[OSM-legal-talk] Clarifying Geocoding and ODbL

Alex Barth alex at mapbox.com
Fri Jun 7 00:56:13 UTC 2013

With two State of the Map conferences coming up now and plenty of
opportunities for face time, I'd like to restart our conversation around
clarifying the ODbL's implications for geocoding and get to a result. Over
here at MapBox we're hoping to use OpenStreetMap soon as much as possible
for geocoding (right now we don't) and we'd like to do this on firm legal
ground. I know that others have raised similar questions in the past [1].

To quickly recap: the ODbL is unclear on whether or not its share alike
stipulations extend to a dataset that is geocoded by a geocoder that is
powered by ODbL data. So, if I use Nominatim or MapQuest Open's geocoder
and geocode my vacation trip, schools in Kenya or BestBuy's store fronts,
would my vacation trip, schools in Kenya or BestBuy's store fronts need to
be licensed under the ODbL?

Over the past months, we've tried to get legal advice on this question.
This is difficult as the lack of existing case law makes it hard to get
official legal opinion on the document and the license is very complex. But
here is what we have heard back informally:

1. Geocoding can be interpreted as Produced Work per the defintion of
Produced Work in the ODbL [2].
2. The ODbL is too vague in the definition of its terms, requiring
additional clarifications by licensor. This is most importantly the case
around the terms "derivative database" and what constitutes a "substantial"
extraction of data [3].

This is the gist of two different opinions and obviously they are somewhat
conflicting. (2) is particularly an issue as the publicized guidelines [4]
do not include clarifications on Geocoding.

To start this process at a concrete point, I'd like to suggest to adopt to
following terminology as part of the Community Guidelines [4]:

> Geocoding

> Geocoding results in a Produced Work, as that term is defined in the
ODbL. Section 4.5 provides that a Produced Work is not subject to the
share-alike provisions of Section 4.4 of the ODbL.

This would broadly clarify that databases geocoded with OSM data would not
have to be licensed under ODbL, the share alike provisions would not apply.

>From a political standpoint, I think this is a key move for OpenStreetMap.
The project needs a strong incentive to build up its most lacking asset -
addressing. As long as it's not clear that addresses in OSM can actually be
used reasonably this incentive will be missing. That's particularly an
issue for businesses and organizations where buying whole sale into the
ODbL is just not an option because of strategic considerations but much
more often because of the complexity of ownership situations on typical
databases. Further, ODbL is not just incompatible with less open licenses
but also with more open licenses (e. g. public domain).

For the upcoming State of the Map US I'd like to invite attendees to a
Birds of a Feather round table to discuss these aspects. I'm particularly
interested in finding out how we can take a decision on this question and
update the community guideline accordingly over the next month to three
months. I (and others?) will be posting summaries of the discussion here.

Suggested date and time for the State of the Map US session: Saturday, June
8, 5PM Pacific - **look out for confirmation on the white board**.

Please also post your comments here on the thread.

Thank you,




ODbL section 1.0

"Produced Work" – a work (such as an image, audiovisual material, text, or
sounds) resulting from using the whole or a Substantial part of the
Contents (via a search or other query) from this Database, a Derivative
Database, or this Database as part of a Collective Database.



“Substantial” – Means substantial in terms of quantity or quality or a
combination of both. The repeated and systematic Extraction or
Re-utilisation of insubstantial parts of the Contents may amount to the
Extraction or Re-utilisation of a Substantial part of the Contents.


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