Licensing/Ordnance Survey OpenData License

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OpenStreetMap and the problematic Ordnance Survey OpenData License

In 2010 the UK Government created the Open Government Licence, "OGL",and public bodies can now opt to publish their Crown Copyright material under this license.[Wikipedia]. At OpenStreetMap we believe data released under this license can be incorporated into our geo-database and distributed under our ODbL license provided that the body is properly attributed on our website using wording specified by the body. A mechanism for this attribution is built into our contributor terms and a link provided.

Following a Dec 2009 to March 2010 Government Consultation the Ordnance Survey began releasing data for free re-use on April 1st 2010. The Ordnance survey is indeed a UK government agency, though is required to act as a commercial entity.

Unfortunately, they elected not to use the UK Open Government License but instead create their own license which incorporates the OGL.

Effectively, this adds this extra problematic wording to the OGL:

The same attribution statements must be contained in any sub-licences of the Information that you grant, together with a requirement that any further sub-licences do the same.

In a recent email [1] the Office of Public Sector Information state "It the opinion of Ordnance Survey that this requirement for an acknowledgement means that the OS OpenData licence is not forward compatible with the ODC-By and ODbL".

Why is this problematic?

  • It destroys the notion of having a one-size-fits-all, practical, well-thought out license if any agency can just mangle it they way they want.
  • Sub-licenses? Huh? This seems to imply an old "information silo" mentality, i.e. a user of OpenData would simply pass on a big chunk of OpenData either as a map or dataset in some product. Possibly the publication of the OpenStreetMap under ODbL would be a sub-license or may be it isn't. Vague. Does not seem to take into account mashups.
  • Impractical attribution. Again, what world are they living in? The wording seems to imply that anyone who uses OpenStreetMap might have to attribute OS.
    • Do Nepalese school children using OpenStreetMap data to make a map of their area have to add OS attribution on their map?
    • And if other agencies join in, do we have to put potentially hundreds of attributions on every map?
    • Or just if maps in the UK are made and have some OS-derived data in them? Do they expect OSM end users to check through the data somehow?

More on attribution

The core of the problem is that attribution can mean more than one thing. Firstly, it needs spelling out. Secondly, it needs to be practical in the real world. This OpenStreetMap paper analyses it in detail and can be summarised as:

  • Attribution Level 1 (Primary Attribution): OpenStreetMap acknowledges OS on its website. There is no attempt to get end users of OpenStreetMap's data to do the same. This is all OGL requires. OpenStreetMap finds this very practical to implement. We offer this in our contributor terms, as distinct from our end user license, since it will survive any future end user/distribution license change ... including to a public domain-type with no attribution clause at all.
  • Attribution Level 2:: When any OpenStreetMap data is "published", i.e. extracted from an OpenStreetMap website electronically or distributed on some sort of hard media such a book or recording disk, there is something physically present in the material transferred that acknowledges third parties. As this can be as simple as URL link back to OpenStreetMap's attribution page, this can be very practical. OpenStreetMap has implemented this, even for extraction of a single node. We also encourage our contributors to tag the OS as a source when deriving locations or names from them.
  • Attribution Level 3:: End-users re-distributing a copy of the OpenStreetMap database or a derivative database are required to maintain any third-party attribution information intact. This is inpractical in the case of very small extracts and in source tags, but not impossible.
  • Attribution Level 4:: End-users have to acknowledge OS in maps they make. This may be what the OS OpenData License is demanding. It is impractical if just OS and impossible if potentially hundreds of agencies have to be credited.

State of Play

Despite the criticisms above, the Ordnance Survey was very accommodating and responded quickly when we brought the attribution matter to their attention in 2011. (statement).

Furthermore, OS are currently working to amend the licence so that any confusion caused by poor wording is removed. This task is at the request of their regulator; the Office for Public Sector Information (OPSI).

The Royal Mail did not respond as well. So post codes remained an issue until the Office of National Statistics released postcode centroids under the standard OGL.

Similarly, the clarification only applies to OS OpenData and only over copyrights 100% owned by OS. As of early 2013, a new issue is arising that other agencies are using the same license instead of OGL as they should. Either they need to switch to OGL or the same clarification process has to be gone through with each agency for each product. Local Authorities and Public Right of Way, (PROW), are one example

Can OS OpenData Licenced Material be used in OSM?

  • For data/information derived from any of the "OS OpenData" products listed at with the exception of CodePoint Open then the answer is yes, since LWG have received a special clarification from OS that this is ok [2].
  • For "CodePoint Open" and any other OS OpenData licensed information then the situation is at best unclear. There is no special permission from OS (or other rights holders) for these datasets, and the latest information from OS [3] seems to imply that they regard the OS OpenData License as not compatible with the ODbL.

Since OSM takes a conservative view with regard to license compatibilities, I think one would have to conclude that without further clarification from OS, items in the second group should not be used in OSM.