Gary Gale: “Dear OSM, it’s time to get your finger out”

Gary Gale
Gary Gale

A self-professed map addict, Gary Gale has worked in the mapping and location space for over 20 years through a combination of luck and occasional good judgement. He is co-founder and director of Malstow Geospatial, a consultancy firm offering bespoke consulting and services in the geospatial, geotechnology, maps and location based services fields. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he tweets about maps, writes about them, and even occasionally makes them.

This is very much an opinion piece of writing, and as such I want to start with a disclaimer. In the past I’ve worked on Yahoo’s maps, on Ovi/Nokia/HERE maps, and these days I’m freelancing, which means the Ordnance Survey — the United Kingdom’s national mapping agency — is my current employer. What follows is my opinion and views, not those of my current employer, not those of previous employers, and certainly not those of future employers. It’s just me. So with that out of the way and stated upfront, I want to opine on OpenStreetMap


Dear OpenStreetMap, you are truly amazing. Since you started in 2004 with those first few nodes, ways and relationships, you have — to paraphrase a certain Dr. Eldon Tyrell — burned so very, very brightly. (Those of you who know your Blade Runner quotes will know that just after saying this, Tyrell was killed by Roy Baty; I’m not suggesting that anyone should take this literally.)

Just looking at the latest set of database statistics (over 4.6 billion GPS points, over 2.8 billion nodes, over 282.5 million ways, and 3.2 million relationships as of today’s figures) shows how impressive all of this this is.

The maps and data you’ve created are a key element of what’s today loosely termed the geoweb, enabling startups to create maps at little or no cost, allowing some amazing cartography to be created, stimulating research projects, and allowing businesses to spring up to monetise all of this data — some successfully such as MapBox, some less successfully, such as CloudMade.

After reading all of this amazement and adoration, you’re probably expecting the next sentence to start with “But …”, and I’m afraid you’d be right.

But times change, and the mapping and location world we live in has changed rapidly and in unexpected ways since OSM started in 2004. In just over a decade the web has gone mobile with the explosive growth of sensor-laden smartphones, and location is big business — $3.8 billion’s worth of big in 2018 if you believe Berg Insight.

United Nations of smartphones
United Nations of smartphones

In 2004 if you wanted maps or mapping data then you either went to one of the national or cadastral mapping agencies — such as the UK’s Ordnance Survey — or you went to one of the global, automotive-focused, mapping providers; you went to NAVTEQ or to TeleAtlas. Maps and mapping data are expensive to make and expensive to maintain, and this expense was and continues to be reflected in the licensing charge you paid for mapping data, as well as in the restrictions around what you could and couldn’t do with that data. The high cost of data and the license restrictions were one of the key drivers for the establishment of OpenStreetMap in the first place.

Eleven years on, and the mapping industry landscape is a very different one. NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas are no longer independent entities — Chicago-based NAVTEQ was acquired by Nokia in 2008 after an EU antitrust investigation gave the deal the green light, and Amsterdam-based TeleAtlas has been part of TomTom since 2008. Both companies continue to license their mapping data and their services, with NAVTEQ — now known as HERE — powering the maps for Bing and Yahoo amongst others, and TomTom licensing their data to MapQuest and to Apple as part of the relaunch of Apple Maps in 2012.

There’s also been changes from the national and cadastral mapping agencies, with more and more data being released under various forms of open license — including the Ordnance Survey’s open data program, which in direct contrast to the old licensing regime is now under one of the most liberal of licenses.

In 2007 there was much attention paid to the NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas deals, citing uncertainty surrounding continued data supply to the maps and location industry. It was also predicted that the PND market — those personal navigation devices from TomTom and Garmin that sat on top of your car’s dashboard and announced “you have reached your destination” — would collapse rapidly as a result of the rapid growth of GPS-equipped smartphones.

These concerns and predictions got only half of the outcome right. The PND market did collapse, but the map data continued to flow, although it’s fair to say that as OSM matured and grew a reasonable chunk of revenue and strategic deals were lost — both directly and indirectly — to OSM itself, and to the organisations who act as a business-friendly face to OSM. But as Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, everything changes and nothing stands still.

In the last few weeks it’s been widely reported that Nokia is looking to sell off HERE, the company formed by the (sometimes unwilling) union of NAVTEQ and Nokia Maps. Speculation runs rife as to who will become the new owner of HERE, with Uber seeming to be the pundits’ favourite buyer. But whoever does end up owning HERE’s mapping platform, the underlying map data, and the sizeable mapping and surveying fleet, it now seems to be clear that just as the days of NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas as independent mapping organisations came to an end, the days of HERE are coming to an end. This also has shone the spotlight onto TomTom, who whilst making inroads into NAVTEQ’s share of the automotive data market, seems reliant on their deal with Apple to keep revenue flowing in.

Even before the speculation around HERE’s new owner, there are really only three major sources of global mapping, location and geospatial data: NAVTEQ in their current HERE incarnation, TeleAtlas under the mantle of TomTom, and … OpenStreetMap.

When — rather than if — HERE changes ownership, there’s a very real risk than the new owners will turn the data flow and services built on that data inwards, for their own use and their use only, leaving just two major global maps sources.

Surely now is the moment for OpenStreetMap to accelerate adoption, usage and uptake? But why hasn’t this already happened? Why hasn’t the geospatial world run lovingly into OSM’s arms?


To my mind there’s two barriers to greater and more widespread adoption, both of which can be overcome if there’s sufficient will to overcome them within the OSM community as a whole. These barriers are, in no particular order … licensing, and OSM not being seen as (more) conducive to working with business.

Firstly I want to deal with making OSM more business-friendly, as this is probably the biggest barrier to wider-spread adoption over licensing. For anything other than a startup or SME with substantial geospatial competency already in-house, dealing with OSM and comprehending OSM can be a confusing proposition. What is OSM exactly? Is is the community? Is it the OpenStreetMap Foundation? Is it the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team? Is it one of the companies in the OSM ecosystem that offers services built on top of OSM? All of them? Some of them? None of them?

There’s no doubt that OSM has a vibrant and active map-making and developer-friendly ecosystem in the form of the OSM Wiki and mailing lists alone, even before you factor in the supporting, indirect ecosystem of individuals, community projects and organisations. But this isn’t enough. Business needs to be able to have a single point of contact to liaise with, actually it often insists on this and will look elsewhere if it can’t find this point of contact with anything more than the most cursory of searches. Whether it’s OSM in some shape or form itself, or a single organisation that stands for and represents OSM, this is the biggest barrier to continued OSM adoption that there is, although it may not necessarily be the one which requires the most work to overcome. For that barrier you need look no further than the ODbL, the Open Database License, under which OSM’s data is licensed.

This is a contentious issue and one which is usually met with a deep sigh and the muttering of “not this again“. Prior to 2010, OSM data was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, normally shorted to CC-BY-SA. This license says that you are free to …

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially

With hindsight, adoption of CC-BY-SA made a lot of sense, preserving and acknowledging the stupendous input made by all OSM contributors. It’s not for nothing that the credits for using OSM are “© OpenStreetMap contributors“.

