Open Data License/Background

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Licenses are a way of limiting the use that people can legally make of an asset. Traditionally, the main purpose of licenses was to protect the "value" of the asset so that it could be sold. With the advent of the internet, considerable interest developed in the idea of more generous license-based or free distribution against certain obligations. Of these obligations the most prominent were that it could be used for free as long as one said where one got it from (attribution) and secondly that it could be used for free as long as one made any improvements/changes to it available under the same license. Open Source software projects have faced similar issues, and the Debian Social Contract and DFSG and Software License FAQ provide a useful background to many of the same issues that face OpenStreetMap.

Creative Commons, founded in 2001, codified a set of popular licenses for artistic works on these principles and, when OpenStreetMap was founded in 2004, one of these licenses was chosen. It subsequently became apparent that the license chosen was not very suitable for a project such as OpenStreetMap and discussions started on possible alternatives. This opengeodata.org article sums up the case for a new license. Separately, as part of process of formalizing OpenStreetMap, a Foundation was formed in 2006 to act on behalf of the community in situations where a legal structure was required.

At the State Of The Map 2007 Conference in Manchester there was a license panel at which the issue was discussed and the Foundation was tasked with producing a new license. The Foundation determined that the license should continue to be Share Alike (rather than moving to Public domain) and should be a generic open data license rather than one specifically for the OpenStreetMap project. Since the 2007 conference, progress on the license was slow for a number of reasons:

  • Nothing of this sort had been attempted before and the foundation was trying to create a share-alike license for data that would work anywhere in the world.
  • There were passionate debates within the community on the need for a new license, the form that the license should take (share alike/pd etc) and the process by which this should be decided.
  • There were also many views on interpretations of the current license and the applicability of copyright law to mapping data.
  • There was also the question of who would be the owner of the license text and who would be allowed to change the license text and by how much without recourse to every contributor.
  • A lack of time to devote to the matter by key players, most of whom were working on this in their spare time, also caused problems (a proposed licensing debate at the second State Of The Map 2008 conference in July 2008 was canceled when Jordan Hatcher, the main author of the license was unable to attend due to work commitments).
  • In October 2008 a number of contributors advocated using public domain as the licensing approach for the project and proposed that a Public Domain Map should be forked from OSM. A new email list was created within OSM to discuss this proposal (called [1]).
  • In December 2007 Creative Commons launched their Open Access Data Protocol. Having tried to create a Copy Left license, they eventually concluded that the only way to ensure that data could be used and re-used easily with legal certainty was by use of public domain.
  • On 23rd December 2008 The OpenStreetMap Foundation formed a Licensing Working Group to progress the implementation of the Open Data License which was shortly to be announced by Open Data Commons[2].
  • In February 2009 The Open Data Commons project presented its first draft of the Open Data License[3] and the OSMF recommended it to for use by OpenStreetMap[4].
  • Since then there has been significant activity on the legal-talk and ODC-discuss lists in relation to the license.