Copyright Easter Eggs

Commercial map providers have for years used ‘easter eggs’ or as cartographers know them ‘trap streets’. These are fake streets, churches and sometimes villages in maps that are put in on purpose. If you copy the map then the map owner knows it was you because you couldn’t possibly have mapped these fake features.

OSM has a large wiki page on the subject including this picture of an A-Z map:

Notice ‘Lye Close’ ? This pun has been put there as a trap street, there is no actual street there.

In the license process, the OpenStreetMap Foundation has recognised the need for a license not just based in copyright law. Like large commercial map suppliers we are moving toward a license based upon copyright, database and contract law. These ‘three pillars’ are the same foundations upon which many data sets are sold.

Similarly and in order to professionalise OpenStreetMap due to the increasing completeness and therefore value of the OpenStreetMap data we need to protect copyright. The OpenStreetMap Foundation has decided to begin a process of entering trap streets in to our data. These will be in out of the way places so that they are not noticed, but if that data turns up in a TomTom or similar device then we will be able to prosecute for infringing our data.

This process was decided on secretly at the first OSMF board meeting over a year ago and many hundreds of trap streets are now present. The OSMF has decided to go public now because we have completed an entire ‘fake village’ and placed it in southern Germany. These trap streets and the trap village are un-deletable in the API due to special code to protect copyright.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation Board feel this is a good compromise between on the one hand having only real streets and no copyright protection and on the other enforcing all downloads of data with DRM mechanisms which were found impractical. The community impact is now to be measured, now that these methods and tools are public.

The Board would like to invite discussion on this exciting new method of protection, and will follow comments to this post closely.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation Board.

12 thoughts on “Copyright Easter Eggs

  1. blackadder

    Its great to see the initial phase of this project completed. It was a long time to keep a secret but I know its been a difficult process. Thanks to all who have worked on getting the Easter Eggs Hidden, especially all those that volunteered after church last Sunday. Cheers, Andy

  2. han013

    I reluctantly feel it necessary to mention that Bielefeld is not in southern germany but is stated to be located in north-eastern germany by THEM!
    (Thank you for the hint, Holger!)

  3. WanTan

    I am really disappointed! I never thought that OSM would ever act like commercial map data providers! I don’t want to plan vacations in fake towns! I don’t want to plan bicycle tours on fake streets!
    I am really sad about this, but i have to declare that i will stop my work in this project immediately! But one last thing i have to say: Be aware of all the hundreds fakes i added while mapping and tagging by myself! For me these “streets” are no problem too, because i know them.
    But OK, i will give you one last chance: Whats about a wiki-page for listing all of this fakes?

  4. nm7s9

    I think that it was a really good idea to release this information on April 1.

    This way most people will think that it is just an April Fools joke. I’ve found the fake village – we visited near there in the world left handed golf championships a few years back, wow a LOT of work went into that village.

    I’ll start adding in a few “trap streets” but I’m not sure that I could get away with an entire fake village near where I map.

  5. smsm1986

    WanTan, if we have a wiki page for the fakes then someone who copies the data, will be able to remove them before publishing the OpenStreetMap data.

  6. WanTan

    @smsm1986
    Oh, of course. Very good point!
    But maybe we could protect this page with password, so no other people except really engaged OSM-mappers could see it.
    I suggest the following things to be fulfilled to get the password:

    1) the user has an OSM-editing-account

    2) the user has uploaded more than 50.000 waypoints or alternatively added more than 100 ways with a sum of more than 1000 segments

    3) the user has visited more than 3 mapping parties and has at least spent one time free beer for all participants of one party

    Maybe we have to discuss point 3, because of young people, who are under 16 years old and dont’t have much money. Please add your suggestions for other methods to keep our secrets.

  7. Max

    I strongly suggest requiring a high-strength secret handshake for all OSM map access (hmmm… interesting… “high strength” seems to sound differently in this context than in cryptography…). Perhaps online it should be implemented as a series of elaborate mouse gestures. And of course, we’ll definitely need to come up with an appropriate initiation ceremony. Preferably involving beer at some point.

  8. dolphinpix

    Its good to mark the data, but the open nature of the map and updates means any fake features will soon get removed. Therefore a database of fakes would be needed to match maps against.

    I know my own vast input of waypoints contains some unique errors/features (I do a lot of equestrian event photography, and have left on the GPS while driving round fields by mistake before).

    The problems with asking someone to provide a lot of data to joint could play into the hands of another mapping company… Who would by default be able to provide a lot of mapping data. And of course it only takes comparing the data to sat maps to find the smaller fake places.

    What would make more sence is,

    Adding fake names to places where public access is very limited, example those roads round big factories that look like normal roads from the air, but are gated/limited access. That way the feature is less likely to get removed/edited and to someone trying to check it against sat map photos would have problems.

    Remote villages, remote parts of Scotland won’t work, the features to noise ratio is wrong. The commercial guys have got the idea, a small street in 1000′s no one would notice.

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