Foundation/Local Chapters/United States/2016 Law Clinic

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2016 law clinic

During the Spring 2016 semester, OpenStreetMap US partnered with the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic and worked directly with 2 students. The clinic provided high-quality, pro-bono legal services and real practical experience for the students. The project assessed practical licensing questions under OpenStreetMap's ODbL and contributor terms, and resulted in community shared Executive Summary. The work was also presented at the 2016 State of the Map US conference held in Seattle. A blog summary of the findings and future discussions was also posted on the OpenStreetMap US website.

The partnership with OpenStreetMap US and the Harvard Law Clinic was a great opportunity to open more legal resources and practice for OpenStreetMap. We saw this as a first step in making more legal advice available to the community on all levels.

Community Participation


  • Draft document preparing the OSM Clinic Project Description. This document has been shared with Harvard to generate interest in working with OpenStreetMap, prepare the students for the clinic, staking out broad goals for their work. We'll discuss specific legal questions we're interested in in the townhall.

Q & A

Who guides the process?

The students are supervised by Professor Susan Crawford, who sets the overall structure of the clinic. The content of their work is guiding by their "client" -- OpenStreetMap US. Alyssa Wright and Mikel Maron have been assigned by the OpenStreetMap US Board as Points of Contact. Their research will encompass much publicly available material, and consultations with multiple perspectives across the community.

What is the outcome of the law clinic?

The students will prepare research and advice paper(s), representing a spectrum of views and possibilities, to help us understand the scope of the question and specific uses people are dealing with. It will be shared publicly, for discussion within the community.

How is the project topic chosen?

Good projects go into depth on topics that touch broader cyberlaw issues, and are achievable in the clinic timeline. In discussion with students, the topic of Community Guidelines was interesting and very broad, and specifically the Geocoding Guideline a topic that could be rapidly assessed. There will be several opportunities to iteratively refine, broaden, or refocus the topic as work progresses.

Is the prep document final?

The prepatory document is only a conversation starter with the clinic, and doesn't represent final work.

Where will you announce the outcome of this work?

Announcements and discussions will take place on the talk-us and legal-talk lists. There may be additional town halls organized as work progresses.

Will this work be legally binding for OSM US or OSMF?

No. The work is simply legal research and advice for further consideration of the OpenStreetMap community. Legal decisions and processes on the ODbL remain with the OpenStreetMap Foundation.