But CC-BY-SA’s key weakness for OSM was that it is a license designed for the concept of “material“; for creative works and not specifically for data or for databases. This is understandable; at the time OSM adopted CC-BY-SA, such a data-centric license simply didn’t exist, and CC-BY-SA was the best option available. But in 2010, after much discussion and dissent, OSM switched to the data- and database-specific Open Database License. The ODbL maintains the same attribution and share-alike clauses, but phrased in legal language specifically for data sets. It seems like the perfect license for OSM, but it’s not.

The attribution clause in both CC-BY-SA and ODbL are not at issue. Such clauses mean that the efforts of those who have made OSM what it is are formally acknowledged. The issue is the share-alike clause in both licenses, although it’s fair to say that there are subtleties at play due to the many and varied ways in which OSM data can be “consumed“.

Be Afraid. Consume.
Be Afraid. Consume.

If your consumption of OSM data is a passive one, then the share-alike clause probably has little or no impact. By passive, I mean that as a user you are consuming data from OSM via some form of service provider, and your consumption takes the form of an immutable payload from that service, such as pre-rendered map tiles.

But what about if your consumption of OSM data still comes from a service, but takes the form of actual data — such as the results of a geocoder, or some other geospatial search? Such results are typically stored within a back-end data store, which means that by doing so the end result is a dataset which comprises the original data, plus the results of a search added to make a new dataset. Does this trigger the share-alike clause? This is still an ambiguous area, although current guidelines suggest that the resulting, aggregate data set is a produced work rather than a derived one and so are exempt from triggering the share-alike clause. But there is also a counter-argument that suggests that such an action is indeed a derived work, and so the share-alike clause does apply. This ambiguity alone needs to be resolved, one way or another, in order to make OSM an attractive proposition for business.

The final share-alike complication rears its head when your method of consuming OSM data is to merge one or more data sets with OSM to use the resultant data for some purpose. This sort of data aggregation is often called co-mingling in licensing and legal parlance.

If all the datasets you are dealing with are licensed under ODbL, then the share-alike clause potentially has little impact, as effectively ODbL plus ODbL equals … ODbL. Things are a little less certain when you co-mingle with datasets which are deemed to be licensed under a compatible license. Quite what a compatible license is hasn’t been defined. OpenDataCommons, the organisation behind the ODbL, only says that “any compatible license would, for example, have to contain similar share-alike provisions if it were to be compatible“, which while helpful isn’t a clear cut list of licenses that are compatible. At the time of writing I was unable to find any such list.

But if the data you want to co-mingle with OSM, or indeed with any ODbL licensed data, is data that you don’t want to share with the “community” — which of course will include your competitors — the only way to prevent this is not to use the ODbL-licensed data, which means not using OSM in this manner. To be blunt, mixing any data with a share-alike clause means you can lose control of your data, which probably is part of your organisation’s intellectual property and has cost time and money to put together. It’s acknowledged that not all co-mingling of datasets will trigger the share-alike clause; that there needs to be “the Extraction and Re-utilisation of the whole or a Substantial part of the Contents” in order for the share-alike, or indeed for the attribution clauses of the ODbL to kick in. The problem is that what’s classed as “substantial” isn’t defined at all, and OpenDataCommons notes that “the exact interpretation (of substantial) would remain with the courts“.

If you pause and re-read the last few paragraphs, you’ll notice that there’s words and phrases such as “ambiguity“, “isn’t defined” and “exact interpretation“. All of which adds up to an unattractive proposition for businesses considering using OSM or any open data license with a share-alike clause. For smaller businesses, finding the right path to navigate through licensing requires costly legal interpretation, and where money is tight such a path will simply be ignored. For larger businesses, often with an in-house legal team, a risk analysis will often result in an assessment that precludes using data with such a license as the risk is deemed too great.


OSM as a community, as a data set, as a maps and map data provider, and as an entity is at a crossroads. It’s been at this metaphorical crossroads for a while now, but with the way in which the industry is rapidly changing and evolving, this means that there’s these two challenges that OSM should be encouraged to overcome, if there’s a concerted will to do so.

In almost every one of my previous corporate roles I’ve tried to push usage and adoption of OSM to the business, with the notable exception of my time with Lokku and OpenCage Data, where OSM is already in active use. Initially, reaction is extremely positive: “This is amazing“, “Why didn’t we know about this before?“, and “This is just what we’re looking for” are common reactions.

But after the initial euphoria has worn off and the business looks at OSM’s proposition, the reaction is far from positive. “Who are we doing business with here? OSM or another organisation?“, “We can’t have a business relationship with a Wiki or a mailing list“, and “Legal have taken a look at the license, and the risk of using ODbL data is too great, I’m afraid” are paraphrased reactions I’ve heard so many times. To date, not one of the companies I’ve worked in has used OSM for anything other than the most trivial of base mapping tasks, which is such a loss of potential exposure for OSM to the wider geospatial and developer markets.

In short, the lack of a business-facing and business-friendly approach, coupled with the risks and ambiguity over licensing, are what is holding OSM back from achieving far more than it currently does. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

More than anything, OSM needs a business-friendly face. This doesn’t have to be provided by OSM itself; an existing organisation or a new one could provide this, hopefully with the blessing and assent of the OSMF and of enough of a majority of the OSM community. It’s also worth considering a consortium of existing OSM-based businesses, such as MapBox or GeoFabrik or OpenCage Data, getting together under an OSM For Business banner.

Coupled with the new approach to engaging with business, the licensing challenges could be solved by re-licensing OSM data under a license that retains the attribution clause but which removes the share-alike clause. Unlike the need for time to pass in order for the ODbL to be created to enable the transition from CC-BY-SA, such a license already exists in the form of the Open Data Commons Attribution license.

I do not claim for one second that making OSM business-friendly and re-licensing OSM are trivial matters, nor are there quick fixes to make this happen. I also do not doubt that some sections of the OSM community will be quick to explain why this isn’t needed and that OSM is doing very nicely as it stands, thank you very much. And I wouldn’t contest such views for a second. OSM is doing very nicely and will, I believe, continue to do so.

This isn’t about success or failure; OSM will continue to grow and will overcome future challenges. But OSM could be so much more than it currently is, and for that to happen there has to be change.

In his widely shared and syndicated post Why The World Needs OpenStreetMap, Serge Wroclawski wrote …

Place is a shared resource, and when you give all that power to a single entity, you are giving them the power not only to tell you about your location, but to shape it

These words rang true in early 2014 when Serge first published his post, and they ring doubly true in today’s world where the number of sources of global mapping data are being acquired, when the number of options available for getting and using mapping data are shrinking, and where there’s a very real possibility that the power to say what is on the map and what is under the map ends up in the hands of a very small, select group of companies and sources.

