Whether copyright applies to map data
Posted Jan 12, 2011 23:42 UTC (Wed) by epa
Parent article: OpenStreetMap's point of no return
The new license - the Open Database License (ODBL) - is well understood. The ODBL is an attempt to stretch European-style database rights to the point where they cover the database worldwide. To that end, the ODBL is explicitly written as a contract - a crucial difference from most free licenses, which try to avoid contract law entirely. The ODBL must take this approach because the OpenStreetMap database, being primarily factual in nature, is not easily covered by copyright. A license which relied strictly upon copyright law would risk being unenforceable in much of the world.
In the interest of fairness the article should mention that while this is a motivating factor for changing licences, it is not universally accepted. Many point out that maps certainly are covered by copyright (indeed, they were some of the first works for which copyright was invented), and storing the map in computer-readable form does not obviously change its copyright status. Indeed, a fact is by itself not copyrightable, but reporting and recording of that fact (newspaper articles or encyclopaedia entries) certainly is.
People also point out that in the unlikely event that copyright does not apply to map data, this would in fact be excellent news for the project, because it could copy factual data such as street layout and names from other sources such as Google Maps. But this looks unlikely to be the case.
The article also has a factual mistake in saying that the project has voted to move to the new licence (as Wikipedia contributors, for example, voted to change to CC-BY-SA). There has been no such vote; more than a year ago the paid-up members of the OSM Foundation, numbering a few hundred, voted 'I approve the process' to an outline document describing how a licence change might proceed.
to post comments)