Licence and Legal FAQ/OSMF Vote/Why You Should Vote Yes

From OpenStreetMap Foundation

OSMF Statement

In December 2009, OpenStreetMap Foundation members were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposal to change the OpenStreetMap geodata license. The vote is now over. 55% of eligible members have voted, and 89% of those who voted have voted yes. So almost 49% of all eligible members have expressed their agreement to ODbL, and 6% have expressed their disagreement. Detailed results.

Why You Should Vote Yes

This page provided a place for people to state their case about Why You Should Vote Yes to the proposed license change. It is a good starting point to understand the case FOR the license change.

Do also read discussion about these points on the talk page and also the article on Why You Should Vote No.

Comments in English

Where do I start?

Well, maybe by saying this is about the first and only time you'll find Steve and I agreeing on anything. He thinks I'm a lousy stinking commie with a bizarrely retro programming style and I think he's a libertarian nutjob who swallowed too much of the Rails Kool-Aid (lovely chap apart from that, mind). So for us both to agree that the Open Database Licence is the only practical way forward for OSM should tell you something.

But to cut a long story short: our current licence, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-By-SA), isn't legally applicable to OpenStreetMap. Creative Commons itself has said this. Last time I raised a technical point about the licence on the CC mailing list, the response was instantly "you do know this doesn't actually work, right?". When you're using a licence which the licence authors themselves say is unsuitable, you start to worry.

We don't need to trust them: we can work it out for ourselves. In some really major countries ("jurisdictions") - the US, for one - there have been big expensive court cases which have concluded unambiguously that factual data, arranged the way you'd expect it to be, doesn't get copyright protection. A bunch of streets drawn on a map, for example. I won't bore you with eight million legal citations but you can read the OSM:Case law and OSM:Statute law pages if you want. (Rural v Feist is the starting point and you go from there.)

CC-By-SA uses copyright law as its sole instrument. So in a country where copyright doesn't apply to factual data, it doesn't work.

Perhaps most worrying is that right now, we have an "abandoned licence". Creative Commons have told us we shouldn't be using this current licence, despite the fact we're the biggest single open data project in the world. When we find problems with it, they won't be fixed. That's not a theoretical problem: that's real. CC-By-SA, when used for data, has loopholes you could drive a coach and horses through. For example, Frederik and I have identified a huge one where you don't need to give credit to OSM, or give anything back, if you write a Flash or JavaScript webpage which pulls down OSM data (like OSM:Cartagen or OSM:Halcyon). The CC mailing list has confirmed this, but CC are not going to fix this for us, because they've already told us we shouldn't be using their licence. There will be more of these.

The Open Database Licence fixes these issues. Though it has the same intent as CC-By-SA (users have to credit OSM, and they have to give data back), it is enforceable. Rather than only applying where copyright law is malleable, it works through copyright, database right where it exists, and contract law - making it as robust as any data licence could be. Though it's an independent licence backed by a respected Internet body (the Open Knowledge Foundation), it was written with OSM as a reference case. All the issues that have been raised in three years of the legal-talk mailing list (which I administer) have been taken into account here. Having seen the discussions that have gone into individual words in the licence, I have every confidence that it is strong and enforceable.

And that provides the corollary to our current abandoned licence. The Open Database Licence is future-proofed. It is maintained by a body on which the OSM Foundation is formally represented. If a sudden problem is discovered in two years' time, we can work with the Open Knowledge Foundation to ensure the licence reacts to changes in the fast-moving area of data licensing. That isn't available with CC-By-SA; Creative Commons has already set out its stall for data licensing and CC-By-SA doesn't form part of it. We would be on our own.

I could write a lot more about the details, about the care taken on fairly obscure items like "produced works" and "reverse engineering", and so on. I could explain how ODbL's emphasis on "you share the database, not the work" should mean that we get more map data fed back into the map, rather than arbitrary JPEGs we can't use. If you want me to, I will! But to be honest I've spent way too much time over the past few years reading up on obscure case law in British Columbia. The more I read, the more convinced I am that the Open Database Licence is the only feasible way forward.

I'll conclude, though, by saying that I'm not actually a fan of share-alike licences. My most major contribution to OSM is Potlatch and that's licensed as public domain (or, in the latest version, the WTFPL). You can use the code to do anything you like, and I simply hope you find it useful. I would prefer it if OSM data was the same.

But OSM is a community project, and there's a lot of people in the community who like share-alike licences. The Open Database Licence reflects the wishes of the community, but does it in a way that has some real legal force - rather than being an unenforceable expression of good wishes, something where people are already stretching the boundaries beyond its original intent. It's been a long and difficult journey, but I am sure that this is the best option for OSM licensing now and in the future, and I hope you will agree.

