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

Christoph Hormann osm at imagico.de
Fri Mar 1 11:51:54 UTC 2019

I very much agree.

In particular i have been pointing out the insulting and disrespectful 
nature of second rate attributions - that is people producing other 
attributions (most frequently for themselves) significantly more 
prominently or accessible than for OSM.

There are of course corporate interests who try to milk OSM for all it's 
worth while maximizing their short term ROI and not giving back any 
more than they absolutely have to.  That is natural and expected but it 
is up to us to define what "they absolutely have to".  If we have and 
express a clear view on what we require in terms of attribution and we 
are willing to actually demand this from data users this would not be 
an issue.  This ultimately is an economic problem and not a legal 

This however leads me to what i perceive to be the real problem here.  
The OSM community does not really speak with one voice on this matter 
even if you exclude the corporate interests in your analysis.  During 
the license change discussion it became clear that there is a 
significant fraction of the OSM community who would have preferred it 
if OSM had adopted a CC0 or similar license without either share-alike 
or a hard attribution requirement.  It has been argued many times that 
this would not have been a wise decision and that OSM would not be 
anywhere near where it is today without a license requiring share-alike 
and attribution.  The fraction of the OSM community who dislike the 
share-alike and attribution requirements is much smaller today than it 
was right after the license change probably.  There are quite a few 
prominent community members who have expressed they changed their 
opinion on this for example.  But we also have quite a few people who 
are still convinced that OSM would be better off with a more liberal 
license and who would gladly change it if there was a majority for it 
and who in the meantime would be in favour of interpreting the 
attribution and share-alike requirements as weakly as possible.

This sub-surface schism in the OSM community, which is of course further 
nutured by corporate interests, is IMO the real problem and you could 
see the inproper attribution from data users as merely a symptom of 

What OSMF activity since the license change on this front, in particular 
with the community guidelines, has tried to do is to pave over this 
conflict by interpreting the ODbL as leniently as possible without this 
resulting in gross inconsistencies.  And in a way it is understandable 
if coporate data users use this as a basis to try to take this a step 

The way to solve this would IMO be for the OSM community to actually in 
substance accept the idea of the ODbL and the social contract among 
mappers and between mappers and data users it imples as a core 
component of the constitution of the project.  So far i think this can 
only be said for the fundamental idea of open data in general but not 
for the idea of hard attribution and share-alike requirements.

Christoph Hormann

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