Category Archives: Legal

The CC-0 Advantage: How the EU Open Data Directive Can Benefit from Simplified Licensing for Geodata

EU countries should adopt CC-0 licensing to maximise the benefits and usability of open data–including by OpenStreetMap.

EU Directive 2019/1024–better known as the Open Data Directive–will soon open up new datasets from governments across the European Union. Luxembourg, for example, has already adopted a formal recommendation strongly advocating application of the CC-0 licence for all open datasets, which has already been applied to geo-datasets since released. 

This is great news for Europe and the world. It could also be great for OpenStreetMap and the vast audience that depends on it. But for that to happen, the officials who are now finalising their data release plans must avoid a subtle but critical mistake: they should release their data using the Creative Commons CC-0 license rather than the more popular CC-BY 4.0 license.

Explaining why this is so requires some background. It is common for geographic datasets to be released under licenses that specify how the data must be credited, how it may be transformed or redistributed, and who is allowed to use it. OpenStreetMap combines geodata from many sources to make a unified map of the world. Combining data isn’t always easy. Combining licenses can be even harder.

An example might help. Imagine a government agency releases geodata with a requirement that any map made from it be updated when the agency publishes new data. In isolation, this sounds reasonable. Agency workers diligently update the information they publish. It makes sense for them to ask those who use it to be similarly assiduous in not spreading outdated information. But what happens when the data is combined and redistributed with dozens of other datasets with similar requirements? Or hundreds? Or when it’s partially edited to reflect changes about the world? 

Maybe you can imagine some solutions to this particular problem. Trust us when we say: it’s impossible to imagine a solution to every license problem. The potential for license conflicts means that OpenStreetMap must be very careful about the data we allow into our project. Licenses have to be checked for compatibility with the project’s own license to ensure that including a new data source will not interfere with the countless ways that OpenStreetMap data is being used around the world.

And those uses are immensely valuable. It is surely not a coincidence that the Annex I to the Open Data Directive lists “geospatial” first among the high-value dataset themes targeted by the initiative. Maps are useful to every person, business, and institution. And OpenStreetMap has become a key part of how map data reaches people around the world. Our project is used by many of the most popular mapping platforms, reaching an audience that numbers in the billions. Perhaps more importantly, OpenStreetMap is free for anyone to use. We think this makes our project an ideal partner for the Open Data Directive’s goal of unlocking “public sector data for re-use, as raw material for innovation across all economic sectors.”

But for that to happen, the data must be released with a license that OpenStreetMap can use. The Directive’s implementing regulation provides licensing guidance for the officials who have been given this responsibility:

It is the objective of Directive (EU) 2019/1024 to promote the use of standard public licences available online for re-using public sector information. The Commission’s Guidelines on recommended standard licences, datasets and charging for the re-use of documents identify Creative Commons (‘CC’) licences as an example of recommended standard public licences. CC licences are developed by a non-profit organisation and have become a leading licensing solution for public sector information, research results and cultural domain material across the world. It is therefore necessary to refer in this Implementing Regulation to the most recent version of the CC licence suite, namely CC 4.0. A licence equivalent to the CC licence suite may include additional arrangements, such as the obligation on the re-user to include updates provided by the data holder and to specify when the data were last updated, as long as they do not restrict the possibilities for re-using the data.

​High-value datasets shall be made available for re-use under the conditions of the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) or, alternatively, the Creative Commons BY 4.0 licence, or any equivalent or less restrictive open licence, as set out in the Annex, allowing for unrestricted re-use. A requirement of attribution, giving the credit to the licensor, can additionally be required by the licensor.

cf Directive (EU) 2019/1024 Impact Assessment

Unfortunately, OpenStreetMap cannot use data licensed under CC-BY 4.0 without additional caveats. The reasons are subtle but important; you can read about them here. The authors of the Directive guidance might not have realised this.  We know that many officials are familiar with CC-BY. But as the above link explains, CC-BY carries more restrictions than just a requirement of attribution. Article 2’s intent is clear: it means to “ensure that public data of highest socio-economic potential are made available for re-use with minimal legal and technical restriction and free of charge.The officials charged with executing that intent should choose CC-0 instead of CC-BY.

We realize that this might not always be possible. When that’s the case, officials should consider licensing their CC-BY 4.0 data with less restrictive terms, as allowed by Article 4. The License Working Group has supplied simple language that officials can include to make CC-BY 4.0 less restrictive and the data published under it unambiguously usable by OpenStreetMap:

Section 2(a)(5)(B) of the CC BY 4.0 license is void. Attribution to a central list of sources via URL is sufficient to provide attribution in a "reasonable manner" in accordance with Section 3(a)(1) of the CC BY 4.0 license.

