FAQ

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For License, see Open Database License.
For Legal aspects, see Legal.
For Developers, see Develop.
For Modelling questions, see Map features.
For other uses, see How to contribute.
For resources about JOSM editor, see JOSM.
For resources about Potlatch editor, see Potlatch.

In addition to this FAQ, there is a collaboratively edited question and answer site where you can read more questions about OpenStreetMap and ask your own. Feel free to contact the community as well.

Is it OpenStreetMap or Open Street Maps?

OpenStreetMap is the correct spelling. One word, three capital letters, one map. OpenStreetMap is also a Trademark.

Why OpenStreetMap?

Why are you making OpenStreetMap?

Geographical data (geo data) is not free in many parts of the world. Generally these places have given the task of mapping to various government agencies who in return get to make money by selling the data back to you and me. If you live in one of these countries, then your taxes pay for the mapping and then you have to pay again to get a copy of it. In the USA crude data (such as TIGER) is in the public domain, however refined data and finished maps are generally commercially copyrighted.

Data from commercial maps sometimes contain lies, or Copyright Easter Eggs, to catch anyone copying it. These easter eggs take the form of fake or missing streets, or features like churches and schools that don't in fact exist. If you make a map using their data, they can say "ah-ha! Gotcha!" from looking if you also copied these fake pieces of map. The map may also just be incorrect because for example you bought it a year ago and a path has been dug up in your local park since, or someone just made a mistake.

If you accept all of this then you still can't do anything with the data but photocopy it. In lots of places that's illegal too if you go beyond your fair use rights. You can't correct a street name, or add the pub/bar over the road, or use the data in a computer program without paying a lot of money. More money than you probably have. What about sending it to a friend, enclosing it in an invitation or posting it on a notice board? A lot of these are less legal than you might think.

Advances in technology like cheap GPS units mean you can now create your own maps, in collaboration with others and have none of the restrictions outlined above. The ability to do so allows you to regain a little bit of the community you live in - if you can't map it, you can't describe it.

Why don't you just use Google Maps/whoever for your data?

Short answer:

Because that data is copyrighted and owned by multiple organisations like the Ordnance Survey. Google/whoever just licenses it. If we were to use it, we'd have to pay for it.

Long answer:

Most hackers around the world are familiar with the difference between "free" as in "free beer" and as in "free speech". Google Maps are free as in beer, not as in speech.

If your project's mapping needs can be served simply by using the Google Maps API, fine. That's not true of every project, though. We need a free dataset which will enable programmers, citizen scientists, social activists, cartographers and the like to fulfill their plans without being limited either by Google's API or by their Terms of Service. The data used in Google Maps is either owned by Google itself, or sourced from NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas, two big mapping companies. They, in turn, have obtained some of this data from national mapping agencies (such as the Ordnance Survey). Since they've made significant financial investments to gather this data, these organisations are understandably protective of their copyright.

If you collect data from Google Maps in this way, you are creating a "derived work". Any such data retains the copyright conditions of the original. In practice, this means your data is subject to the licensing fees, and contractual restrictions, of these map providers. That's exactly what OpenStreetMap is trying to avoid.

Please don't be misled by considerations of software copyright, or of Terms of Use. The Google Maps API can be incorporated into open source projects, sure. But this only governs how you use the software - it doesn't have any implications whatsoever for the data displayed by this API, which is still under copyright.

(It's not yet clear whether it's ok to create a derived work from aerial photography : some readings of UK law suggest that you can do this without 'inheriting' the copyright in the photography. A definitive ruling on this could open up new avenues for OpenStreetMap and similar projects, but in the absence of such a ruling, we're continuing with the approach of sourcing our own, 100% independent data.)

Further reading:

  • Google Maps' Terms of Service. Note particularly the 'Map Information' section:
    • "Geocoding data for map content in Google Local is provided under license by Navteq... and/or Tele Atlas... and subject to copyright protection and other intellectual property rights owned by or licensed to NAVTEQ, TANA and/or such other third parties."
    • "Also, you may not use Google Maps in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates."
  • The OpenStreetMap mailing list archives. You may want to search them for phrases like "derived works", and for a thread in October 2005 called "London locations".
  • Can I use Google Streetview ? on help.openstreetmap.org

How can a project like this create accurate maps?

By the very nature of the wiki-style process there is no guarantee of accuracy of any kind. Then again, few proprietary maps carry a guarantee of accuracy, either. In fact, some have artificially-introduced errors.

The essence of a wiki-style process is that all users have a stake in having accurate data. If one person puts in inaccurate data, maliciously or accidentally, the other 99.9% of people can check it, fix it, or get rid of it. The vast majority of good-intentioned participants can automatically correct for the few bad apples.

As they say, though, your mileage may vary. The Wikipedia project has shown that a large amount of good quality data can be collected but it can be difficult to weed out the inevitable errors.

A full editing history is stored for each user. Since April 21, 2009, users can attach Wikipedia-like edit summaries to their edits, and there is a History tab on the main page that shows recent edits to the selected area.

