Sunday, October 26, 2014

The ODbL and OpenStreetMap: Analysis and Use Cases

In May of this year, I attended the State of the Map (US) meeting in Washington D.C.  A number of formal and informal discussions took place at the event regarding the impact of the Open Database License (ODbL) on the use of OpenStreetMap (OSM) data. In response to these discussions, the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy interviewed a number of representatives from government, industry and the research/NGO communities on how the ODbL was impacting their organization’s potential use of OSM data. Most of those interviewed are active in the OSM community and supportive of its mission. The Centre then prepared a White Paper that included a legal analysis of the ODbL and a series of use cases based upon these interviews.  A copy of the White Paper can be found here.  The White Paper was funded in part by MapBox.

The “share-alike” provision of the ODbL was the primary reason given for not using OSM data under the ODbL. A number of those interviewed also cited the lack of clarity in the ODbL of important terms and provisions, particularly as they relate to geospatial data.  This lack of clarity added to their uncertainty as to when the “share-alike” provision would apply, particularly with regards to derivative products. The broad scope of the ODbL in terms of jurisdiction, applicable law and the lack of certainty with regards to contributors’ rights in the data were also cited as contributing factors. Those interviewed added that due to the OSM’s governance structure it was difficult to receive satisfactory answers to questions they had about using OSM data under the ODbL.  

This White Paper does not compare the ODbL with other potential “open” licenses. Nor does it propose specific changes to the ODbL.  Rather, it is intended to highlight the impact that the ODbL and the associated OSM governance structure have on potential users of OSM data.  It is hoped that this will contribute to the ongoing discussions within the OSM community regarding the ODbL.

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