OpenStreetMap is among the world’s most successful open data projects. If the right decisions are made as its implementation is finalised, the EU Open Data Directive could become one, too.

10 Years of ODbL

Ten years ago today we changed the license of OpenStreetMap’s data. For those who remember it, you’ll know it took a lot longer than a day. It was slow and painful process, but we published our first ODbL-licensed “planet dump” on 14th September 2012!

In the run up to that moment we spent several years working with the Open Data Commons organisation to create the Open Database License, reaching broad community agreement upon it, then seeking formal acceptance from every data contributor, and carefully redacting data where this acceptance was not received. All of these steps required vast effort from volunteers, culminating in the switch-over moment. In fact even after the big announcement (on this blog) it took a couple more days before we were able to publish the data ten years ago today!

In those ten years we’ve seen spectacular growth, not just in data and community, but also in users and uses of our data under ODbL. You can read more about the license change reasoning and process here, but if you’re interested in using OpenStreetMap data … download it. It’s free and open licensed!

New licence for the “standard style” tiles from

One of the important products of the OpenStreetMap community is the standard style map layer on 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 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 “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

Do you want to translate this and other blogposts in another language..? Please send an email to with subject: Helping with translations in [language]

The OpenStreetMap Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation, formed to support the OpenStreetMap Project. It is dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data for anyone to use and share. The OpenStreetMap Foundation owns and maintains the infrastructure of the OpenStreetMap project, is financially supported by membership fees and donations, and organises the annual, international State of the Map conference. It has no full-time employees and it is supporting the OpenStreetMap project through the work of our volunteer Working Groups. Please consider becoming a member of the Foundation.

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.

Preparing for the GDPR

Modified image. Original by TheDigitalArtist. Licence: CC0

The OSMF board and OSM working groups are preparing for upcoming legal changes regarding data protection rules. The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come into effect in the EU on May 25, 2018. OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF), as a legal entity in the EU, is legally required to be compliant with GDPR. The OpenStreetMap License Working Group (LWG) wrote a white paper about GDPR to inform how we should prepare. To that end, we made a GDPR preparedness plan to be implemented over the next months. Many of the required changes are administrative. We want to help you understand what is changing based on how you might use OSM.

Here are some key points to help you learn more:

Do you use OSM to navigate the world?

OpenStreetMap is the free and open map of the world. If you are using OSM to navigate the world, there are no changes. Examples include viewing some form of maps and/or searching points of interest information, and routing instructions.

Do you contribute data to OSM?

Your contributions will not change. However, OSMF will update the Privacy Policy to specifically detail how personal data is collected and processed in accordance with GDPR. Please read that update when it comes out.

In addition, once OSM’s GDPR plan is fully implemented, access to metadata that may contain personal data will be limited. (Access to other data will not be affected. To see which API calls will be affected, please see this page on the wiki). Whether you as a contributor/edit user see changes as a result of these limitations will depend on which editor you use and whether the maintainers of a program you use make any alterations as a result of GDPR. OSMF will strive to help the maintainers of popular editors understand how these changes affect them. Please keep an eye out for further communications.

Are you a Service Provider that uses OSM?

If you are working on a project (e.g. software) that uses the types of OSM metadata most likely to contain personal data (the most prominent being usernames, userids, and changeset ids), you will need to abide by OSMF terms designed to protect personal data in order to have access to that data. These terms will be drafted in accordance with GDPR and will be available for the community to read through. Please keep an eye out for this future post.

You should also be aware that, after May 25, 2018, as someone processing personal data from EU residents, you are subject to the GDPR and will need to adapt accordingly. For example, there are transparency requirements as outlined in Art. 14 ( OSMF and the LWG are working on templates to assist in streamlining compliance, but ultimately, you are responsible for GDPR compliance in any processing you do of personal data.

Does your project use OSM metadata?

Projects using metadata will be most impacted. If you are working on a project (e.g. software) that uses OSM metadata (e.g. quality assurance and data validation) this will be subject to the GDPR and will need to be adapted accordingly. Such projects will need to provide the information as outlined in Art. 14 to all OSM contributors and implement their own privacy policies and mechanisms.

What is GDPR?

There are many resources available to learn more about GDPR. Your data use and your data protection are the two key points to remember. The GDPR (EU) regulations can be read in full here. The OSM License Working Group’s GDPR White paper can be reviewed here. Additionally other organisations have created this clear diagram explanation and a checklist.

Is this compatible with ODbL?