At the moment the best way to answer this question is to judge for yourself. One way is to pick an area that you know well and use the OpenStreetMap viewer to see how well the map data corresponds to your own knowledge. Maybe you will see something wrong or inaccurate. More likely you will find there's nothing there yet. At this stage, our main challenge is to extend our coverage, without copying from existing maps. As on Wikipedia, it's easy to edit, so you can help!

You seem to have a lot of existing map data. Where did it come from?

Many keen contributors, and sporadic imports of data from open-licensed sources. In areas where there are no such data sources (most areas) we have to start from a blank slate, and head out there to survey the streets ourselves. Despite starting from scratch, we have achieved a good level of completion in many places.

Why is the data sometimes inconsistent?

"OpenStreetMap is a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by people like you." Which means the database will always be subject to the whims, experimentation, and mistakes of the community; this is precisely OSM's strength since, among other things, it allows our data to quickly accommodate changes in the physical world.

Who owns OpenStreetMap?

You do. The data and software is owned by you, the contributors.

There is an organisation called the OpenStreetMap Foundation which exists to protect, promote, and support the project, but does not own the data.

What does your license allow me to do with the OSM Data ?

See Legal FAQ and License for more information.


Editing

Your best option may be making the data available to the community and if someone is interested they can proceed with the import process.

What images and maps may I use to make maps from?

Most maps have copyright restrictions. This includes any data from "free beer" sites as Google Maps and Wikipedia and printed paper maps, even if you scanned them yourself. Most Commercial aerial/satellite photography is also copyrighted.

You should not use copyrighted maps in any way while editing OpenStreetMap (unless it is compatible with our license). "Using" includes tracing over the map, copying a name from the map, or pinpointing a coordinate on the map. To be on the safe side, we tend to regard all of these as a form of copying, or "creating a derived work". Generally speaking, it's best not to even look at copyrighted maps while you are editing OpenStreetMap.

So what can you use? Not very much, which is why we are doing all this re-surveying from scratch. However OSM has permission to use some Datasources including imported TIGER data in the USA, AND Data in the Netherlands, and recent aerial imagery from Bing and Mapquest.

Why is the satellite imagery low resolution? Is there other satellite imagery that I can use that has more detail? Can you update it? How often is it updated?

The Aerial Imagery is from a variety of sources that we have permission to use - Bing and Mapquest are the most popular and have the largest coverage. The resolution and age of the imagery varies, and it is not updated on a regular basis. You may even notice the age and quality of imagery from same source may be different in your town. See Aerial Imagery for more details. OSM neither controls nor owns the satellite imagery so we cannot request updates.

How do I track edits of a region?

See the list of various tools at Quality assurance#Monitoring Tools.

Using OSM maps and data

Main article: Using OpenStreetMap

How can I display maps on my website?

Read Getting Started With Leaflet on switch2osm.org

How can I extract information [e.g. POI's] from OpenStreetMap (like a list and location of all of the Churches in a certain area)?

  • If you want a large batch of POIs, download planet.osm or an extract and then use software that processes OSM data (e.g. osmosis) to extract your desired information.
  • Or use the API. See getting poi data from OSM for a more detailed explanation.

How can I download this data and put it in my GPS?

If you have a Garmin unit, see OSM Map On Garmin. Several users provide ready-made Garmin format maps for you to download and copy to your GPS.

Where can I find software using OSM data?

For current software using OSM, see the Software page or its category, and also neat stuff for more experimental ideas.

For a more development-related angle, see Routing (and its category), the Beginners Guide topic on usage, and the Developers' pages.

Questions from GIS people

What geographic datums are used in OpenStreetMap?

OpenStreetMap uses the WGS 84 lat/lon data exclusively. All uploaded tracks and edits should always be in WGS 84, the default data for GPS receivers.

What is the map scale for a particular zoom level of the map?

Main article: Slippy_map_tilenames#Resolution_and_Scale

Why aren't you using Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) schemas and software for OpenStreetMap?

We choose technology for openstreetmap.org based on speed & flexibility. Some OGC standards and implementations fit this bill, but others do not. We used to use MapServer for serving static versions of our maps, but unfortunately we found it to be unthreaded, slow, and hard to extend - we replaced it with Mapnik. If you'd like to develop integration with OGC tools, let us know.

See Why not GPX? for a similar discussion about why GPX was rejected as a transport format.

What Geotagging do you use?

Main article: Geotagging

Admin

Why doesn't my login work?

There are two different logins for the OSM project: one is for this wiki only, and the other is for the website, API, forum and the help site. You need to register on the website to edit OSM data.

How can I close my account?

Send an email to the support address and an administrator will disable your account and remove your details from the OpenStreetMap database. Your email address will usually be retained in the event that an OpenStreetMap administrator needs to contact you in the future.

Can I have more than one account?

Yes - see Creating_an_Account#Account_Names_and_Multi_Account_Policies.

Help - someone keeps deleting/reverting my edits. What do I do?

Please see the disputes page for details