So, dear OSM, the world needs you now more than it needed you when you started out, and a lot more than it needed you in 2014. OSM will continue to be amazing, but with change OSM can achieve so much more than was ever dreamed when the first nodes, ways, and relationships were collected in 2004 — if you just get your community finger out and agree that you want to be more than you currently are.

(For non-British readers, “get your finger out” is a colloquial term for “stop procrastinating and get on with it”)

Image credits: Acceleration by Alexander Granholm, CC-BY. United Nations of smartphone operating systems by Jon Fingas, CC-BY-ND. Be Afraid. Consume by What What, CC-BY-NC-SA. Crossroads by Lori Greig, CC-BY-NC-ND.







51 responses to “Gary Gale: “Dear OSM, it’s time to get your finger out””

  1. Sven Avatar

    Getting rid of SA will make the licence something like CC0.

    So this is BSD vs. GPL reloaded.

    There is an old Article on this issue unfortunately in german only but I think this ist as true for ODBL as it is for the GPL.

    The tile goes something like “market penetration is not a value on itself”


    1. Simon Poole Avatar
      Simon Poole

      The main reason that OSM is seen as being business unfriendly are the pundits claiming that it is. The OSMF has been dominated by industry representatives since day one so that can’t be the problem that needs yet another organisation to solve.

      As to issues with the ODbL, again the pundits promise doom and destruction due to the share-alike clauses, completly missing the fact that nearly all typical use cases are not an issue at all (see for example Apple and ESRI).

      Yes, geocoding is a special, poster child of the pundits, case, because, you are actually extracting data out of OSM with 3rd party data as input and that is one of the rare cases when share alike comes in to play with non-OSM data. However there is a perfectly reasonable way to handle this on the table which stays true to the ODbL and does not seriously impact any proprietary data .

      1. Gary Gale Avatar

        Pundit is an awfully broad term, so for this discussion let’s say a pundit is someone with an opinion on these topics and on OSM in general. Are pundits claiming OSM isn’t as business friendly as it could be? Yes, myself included (indulge me as a pundit for a moment). But these same pundits are also members of the OSM community. So I’m claiming OSM could be more business friendly. People in the OSM community I’ve spoken to say OSM could be more business friendly. Businesses, including ones I’ve worked for, say OSM could be more business friendly.

        Is the OSMF dominated by industry representatives? I don’t think so. Yes, people in the OSMF exist in their industry sectors, because most of them have a job, but that’s not the same as being an industry representative. But you could call semantics on that and I’ll concede the point. But regardless of that, this isn’t the OSMF’s stated remit. The OSMF exists to care for the servers that run OSM as a project, to offer legal protection on copyright and liability and to be a fundraising vehicle. There’s no mention of taking the project to a higher level and so offer an environment more conducive to business. That’s not what the OSMF is (currently) for, at least from my understanding and from the Foundation’s stated charter and purpose. It could be what the OSMF is for in a future form, but it isn’t right now.

        I’m not claiming doom and gloom due to share-alike. What I am saying, I hope, is that share-alike is a walled garden of licensing. At the moment, typical use cases are fine because, almost by definition, they don’t produce co-mingled data sets or derived works, but that’s because of the share-alike clause in ODbL, rather than being indicative that share-alike is just fine as it is.

        If there is a way to co-mingle data sets which stays true to the ODbL, then I would really like to see the details of this as it would be a total game changer.

    2. Gary Gale Avatar

      Getting rid of share-alike doesn’t, to my mind, make the license CC0-a-like. CC0 is more an international public domain license, because the term public domain comes with (legal) emotional baggage and means different things in different jurisdictions.

      You’re right that this is much more BSD (permissive) vs. GPL (copyleft and thus share-alike). To put it in Creative Commons and Open Data Commons terms, this is about whether to keep or to drop the share-alike clause (as it pertains to co-mingled works) and about the interpretation of what constitutes a “produced” work for geocoding, which the license currently admits needs legal precedent to be set. Given that we’re still waiting for other open source license precedents to be set by the courts and the legal system, I’m not holding my breath and still think moving to Open Data Commons Attribution (with tweaks to cover the produced work) is the only pragmatic way to solve this. Assuming the community decides it needs to be solved. But that’s another discussion entirely and a deeply subjective discussion at that!

      1. Sven Geggus Avatar
        Sven Geggus

        Dropping SA would be a Licence change where again every contributer would have to approve, as this changes the spirit of the licence as a whole so this won’t work out this time.

        Talking abount the tiny bits of my own contributions (as I can not speak for others) at least those will not be available without SA and I think a lot of people feel this way.

        This already has been discussed during the licence change where a lot of people would have liked to go for PD but this would have forked the project back then and shurely would today.

  2. Jilles van Gurp Avatar

    In addition to business use cases, there are also loads of IP issues around simply combining the many open data sets provided and maintained by governments or using those to improve open street maps. Pretty much a lot of that open data is literally rotting away because there are no feasible strategies to create derivative works that are legally sound enough that you can distribute them or use them in a product or on a website.

    The OSM community seems to be attempting to patch up their license with wording on a website and vague hints for interpreting what it actually means. The only thing that matters in a court room is the exact wording of all of that together. That’s a potentially volatile interpretation as well since that leaves a lot of wiggle room for interpretation about who said or promised what and when in what context. Intentions mean nothing when there’s a legal conflict.

    Where companies or individuals actually take the risk to combine datasets regardless of this, awesome stuff happens. I’m aware of several interesting uses of OSM data in the area of flight simulation where OSM is being combined with other data sources to create simulation scenery (checkout world2xplane or simheaven for example). This typically includes elevation and landclass data, airports in 2D/3D, navigation data, manually curated content (e.g. x-plane scenery gateway), etc. For example both flightgear and x-plane come with such data. I haven’t looked at the licensing in detail but I wouldn’t be surprised that there are some conflicts lurking there.

    The question for the OSM community is whether it would be more in their interest and that of their contributors (whom they represent) to allow or disallow these kinds of data mashups. My vote would be squarely on allowing this with attribution, no buts and ifs.

    The linux world seems to have found a way to do business with mixed configurations of open and closed source. The open data world is still waiting for that to happen.

    1. Simon Poole Avatar
      Simon Poole

      Pointing to the ODbL construct of a collective database is not “patching up” the ODbL as it has been there from the beginning.

      Both and simply make it clear how large an extract of OSM needs to be so that we consider the resulting usage with other data a collective database.

      Currently the line is drawn so that you can’t use the third party data to simply extract from OSM what is “missing” in your dataset at the granularity of individual objects or very small regions, and this is for very good reasons.

  3. Redsteakraw Avatar

    I would say OSM contributors owe nothing inherently to businesses that wish to freeride and not contribute back. Share alike works with Wikipedia, works with the Linux Kernel and is working with OSM. If legal grey areas need to be ironed out and clarified fine, if better ways of making it easy to show what can or can’t be done with the licensed data fine. However dumping share alike clauses would be a slap in the face to all mappers who care about open data to see data collected with that in mind being hoarded and changed behind closed doors for profit, exploiting the collective works of the many hard working mappers.