Yes. ODbL concerns copyright and database rights. It explicitly disclaims trademark and patent on the IP side (which is why we have a separate trademark policy) or other national laws. It also specifically says “The right to release the Database under different terms, or to stop distributing or making available the Database, is reserved.” Similarly, the Contributor Terms specifically concern IP rights and the license used for them, but do not mention anything else like privacy law.

Find the Implementation plan

The following page will be used to track changes and provide updates. The OSMF board will also coordinate with the Licensing Working Group for further details in the coming weeks:


The OSMF Board and the various OSM working groups are available to answer key questions.

Updated OSMF Trademark Policy

The OpenStreetMap Foundation has updated its Trademark Policy, as per January 1st 2018. The revised policy is the work of the OSMF volunteer Licensing Working Group.

Read the updated Trademark Policy

The OpenStreetMap magnifying glass logo. One of the marks covered by the new trademarks policy

Why does OpenStreetMap have marks?

The OpenStreetMap marks represent OpenStreetMap and its work to bring open map data to the entire world. When users see the OpenStreetMap name and logo, they should be confident that they are looking at a high quality map that is the result of the rigorous and comprehensive collaboration process of OpenStreetMap. Trademark protection helps reinforce that connection.

What are the goals of this trademark policy?

The goodwill supporting the OpenStreetMap marks has been generated by a prolific and passionate volunteer community. The OpenStreetMap Foundation has prepared this policy to preserve and protect that goodwill by ensuring that uses of the marks are consistent with OpenStreetMap’s mission and promote the OpenStreetMap movement.

How is this trademark policy different from most trademark policies?

This trademark policy seeks to make trademark licensing as easy as possible for the contributors who created OpenStreetMap, by making explicit that many uses do not require a trademark licence, and by empowering them to use OpenStreetMap’s marks without a trademark licence for community-focused events and outreach work. The OpenStreetMap Foundation hopes that this helps spread OpenStreetMap and encourage contribution while also ensuring that the mark remains a reliable signal of quality.

The updated Trademark Policy has information on:

  • How to use the OSM marks
  • When you may use the OSM marks without asking us
  • Special uses that require permission
  • Prohibited uses
  • Unauthorised use

Some of the updates:

Offer to register domain names for informal local groups

The OpenStreetMap Foundation now offers to register domain names for informal local groups. Once a domain has been registered, it will point to the groups website as long as the terms of the trademark policy are followed and this can be done without causing conflicts with other user groups. Please note that this is intended for informal local groups, not Local Chapters. Please read the Trademark Policy for more details.

Events and conferences

Please read the Trademark Policy if you are interested in organising an OpenStreetMap related event or Conference.


If you are not sure whether your use is in compliance with this policy or local trademark laws please don’t hesitate to contact OSMF at

Join the legal-talk mailing list

The legal-tallk mailing list is focused on the discussion of all legal matters relating to OpenStreetMap, including licensing and copyright. Join or view the archives at

About the Licencing Working Group

The Licencing Working Group is one of the seven volunteer Working Groups of the OSM Foundation, focused on the promotion of open geospatial data through practical, coherent and clear licensing. If you find that interesting we invite you to join us – just mail us at

Use of CC BY 4.0 licensed data in OpenStreetMap

CC spotlight photo CC-BY Timothy Vollmer

After careful consideration and consultation with Creative Commons, we have decided to continue our regime of asking for explicit permission for use in OpenStreetMap from licensors of CC BY databases and data.

Although OpenStreetMap is largely created by volunteers that go out and map their neighbourhoods, we have often used external datasets to improve the map, either for cross-checking or more directly integrating the data. Many of these datasets are released on CC BY (Creative Commons Attribution) terms and that makes interoperability between these licences and our distribution licence, the ODbL 1.0, an important consideration for any use of such data in OSM.

Both the 2.0 and 3.0 versions of the CC BY (Creative Commons Attribution) licence have been popular with government and other sources for a long time. Due to differences between CC BY and the ODbL with respect to attribution, the LWG (OSMF Licence/Legal Working Group) has always required explicit permission from licensors to use such data in OpenStreetMap and attribute by adding an entry to our attribution pages on our central websites.

CC BY 4.0 is a revision of the original CC BY license with provisions for handling database rights and simpler language. You can see a summary of differences between the licenses here. The new version is becoming increasingly popular with potential data sources and we have received multiple requests to make a statement on compatibility of CC BY 4.0 licensed databases and data with the ODbL. For these reasons the LWG started, late last year, an effort to review the licence and to provide guidance to our contributors on the suitability of CC BY 4.0 material for OSM.

