Tyranny of the majority?

The OpenStreetMap (OSM) project is coming to a critical junction: the issue – licence reform. There has been a lot of debate over several years about moving from a CC-BY-SA (creative commons share a like attribution) licence to a new ODbl (Open Database) licence. Whilst the majority of users have automatically signed up to the changes, there are a significant few users who are not converting the data that they contributed to the project.

The latest saga in the long-running debate, that is frankly sapping energy from OpenStreetMap, is the phase 4 of the licence reform. This is to block contributors who have declined the new licence – a sure fire way to annoy those, who for whatever reason, who have supported and contributed to the project. Given that the majority of users, who probably have no interest in the legalities of licences, just accepted the new licence we seem to have a tyranny of the majority. I liken this to the recent Arab Spring revolutions where the small people have risen up. In this case a little less bloody and with fewer lives lost. The passion, however, has been strong on either side. This is starting to destroy the once tightly knit “comunity” of OSM. Efforts have gone into shouting matches on the boards and slagging off users who have strong views one way or another.

To see what all the fuss is over I had a quick review of the licences and present a few summary points here:
ODbl Licence
1. ODbl only governs the rights over the Database, and not the contents of the Database individually.
2. Licensors should use the ODbl together with another license for the contents, if the contents have a single set of rights that uniformly covers all of the contents.
3. There is a contractual element to ODbl (“An agreement in contract between You and the Licensor.”).
4. The licence does not specifically cover data contents – this is a separate issue.
5. The rights explicitly include commercial use.
6. The jurisdiction has a role to play and the copyright may vary according to where the data is hosted.
7. Rights cover re-use of the data and creation of other data sets from the data.
8. The database may be multiple licensed.
9. Users of the data have to note where their information came from and credit the open database.
10. Any alterations or additions to data made after it has been derived from the main database must be offered back: as a whole or a set of changes.
11. Data may be held behind authenticated access with a username and password provided that terms of the licence are not restricted.
12. Moral rights and fair dealing rights. The latter allow private users access to the insubstantial quantities of data.
13. The Licensor reserves the right to release the Database under different license terms or to stop distributing or making available the Database.
14. The licence may be terminated but releasing the data under this licence continues in full force (unless it is withdrawn entirely).
See ODbl Licence.

1. There is emphasis on the “original author” who created the work.
2. There is a fair usage clause
3. The licence grants rights to use the work, create derived works, and distribute the work.
4. The licence covers music and sound recordings.
5. There are restrictions: share an original copy of the work and not impose additional terms on the work, credit the originator of the work (give the original author credit reasonable to the medium) and users may not offer or impose any terms on the derivative works that alter or restrict the terms of the license or the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted.
6. There are no warranties or licensor will not be liable.
7. The licence will be terminated if there are breaches of the licence.
8. Works may be passed on under the same terms and conditions of this licence.
9. There is no waiving of the licence without consent of the creator of the work.
10. The work is in the public domain.
11. There are moral rights in favour of the creator.
12. Future users are not able to add new restrictions to a derivative of your work.
See CC-BY-SA Legal Code

Both licences allow the transfer of information in it’s “as is” state. The CC-BY-SA licence seems to favour the individual far more than the ODbl. It is, after all, individual contributors who have created the mapping in OpenStreetMap. There is more commercial use in stated in the ODbl: a factor that has put off MultiMap and other commercial outfits from using OSM in the past. OSM is clearly going to be more commercial – strange given its roots and community mapping parties that have built this to be what it is now (a dominant mapping force globally). There is now a contractual element to the information and who owns the copyright now?

No doubt the debate will continue to rage on. Meanwhile Google and Microsoft are still building their global maps up. We now see the emergence of FOSM – a free map of the planet based upon CC-BY-SA licences. Here we go again….


About mappedit

Geographical practitioner with an interest in climate change, open mapping, sustainability, the transition movement, transport and many other things.
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