--Richard 23:45, 5 December 2009 (UTC)

I concur wholeheartedly with everything Richard has written above.

--TomH 00:28, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Click for discussion of this statement.

Sure it's not perfect but I think it'll work

I'm going to vote yes. I share the sentiment that CC-BY-SA is broken and I'm sick of telling people what the rules of the license are when, at the same time, I know that (a) we don't stick to them ourselves and (b) they're not even enforceable. I also welcome the greater flexibility that ODbL will offer in terms of "produced works"; it always struck me as unfair that someone who, e.g. as an artist, invests lots of time into making something beautiful out of OSM data, should be forced to share more than the underlying data. We, as a project, don't gain from people freeing up their T-Shirt designs, so why should we force them to. There are situations today where people are forced to use commercial data even for academic or nonprofit purposes because they need to combine it with something that has a restricted license, and CC-BY-SA doesn't allow that.

The license change process is going to be a rough ride, and there will also be lots of technical challenges. But I believe that once the policy discussion is over we'll all roll up our sleeves and tackle the problems. The first years with the new license will probably not be easy; there will be many corner cases where we have to put in yardsticks and decide how we interpret something. But it can be managed.

I had serious reservations about the speed and lack of community consultation when the license process started a long time ago and there were times when I was opposing the change not because of the license but because of the haphazard way its implementation was being proposed, but this has become so much better over the last year.

I would still prefer a PD license because I don't consider share-alike to be truly free and I think that we are creating a lot of work and needless incompatibilities by desperately holding on to the idea of share-alike. But OSMF have now said that they will give contributors a chance to declare, during the license change-over, that they consider their contributions to be in the public domain. This will not change the implementation of ODbL, but it is a valued gesture of reaching out to people like me, to at least have their voices recorded.

There are some remaining issues, most notably OSM-ODbL not being compatible with something-else-ODbL, but maybe it is time for some can-do attitude and just go ahead with it and fix problems later. After all, that's what OSM has been doing for the last 5 years.

--Frederik Ramm 00:44, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

GPLv1 wasn't perfect. The v1.0 set of CC licenses weren't. I'm 100% positive that the current ODbL isn't perfect. But the way to fix it is to move forward.
Ivansanchez 01:15, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

ODbl is CC-with-hindsight

Ultimately, I would like to see OSM distribute data without strings attached - PD, CC0, or however you want to describe it. I don't find the "only by being bound by these conditions can you achieve true freedom" argument convincing, and free-with-conditions doesn't match what I consider to be a truly free map of the world.

Having said that, and although I think PD would serve us better in the long run, I will be voting to adopt ODbl.

It is worth remembering that we don't currently use CC-BY-SA because it's a better choice than ODbL - we use it because we've always used it.

When OSM started there was no "open source licence for data", and given alternatives like the GPL/LGPL, CC seemed a perfectly reasonable choice. But as Richard points out above, it turns out that there are situations where CC-BY-SA doesn't appear to achieve what we thought it did (and the original authors believe that we are in error if we think that it does).

The ODbl is a new licence, but it has the major advantage of having been written with the benefit of hindsight. People have looked at how CC-BY-SA applies to data, found problems, and a lot of the work that went into the ODbl was a sincere attempt to solve those problems.

It will undoubtably require revisions in the future, but to achieve the goal of "open map data with some kind of share-alike" it appears to do a better job than CC-BY-SA. Both from the basis of protection (copyright+database right+contract, vs simply copyright), and by starting to separate the data (what we really care about) from the things you do with that data (interesting, but almost always quite literally useless for improving the data).

Switching licence will cause us to lose some data, and lose some contributors. It is not a step to be taken lightly, but at some point CC-BY-SA will be tested and will fail.

There are bits of the ODbl that I disagree with, and I would prefer us to do away with share-alike altogether, but that aside - a clearer licence based on share-alike is a step forward.

--riad 01:22, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

CC-with-hindsight Part II

The current license is broken. If a major British TV station would not show the best maps of Baghdad for unclear licensing reasons and the maps come from an organisation that says "... most maps you think of as free actually have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from using them in creative, productive, or unexpected ways.", then some is seriously wrong with their license. That is us. I have mapped away for four years in the expectation of a better license that actually matches our aspirations and generates much wider use of my contributions than a few slippy maps and some routing applications (not that they aren't great!).

If we are to stick with Share-Alike, then ODbL is the way forward. Open geodata is not software, it is not a creative work per se. It is a cooking ingredient and needs something new. With a decent license, it will be mixed by the kilogram or just a hint of flavouring in unimaginably exotic databases and maps, science, software, games, telephones, cars, ... I think that is real exciting. Let's do it.