There had been some hope that CC BY 4.0 sources would be directly compatible with the ODbL. But while neither CC nor the OSMF has undertaken a complete compatibility analysis, we have identified at least one  point of incompatibility and one possible challenge regarding attribution that lead us to our decision to continue to ask for explicit permission to use BY 4.0-licensed material in the OSM project. This is the best path forward.

The reasons for this decision are twofold: CC BY 4.0 allows some more flexibility in how a licensee can attribute the original source and many people have suggested that our indirect attribution mechanism already fulfills the requirements of BY 4.0. However the OSMF believes that licensors of BY 4.0 material may be surprised by this and that we should, for courtesy and good form reasons, continue to ask for explicit permission to attribute via our websites.

The 2nd reason is that the CC BY licences contain a strict prohibition on distributing so licensed material with DRM-enabled media/transport. The ODbL contains a similar restriction, but allows parallel distribution of “Derivative Databases” as a way to fulfill the obligation for unrestricted access. Distribution of ODbL “Produced Works” (for example maps) does not even require that.To avoid this incompatibility we will be requiring an explicit waiver of the prohibition on applying Technological Effective Measures (as defined in the license) found in Section 2a5B of CC  BY 4.0.

To make obtaining the required permissions easier for everybody involved we have prepared a cover letter and a waiver form and a similar document for obtaining the necessary waivers for the 2.0 and 3.0 versions of CC BY. You can find them here. Please do not forget that imports need to follow our Import Guidelines and that having legal permission is just one of the required steps for a successful project using third party data.

I would like to thank Creative Commons, in particular Diane Peters for the support during this process and Kathleen Lu from Mapbox for drafting the cover letters and waiver forms.

Simon Poole – For the OSMF Licence Working Group

The “PD checkbox”

If you signtickbox-distorteded up for an OSM account after May 2010 you may have noticed a check box with the label

“in addition to the above agreement, I consider my contributions to be in the Public Domain”.

Many years ago when the discussion started on the new licence for OSM data, one of the larger issues was if we should not adopt a very liberal (as in free) stance and use something close to a public domain distribution instead of the share-alike provisions we had in the existing CC by-SA licence. In the end, as you know, last year we switched to a licence with strong share-alike provisions, the ODbL, We did however add the “PD checkbox” in an attempt to span the gap between the two camps.

Unluckily what ticking the box would actually imply was, and continues to be, rather unclear; interpretations range from participating in an informal survey to actually giving permission to use the data on PD (or similar) terms. On top of that, at least for some time, there was a design issue with the specific page that potentially led to new contributors selecting the option inadvertently. Not to mention that the explanatory text changed multiple times in different locations.

To make a long story short: it is a mess.

In June MapBox asked the board for a list of the users that had checked the “PD checkbox” on sign up or later, see board minutes 2013-06-20. After some discussion and feedback from the LWG WG minutes 2013-06-25 the board decided to publish overall numbers on the one hand to give an answer to a not unreasonable information request and further to try and lay this issue at least partly to rest:

Data per 19th September 2013

“PD check box selected” all active accounts: 37%

“PD check box selected” active accounts with at least one edit: 44%

As outlined above, the numbers can at best be taken as an indication of sentiment.

If it wasn’t clear from the discussion of the quirky history of the checkbox and the legal uncertainty that surrounds it: this does not imply that an extract could be made from OSM data that contains a substantial amount of “PD” data. Outside of the already mentioned issues, edits from accounts with this flag set are intermingled with edits of those that don’t have it set, and as the statement from the licence working group says: there is no guarantee that a user actually only contributed and continues to only contribute data from sources that are compatible with a PD distribution.

To conclude: while a significant minority of our contributors would prefer a less restrictive licence, and this will not be ignored in future discussions, we are currently obliged to operate within the spirit and letter of our current licence.

2013 Articles of Association Update

At the upcoming Foundation annual general meeting we will be voting on a new set of articles. The articles are essentially the constitution of the organisation and should lay down the law for how we operate.

Why are we revising the articles this year?

It is not uncommon that over time rules imposed by an organisation’s articles start to be at odds with reality, in the case of the OSMF there have even been issues from the beginning. Given that OSM and with it the foundation have become far more visible and important, we can no longer afford to simply ignore the differences that exist between what is prescribed and what is our day to day practice.

The process that has lead to these new proposed articles has been 2-3 years in the making, and not all of the change requests that accumulated over this period have found their way in to this new text. For this reason we expect more changes at the 2014 general meeting. Further, some of the goals we had for the current changes have not been 100% met due to legal restraints. None the less I would strongly recommend that the general meeting accept the new articles, they are far better than what we currently have.

