Licence and Legal FAQ/Open Letter

From OpenStreetMap Foundation

Open Letter Requesting Comment on OpenStreetMap's License

We are writing to you to ask for your thoughts regarding open data licensing, specifically with reference to a possible licensing change happening in the OpenStreetMap project.

The OpenStreetMap project (OSM) [1] is a free, collaborative source of open geographic data, such as street maps. The project’s founding principle was;

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. [2]

This commitment to free, open data means that licensing and Intellectual Property laws are of crucial importance to our project and our community. OSM currently provides data under Creative Commons’ (CC) BY-SA license [3], which was chosen with the aim of providing freedom for the data consumer whilst actively keeping the work of our contributors in the open domain. However, unlike Wikipedia [4], Wikitravel [5], Jamendo [6] and other creative content projects, OSM aims to collect factual data and there are clear doubts whether the CC BY-SA license provides the same protection to factual data as it would to creative works.

For some time now, we have been working with the Open Data Commons (ODC) [7] to help shape their Open Database License (ODbL), which was released recently [8]. The ODbL has been written with the aim of protecting databases of work, such as OSM's geographic data, without requiring that the data contents be creative or copyrightable. The OSM Foundation’s License Working Group (LWG) [9] has been evaluating the suitability of the ODbL as a potential future license, maintaining the core concepts of attribution and reciprocity (share-alike) [10].

The OSMF LWG would be very interested in your views on the suitability of CC or ODbL licenses for OSM's factual data and the effect that this might have on other open projects, such as Wikipedia and Wikitravel. We recognise that open projects exist in an ecosystem and we are trying to get a better understanding of the effect of any license change.

Whilst we appreciate your feedback at any time, we are hoping to put a proposal to our membership in early November. If possible, a response by the end of October would be most helpful. In the interests of openness, we would encourage you to post your response, for example on your blog. But, if you prefer, we can be reached at Please indicate if you do not want your response published. Many thanks for your valuable time,

OpenStreetMap License Working Group


  1. OpenStreetMap [1].
  2. [2].
  3. CC BY-SA 2.0 [3].
  4. Wikipedia [4].
  5. Wikitravel [5].
  6. Jamendo [6].
  7. Open Data Commons [7].
  8. [8].
  9. [9].
  10. [10].

About the OpenStreetMap Foundation

The OpenStreetMap Foundation, [11], is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and to providing geospatial data for anybody to use and share. It supports but does not control OpenStreetMap, the leading open initiative to create and provide free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. Over 150,000 contributors globally collaborate, building a terabyte database which is available with growing data for every country on the planet. The OpenStreetMap Foundation has been working closely with Open Data Commons on the ODbL terms. Upon ODC’s release of the ODbL 1.0, OSM founder Steve Coast said; "OpenStreetMap is the leading global community created map data initiative, with a rapidly growing crowd-sourced database approaching 1 terabyte freely available to all. We are looking for a robust license that specifically addresses the licensing of open data with Share-Alike provisions but found that open data and open database licensing is very much a pioneering area, so we have been working with Open Data Commons. Open databases have an environment different from licensing software code or individual creative works and we appreciate the legal skills and hard work that Open Data Commons has provided. We congratulate them on a milestone event and will began a community decision making process whether to adopt the license directly."