Attribution and all that (a rant)

Posted by SimonPoole on 8 January 2014 in English (English)

Why is it that getting users of our data to attribute OpenStreetMap correctly seems to be such an uphill battle? This is not something new, browsing the wiki, mailing lists and forums show that this has been an issue from day one.

Why is it so difficult for us to get the only compensation we ask for, when at the same time nobody has issues attributing google? Matter of fact it is not rare to see google attribution on OpenStreetMap derived content, to add insult to injury.

Why do OSS projects that would go ballistic if somebody violated their licence take such a cavalier attitude to our requirements?

Why do third party services based on our data go out of their way with smartass attribution links and buttons, just designed to hide the fact that their maps are OpenStreetMap derived?

The OSMF board at their last meeting laid down the law (again)

Googles says on the same topic "Without exception, we require attribution when Content is shown. Please do not ask to negotiate this requirement." .

Please don't treat OpenStreetMap worse than mega-corporations!

Comment from Isleofman_tom on 8 January 2014 at 13:42

I do my best to attribute OpenStreetmap in my mobile app, one thing that is bothering me, however, is the requirement to make the logo clickable and it opens a webbrowser.

There is a big jump in showing a logo to adding special code for every operating system it runs on to open a webbrower.

tl;dr: Adding "openstreetmap" text; 10minutes. Making it clickable and open in browser; 10 hours.

Comment from Harry Wood on 8 January 2014 at 13:57

Good rant. I agree wholeheartedly. Linked from the minutes there is a good detailed explanation of how to give credit to OpenStreetMap

@ThomasZander Really? I'm trying to imagine which kind of mobile development you are you doing. A cross-operating system approach which is not HTML5. ...titanium?

Comment from SimonPoole on 8 January 2014 at 14:11

@ThomasZander the LWG has not given a wholesale carte blanche to mobile applications because we've seen people move the attribution off screen based on space arguments when it was clearly not necessary. The current suggestions for appropriate attribution allow enough leeway when it is really (emphasis is on that) difficult to provide a clickable link/button or whatever.

Comment from iandees on 8 January 2014 at 16:53

My guess is that OSM does a horrible job leading by example. There's no easily-accessible or discoverable (via a Google search) tutorial describing how to use the popular map javascript APIs.

We could also do a better job seeking out the authors of tutorials that get used currently to make sure their tutorials follow the rules.

... or we could do a better job at recruiting and keeping mappers. Personally, I don't think attribution on a map is a great way to do that.

Comment from emacsen on 8 January 2014 at 17:28

I think Ian is right that we make it hard for casual users. Fixing that should be priority #1 in terms of license compliance.

As for corporate users (companies selling tiles based on OSM data), OSM has taken a very light stance with them requesting them to fix each customer at a time, rather than going to the company itself about its misdeeds. There are several companies (who shall remain nameless for now) which have failed to attribute OSM in customer maps.

There is a model for handling this- it's slow and it's expensive (due to administrative costs), but it is effective.

Comment from pnorman on 8 January 2014 at 18:15

I do my best to attribute OpenStreetmap in my mobile app, one thing that is bothering me, however, is the requirement to make the logo clickable and it opens a webbrowser.

There is no such requirement. The attribution requirements for produced works are

You must include a notice associated with the Produced Work reasonably calculated to make any Person that uses, views, accesses, interacts with, or is otherwise exposed to the Produced Work aware that Content was obtained from [OpenStreetMap], and that it is available under [the ODbL].

Normally this is done with hyperlinks because that's by far the easiest way to meet the requirements in a medium where you can do hyperlinks, but if you've got one where it doesn't make sense, why not use plain text.

You could use the 4.3.a example notice from the ODbL, including the plain text of the URIs as suggested. This works out to "Contains information from, which is made available here under the Open Database License (ODbL) ("

Comment from Matt on 8 January 2014 at 18:30

tl;dr: Adding "openstreetmap" text; 10minutes. Making it clickable and open in browser; 10 hours.

