[OSM-legal-talk] The big license debate

David Groom reviews at pacific-rim.net
Thu Mar 1 00:04:39 GMT 2007

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Robert (Jamie) Munro" <rjmunro at arjam.net>
To: <legal-talk at openstreetmap.org>
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 2:06 PM
Subject: [OSM-legal-talk] The big license debate

> Hash: SHA1
> A lot of the recent debate has just been going down the wrong alleys,
> discussing things like what we can and can't do with the current
> license, or with the GPL, or with Inkscape etc.
> That is all irrelevant. What we are discussing is what is best for OSM.

A very good point.  It certainly should be what we are discussing, though 
sometimes we do seem to stray a long way from it.

> Let's start with the opening sentence on the OSM web site. It's what
> most people coming to OSM see.
> "OpenStreetMap is a project aimed squarely at creating and providing
> free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. The
> project was started because 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."
> I think it is generally agreed that with the current license, that
> statement is false. CC-BY-SA is a legal restriction, especially the SA.
> So the question is: How do with fix this? We either change the aims of
> the project, or we change the license.

It might not be generally agreed, but I think it is factually correct.

> Unless you are going to claim that the CC-BY-SA license is not a legal
> restriction, please don't discuss license specifics - i.e. what I am or
> am not allowed to do with the data under CC-BY-SA. Please keep
> discussion what our aims should be, and what kind of usage we do want to
> restrict. When we have decided that, we can look at what licenses may
> allow that.
 [remainder of post snipped]


1)  It would seem fundamentally obvious that the current license, or 
interpretation of it, is not appropriate.  I base this on the fact that:
a) the debate about what can and cant be done under the terms of the license 
keeps occurring on the mailing lists.  If the license was so clear as to 
what it meant in practical terms we would not be having the discussion.

2)  Endless debate about the issue is boring, and wastes time that could be 
more usefully spent mapping, developing software or having fun :).

3) Doing nothing is not an option:
a) the debate will keep occurring
b) in the meantime new users will come on board, more data will be 
contributed, and if at some future date the license is changed, and some 
people leave the project and ask for their data to be removed the problems 
becomes bigger with time.
c) current helpful uses of data, like the ITN case last week, get missed.

I hope the above 3 points are factually correct, and shouldn't lead to much 
argument.  The following points might :)

4 ) There is not going to be any license, either currently available, or 
written ourselves, which:
a) everyone can agree with; and
b) does exactly under all conditions what is best for OSM.

What we need to end up with is the best license possible, which balances the 
ability of people to use the data, the return of "data" back to OSM / the 
community, and the attribution of the source of the data.
 I am sure this will involve compromises along the way.

5) Various options have been discussed, PD, CC-BY-SA, GPL, BSD.... and to my 
mind none of them come close enough to fulfilling what we want out of a 

6)  Of all the options in (5) above the one I feel best encompasses the aims 
of the project is the CC-By_SA license, perhaps because the aim seems to 
make sense, or perhaps because its simply what I have got used to 
contributing data to OSM under.  The problem is in the interpretation / 
application of  CC-BY-SA to OSM.  For instance:

a) what constitutes a derived work.
b) how do you attribute work to the original "author" rather than just to 
c) if I produce a map from OSM data, then draw a few boxes on it, and a 
line, as I understand it I create a derived work.  How do I contribute that 
back to the community?  I can publish the map, which seems OK to me. 
However Frederik Ramm in today's posting at 12:56 made some valid points 
about a more complex issue, which I don't believe anyone has yet come up 
with a satisfactory answer for.

7)  I have thought for some time what we need is our own license.


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