Open Database License Relicensing FAQ

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This wiki page was used for discussion and development of the move to the Open Database License. It is not only not legal advice, it is likely to be inaccurate and/or incomplete, and only of historic interest. Please do not use this page as a reference for what you can or can't do with OpenStreetMap data.

What do I need to do as a user to change the licence?

If you're an existing user - right now, nothing. The OSM Foundation will be asking you soon whether you would agree to relicense your existing work under the new licence.

If you signed up after 12th May 2010, you'll have been asked to agree to both the current licence (CC-BY-SA) and the proposed new licence when you signed up. So you don't need to do anything. Thank you for signing up!

What alternative licence is the OSMF recommending?

The licence we are proposing to adopt is the Open Database Licence (ODbL). "The Open Database Licence (ODbL) is a licence agreement intended to allow users to freely share, modify, and use this Database while maintaining this same freedom for others."

To go with this, there's a set of Contributor Terms, in which the mapper agrees "yes, my contributions are my own work", and gives the OSM Foundation authority to distribute this work. The OSM Foundation, in turn, promises not to distribute them under any terms except the chosen licence (or another open licence chosen by users, should that need arise).

The OpenStreetMap Foundation has worked with the licence's authors to secure a small number of revisions, so that we have the best licence possible for OSM. Thank you to everyone who has made suggestions and helped to ensure that the ODbL is suitable.

How will the proposed licence benefit OpenStreetMap?

The proposed licence:

  • offers greater protection to the data, because it applies to copyright, to database right, and as a contract.
  • is expressly written for data. It is clearer what you can, and can't, do with the data. This will encourage more people to use OSM's open data, and clearly differentiate it from closed map data sources.
  • requires those that combine our data with their own data will have to give the latter to OSM. This means we get more open data. Under the current licence, they have to make the end result copiable (such as a map), but not the source data.

Can I see all the differences?

Yes, see Open Data License for a detailed list of differences.

The headlines are:

  • Expressly works with database right and contract, for those countries where copyright does not apply to factual data.
  • Attribution (a credit) is always required to OpenStreetMap, rather than individual contributors;
  • If you distribute OSM data with other map data, you have to make the other data available;
  • But if you create an "integrated experience" (e.g. mashup or cartography), the share-alike licence only applies to the map data.

In essence, we believe it is "what we meant when we said by-sa".

How will the switch take place?

The plan, essentially, is to switch license from our existing licence (CCBYSA 2.0) to ODbL in five stages.

  • Stage 1 - Get suggestions for any changes required in addition to those identified by the OSMF. Done
  • Stage 2 - Engage the licence's author to amend the licence as required. Done
  • Stage 3 - Ensure that new users sign up to both licences. Done
  • Stage 4 - E-mail all OSM users who have contributed data with the option of re-licensing their data
  • Stage 5 - If enough users agree, remove any data from any users who do not respond or respond negatively (the hard bit)

See Open Data License/Implementation Plan for details.

What's wrong with the current licence?

OSM currently uses the Creative Commons Share-Alike/Attribution 2.0 licence, or CC-BY-SA for short. The main problems that have come to light over time are:

  • The CC-BY-SA licence was not designed to apply to databases of information and therefore has shortcomings when attempting to protect the OSM data.
  • The method of giving attribution is somewhat impracticable for a project with many thousands of contributors.
  • Limitations make it difficult or ambiguous for others to use OSM data in a new work (eg mashups)

What is the role of the OpenStreetMap Foundation in this?

This is a proposal by the OpenStreetMap Foundation board, an elected body made up of mappers and developers from the OSM community, and including people from all sides of the licence debate. The OSMF looks out for the OSM project on behalf of its members.

The OSMF cannot and will not make any change to the licence without acceptance by the OSM users. Recommendations given here are the recommendations of the OSMF board, which has evaluated all the available options.

What options has the OSMF evaluated?

Recognising the perceived deficiencies in the existing licence, the OSMF board has been evaluating users' views:

  • expressed on the mailing lists and wiki,
  • reaction at last year's State Of The Map conference debate,
  • direct feedback from users.

We have also sought legal opinion and the views of other organisations such as Creative Commons.

The OSMF has considered existing and emerging licences and has come to the conclusion that maintaining a Share-Alike/Attribution licence is in the project's best interests and keeps with the original intent of what users signed up to when they joined. The search therefore has focused upon the need for a database licence based upon Share-Alike and Attribution ideals.

How have OpenStreetMap users been consulted?

The licence change process was started, and has been entirely run, by OpenStreetMap volunteers. The OpenStreetMap Foundation board, and its Licence Working Group, are made up of mappers like you. Indeed, people with concerns about the licence have been invited to talk to or even join the group.