    1. Gary Gale Avatar

      Oh I’d agree. For any open project, be it source or data, the contributors owe nothing to anyone who take and don’t contribute back. But this isn’t about that. This is about OSM becoming far more than it currently is, becoming what could be the de-facto source of global mapping and map data and both the business friendly aspect and the share-alike clause are barriers to that happening.

      I’m not saying that share-alike is inherently bad. You’re right that it does seem to work for Wikipedia, but I’m not active in or knowledgeable about that domain. It’s borderline whether share-alike is working for the Linux Kernel, because if it was then there would never have been cause for the LGPL to have been created. And I’d argue that the OSM is working fine in spite of the share-alike clause on the ODbL rather than because of it.

      You’re right that there are grey areas in the license that need to be fully defined, ironed out or have precedents set. That hasn’t happened yet and there needs to be a call to action or a stimulus to have that happen. I’m not presuming for one moment that this article will be the cause of any of that, but I do think that this still needs to happen in order for OSM to achieve the potential is has.

      I’d also argue that to say that dropping share-alike would be a slap in the face for OSM contributors is a sweeping statement. For every person I’ve spoken to in the community who are content and happy with the status quo, there’s a roughly equal number who want to see change happen to accelerate OSM adoption and there’s another number who really don’t care one way or another. But does everyone in the community feel this way? I don’t know, but I suspect not.

      Finally, I’m not suggesting that OSM gets hoarded or made closed. I think the open movement is an amazing thing and has benefitted today’s online and geospatial world massively. Removal of the share-alike clause doesn’t stop OSM existing, and OSM would still remain the source of OSM itself. The same argument has been made many times for open source and yet business remains one of the largest contributors back to open source. If the attribution clause was dropped, that would be the wrong thing to do, but I don’t see how removing share-alike exploits the amazing work of the OSM community.

      1. Redsteakraw Avatar

        As for share alike, there is nothing that inherently prevents businesses from using it or contributing to it. Look at all the companies that contribute to the Linux kernel or make use of it in their products. (Android – Facebook Servers – Super Computers). Non copyleft(share alike) allows for hoarders and companies taking advantage of the community. It is like the community helping to push them over a wall to see farther and when OSM looks for a hand to be lifted onto the wall the company leaves OSM high and dry. That is what it is like when a company bases it’s dataset using OSM data and doesn’t contribute back. It is a slap in the face to have that action explicitly allowed. It isn’t unreasonable to require modifications back, if a company isn’t willing they shouldn’t be a company the community cares about. Data hoarders are free to pay for their map data, from other data hoarders no need to have OSM and the thousands of contributors aid their hoarding business practices.

        You seem to shrug off the utility of copyleft / share alike, it puts every user on the same level they all get access to the same data and they all get access to everyone’s changes which makes everyone involved benefit. Linux gets contributions from many different companies, they get a kernel they can use in products that is far cheaper than paying to create their own or paying for other kernels. The same can be said for OSM. You gain access to an open map, you just contribute back your changes or make your changes available under the same license you received. It is cheaper than mapping it yourself and can be cheaper than paying for other providers. It’s up to business to make the decisions for their company but should not be at the expense of having the data contributors produced incorporated into closed silos where the original contributors are locked out of modifications of their own work. That is a slap in the face and is an exploitation of the community that propped them up. Dropping share alike explicitly allows this and as such is a wrong move.

        If you want change I would focus efforts on the easiest and least controversial target mainly ironing out the problems with compatibilities with other licenses and making it clear what can or can’t be done. If you want to throw out copyleft there will be a lot of people that will oppose it and not agree to the terms, if the ODbL was controversial removing copyleft would be even more so. Being that OSM is just recovering from the transition yet another major license change would not help. An evolutionary improvement in ironing out the legal grey areas and improving compatibility with other open data is fine. Better defining and what a derivative database is would also be welcomed, but removing important parts of the licenses which many do care about will not.

        1. Jilles van Gurp Avatar

          This is an interesting point. Gplv2 seems to work for many companies precisely because they have found ways around some of its language to make it possible ship patented closed & patented software along with e.g. the Linux kernel (e.g. Android). Gplv3 was created to ‘fix’ this and close some of the loop holes, However, crucially Linux still ships under v2 precisely because its community has an interest in shipping commercial products. Gplv2 has had a few decades of exposure to the real world and has been battletested in court a couple of times. Its reasonably well understood by the industry and there are well understood best practices around what you can and cannot do.

          This is missing in the OSM community. There is no shortage of individuals with opinions on what it mean or how it should work but the bottom line is that there is a rather large group of perfectly valid use cases involving various closed and open data sets that companies might have available to them that raise a lot of risks or at least questions for those companies. Many are opting not to take the risk. I’m in the camp that thinks the OSM community is not better off without those companies being part of the community.

          This is the point that Gary is making. It is not about stealing data, it is about actually allowing reasonable and fair use of the data (including in commercial products and services) without unintentially inheriting a lot of restrictions or legal requirements and entering a legal minefield. This seems to have been also the intention behind some of the language in the license but obviously people are at the very least still a combination very confused, mistaken, or hesitant about what it actually means and implies for them. That is bad for OSM.

          People are calling OSM a success but from where I’m sitting it is actually behind in terms of both quality and adoption precisely because of this. Sure it is thriving on individuals doing their thing in large numbers. But it’s behind in quality because the companies that would invest in improving it if they were able to use it are actually going out of their way to not use it.

          For example, both Apple and Google had to build up map expertise in a hurry in recent years. Both have pretty much thrown billions of dollars at this problem. Both have severe map quality issues in parts of the world where OSM could fill in the blanks. However, neither has apparently considered using OSM a valid business option and one would assume that is not merely because they did not consider it. Arguably this has a lot to do with the licensing and the uncertainties around it since it would have been a perfect way for them to bootstrap their efforts and possibly even collaborate. They could have saved years. The only reason Apple is doing maps at all is because it doesn’t want to be dependent on Google, which in turn did not like being dependent on Nokia/Here and Teleatlas. Both took a pretty bad hit in map quality when they switched and both are still investing to catch up. The point about those investments is that that money could have gone into improving OSM instead but didn’t. Apple and Google are not alone here. Arguably the reason Here is still valued in billions is the apparently widespread understanding in the industry is that billions more are going to be spend on map licensing by companies choosing to not use OSM.

          The status quo is that OSM is mostly used by companies who can afford to just ship it as is and not so much by companies who have a vested interest in data they’d like to bundle with it. The maps and navigation industry is worth billions but the OSM part of that is still tiny. It could be so much bigger and at this point it is valid to ask what is holding it back.