While I cannot relieve you from the task of actually reading the new legal language, I do want to point out the major changes to the current set of documents.

The new text makes a structural change in that it merges our previous two constitutional documents, the Memorandum of Association and the Articles of Association. We have not made any substantial changes to the objects of the foundation even though in discussion it has been suggested that we make them more specific to the OpenStreetMap project. On top of the merger the whole document has been reformatted and numbered to be in line with the requirements of the new 2006 companies act.

The main issue with the current articles is that they assume that all our members are members according to the UK companies act, this requires us to collect full names and postal addresses from all members and make them available to third parties on request. While there are ways to get around publishing the address, we still consider it problematic from a data privacy point of view that we cannot offer an alternative. The new proposal adds a “associate member” class that sidesteps the above issue.

Our original goal was to afford “associate members” exactly the same rights as normal members. This turned out to not be possible with respect to resolutions and special resolutions at the general meetings which remain reserved for the companies act members. In practical terms this means that the “associate members” will not be able to vote on changes of the articles and dissolution of the organisation, and a handful of other topics. The “associate members” will however be able to elect the board and vote on motions at the AGM. You remain free to choose between regular and associate membership. After adoption of the new articles we will be contacting all existing members for instructions with respect to their membership class.

The proposed text allows us to use electronic means for our correspondence with the members and does away with the need to be physically present at the general meeting location. It still assumes that we are using a conventional proxy assignment for our e-mail voting, we are exploring alternatives to this for the next revision.

During the public discussion early this year I touched on the issue of including an asset lock in the articles, there wasn’t very much feedback on the topic and for that reason we are postponing adding such text to the next revision.

The board was evenly split on the matter of voting corporate membership. As this tends to be a hotly debated topic in our membership too, we have decided that we split the vote on the articles in to a vote on the new text and a vote on a set of amendments that add voting rights for corporate “associate members”.

As the last important point, the current articles did not detail how a member could lose membership either by not paying the membership fees or by being expelled by the board. The new articles try to lay down a reasonable set of rules for this,  in line with our current practice.

Again, while not perfect and with some remaining warts, the new articles are a big step forward. The board and myself strongly recommend accepting them at our upcoming meeting in Birmingham.

Simon Poole

OpenStreetMap data license is ODbL

As of 9am (UK time), today, 12 September 2012, OpenStreetMap is now licensed under the Open Database Licence.

Thank you Open Data Commons for making legal tools available for the Open Data community.

[Update: Friday, 14 September 2012 approximately 18:30 UTC]
The XML-format Planet file took longer to generate than expected. It is now available in the new directory structure at You may experience slow downloads due to demand at this time.

Additional PBF-format files will follow as soon as they are completely generated.

Change to ODbL imminent

Hello OpenStreetMap-pers,

The change to ODbL is imminent. No, Really. We mean it.

At long last we are at the end of the license change process. After four years of consultation, debate, revision, improvement, revision, debate, improvement, implementation, coding and mapping, mapping, mapping, it comes down to this final step. And this final step is an easy one, because we have all pitched in to do the hard work in advance. The last step is so easy, it will be a picnic.

On Wednesday, 12 September 2012[1], generation of the next Planet file will begin. At that point, the API will switch over to ODbL and OpenStreetMap will be an ODbL-licensed Open Data project. API transactions and diffs consumed after that point will consist of ODbL-licensed OpenStreetMap data.

About thirty hours later, that newly-generated planet file will be available from for you to consume with your renderers, routers, QA systems, convertors and re-imaginers.

You won’t want to mix ODbL diffs with old license planets or diffs. Purge and reload your systems with the ODbL planet. Then consume the ODbL diffs. Planet will have a new directory structure. We’re taking this opportunity to rationalize the layout of planet directories a bit. You should find it easier to understand afterwards. This also means that you won’t accidentally mix data of different licenses.


Mappers shouldn’t see a difference and won’t have to change their mapping. Continue to improve OpenStreetMap by mapping from your own survey observations and using OSM-approved external sources. Never copy from other maps.

Data consumers

If you consume OpenStreetMap data and publish it, we have some guidance for you on the wiki. You’ll want to consider your obligations under the new license and then proceed to purge your old data and switch to the new. Many consumers, such as custom renderers, will only need to update their attribution of OpenStreetMap to the new simplified attribution.

Data consumers may time their upgrades to the new planet and diffs at their convenience.

Best regards and happy mapping,
The Communication Working Group

[1] in case of rain, we won’t cancel this picnic, just reschedule it for the subsequent Wednesday, 19 September 2012.

Image credit

Photo of cat in picnic basket is © Jacob Davies, licensed CC-By-SA.