Paper towns, trap streets and fictitious entries

I’m currently working on a photographic research project on the subject of fictitious entries in cartography.

More specifically, I’m looking to identify maps or geocode containing fictitious streets, towns or areas designed to protect the intellectual property of their authors (trap streets, paper towns, etc.). This was a common practice at one time to protect the intellectual property of cartographers.

Are you aware of any such documents in archives or code? Do you know the best way to proceed with my research / who I could contact? Do you know of a record / history of errors or “unmatched” data? I found this map compare tool, but without a database of recorded errors I find it difficult to navigate.

I would really appreciate any advice or recommendation on this :slight_smile:

You should ask on GIS Stack Exchange (if this is even an SE worth question), Reddit, etc. OSM doesn’t have much to do with the topic.


There are some examples in the wiki, but we don’t do them.

Unless it turns out that some of the open data or out of copyright maps we have access to have a bunch of them we don’t have a reason to keep a detailed list.

Note also that direct use of OSM data is typically easy to spot without trap streets or paper towns.


I’ve heard of people claiming to have done this, but can’t think of an actual example in OSM created for this purpose (current or historical).

What is common, however, is using the slight differences between how things are mapped in OSM and how they are in other maps to detect usage of OSM data externally, when it hasn’t yet been acknowledged. See for example here - people were able to obtain the rough date of the OSM data used by Apple in the background of an app before they had publicly acknowledged doing so.

Another example (this time used with full attribution) is the POI dataset distributed with Garmin devices in the UK. It contains a name specifc to v8 of this which pins down the date of the OSM data extract used very narrowly.

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It’s even possible to tell which OSM-based vector tile provider is being used based on the postprocessing that takes place. For example, OpenMapTiles uses a very idiosyncratic set of abbreviations in street names, Tilezen places a period after each abbreviation (“E. Main St.”), and Mapbox Streets still calls my city “San José” by choice in English (long story there). Some of these providers fall back to Wikidata, so it’s really easy to spot them based on Wikipedia article title disambiguators that have crept into Wikidata labels.

An interesting QA test could be to examine which tags in the OpenStreetMap database, linked to Wikidata, fall under the “Q15831596:class of fictional entities” according to Wikidata. There are sure to be some interesting and surprising findings here.
Of course, most of them are tagging issues in Wikidata and/or in OSM (OpenStreetMap).

wikipedia ( and wikidata ) has a big list of “fictional locations”

my favorite : The Null Island ( ~ the most real of fictional places )

> “In this debate, OSM contributors argued fervently for or against the removal of Null Island from OSM. One side of the debate argued that OSM thrives when OSM map data is verifiable on the ground ( Ground truth - OpenStreetMap Wiki ) and consequently a group of contributors (including members of the authoritative OSM Data Working Group) think that fictional places should not be added to the OSM database. A counter argument shared by many contributors is that many suburbs and localities also do not exist in a physical form. These divisions of geographic space exist as a shared knowledge of locals inhabiting an area. In this regard, Null Island is no more fictional than localities that exist only in the collective consciousness of people, and refers to some specific area or location. This debate within OSM resurfaces from time-to-time and one can guess that there is no apparent resolution on the horizon. The discussion also resembles what is known as the locality debate in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s to explain the restructuring of economies and their spatial structures. As far back as 1991, it was argued that localities are not simple spatial areas that are defined by an outline, but they should be defined in terms of the sets of social relations or processes in question (massey_political_1991). One might argue that Null Island fits into this definition of locality, since its concept as well as its ‘real’ location are collectively known by many people, and it is important enough to be regularly part of social discussions in various channels.”

I think another interesting topic would be how certain OpenStreetMap editors safeguard their edits by adding unique characteristics. This would help identify if some commercial map service providers are violating the OSM license by taking data. From what I recall, this topic sometimes comes up in discussions among local OSM editors. However, I don’t think they would disclose these tricks, as doing so would make it public, and those who unethically copy from OSM could then filter it out.

I am actually scanning for such cases (and similar, published as ) , and so far found only problems in Wikidata ontology when looking for entries marked as fictional.

See this and this and this for some examples.