OpenStreetMap Publishes Collective Database Guidelines (Examples Included)

Williams Mullen

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a map of the world based upon data contributed by volunteers from around the globe. It is operated by the OpenStreetMap Foundation on behalf of the volunteer community. OpenStreetMap and the data are available at no cost under the Open Database License v. 1.0 (the “ODbL”).

Recently, the OpenStreetMap Foundation approved the Collective Database Guidelines (the “Guidelines”). The purpose of the Guidelines is to help clarify when a third party may use data from OSM with non-OSM data in such a way that the “share-alike” provisions of ODbL do not apply. A copy of the Guidelines can be found here.

As businesses, government agencies and non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) increasingly look to maps and other visualization tools to better understand the data they collect and use, OSM is an attractive source because it is available at no cost. However, the ODbL provides that Derivative Databases created using OSM data that are published must be licensed under the ODbL or a license with compatible terms. (This is commonly referred to as the “share-alike provisions.”) Collective Databases are not subject to the “share-alike provisions;” therefore, they can be licensed under any license (or contributed to the public domain). Unfortunately, there has been considerable uncertainty regarding several of the terms of the ODbL, including what constitutes a Collective Database. As a result, many organizations have been reluctant to use the OSM data.

To its credit, the OSM community has been trying to add clarity to the ODbL by publishing a series of guidelines. While the guidelines are not intended to be legally binding, they can be helpful and instructive, particularly for lawyers who are not familiar with mapping or geospatial information. For example, the Guidelines provide several scenarios that illustrate when an OSM dataset used in conjunction with a non-OSM dataset would be considered a Collective Database – and not trigger the ODbL’s “share-alike” provisions.

The Guidelines, which were approved by the OpenStreetMap Foundation’s Board on June 17, 2016, join the other guidelines published to date. A complete list of these guidelines can be found here. Given the fact-specific nature of any analysis of the applicability of ODbL and the implications of making the wrong decision, it is advisable to carefully review the OSM website for all guidance in effect before developing products and services based on OSM.

Examples from the Guidelines of  When a Collective Database is Created by Combining an OSM Dataset with a Non-OSM Dataset

1.    The non-OSM database and the OSM datasets do not reference each other.

2.    Non-OSM data completely replace a particular type of geometry or data for a primary feature within a regional cut.

3.    The non-OSM data add a particular type of geometry or data for a primary feature that was not already present within a regional cut and the added feature includes no OSM data.

4.    A non-OSM database replaces or adds a property of a primary feature and uses either all OSM data or OSM data for that property or that primary feature within the same regional cut.

5.    A combination of all of the above.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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