10 hours sounds a little exaggerated. But even if it does take that long, is 10 hours really all that bad in return for the detailed, global, constantly updated data which the hard-working and generous contributors to OSM provide?

Perhaps someone has already written it, and it's available on GitHub. If not, it would be awesome if you could upload it there so that future app writers can benefit.

Comment from chillly on 8 January 2014 at 18:33

Things would be better if the companies making maps based on OSM data ensured they forced their customers to comply with the attribution. I have raised the issue with diverse organisations including huge American-based newspapers and the UK government's Home Office. The common denominator was the company using OSM data to make their maps. They choose not to put attribution on the map by default. This should change.

Comment from SimonPoole on 8 January 2014 at 20:05


Attribution is not just important for legal reason, it provides postive feedback to our contributors that are interested in seeing that their work is being used and further it is the only way we can assure that users of the end product know from were the data is coming. See the recent threads on hackernews and reddit etc. were there are still a large number of people that have never heard of OpenStreetMap. Google knows very well why it insists on attribution.

Further while the poor developer left alone without any support might make a nice sympathetic pricture, it is -very- far from the truth. The worst offenders are not small mom and pop operators and are fully aware of what they are doing.

Comment from FraMauro on 8 January 2014 at 20:57

About the "OSS projects that would go ballistic", I am still sorry for a fact of more than a year ago (the link is to my diary, where you can find all the details).

The fact that makes me so sorry is that the thing involves the Mozilla Foundation. They were prompt to reply and to make a fix in their code, yet the demo visible online still calls a map "event" a Googlemap. The only thing changed is that the use of the Stamen tiles is broken....

Best regards and thanks for your work

Comment from nebulon42 on 8 January 2014 at 21:07

Admittedly, I do not know much about all the circumstances of this license infringement. But it is an infringement, right? So let's call it like that. It seems odd to me with what great care some argument here.

There is a model for handling this- it's slow and it's expensive (due to administrative costs), but it is effective.

This is a really nice euphemism for sueing somebody, I like it, and I'm sure that the OSMF does neither have the resources nor the incentive to do that.

There are several companies (who shall remain nameless for now) which have failed to attribute OSM in customer maps.

Why shall they remain nameless? Naming them would be a start. Or are we afraid that they sue the OSMF for disseminating damaging allegations? This should be no problem if there are proofs for infringements.

So my question is: Why not letting people know who does not play by the rules?

Comment from vvoovv on 8 January 2014 at 21:52

An encouraging OSM usage with proper attribution:

official site of the Sochi winter olympic games torch relay:

Click on a number of cities to see OSM map with text attribution. Unfortunately map is used only in the russian version of the site

Comment from SunCobalt on 9 January 2014 at 16:51

funny post for someone who responds to questions about the attribution requirement with "ask a lawyer"

Comment from SimonPoole on 10 January 2014 at 12:31

@SunColbalt you are seriously misrepresenting the discussion in question, which didn't even remotely concern attribution, the person in question was asking for us to vet his business model wrt the share-alike conditions in the ODbL.

Comment from Tordanik on 10 January 2014 at 13:35

Well, if we dropped the various restrictions regarding the precise appearance of the attribution, we could magically turn a lot of incorrect attribution into correct attribution overnight. I feel it is generally irrelevant whether the attribution says anything about "OpenStreetMap Contributors" or just "OpenStreetMap", whether it includes the © sign, and whether it is in a corner of the map, on the bottom of the page or behind a link. The proper attribution for OSM looks exactly like the usual legalese you see on the internet all the time, so users will habitually ignore it anyway.

What brings in new mappers is when an application is nice enough to dedicate a popup or two to alerting its users to OSM, or when the developers blog about it, or when users recommend the great OSM map files to each other, or if the application is popular enough to get us press coverage. Attribution helps very little with all that, except for one thing: It serves as an easy proof that this cool application is made with OSM data, which can be helpful for our own PR and recruiting efforts. But having an "OpenStreetMap" anywhere that we can point to is enough for that purpose.

tl;dr: Let's focus on those who do not provide attribution at all, and relax about the details.