          In my view share alike has been controversial in the open source world as well and as a result Github is now dominated by projects licensed under more liberal terms. I prefer the Github community to the somewhat toxic GPL world where people seem to be wasting a lot of time with being paranoid about their work being stolen instead of improving the world. Most companies opting for GPLv3 do so precisely because it pretty much requires their users to go for a commercial license. Such an option does not exist for OSM data.

          There’s only one OSM, so far, and I agree that changing the license is probably not something that is likely to happen. However, the door seems to be open to ‘improving’ it for some at least.

          1. Simon Poole Avatar
            Simon Poole

            Apple uses OSM in quite a few places, however it currently seems to be more driven by the absence of data from other providers than anything else.

          2. Redsteakraw Avatar

            First off I take issue with the characterization of the GPL being toxic, it isn’t. It ensures everyone including end users get all the freedom they deserve. It is only toxic to organizations that want to abuse or take advantage of users and withhold data or information they should have access to in the first place. Given that people took the time to develop it is very reasonable to request their efforts don’t go to exploiting people. Now the copyleft previsions in GPL v3 are not like the ODbL, GPLv3 made it so every user has to be able to modify the code on devices shipped. This is not a requirement of the ODbL. If anything the ODbL is more like GPLv2 in these regards. If people want to make the ODbL more like the LGPL where linking and use in proprietary systems are fine as long as changes to the library are released back then that is a conversation that can be had. However having proprietary forks of OSM is not a prospect I find respectful of all the collective efforts of people that want to see the data open.

            I would hate to see OSM like the new TIGER a base map for proprietary(improvements) but never the map. A project on corporate life support or where mapper are seen like little pawns like with Google Map maker. OSM has an infrastructure, it has a community and that community may have different more valuable passions and sensibilities than a give away free labour to companies mindset. If you want to use the data unchanged fine, if you want to improve it fine but you share back just as every other contributor. Companies or business aren’t special they don’t deserve extra rights or hoarding abilities. If you merely care about having your map data used / deployed contribute to Google map maker. If you want to know that your contributions will remain free to all(including businesses) then contribute to OSM.

            Share alike ensures to contributors that their work will not be exploited they won’t just be building a springboard to some company that doesn’t care about the community or people involved. It gets actors to act in beneficial ways as no one has to fear being lock out of future work or data. Why would you want people to make changes to your work and then say you can’t have access to the changes. We can take your work but our work unlike yours can’t be shared because we don’t give a s%&# about you. A business that doesn’t or won’t care about the community and open data is not one the community should care about or have their interests in mind.

            In the end the project will just be on life support kept barely relevant but not too good. This can be seen with the Darwin OS(OSX’s base). Now there is nothing stopping a public domain fork of OSM using Public domain imports, and user contributions that agreed to public domain clauses in the contributors agreements. If you want a map everyone may make use of then Public domain is the route to go, but if you care about more than that and want your contributions to remain free share alike(Copyleft) is the mechanism that achieves that. No license is perfect, and every project will need to find how they want to position themselves. Does the ODbL need work yes no license can be even near perfect on a first shot, there also is a bit of seeing what works and what doesn’t. However share alike does work, it works for large public projects and it works for businesses. Share alike is not anti business as most licenses explicitly allow commercial uses and don’t exclude the possibility of having a thriving business based off of it. Git, Linux, Wikipedia, GCC all work fine with Share alike. Share alike is proven and is far from toxic. What I find to be toxic are bad actors that look at how they can use projects to exploit others. As far as I am concerned a business that won’t share is not a business worth sharing with. A business can share and work well with a community when it knows it is on a level playing ground and can’t withhold information to gain the higher-ground.

            I do not want to see people using my data to exploit others or to lord over others with improvements making them beg for it. The community isn’t a dog that will resort to begging to get the goodies it sees. I do not want to see the community in such a diminished state, or have any company lord over them. OSM is great, and so is Share Alike.

      1. Redsteakraw Avatar

        OSM has and still has an active Humanitarian / crisis mapping projects. Mapping datasets knowing that any data you receive or update are guaranteed to be be free and explicitly allows you to edit, and redistribute modified versions is more important. If people like working for companies for free they are free to Volunteer at Walmart or McDonald’s or even use Google Map maker. I personally find such an proposition to be one sided and borderline exploitative.

        As for the core location data being open to everyone, fine in the land called the United States of America they have just that. All federal data must be released to the Public Domain so when you are forced to pay taxes to have a map made it is open to any to use for whatever you want. That dataset is TIGER. If other governments don’t do that it is a policy issue that the citizens must lobby for. However there is a difference between a dataset which everyone pays for through taxes and is used internally by the government than a map that is mad by volunteers who donated their time under specified terms for what can happen.

        Quite frankly I don’t see any good reasons to withhold data derived from volunteer contributions. Volunteers can set the terms of their contributions, and people that don’t want to aid the data hoarders should be free to do so. To have maps people worked hard on the have some VC or corporation rip it off, give nothing back and lock the very volunteers out of the changes to the data they made. OSM can be the base map if the data hoarders stop their hoarding and much more restrictive licenses. People complain about the ODbL, but how open is it compared to Nokia or Google map licenses.

        OSM has a global planet dump, where people can download the full dataset, and even make changes to it. Instead of throwing billions of dollars people donated their time in the hope it will always remain open. If Google or Nokia want me to maintain a core dataset they can pay me plain and simple. If you want to use my data then abide by the generous terms of the ODbL. The terms are reasonable and fair, all modifications retain the license and allow all to make changes and redistribute it. It can’t be made closed. If open data staying open isn’t the problem it is closed data.

  4. Thierry G Avatar

    Interesting article. I suspect the issue will resolve itself organically, just like OSM has evolved organically. It’ll just take one big and bold company with financial reserves (and a strong legal team) to set the precedent in deriving OSM data for commercial gain, and then everyone else can follow. Say Apple or Google…

    Surprised Google didn’t get a mention at all here, by the way. Sure, their data is proprietary and off-limits for derivation, but out of all global datasets it is surely by far the most detailed and comprehensive. All it takes to completely disrupt this market beyond recognition is for one of the bigger players to make an unexpected move. Remember Google Maps 10 years ago…

    1. Nathan Heazlewood Avatar

      Gary thanks for your article. Theirry, I guess Google is indirectly referenced via mention of Serge Wroclawski’s article ‘Why the World Needs Open Street Map’ (another very interesting read).

    2. Gary Gale Avatar

      I deliberately didn’t mention Google (or Apple) because I think that’s an apples (pun fully intended) and oranges comparison. Neither Google nor Apple license their data to third-parties except via APIs. There’s no data sets to co-mingle. Though the point about geocoding and produced works as a result of aggregating data from those APIs does apply here. But neither of them are open players.

      There will be an unexpected move and I think it’ll come sooner than later. From who is open to speculation but that’s part of the fun of watching and being part of this industry!

