Have you ever wondered how a cartographer draws a map?

Creating a map from scratch requires years of fieldwork, and analyses of a multitude of satellite photos. Although the advancement of technology has cut down a lot of the manual work that goes into map-making, the threat of plagiarism persists.

It is difficult to prove that someone has copied your work when both the parties are drawing the same geographical area. So, mapmakers have come up with a smart solution to catch individuals stealing their data.

Paper towns

Paper towns are fake or fictitious places that are put on the maps as copyright traps. What happens is – a cartographer creates a map and deliberately inserts a fictional town. Now, If he or she comes to know that a competitor has also marked the same town, it becomes easy to prove that the contender has plagiarised the information.

For example in 2009, Google Maps and Google Earth displayed a phantom settlement called Argleton in West Lancashire, England. This town was supposedly located between A59 road and Town Green railway station, in an area of empty fields. After the fake town gained a lot of media attention, Google removed it and rectified the map.

American author John Green’s coming-of-age novel Paper Towns and its 2015 film adaptation explore this concept through a fake town in New York called Agloe. This town showed up on the maps in 1930 and is an anagram of its cartographers. Ernest Alpers and Otto G. Lindberg’s initials.

Copyright traps are not just limited to map-making. Various dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks and journals have openly admitted that they use similar techniques to keep their competitors in check and monitor any plagiarism of their research and data.


In 2001, the word ‘esquivalience appeared in the New Oxford American Dictionary. This word was defined as the wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities. It was designed as a copyright trap and it worked. Google dictionary, and dictionary.com among others, added it to their database, possibly proving a level of plagiarism among online dictionaries. Subsequently, the dictionary mentioned it as a fictitious entry intended to protect the copyright of the publication.

Picture Credit : Google 

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