give it some thought, that has to be a good thing.

    Second, I think you’re overthinking the bit about “owning” paper maps and then extending it to imagery on Google Earth or Maps or Bing that you can display on your computer screen.

    If you were sold a paper map, the copyright holder – in making it available for sale – has given you explicit permission, through “fair use” principles to use the map in pretty much any reasonable fashion, for your own personal use. Scanning it, calibrating it and loading it on YOUR Garmin handheld seems to fit that rather well.

    The same principle would seem to apply to anything you are legally able to display on your computer screen: scan it, calibrate it and load it to YOUR Garmin handheld. All good. Personal use. No harm, no foul.

    There is nothing stopping other people from taking those same steps with paper maps which THEY have purchased or content they have displayed on THEIR computer screens.

    There’s also no real problem with you helping them to do so, eg. by going over and holding their hand directly or walking them through it over the phone or posting a text or video tutorial so they can do it with content THEY have purchased or are viewing legally.

    But I’m not at all sure how you can make the leap from those examples, involving personal use, to being able to distribute KML files derived directly from the original copyrighted work to other people. That’s no different than taking a copyrighted paper map, making photocopies and selling them or giving them away to all and sundry. It’s not legal. It doesn’t even come close to “fair use”.

    Can you help me close the gap in my understanding?


  2. We are in agreement about everything, Ken.

    As for your last paragraph, I do not make that leap, in fact I write that this is an example where you would need to get copyright permission first.

    Garmin does “ask” instead of tell us not to display copyrighted display, but it remains a request that I (and you) don’t think is justified.

    Perhaps the reason is that some devices in the past (such as the iPhone) have forbidden app developers from making navigation applications. Google Earth, too, has a clause in its terms of use that its imagery may not be used for navigation purposes:

    “you must not: use the Service or Content with any products, systems, or applications for or in connection with (i) real time navigation or route guidance”

    A narrow reading of that would seem to preclude the taking of screenshots of location in Google Earth, geopositioning them and then exporting as KMZ.

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