[OSM-talk] Yahoo Aerial Imagery vs. OSM Spirit

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Thu Mar 29 14:51:53 BST 2007


    I've been thinking about the Yahoo! issue (how they do not want  
us to use their imagery with JOSM).

First off, I am very much in favour of using satellite or aerial  
imagery for our project. I many things are simply impossible without,  
and if the techology is there then we should use it to our advantage.  
(Although I have occasionally overheard people making slightly  
derogatory remarks about "painting roads from satellite pictures" -  
probably because it lacks the sportsman's aspect involved with  
acquiring your own tracks.)

I recently asked on legal-talk whether they believed I could use  
available non-free aerial imagery to give examples in a "how to map  
complex junctions" documentation. Ine answer I received was: Even if  
you legally could, you shouldn't do it, as this would be against our  
spirit, because the imagery in question is not free.

I see a similar argument looming with Yahoo aerial imagery. Their  
data is very valuable to us, but it is not free. They give us  
permission to use the data, but that permission has a lot of strings  
attached about the way we may or may not use the data, and we do not  
have anything in written that tells us exactly what the limits are.  
Basically, every time we want to do something with the data, we have  
to ask, and even the permission we have for using their data in the  
applet is unique - quoting Mikel Maron, "Yahoo made an exception for  
the applet ... This exception was made grudgingly (with pity ;) ) and  
won't happen again." This means we cannot even say "this program uses  
Yahoo in the same way the applet does and thus will not be a problem"  
- we have to ask every single time.

Now, people have said that the permission to use their imagery is a  
valuable gift that should not be thrown away (and I perfectly  
understand the value, even though Yahoo isn't better than Landsat in  
the areas I am mapping).

But gifts can also do damage. On the one hand, we risk becoming  
influenced (or should I even sy corrupted) in or thinking by the very  
"intellectual property/licensing/corporate attitude" that was one  
reason to start OSM. Call it political decision-making or whatever -  
the fact that their data is there and they have nothing against our  
tracing OSM data from the satellite/aerial imagery, but they want to  
tell us exactly that one way of doing it is ok and other way is not.

Look at it like this: There's litte Fred in his computerized hut. One  
evening, existing OSM data plus Yahoo imagery goes in; the next  
morning, a lot of OSM data comes out. That's the basics. Nothing else  
comes out, no traces remain. Now why in the world do Yahoo want to  
tell Fred that he may do his work using the applet, but he may not do  
it using other means?

Yes, again, I know and understand that it is a gift and they wouldn't  
have to give us anything, and it is not for us to make demands. When  
I was a child, if someone offered me a piece of chocolate and  
demanded that I eat in in a certain way, I'd have said yes and played  
the game. Today, I still like chocolate but a sense of dignity  
forbids that I jump through loops for it. If you cannot give me your  
chocolate and let me decide how to eat it, then don't be offended,  
but keep it.

And we're starting to jump through loops. We're starting to speculate  
what Yahoo's reasons might be and how we might "work with them" - how  
we might tune our technical processes so that, while technically less  
than optimal (or more complex than necessary), they will fit  
soneone's license model.

We're even starting to believe that the JOSM plugin might have  
violated their terms of use by storing a temporary file, while at the  
same time taking it for granted that browsers may make any number of  
temporary files accessible for eternity just because that is "normal".

And there's another danger with the gift of Yahoo imagery as well: I  
have heard people in my area say "don't bother mapping that, I'm sure  
we will soon have better Yahoo imagery for our region and then wee'll  
trace it from there". So the potential later availability of  
satellite images is actually keeping people from making an effort to  
get the data now. (Not Yahoo's fault, of course. But if we weren't  
involved with them, then the chances of having satellite images for  
the region soon would be much more remote, motivating some people to  
tackle it themselves instead of waiting for better days.)

For a third time: Satellite images are valuable and I would like to  
have them. But even though Lars has used drastic words when he spoke  
of queues on Soviet streets... I, too, find it tempting to walk away  
in this case.


Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00.09' E008°23.33'

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