[OSM-talk] We need to have a conversation about attribution

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Thu Feb 28 22:35:45 UTC 2019

Hi all,

In recent years some OSM data consumers and "OSM as a service" providers 
have begun to put the credit to OpenStreetMap behind an click-through 
'About', 'Credits', 'Legal' or '(i)' link. Examples:


(This should be obvious but I am in no means meaning to pick on Mapbox 
or Apple here - as anyone who knows me will testify, I have the utmost 
respect both for Mapbox's technical chops, their ability to iterate on a 
compelling product and their success in building the biggest mapping 
platform using OSM data; and I've been an Apple fanboy since my first 
Mac IIsi back in, erk, 1992. They're just the two that sprang to mind, 
bearing in mind that as someone that old, these social networks about 
photos and stuff are way too modern for me.)

It should also be said that many providers - the majority - provide 
attribution in compliance with our policy at osm.org/copyright, i.e. 
showing attribution in the corner of the map, and in many cases 
generously going beyond with "Improve this map" pages; and that some 
providers will do great things like this much of the time and resort to 
"(i)" or "About" only part of the time.

The policy, introduced with the changeover to the ODbL, says:

"We require that you use the credit “© OpenStreetMap contributors”... 
For a browsable electronic map, the credit should appear in the corner 
of the map."

There then follows an example screenshot of a map of Charlbury (woo) 
with a credit in the corner. The OSM Foundation Legal FAQ is pretty much 
the same 

Historically the aim of requiring attribution has been partly to thank 
contributors, and partly because it's a virtuous feedback loop. If you 
see a map and it's wrong or incomplete, seeing "(c) OpenStreetMap" in 
the corner shows you where the data comes from, so you can go and 
improve it. That way we get more contributors, the map gets better, it's 
more valuable to its consumers, so more people use it, so more people 
improve it... and so on.

The legal rationale is 4.3 in the Open Database Licence 
(https://opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl/1.0/index.html), and in 
particular "if you Publicly Use a Produced Work, You must include a 
notice associated with the Produced Work reasonably calculated to make 
any Person that uses, views, accesses, interacts with, or is otherwise 
exposed to the Produced Work aware that Content was obtained from the 
Database". The key phrase is "reasonably calculated" and our view in 
2012 was that, since the major mapping providers (Google, 
Navteq/Nokia/HERE, TomTom etc.) required and implemented on-screen 
attribution, "reasonably" meant that users would expect a credit to be 
provided in that way. The OSMF FAQ makes this explicit: "you should 
expect to credit OpenStreetMap in the same way and with the same 
prominence as would be expected by any other map supplier".

Full mea culpa: the /copyright page says "should" rather than "must" 
purely because I wrote the page, I'm British and I, we, talk like that 
(http://termcoord.eu/2016/08/the-truth-behind-british-impoliteness/ , 
especially the "I would suggest" line). It used to say "request" rather 
than "require" for the same reason. In retrospect I should have realised 
not everyone is British and we should really have hired a lawyer to 
review the page. I think that months in the trenches of the licence 
change had probably given us trench fever for things like that. Entirely 
my fault and I take full responsibility for it (but you know, it's so 
great not to have to write 500 monthly mails to legal-talk@ any more).

So we need to decide what our response is to web/in-app maps that do not 
provide attribution in the manner requested by osm.org/copyright. This 
response might be:

a) we are happy for attribution to be behind a credits screen and we 
will update our requirements to say so
b) we will informally tolerate attribution being behind a credits screen 
but we do not intend to update our requirements
c) we are not happy for attribution to be behind a credits screen and we 
will update our requirements to say so
d) we are not happy for attribution to be behind a credits screen and we 
will update our requirements to say so, and we will proactively seek out 
data consumers that contravene these requirements
e) or many other options... fill in your suggestion here :)

Ultimately this decision has to come from the community. The rights in 
OSM data, as the Contributor Terms makes clear, are held by the 
contributors. OSMF is "using and sublicensing" it, under the terms that 
you grant to OSMF, but you own the rights. OSMF is not able to license 
away the rights of mappers.

There has been a lot of chatter over recent years about this issue but 
the issue has never really broken through. Let's talk about it openly, 
honestly and respectfully and get it sorted out for the benefit of both 
mappers and data consumers.


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