There have been posts on the OpenGeoData project blog, to the mailing lists, on this wiki, and in other channels. Discussion about the licence started soon after the project was launched and has continued pretty much constantly. It has also been discussed at OSM events such as the State of the Map conference, hack days and local mapping parties. Again, those working on this are only volunteers and cannot promise to have communicated absolutely perfectly at all times, but they have done so with the intent of openness and good faith. Please do get involved in helping to spread the message.

Bear in mind too that the new licence is not a fait accompli. You own any rights in your data. No-one can relicense it without your consent. The project will only move to the new licence if enough users like you agree!

Is this being driven by commercial users?

Absolutely not. The problems with the CC-BY-SA licence were identified long before any companies existed using OpenStreetMap data.

The proposed new licence is still a share-alike licence, just like the existing one. The detailed changes as to what you have to share could equally be viewed as friendly or hostile to commercial users. There is no intention of letting commercial interests exploit OSM without contributing back, nor of making it harder for them to use our data.

Why not a public domain/BSD-type licence?

Some OpenStreetMap contributors believe their data should be in the public domain - entirely free of any restriction. Because you as a contributor keep the rights in your contributions, you can choose to make your data public domain if you wish, as well as being available under the OpenStreetMap licence. This will still be possible after any change in the licence.

Other contributors disagree, believing that public domain would allow commercial companies to take advantage without contributing back to OpenStreetMap. If OSM changed to public domain, these contributors have indicated they would withdraw their data. In particular, the OSM Foundation believes that we could lose large contributions such as the entire Netherlands dataset donated by AND.

We do recognise the strength of feeling on this issue but feel that it would be divisive to make such a fundamental change. However, we are giving users the option to formally declare their own contributions as public domain, similar to the informal scheme that already exists on this wiki.

Why aren't you changing to another Creative Commons licence?

We have consulted with Creative Commons who have kindly given some of their time to advise us. We would have liked Creative Commons to have offered a sharealike/attribution data licence that we could adopt. However, their position is that map data should be dedicated to the public domain, as per their new Open Access Data Protocol and the CC-Zero licence. The OSMF board does not believe this route is in the project's best long term interests.

Who wrote the proposed licence?

The draft ODC licence was written by Jordan Hatcher and Dr Charlotte Waelde, who were sponsored by Talis. Jordan is a lawyer and consultant working on copyright and content issues, whose specialism is intellectual property and IT law. Charlotte is Co-Director of the AHRB Centre for Studies in Intellectual Property and Technology Law, co-editor of 'Law and the Internet', and author of a definitive text on licensing geographic data.

Why didn't you choose this licence in the first place?

When we started, there was no open data licence available. As with many aspects of OSM, we have been learning as we go along, and initially did not realise the particular needs of data licensing. Nor did many others - indeed, OSM is perhaps the world's biggest openly-licensed, user-contributed data project, and Jordan has stated that OSM was uppermost in his thoughts when drafting the licence.

Will this change how people access OSM data?

No, users will be able to access the data without clicking through the license. To make it clear that users agree to the contract, the license will be displayed on the OSM website, and a link to the license will be included in the XML data files.

What happens if not everyone agrees?

We do not want to force contributors to relicense their work against their will. If a substantial majority of users agree, but a small number disagree, we will consider whether we can withdraw the minority contribution and then proceed with the new licence.

We will make every reasonable effort to contact contributors, especially those who have made substantial contributions. Because, at heart, the new licence offers the same elements as the original - open, attribution, and share-alike - we may take the view that those who have made small contributions, but cannot be contacted, would relicence their data under the new licence. We will enable them to contact us at a later date.

How does this affect Wikipedia and other projects that want to use our maps?

There is no change. They can continue to do exactly the same as they do now. The ODbL does not place any restrictions on how a Produced Work (such as a map as a JPG image) is used. It only requires a notice such as "Contains information from DATABASE NAME, which is made available here under the Open Database Licence (ODbL)". So the image can be released under CC-BY-SA or other license terms, provided that the database used to generate it is made available under the terms of the Open Database Licence.

For maps, the Open Database Licence is actually closer than CC-BY-SA to the "Definition of Free Cultural Works" adopted by the Wikimedia Foundation. This is because the definition requires that "where a final work has been obtained through the compilation or processing of a source file... all underlying source data should be available alongside the work".

If I disagree, will my data be lost forever?

No! All contributions made under CC-BY-SA (the original licence) will continue to be available for download from , in a final CC-BY-SA planet file containing all the contributions made up to the 'switchover' date. This file will always be available under the original licence.

Contributions where the mapper has not agreed to the new licence, however, will not be available in later ODbL-licensed planet files, nor from the main OpenStreetMap API. (There is nothing stopping anyone from making an API using the CC-BY-SA data, of course!)

I have more questions!

As questions are asked and answered, we will add them to these pages.

If you need to ask a specific question then send an email to, subscribe to the legal-talk mailing list, or use the discussion page here.