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  • Writer's picturePatrick Drenkelforth

Terravision vs. Google Earth: Plagiarism of Google Earth?

Terravision vs. Google Earth: Plagiarism of Google Earth?

The 1990s were marked by a boom in technological creativity, driven by the internet boom. Did you know that Google Earth, the Google product, is the result of a plagiarism from a German company?

Next, we will review what happened, with the intention of reflecting on the role of these large technological conglomerates, currently owners of our data:

What was Terravision?

You've probably heard of Terravision. If not, you should know that it was a project whose owners staged one of the most controversial lawsuits in the history of Google in 2014. The trial, reflected in "The Billion Dollar Code", a series released by Netflix in 2021, stayed away of the press in its infancy.

Terravision was conceived in the 1990s as an 'artistic work' on Earth, since it allowed 'building' every corner of the world via three-dimensional (3D) interactive photographs and geographic data, eleven years before Google Earth was released. The Berlin-based architecture studio 'Art + Com' led the project.

The satellite images projected by the German company's algorithm generated the sensation that users were moving anywhere across the screen, in real time, on a photorealistic Earth.

As expected, 'the machine of God', as they called it at the time, caught the attention of technology companies and ended up being officially launched in 1994. A chronicle of the time said: «In all the places where this marvel is presented, people are swirl to see her».

Why did Terravision sue Google?

Representing bad news for Terravision, in 2001 the famous Google Earth would be created, for which Google began receiving lawsuits almost immediately: the technological giant had plagiarized the Terravision algorithm. By then, Art + Com began to explore options for claiming compensation.

It wasn't until 2006 that Google representatives agreed to meet with those from Germany to negotiate the Terravision patent. However, the offer was rejected as too low, and Google Earth continued to work. In the end, Art + Com ended up suing Google in 2014 in court for having copied the Terravision algorithm patent.

Google's lawyers managed to prove through the popular jury that Google had not violated the Art + Com patent, so they won the trial. In October 2017, the German company even saw how the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against it. They were trying to claim $100 million from Google. (Native English)

Terravision vs Google Earth on Netflix

Several years after that little-known trial, screenwriter Oliver Ziegenbalg He crossed paths with the story and decided, together with Robert Thalheim (Director), that it was good material to create a fictional miniseries.

Thus, on October 7, 2021, the four-part feature film 'The Billion Dollar Code' or 'The Code of Discord'. Based on "true events" mentioned in the opening credits, the ART+COM story focuses on two main elements:

  1. The development of TerraVision in the mid-1990s

  2. The subsequent legal dispute vs. Google about its software patent.

"The Code of Discord" reflects an exciting panorama across two decades, in which dealing with computers and virtual worlds was very rare and a truly pioneering spirit was required to try to develop any innovation.

It is not a documentary, but a feature film. For cinematographic-dramaturgical reasons, details are omitted and simplified, but the core aspects of software development and legal processes remain around real events. At the end, tribute is paid to the inventors of Terra Vision.

Google, don't be evil!

"The code of discord" is a direct passage to the decade of the 90s. From the fascination with the technological epiphany we have passed to an era of control and mistrust towards technological colossi whose monopolies have us trapped.

Google is the true tech giant, generating $7,944 in profit per second and spreading far and wide. It not only controls Google Maps, the revolutionary real-time global mapping service, but also Google Search, Android, YouTube, Google Chrome and Gmail, among many other products.

The domain of the company is such that even this article practically gives in to its guidelines, since it needs to be positioned at the top of the search engine to be read massively. Only the literary wink remains: the term TerraVision at the beginning as the main affected and true protagonist of this story, and that of the "evil" Google, later.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Google Earth and Google Maps?

Google Earth and Google Maps are tools developed by the same company and share resources such as databases of places, points of interest, borders, roads, etc. Even the same Google Street View is present in both applications.

What happened to Terravision and Google Earth?

Alleging that Google Earth (developed in 2001) infringed the rights of its Terravision patent (1995), the company ART +COM filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Google. However, when the jury at the United States District Court for the District of Delaware found in favor of Google in May 2016, it lost the case.

Who stole the Terravision algorithm?

TerraVision only worked on Silicon Graphics computers, so its creators traveled to Silicon Valley to later run into the wrong people: Brian McClendon and Michael T. Jones, founders years later of the Keyhole company, which gave birth to the project Earth Viewer

With such a product under its belt, Keyhole was taken over by Google in 2004 and "Earth Viewer" ended up becoming Google Earth.

What happened to the Google Earth lawsuit?

Google won the trial when the popular jury considered that Art + Com failed to prove the violation of its patent.


"The code of discord" is a series of four chapters launched in October 2021 by Netflix, and that uncovers an entire piracy plot starring the technology giant Google against some dreamy and naive Germans.

How far do these large technology conglomerates, currently owners of our data, plan to go is a question that has no answers right now. However, it is necessary to open our eyes and begin to think seriously about the possibility of recovering our privacy.

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Terravision vs. Google Earth

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Terravision, a german company, vs. Google Earth. The Google product like the result of a plagiarism. Let's review what happened

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