  5. Muki Haklay Avatar

    Dear Gary,
    You (and other people like you who complain about the business aspect of OSM license) might be missing the point. Are you sure that the people who contribute to OSM are doing so to help businesses to use the data? For example the people who are contributing tonight to OSM in Nepal, or all the people who came to Missing Maps events – are they bothered with how businesses will use it or not?
    The point is that without checking with the volunteers who contribute to OSM – you don’t know. Last time that this was checked (2010 by Nama Budhathoki who’s now working on the relief effort in Kathmandu in his Kathmandu Living Lab ) it wasn’t there as a major goal – see Have you considered that if someone would have wanted to assist a commercial venture they’ve got a selection of TomTom, Waze, Google Map Maker and Apple to donate their labour to? You might be in a situation (and it will be very interesting to test it) that you do have the GPL of mappers who want to ensure that their labour is not exploited by businesses who are the core of OSM. I don’t know it for sure, but there are plenty of signs/anecdotes in this direction. For example, the fact that after 10+ years you didn’t have a groundswell of community support to create a branch of OSMF that is business friendly – or I’d even compromise on OSMF with permanent office and staff!
    In many questions the issue is to ask the right question, and the one that you are asking (why OSM don’t do more to ensure that more businesses adopt it?) might be the wrong one.

    1. Stefan Keller Avatar

      Hi Gary, hi Muki
      I think Muki comment should make us think about: Who tells that contributors want OSM to be business oriented? Simon makes aware, that business could happen even now (and happens actually!) without asking contributors. At least without being against their consent and the license. I think, let’s OSM become more mature in any aspect before we and SME – or even big companies 🙁 – fully exploit it!

    2. Jilles van Gurp Avatar

      There are two fallacies with this argument:

      1) not all forms of business use of map data is abuse; I’d argue most are actually valuable/desirable/harmless .
      2) what OSM contributors intend is that the map gets better and that it remains free to use for all, that’s all. The license however goes one step further with its share alike requirement. This is intended to protect freedom but it also intentionally restricts freedom for all users, including contributors. These restrictions are the problem since they are preventing what many view are perfectly legitimate cases of using OSM in combination with other data sets (some which are open even) and products.

      There is a vast amount of perfectly good geo data out there under all sorts of licenses. Most of it is not licensed under odbl or a compatible license, which means that any product, service or business that combines datasets in one product now does not have the freedom currently have the freedom to do that because the license forbids this.

      The commenters here seem to fall into three groups: 1) those that believe that this is a pity and believe it would be nice if they had the freedom to do more with the data than is currently legally feasible. 2) those that don’t understand this actually is a problem and are mistaking freedom for a lack thereof. 3) those that believe this is intentional, desirable, and the explicit wish of the OSM community.

      The people in number 3 are technically correct given the decision process used to come up with ODBL. However, I believe they are overestimating how well they represent their own community in this. Gary was making the point that there’s a lot of people that are either indifferent, undecided, or somewhat confused on this. Most of use are not lawyers and these issues are hard. Sadly, the net result is a lot of redundant effort in the industry to work around OSM instead of working with it.

    3. Florian Lohoff Avatar

      Hi Muki,

      i started with OSM because i wanted to have accurate and up to date maps everywhere. ANY restriction in the license is a problem for the widespread use of the Data i created. So in the End the current license does not support my goal for contributing to OSM.


  6. osm lover #7 Avatar
    osm lover #7

    > Why hasn’t the geospatial world run lovingly into OSM’s arms?

    But it has!

    > More than anything, OSM needs a business-friendly face.

    WTF! More than anything OSM needs to keep its free-thinking contributer friendly face.

    OSM exerts enough pressure on the commercial providers. If you can’t live with the OSM license, pick a commercial data provider.

  7. Rory McCann Avatar

    It’s borderline whether share-alike is working for the Linux Kernel, because if it was then there would never have been cause for the LGPL to have been created

    The first version of the GPL LGPL was released in June 1991 , and the first mention of Linux wasn’t until a few months later in August 1991.

  8. @GPSBaby Avatar

    muki is spot on -what differentiates OSM is that it is a labour of love. There is no need to compromise that.

  9. […] is kinda a reply to Gary Gale’s “Dear OSM, it’s time to get your finger out“. The more I read that, the less sense it makes to […]

  10. Seth Fitzsimmons Avatar
    Seth Fitzsimmons

    For me, the ODbL sits neatly in the uncanny valley of licensing. When co-mingling OSM with proprietary data, the proprietary data necessarily becomes less so. When co-mingling OSM data with “public domain” data (e.g. distributed by government agencies in the US), the data becomes more encumbered. As a result, businesses are hesitant (as in the case you laid out) but so are governments, as they are unable to benefit from the work of the community because they are legally required to distribute fully unencumbered data. Divergence occurs, and it becomes more difficult to reconcile the difference between ODbL-licensed derivatives (which have typically been improved) and data managed by the agencies themselves.

  11. Gary Gale Avatar

    Forgive the meta-reply, I’m head down in the day job but wanted to reply and keep the discussion and momentum going.

    I was expecting a reasonably large amount of comments on this post; a small part of me wanted to be somewhat controversial so that a conversation that I think still needs to happen does, in some small way, happen. What I hadn’t expected and what I’m pleasantly surprised by is the broad scope of the comments, both on this blog and on Twitter. I had thought, wrongly, that the usual suspects would come out, hand waving, shouting and telling me I’m wrong. I’ve been told I’m wrong but (mostly) politely and by people wanting to explain how and why I’m wrong. Thank you for taking the time to do this. No, really, I mean this.

    Some people have told me they agree with what I’ve written, either in part or in principle to both aspects of my post. Again, thank you.

    There’s been other sources of commentary from people I know and who I respect enormously. Iván Sánchez Ortega wrote a kind of (his words) reply as Dear OSM, Just Chill Out. Richard Fairhurst wrote some observations about Realpolitik and the OpenStreetMap license and Alex Barth said (paraphrasing slightly) Let’s Drop Share-Alike, which was written back in March of 2014 and which I’d also totally missed before (I must pay more attention).

    I’m not a lawyer and don’t profess to be one. I think I’ve got a reasonable layman’s understanding of licenses, source code and data, open and closed. But when I’m called out on interpretation of a license, which in the license text itself admits that professional and court interpretation is needed, and told I’m reading it wrong and there really isn’t a problem I have to pause and say (sometimes out loud) hmmm …. really?/.

    Lots of people have told me I’m wrong and that this isn’t what the community wants. Really? That’s a lot of people. Others have pointed out that I’m missing the point and that I should ask the community. The former I can’t get my head around, unless the community was recently canvassed and I missed the poll and the results. The latter I totally get and I’m wistfully hopeful that that might happen in the not too distant future.

    What I do find frustrating though is that a lot of the commentary tries to make this a binary proposition.

    If you want to drop share-alike, you don’t want OSM to succeed.

    If you want to make OSM more business friendly, then you want to make OSM closed.

