New licence for the “standard style” tiles from openstreetmap.org

One of the important products of the OpenStreetMap community is the standard style map layer on openstreetmap.org. This has been licenced on CC BY-SA 2.0 terms probably since it was first created. At the time OpenStreetMap data was licensed on the same terms, however 8 years ago when we changed the data licence to the ODbL 1.0 we didn’t change the tile licence leaving it as it is.

Over the years this had led to a situation in which use of the “tiles” (the individual images that make up the displayed map) has been subject to more legal restrictions than necessary and has inhibited use of the images in many projects which would have been completely in order otherwise. The absurdity of the situation may be more clear if you consider that you can take the CC0 “licenced” map style, OSM data and produce the same images only being restricted by the terms of the ODbL for “Produced Works”.

It has been clear for many years that the situation was untenable, creating friction with third parties (for example PLOS One) for no good reason and that we should move to an attribution only licence. However the main question the Licensing Working Group (LWG) hadn’t answered was, “which licence should the tiles have in the future?”. Given that licences are a dime a dozen, you would assume this to not be an issue, however outside of licences in use by government entities (that is the OGL and derivatives), there is no popular and well known “attribution-only” licence in use and we wanted to avoid creating our own if at all possible.

In 2019 we presented the OpenStreetMap Foundation board with a proposal to switch to CC BY 4.0 licence together with a waiver of those terms that go further than requiring attribution. Our reasoning was that using a well known label would be preferable and we would be waiving terms that both licensors and licensees in general ignore, so even if the legal intricacies were not understood, things would come out right.

The proposal had not even been discussed by the board when it was met with massive opposition by the community. While the LWG believes the reasoning behind the opposition to be incorrect, we resubmitted the proposal to the board earlier this year, this time simply stating that the tiles should be licenced as an ODbL “Produced Work” with no additional terms applied. This had already been discussed as a possible alternative and seems to be a well accepted solution to the issue. The relevant legal text can be found in 4.3 of the ODbL https://opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl/1-0/index.html and essentially only requires attribution in a suitable form.

Last month the board accepted the proposal and has put the new licensing in to force per July 1st 2020. While we will be able to change the text on the English version of the openstreetmap.org “Copyright” page immediately, translations will lag a bit and we ask everybody for some patience till everything has been adapted.

Simon Poole for the Licensing Working Group


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OpenStreetMap was founded in 2004 and is a international project to create a free map of the world. To do so, we, thousands of volunteers, collect data about roads, railways, rivers, forests, buildings and a lot more worldwide. Our map data can be downloaded for free by everyone and used for any purpose – including commercial usage. It is possible to produce your own maps which highlight certain features, to calculate routes etc. OpenStreetMap is increasingly used when one needs maps which can be very quickly, or easily, updated.

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4 thoughts on “New licence for the “standard style” tiles from openstreetmap.org

  1. pif

    In some countries result of algorithm is considered as lacking of “creativity”. That is painting of map tiles – which is basicaly predifined assignment of coulors to different features – is not legally protected. I don’t know which countrie’s law you tried to apply to all the world. But trying enforcing license for “painting” of tiles was not really possible in a lot of places.

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  2. chris

    I think it is very important that the OSMF – when communicating the terms for using the standard style tiles from the OSMF tile servers – clearly states that they are only a produced work and may only be used as such according to the ODbL when they are consumed by humans and not treated as a database. When the tiles are treated as a database the ODbL rules for databases apply and not just those for produced works.

    The text above might incorrectly be read by tile users as if the OSMF declares the tiles to be irreversibly produced work. That is not the case and ‘selling’ them as such would not be compatible with the contributor terms.

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  3. Rob

    Well done for persisting with this.

    I’m not sure I’d describe anything related to the OSM community responses as “massive” given that the vast majority don’t comment at all, but fine. By the way , you would get a bigger response by putting these questions in as resolutions at the next AGM and an even bigger response if you sent a survey a to all registered members (something we seem reluctant to do even though it might be possible with the right steps taken in advance). Something to consider in the future.

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