Licensing is in general a difficult subject and for data even more so than for creative works. Our goal must be that consumers of OSM data can use our data with a high level of confidence that they can actually use the data on the terms of our distribution licence, the ODbL 1.0. To enable this, licences for data sources utilized for adding objects to OpenStreetMap or improving existing data need to be carefully vetted for compatibility.
The Licence Working Group (LWG) has previously issued guidance on some specific licences that are in common use, but there are a plethora of custom licenses that are used by potential data sources and new ones are created at a surprising cadence. It is clearly not possible for the LWG to inspect every single one and we have to rely on the OSM community to do at least a rough triage before escalating such issues to us. This document is intended to help you make such determinations.
In all cases you need to take reasonable steps to ensure that the licensor actually is the owner of the necessary rights to licence the material on the terms presented. This is particularly important for licences that explicitly exclude third party rights, for example the CC0 and OGL based licenses, but you always need to vet the provenance of all the data you want to use.
Please realize that determining if the licence is compatible is only a small part of the work that has to be done before a source can be used for OSM, particularly when you intend to directly import third party data you will need to follow the Import Guidelines.
Licences that are not compatible
If a licence is not compatible, you always have the option of asking for special permission for use in OSM from the data source.
If you can't locate a licence text or reference directly associated with the data itself, the information might be on a "licence", "FAQ", "Open Data", or "Copyright" page. Not every organisation takes licencing as seriously as OpenStreetMap and missing licence details may simply be an oversight, when in doubt, asking the data source is always an option.
Licences that require downstream attribution
Licences that forbid specific use
Licences that forbid specific ways of use or exclude fields of endeavor are not compatible with OpenStreetMap. We licence our data on "open" terms that allow all and any kind of use.
Example: the Australian G-NAF address data is published on CC BY 4.0 terms with an additional restriction that limits the use of the addresses for direct marketing purposes. The terms are not open and the data can not be used in OpenStreetMap.
An edge case is a general requirement that data should not be used for illegal activities, this may be acceptable and will require further investigation.
Licences that require us to use current data
Many government licenses for cadastral data and similar, require that users always use current versions of the dataset. This is a requirement that neither OpenStreetMap nor consumers of OpenStreetMap data can fulfil and is fundamentally incompatible with both our licence and the way OpenStreetMap works.
Licences that require indemnification of the data source
We cannot indemnify data sources against claims from third parties that use the sources data via OpenStreetMap.
Licences that are not global
Licenses that only convey use rights for certain regions or exclude regions are incompatible.
Licences that are time limited or can be revoked
Licenses that are time limited are incompatible. Licences that can be revoked without any reason (even when OpenStreetMap has not violated the terms) are incompatible. Licences that can be revoked "for cause", such as if we do not abide by the terms, are compatible.
Licences that require users to only use the data on identical terms as the original licence are in general incompatible with use in OpenStreetMap as the OSM contributor terms allow us to change to a different, but still open, licence in the future which may differ from the ODbL and for example not have a share alike clause. Further the ODbL concept of a Produced Work will in general be incompatible with any such terms.
Licences that are not compatible with the "Produced Work" concept of the ODbL
ODbL only requires that "Produced Works" (derivatives that are not a database, in the case of OSM for example a map), provide attribution to the data source, share alike licences and licences that have requirements outside of just attribution will in general be incompatible with this concept.
Specific incompatible licences
- All Creative Commons Share-alike licences (CC BY-SA)
- All Creative Commons Non-commercial licences (CC BY-NC)
- All Creative Commons No Derivate Works licences (CC BY-ND)
- UK OGL 1.0
Licences the LWG has evaluated
Some licences while not fully or partially incompatible with OpenStreetMap require you to take extra care to determine if they apply in a way that allows the data to be used. Further there is no governing body that regulates licence naming which can lead to confusion when a similar or the same name is used for different licences. The LWG has evaluated a small number of licences specifically, but this list is in no way exhaustive.
CC0 licenced material is in general compatible, however the license only extends to material the licensor actually has rights in and specifically avoids making a statement on the status of any third party material included. For use in OpenStreetMap the licences of all the data that is included in the dataset need to be determined and compatibility verified.
Example: the OpenAddresses project licences its output on CC0 terms, however this only applies to the lists, data format and other related material, it does not apply to the actual address data which is licenced on a hodge-podge of different terms from PD to non-open datasets, for example the already mentioned G-NAF data.
Public Domain (PD)
When material is in the "Public Domain" this indicates that intellectual property and related rights in the material are absent. This in general is true when such rights have expired or other specific legal conditions arise (for example for data published by the US federal government).
"PD" data is in general compatible with OpenStreetMap however care must be taken to verify that it is actually in the Public Domain, that this is actually a meaningful concept in the territory the dataset was published in and that no third party rights are present (which for example might be the case in data produced in a "public-private partnership").
Open Government Licence (OGL) based licences
The Open Government Licence is a licence originally created by the UK government, in its 2.0 and 3.0 versions it is compatible with OpenStreetMap. However the same caveats as for CC0 apply, the licence explicitly excludes rights in third party data and therefore you need to take the same steps as you would for CC0 licenced material.
The concerns about the inclusion of potentially unlicensed third party data are not unfounded, such a situation was partly responsible for the demise of the openaddresses.co.uk project.
Many governments at every level of administration worldwide have created there own variants of the OGL, or have simply named an unrelated licence the same. Such variants need to be inspected in respect to which version of the OGL they were originally based on (the OGL 1.0 had incompatible attribution terms) and changes to the licence text.
For example in Canada it is common to reference local FOIA and privacy regulation, which can be problematic depending on the actual contents of the licenced data. Example: a licence referencing local data protection regulation might need reviewing if it is being applied to an address dataset.
Guidance on specific OGL variants
- OGL Canada and local variants
- OGL India
- OS Open Data licence, not compatible (see LWG minutes 2013-04-09).
- Italian Open Data License (IODL) 2.0 is compatible (see LWG minutes 2022-11-10)
While the Creative Commons Attribution licences are often described as "attribution only", all CC BY versions have additional terms that make them incompatible with OpenStreetMap without explicit waivers. More information can be found in this blog post.
Many sources simply require attribution of the source as a condition of use, however as we cannot provide attribution on works created or derived from OpenStreetMap data and our licence only requires attribution of the overall data source, permission for attribution via our central "Contributors" pages needs to be obtained and documented.
Linux Foundation CDLA Permissive
The Linux Foundation has create a new data-licence family the CDLA. A thorough discussion of compatibility with the ODbL 1.0 here CDLA permissive compatibility.
As a follow up, CDLA Permissive 2.0 is compatible. It is very similar to CDLA 1.0, but 2.0 has made the attribution components easier to comply with, decreasing the complexity for a person adding data under this licence to OSM. (See LWG minutes 2022-11-10)
The LWG has not issued its own guidance on the DL-DE/by-2-0 however we agree with the findings of this study commissioned by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) that the downstream attribution requirement requires obtaining special permission for use in OpenStreetMap.
The Open Definition
Any material that is intended for use in OpenStreetMap must be licensable on terms that are compatible with the The Open Definition. Compatibility with The Open Definition is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for compatibility with OpenStreetMap.