    If you’re against share-alike then you’re against the attribution clause.

    If it’s a business friendly OSM you want, then you’re against OSM being a labour of love

    This is not a binary proposition. It’s a subtle and nuanced one. The other view point that I find hard to comprehend is that anyone who has a view on this subject that involves change in some form and who works for a company in this industry has a view point that is somehow tarnished and that they’re a form of spatial trojan horse, attacking from the inside. That’s a horribly disparaging perspective that OSM and the maps industry as a whole deserves better than.

    But there’s enough positive commentary going on out there on the interwebs to make me think that I’ve struck a chord with this. Maybe a small chord, more of a clang than a chord.

    And in case there’s any doubt. I’m not professing doom and gloom for OSM. I see a great future for OSM. I’d like it to be a bigger and brighter one but maybe that’s not going to happen. So be it. OSM will continue to grow and succeed.

  12. Alex Barth Avatar
    Alex Barth

    Yup, ODbL is a disaster of a license, even if you are ready to accept some element of share alike in it. Case in point is the unclear situation of geocoding you describe so well.

    The problem is simple: co mingling data with other data is exciting and useful, OpenStreetMap puts severe restrictions on it. Why the heck are we chickening around this so much?

    This is an issue for businesses and non-businesses alike.

    Bringing examples of how OpenStreetMap is used in spite of this restriction is just like pointing to a swimmer in a polluted lake as a proof for great water quality.

    Discussion on clarifying geocoding is here

  13. flitmonkey Avatar

    Why can’t there be two licenses? The odbl and a revenue generating commercial license. The money could be used for osmf infrastructure or to help fund the humanitarian projects. Is there a reason why this wouldn’t work?

    1. Simon Poole Avatar
      Simon Poole

      All current contributions to OSM are made on the base of the Contributor Terms which restrict the distribution licence to the ones mentioned or to additional “free and open licence” agreed to by a vote by 2/3rds of the active contributors. There are something over 2 million of these agreements in place, so not something that is going to change.

      The clause effectively disallows
      – special terms for sub-groups (aka a “commercial licence”)
      – backroom tit for tat agreements (which is likely one of the “business unfriendly” things)

  14. Andrew Zolnai Avatar

    Go over to the dark side & make it commercial 2 avoid quid pro quos…
    Data should be treated as Assets

  15. Andrew w Avatar
    Andrew w

    I have no opinion on this, as I don’t link the data with other stuff when I download it, but I don’t really see any good defenses of ODBL in the comments, aside from, basically “it’s not that bad.” I don’t really know what copyleft and GPL are, either, so maybe that is the argument that I just don’t follow? So in short, I don’t understand what the benefit is of having ODBL is?

    1. Sven Geggus Avatar
      Sven Geggus

      In a nutshell:
      Just like GPL ODBL has been set up to make sure that the data will stay free by _not_ granting everybody just one single thing:
      Intermixing the data with data which does not follow the same (or more open) licence. The rationale behind this is, that people are not allowed to use our data, add some missing pieces and keep them proprietary.

      Again, I urge everybody which is able to understand German to read the following article:

      Unfortunately I don’t know about a similar one in English, but there surely is.

      1. Andrew w Avatar
        Andrew w

        If somebody can translate that article it would be great.

        I understand what you say about ODBL, but why is that better than what is proposed in this blog post?

        1. Atanas Entchev Avatar

          I had been hoping that someone would summarize the issue in a single paragraph. Since no one has, and even though I only have a cursory familiarity with the issue, I’ll give it a shot, avoiding any and all techno-legal jargon:

          This is an issue of ideology. A large segment of the OSM community strongly believes that the OSM database is a public good, and should always remain free and open, including any and all datasets built on top of OSM. The “business community” (oversimplification for brevity) says: “OSM, let me pay you for using your otherwise-free base map to build my own data layers on top of it (which I will then sell for profit).” The OSM community says: “No. You can’t profit from our free labor.”

          Do I have it right, folks?

          1. Sven Geggus Avatar
            Sven Geggus

            Not wuite!

            I’m not speaking for others of course. I am fine with people making money with OSM data, which includes the tiny fraction I contributed myself, as long as they play the rules which means, that any enhancement they contribute to the data will be contributed back to the community. This is what licences like GPL and ODBL are made for after all and for me this is an essential part. I’m not willing to contribute data to CC0 style database. As far as Attribution is concerned I don’t care.

          2. Atanas Entchev Avatar

            Thank you for the clarification.

          3. Andrew w Avatar
            Andrew w

            I would argue it’s not just businesses though, governments and anybody else can’t use OSM is they join their own data to OSM, because the resulting product would have to be put back into OSM (right?)

            And, I may be wrong on this, but there are lots of reasons not to want to do that — personal privacy reasons (e.g. someone’s health or income or religious or ethnic information), sensitive information in conflict areas, things that could give away something you want to keep private and so on.

            Or am I not understanding how it works?

          4. Seth Fitzsimmons Avatar
            Seth Fitzsimmons

            Some government agencies (in the US, anyway) can put data into OSM (because the licenses are compatible), but they can’t pull improvements made by the OSM community out (because the OSM license means that improved data is overly encumbered). As a result, the incentive to contribute is often overcome by the hassle of dealing with records that have diverged.

            When working with gov’t data, the general approach is to combine multiple datasets outside of OSM (which is fine, since the gov’t data is freely available), although the downside is that choosing data for an area becomes an either/or proposition because features are likely to be duplicated (and slightly different) between sources.

          5. Simon Poole Avatar
            Simon Poole

            > Or am I not understanding how it works?


            1) the share alike clauses in the ODbL only apply to (derivative) databases that are publicly used, that is: are published in some form, sold etc. anything used internal to an organisation, or processed by a contractor on behalf of the organisation is not considered publicly used.
            2) if (1) applies, share alike kicks in, however it only applies to the derivative databases, if the derivative was created by using data from a third party (for example by adding speed limit data from a third party to OSM way objects), the third party data -in- the derivative dataset needs to be licenced on ODbL terms, the original dataset is in no way affected.
            3) using multiple datasets from different sources does not, in general create a derivative database, but a “collective” database which you are free to licence as you want as long as the OSM component is available on ODbL terms.
            4) to clarify specific use cases and delineate between derivative and collective databases the OSMF (the licensor) has published a number of guidelines, see . For example we do not require everybody that is using essentially unmodified OSM data or extracts of it to make their own copies of the data available.

            I don’t think it makes sense to try and recreate a good five years of discussion and developement of an appropriate licence on the geohipster blog. So I would suggest moving further discussion to a more appropriate place.

          6. Nathan Heazlewood Avatar

            Agree with your summary Atanas but an extension to what you have said here is that is that OSM is effectively in competition with other data suppliers.

