Open Data License/Community Guidelines/Fall Back

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Status: New, for discussion only

Background: The Problem

This is based on a real question. It probably overlaps another evolving guideline on geocoding, but as this question is very simple and specific, it worth considering alone. It is also interesting because a positive solution would mean that commercial companies are motivated to be major "transitional contributors". That is, they are prepared to spend resources and money contributing to OpenStreetMap because over time they can reduce and then eliminate fees paid for costly proprietary data from other sources. A win-win.

Acme Corp. wants to provide a public address finding service. What they would like to is have a database of OpenStreetMap data and search that. If a specific search gets an answer, fine, address details and location are returned to the customer. But if the search fails, because OpenStreetMap data is not good enough in that area, they would like to fall back and search another completely separate database. This other database is licensed from BigGeo Corp. for $$$ and cannot be released under an open license. Over time, they would like to reduce reliance on BigGeo products and eventually switch them off completely. They realise that the best way to do that is to help OpenStreetMap fill gaps.

Question: Can they do this?

Before doing serious research, getting legal advice etc, there are two possible answers to this question:

  • Yes. The two databases are separate both in the technical/physical sense and in the legal sense. Therefore, under the ODbL, Acme Corp. has a Collective Database. There is no problem with the BigGeo database having a non-open license.
  • No. The method of searching one and then falling back to the other is just a clever way of doing a combined search on what legally is just one big combined database of addresses. Therefore, under the ODbL, Acme Corp. has a Derivative Database. Acme Corp. needs to release the BigGeo database under ODbL. Since Acme Corp. cannot do that, sorry, good bye. Come back in 5 years when OpenStreetMap data is better.

The temptation, given the way the question is framed, is that OpenStreetMap should pick the Yes answer. After all, the explanation seems reasonable(?).

However, perhaps this drives a truck through share-alike? Nasty Corp. will divide their databases in some purely artificial fashion, so that they can use OpenStreetMap but augment their own proprietary data and not share it. Should the answer be No?

What do you think? Please comment in the Discussion section below.


Status: New, for discussion only




Open Issues, Use Cases, Discussion

Any text here is NOT part of the formal guideline!

I think 'Yes' answer is appropriate if the data in the non-OSM database is of no use to OSM. However, if OSM decides that this data is of relevance, like for some reason if reviews are now wanted for POIs, then something can be figured out. A couple solutions could be: 1) The corp. does not require SA of this newly wanted data because it wasn't needed at the time their database started using it. 2) The corp. must make available only the mappings of records to this newly wanted data and not their entire database, which can have sensitive information in it. OSM should also reserve the right to deny permission if the corp. is using it for evil purposes.