[Talk-us] license changes

Steve Coast steve at asklater.com
Sun Feb 14 00:24:07 UTC 2016

Any license change process, or anything remotely close to it, should be open and transparent. It should involve the community from the start and any company that wants to participate too.

This is painful, and it takes a long time to do. But it’s the right way to do it. And it’s what we did when we switched from CC to ODbL.


Recently a few people came up with a proposal to engage some various academic law students to provide analysis around the ODbL. This by itself is useful and interesting and to be applauded.

Unfortunately this had to be done in only a couple of days and thus the LWG didn’t get a chance to analyze it. It was presented to the OSMF instead as the law students need a client for whom to work, and they needed a client quickly as term is starting. It was hoped the OSMF would be that client. There was a briefing document on what the students should work on - the questions they would like them to answer. The document wasn’t written by the LWG or OSMF.

I and others were against this for a number of reasons: It was rushed. Few people were involved. The community were absent as were a broad set of companies. The briefing document appeared focused around companies customers and changing the license around geocoding rather than broader issues. It mentioned forking OSM and building scenarios around that. OSMF decided against it.

This legal work is apparently going forward now with the OSMF-US as the client.


It’s fair that within the OSMF or LWG or any group there might be differences of opinion, and those opinions not plastered over the internet. And it’s fair that they may need to consider some things, some times, in secret. That’s why I asked all those involved if there was a problem making this public (nobody objected), and it’s why there are no names named.

Here’s what I’m worried about: In a few weeks or months someone might be able to wave around a headline saying “{Famous University} law students and OSMF-US say ODbL needs changing to allow X, Y or Z”. Or. "{Famous University} law students say we can fork OSM and change the license”.

That would be possible if they’ve specifically been asked that and been presented a very specific viewpoint, perhaps from one commercial point of view.

I ask that this whole process be opened up to both the community and other companies with an interest in OSM so that it is fair, balanced and not subject to any real or perceived biases. Most of all, it shouldn’t happen secretly away from the community and then just the results presented as a fait accompli. We should actively recruit people to be part of this kind of work instead of keeping it quiet.

My understanding is that the ship has sailed and the students have started working with the scenarios they have been given. Hopefully I’m wrong, but if this is the case and the work has started, then I ask that OSMF-US throw out the results since the LWG, the community and other companies have not been involved at all in what the students are to be asked.

The OSMF-US and/or those involved are creating some communication channels for the work that is happening. It is a question for next months meeting whether the community will be allowed in to those channels or if there will be an announcement. It makes me and others uncomfortable that this is a question at all, as does waiting another month, or weeks, or whatever the timeframe is and then being presented with the results on how to change the license. You should know this work is happening, what has been asked and why, otherwise this isn’t a very open project.

Lastly, please come help with the LWG. More people involved in what’s happening can only strengthen OSM and help us do more.


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