One key worry for some: OSMF as a licensor? If we stay Share-Alike, it is a big plus for me ... provided that there is an absolutely clear lock-in to a future of free and open licenses, which there certainly is. No more problems ignoring the current requirement to attribute 170,000 people per map. An integrated database, as distinct from a conveniently useful collection of creative works, needs a voice to protect it and exert European database rights. It creates clarity amongst end users by endorsing OpenStreetMap community-generated guidelines. I still see it as support not control.

MikeCollinson 11:44, 6 December 2009 (UTC) - My personal views; more at my wiki-user page

It protects the data, not the images

CC BY-SA aims to protect the work, which makes sense when your work is an image, or bit of text. It makes less sense when applied to data. Consider the following hypothetical process of creating a map from OSM data:

  1. The user downloads the data and transforms it into a form suitable for rendering.
  2. The user modifies the data, adding and altering some features.
  3. The user renders the map, investing a lot of creative effort (e.g: in the stylesheet).

Under CC BY-SA we have no direct access to the data used in step 2, we must attempt to recover it from the rendered maps. Under ODbL we have access to the data directly. This makes it easier to discover and evaluate the changes in the data, and easier for others to re-use the data for their own applications. For example, if the user is modifying the data to correct errors, wouldn't it be better to know where those errors are, rather than to try and find them in a rendered image?

Under CC BY-SA the rendered map in step 3 must also be licensed CC BY-SA, making it difficult for the user to benefit from any skill or creative effort invested in the rendering. Under ODbL the user must attribute OSM, but is otherwise able to benefit from their work. Because we have access to the data, we could produce a map from identical OSM-sourced materials, so we haven't lost the ability to benefit from the data.

--Matt 06:48, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Why You Should Vote Yes

It's really simple. CC-BY-SA (our current license) doesn't apply to data.

--Matt 20:35, 8 December 2009 (UTC)

This is the culmination of a multi-year effort to move OSM to a better license. It's not perfect, and getting agreement within a open source community is very hard. A huge amount of effort has been put in to this process by many people. Some of those people have actual degrees in Law. As you will see from the main OSM:Open Data License page, there are a huge amount of resources around FAQs, reasons, the process, why this has taken so long and so on.

So please vote yes, and we can move to a stronger foundation for the whole project.

-- This unsigned comment was added by OSM:User:Steve 21:28, 5 December 2009

Click for discussion of this statement.

What about the 'no' page?

In the spirit of true democratic decision-making, we must also hear those who are against our proposal, even if we have spent a lot of time and effort and done our best to listen to criticism in the process. That's why there is a "no" page.

We cannot hope to propose a license that will have no opponents. An opposing voice does not become any less valid just because the opposition is based on fear or doubt. We are moving into new terrain with ODbL; so even if our recommendation is based on solid work and many many hours of consulting with lawyers, we cannot say for sure that everything works out as we have planned - we can only say that we trust our results enough to recommend the adoption of ODbL.

If you read the statements on the "no" page, please try to judge for yourself whether the statement in question is well-founded. (This applies to statements on the "yes" page just as well.) Anyone is entitled to their opinion; and most statements on the "no" page are well known to the Licensing Working Group and have been discussed long ago. We will make an effort to respond, or point to existing pages that contain our take on certain criticisms. We hope that you ultimately find our arguments convincing (or trust our judgment) and vote "yes".

-- This unsigned comment was added by OSM:User:Steve 21:34, 5 December 2009 -- modified by Frederik Ramm 23:33, 5 December 2009 (UTC) -- link added by TimSC 21:05, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Vote Yes and public domain

The strength of the OpenStreetMap community is the people, not the license. Data without the continued participation of the people who created it is of limited value. With that consideration, there is no benefit to switching to a different license, since the license is beside the point. On the other hand, the founder of the project wants to switch. He is a charismatic individual, and all around nice guy. Since I respect Steve and I believe that many other people respect him, and will do as he says, I will vote Yes and recommend that you vote Yes also. But because I believe that the license doesn't matter (and that changing the license will be expensive and painful), I also recommend that you mark your edits as being in the public domain, so that we never have to do this again. You do this by adding the following line to your wiki page


to get the following banner


and to be listed at OSM::Category:Users whose contributions are in the public domain.

Vote Yes but not public domain

Many people see value in getting contributions attributed to OSM in recognition of the hard work people have put into making some really great map data that doesn't cost a cent. Those people who feel strongly enough about this can put:


on their user page to get the following banner


and to be listed at OSM::Category:Users whose contributions are not in the public domain.

OSM:Category:Open Data Licence