Fossgis: new openstreetmap license - Frederik Ramm

Tags: fossgis, geo

Why do we need a new license?

  • Our current license, creative commons, builds upon copyright. But copyright doesn’t apply to plain facts (in many countries). So locations of roads aren’t copyrightable…

  • CC-BY-SA wants you to list all authors. Ouch, that’s not practical for openstreetmap. Openstreetmap currently goes against the license itself by not listing the authors on the main page.

  • The “share-alike” part is too wide-ranging. It also applies to works of art based on OSM and that’s not what we intended. We want the “share-alike” to apply to actual map work.

  • It is at the same time not wide-ranging enough. Like GPL, it doesn’t apply to some custom extensions.

  • Potential users can be scared away by the uncertainty regarding the license.

So: CC-BY-SA was not the right license choice.

Who started the new license?

Basically it all started in 2007 at a state of the map conference. During a panel, it became clear that the current license wasn’t good.

(I’m omitting the rest of this part; in the end Frederik told it to lay to rest some rumour that it would be a microsoft plot…)

What’s the new license?

ODbL. (see also ).

More or less a share-alike license for databases (Datenbank). It builds upon copyright, database law and contract law. It has the notion of “produced works” that are not data sets themselves (like art or rendered maps in books). New databases should be ODbL.

The contract law part: that’s the contributor terms. They allow the OSM foundation to distribute the data that a mapper adds. The OSMF promises to mention the name. Both promise not to sue each other.

The mapper still has the copyright. The only thing the contributer terms gives the OSMF a very limited right to distribute: there’s no transfer of copyright!

“The ODbL is the best share-alike license for databases”.

How do we do it?

There’s a time table. We’re almost at the point that you’re only able to edit if you have indicated whether or not you accepted the new license (this or next week). In the next phase, you can only edit if you have said “yes” (probably july 2011). In the last phase, the database will be officially archived. All data from users that accepted the license will be copied over to the new database with the new license (probably 2012). The old database will still be available under CC-BY-SA.

A problem is that switching over will irritate some people. Irritating people is the hard part. The bits of missing data won’t be the real problem.


  • The prospect that even a little bit of data will be lost is, to some people, an attack on all we hold holy.

  • Loss of big imports. Especially in Australia, most data was made on the basis of CC-BY-SA airial pictures.

  • “What’s the problem? The current license basically works, apparently, right?” Is it worth the trouble? Still we have to change the license as it can go terribly wrong at every moment.

  • Public-domain danger. Changing the license in the new situation is easier. Get 2/3 behind a new license and it is done. Those people really want something share-alike to be enforced. The problem is that share-alike is hard to define.

  • Others really want it to be public domain. They want to go further than the new restrictive license.

  • Process errors. “There should have been more community involvement”. And there are no German translations of many documents, for instance.

  • Some things are still unclear, like the precise definition of a “database”. Why a new license if the new one also has unclear parts just like the old one?

  • Mistrust in the OSM foundation. Too young, too small, too unestablished.

  • Just wait for the CC-BY-CA version 4 that contains some database protection. (Though it probably won’t solve our problem; the version 4 was just started last month or so, even).


Number one: respect the decision made by people that choose differently from you.

There is valid critisism.

The new license is really better.

Not everybody has to become a license expert. There are also much bigger remaining problems in open street map that are worthy of our time investment. So perhaps the re-licensing is not such a big deal (relatively) that is sometimes made of it.

An option for people that are critical: participate. The OSM foundation has the right to clarify terms and specify them further if they’re unclear. That’s one of the things allowed under the new license. You can help deciding.

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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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