            My question is: can OSM work with some of those suppliers (even for example just Governments) for mutually beneficial results, even if it means ‘bending’ some of the current OSM rules? Perhaps stating some ‘core’ datasets and attributes that are useful to lots of people but letting private data suppliers provide ‘enhanced’ versions of the dataset with additional attributes etc? This would aid OSM in getting accuracy and completeness for the important elements of the data (by getting verification from private channels as well as the current methods), but would also give private enterprise an opportunity to provide associated enhanced versions of the data for those that are willing to pay for it (but private enterprise would still be obligated to update and ‘give back’ and corrections to the ‘core data’). Is there any merit in this approach?

          7. Atanas Entchev Avatar

            Understood. Again, with the disclaimer that I speak as an outsider (I have an OSM account; haven’t done much with it), perhaps OSM (or some (large?)) fraction of its constituents does not *want* to be in competition with other data suppliers? Perhaps “winning” means different things to different people?

  16. Alex Barth Avatar
    Alex Barth

    Ha, Andrew, you summed it up nicely.

  17. Andrew w Avatar
    Andrew w

    Seth, right, I was thinking more the other direction like you said — they can’t download OSM to connect with their own data. And to me that is not good.

    It’s great that many governments upload their data to OSM, like the Washington, DC city government recently did to add all the buildings in the city.

    1. Simon Poole Avatar
      Simon Poole

      In these discussions it is always assumed that the government/administration in question would make data available, import it in to OSM, extract “improved” data out.

      Now besides the fact that the adminstrations in question are typically legally obliged to make the data available and are not doing OSM any special favour for which they could expect a tit for tat (which they wont be getting from google or anybody else either), the implicit assumption that the organisation in question would then publish the extracted OSM data in lieu of their own curated dataset is ridiculous (for a long list of reasons that have nothing to do with the licence).

      As pointed out earlier, internal use does not invoke the share alike provisions and the OSMF has issued a clarification that use of OSM for QA purposes is explicitly allowed as long as it simply triggers a survey of the object/fact in question or similar.

  18. Florian Lohoff Avatar

    Hi Gary,

    thanks for the writeup. I am big supporter of a CC0/PD solution and was long before the relicensing. My roots are in the Linux community 20 years ago so i am pretty used to free and share alike licenses.

    Share alike by itself is a protective term. From my perspective i dont understand what to protect against. I started with OSM because i wanted everyone to be able to use the most accurate and up to date geo data. I want people to share, copy, use, reuse, modify and merge my geo data to produce better results and produce interesting applications and use cases – i do so myself for living.

    The real value of OpenStreetMap is not its geo data. Its the community and the steady stream of changes, modifications, additions, corrections. So once you decide not to share and give back you cut yourself off of the real value of OSM.

    We dont need to protect our geo data, we need to protect our community. The current license is a complex problem for a lot of uses cases so people rather spent money on commercial geo data than on a lawyer explaining the ODbL and the consequences for your business. Just have a look at the ongoing discussions about geocoding and
    even negative reponses of your geocoder.

    And right now the ODbL starts not only to harm our business use cases but also the community. Multiple people have asked the official bodys of the OSMF about the licensing issues of Apple Maps and the OSM data. So far i havent seen any response. So in the end we have a license we dont enforce.

    We harm business use cases, harm our community by not holding up the promise of share-alike by not enforcing the license.

    Whats the current license good for?

  19. Steve Davies Avatar
    Steve Davies

    I have been a very active contributor to OSM, and also use a lot of GIS data for my own projects, and luckily since Ordnance Survey’s vector data was released in March, I no longer need it for the UK.

    Besides the licensing, the biggest problems I see with OSM is the simply terrible tagging scheme which keeps getting changed, and the lack of “to put it bluntly” for key users to get of their asses and get things moving forwards

    Here are some examples:

    1) Forests and woodland. Nobody seems to know when to use which tag “natural=wood”, or “landuse=forest” and they’re rendered differently. In some languages there is no word for “wood”, etc.. but people seem to use them interchangeably which makes the map a mess.

    2) There is lots of opendata out there which can be imported into OSM and used to greatly improve the quality of the data. OS OpenData, Spain’s cadastral data and even Norway’s N50 vector maps. However, nobody wants to take up the tasks because of the work involved merging with the data already there and the backlash from the community (Community isn’t the word I’d use). Given a choice, and if better data is available, the old bad quality data should simply be deleted and replaced with more professional data. e.g. Remove all crudely traced buildings from a city and replace them with the far superior and professionally mapped government data. For me it’s a no brainer, and I wouldn’t be offended if someone deleted my work (unless of course if the replacement was worse).

    3) Most of the key users seem to spend their time arguing and debating pointless topics in mailing lists instead of actually mapping or pushing forward the hundreds of import or improvement projects. God help an unsuspecting new mapper if they ask a question such as “How do I tag a sewage plant”. You’ll end up with about 100 different answers which inevitably ends up in a debate with the poor mapper non the wiser and probably doing a runner elsewhere

    4) The people controlling the OSM website decide what is rendered on the website’s map or not and getting them to show something you need is a lost cause, and people won’t and don’t want to map things that aren’t visible. I’m aware isn’t the actual data, but it’s the front-end that the majority of users and businesses will see.

    5) The belief that using a GPS device is the best way to map and armchair mappers are frowned upon. Without those armchair mappers and satellite imagery, the data in OSM would be very poor indeed. Besides that, GPS devices are inaccurate, with roads being several meters from where they actually should be. Nothing beats an on-site survey, but you still want the surveyed items to be in the right place.

    I realise OSM is meant to be an open map created by the people, but it still feels like it is run and controlled by a few certain users (who won’t think twice about deleting something they don’t agree with). As much as people would like to believe, the majority of non-imported data isn’t very good quality, and maybe it’s fine for Sat Navs, but falls short in many respects, e.g. Here are some problems I had when I recently used the data for the UK:

    1) Roads incorrectly tagged as residential and running through houses and several meters from where they really are.

    2) Bus-stops, phone boxes and other POIs placed far away from their real world locations (Probably because of a poor GPS signal). It’s not uncommon to find these POIs inside people’s houses (and the original mapper didn’t bother to even check what was uploaded).

    3) Most buildings don’t have any addresses and there generally isn’t anyway to know what the building is, it’s simply building=yes.

  20. Manuel Avatar

    The idea of “share alike” is, that none is allowed to just “take” and not “give back”.

    That’s why I help with OpenStreetMap. I don’t have to fear that I’m doing many hours of work just to make some CEO even richer without giving something back to the community.

    If some company can’t use OpenStreetMap, as they don’t want to give back their work, then, please, move along, and find some data provider where you can buy geodata with a license that fits your business model. Then, at least myself, as one of many OpenStreetMap contributors, doesn’t need you!

    If OpenStreetMap will ever plan to port to a “non share alike” license, then I hope there will be a fork where I can move to. I don’t want to work for big companies without getting paid for that!

  21. […] Gale writes on why OSM is struggling in business and why he is in favor of a license without […]