Online topo websites seem like a great idea; they provide a platform for information to be readily updated and obviate the need for a printed guidebook. This would all seem like progress in an age when pretty much everything has gone digital and smart phones are relied (expected) upon to provide all the answers in life.
However this is causing an ongoing issue regarding copyright infringement and online topos do very little (if anything) to support the very climbers who create the resource that topo websites are so reliant upon for business.
Numerous examples of conflict between developers and an online guide platform have occurred and is a worrying trend. Kalymnos, Ceuse, Hong Kong are just a few situations where copy right infringement or the consequences of publishing route information without developer involvement has occurred, often with public consequences.
Climbers are entirely reliant upon accurate information to er, guide, their outdoor climbing and that information can be particularly critical for traditional climbing areas but also for sport crags.
In the context of sport climbing, developers invest considerable resources both in time and money, to equip routes that others are then usually free to enjoy at their leisure. This aspect of sport climbing is too often taken for granted and poorly understood by climbers in general who generally give little thought as to how the bolts got there and who installed them.
When route information is made public, and only then, can anyone legally copy information deemed to be facts. These constitute bolt counts, pitch lengths, route names etc however where there is an individual interpretation i.e. route descriptions then legally the descriptions are subject to copyright. Climbing route information is not therefore entirely free, despite that being the attitude of one well known online topo website.
Online topo websites tend to have poor cross checking for copyright infringement being reliant upon climbers to self populate the online database. This in itself constitutes a weak link where climbers, who are typically unfamiliar with guidebook production and copyright, are unaware of these considerations but are represented in mass and can therefore easily undermine a regional developer via the quantity of information they can upload online.
Online topo websites are often based in another country to that of an affected developer which makes their relevance to a given climbing area even more tangible. There is a responsibility therefore upon such websites to prevent copyright infringement via a code of ethics which is often non existent or difficult to implement because “we are run by volunteers” not least are processing significant amounts of data being submitted by individual climbers. They still gain an advantage of course.
A fundamental shift is required by climbers in understanding that bolts and associated hardware is n’t free and someone, somewhere, has had to pay for it then invested further expense and time to install it, often at varying levels of risk. Undermining developers by publishing new route information without their consent, drawing attention to areas under development all serves to only compromise climbing public safety while disrespecting the contribution developers make to support our sport.
Support your regional developers, buy local guidebooks and contribute to bolt funds. Everything that online websites typically fail to do.