Comment from SimonPoole on 10 January 2014 at 13:47

@Tordanik historically we have given a lot of leeway in what we consider appropriate attribution unluckily that leeway has been misused with an increasing intensity. Simply giving in to the misuse is not likely going to be an option with popular support and as I point out in the blog post, we are not asking more than what is the industry standard.

And using common sense is not prohibited, so providing better, more legible and visible placement is always ok.

Comment from dieterdreist on 23 January 2014 at 10:52

The lesson I have personally learned from the proceedings of the past 2 years: OSMF is not showing itself prepared or even willing to fight for correct attribution of the data taken from OSM. Apple is now using our data for almost 2 years in a major product of theirs (Apple Maps, part of their mobile and desktop OS) and still they are not attributing correctly (they do not confirm our copyright, they do not even mention the license (which has always been an obligation under all OSM licenses), they do not tell where they are using our data so people can't make use of the share alike rights that the license grants).

What has happened in 2 years? Almost nothing. On 7th of April 2012 the board has documented in the minutes of an extraordinary meeting with the title "Handling legal issue with Apple" [1]: "The board feels that due to the importance and timeliness of the current issue and due to the heavy workload of the license change that LWG hand off the Apple issue to the Board to pursue."

Months later the case was returned to LWG. Until now the only change to the attribution they give (2 links away from the map, 1st link is "legal", second is "data from TomTom and others", almost at the bottom of a long list there is OSM) is that there is now a rough time span for the data (2011/2012), which doesn't even allow to determine which license they would have to indicate (as from 2012 there is ODbL and cc-by-sa2.0 data available, maybe they even mixed the 2? They alone know...). This is not your small FOSS project or grocery website, this is a major IT company with hundreds of millions of distributed copies of their software! They do ignore almost every obligation we have set up for the use of our data and nothing (apparently) happens, OSMF even welcomed them in 2012 [2] and no word of incorrect attribution in the blog post ;-)

[1] [2]

Comment from SOSM on 23 January 2014 at 11:17

@dieterdreist you fail to show a practical way of attacking the issue. Since the OSMF is not the licensor of the data it is not a direct party to any legal questions surrounding the use of the data. As has been pointed out many many many times there is a large amount of legal uncertainty surrounding the protection of data with a CC-by SA licence in the USA, which in the end was one of the major reasons we changed the licence in the first place, this makes the risk for an affected individual to try and rectify the situation rather large, and AFAIK there have been no sucessful attempts to do that.

Comment from dieterdreist on 23 January 2014 at 11:57

@SOSM We don't even know whether they are only using cc-by-sa data or not, because they don't tell. The first thing we should ask them for is attribution according to the license they are using data under, so we can be clear on this point.

Secondly they are distributing our data also outside of the USA, so for Europe the data would still be protected under the database directive (and btw., as OSMF has its legal seat in London one could interpret that by downloading and re-distributing the data this would already be an agreement to the terms OSMF stated by that time for the use of the data. Unfortunately I don't find those older terms on the OSMF-site which might have legal relevance for the users of pre-license-change data). OSMF as legal representative of OSM who has taken the effort of collecting the data would still have some rights also for the cc-by-sa data I guess, at least in jurisdictions with special database rights. In the end it was them suggesting that © OSM Contributors would be a sufficient attribution for works based on OSM and one might argue that the single contributors by contributing have accepted this.

As a third point we always said that we might at least win morally by telling the world that Company X is using our data which we intended to share under share-alike provisions without giving back. But obviously to make this happen we must at least point our finger at who does this, instead what happened was that they didn't adhere to what the OSMF has in general asked for, for many years, from everybody, and OSMF, rather than complaning, was applauding.

I admit I am not a lawyer. Has someone in the past 2 years ever asked for legal advice on the issue of Apple using our data, and if yes, where is the documentation of the outcome?

Comment from imagico on 23 January 2014 at 13:48

I must say i am with Martin here - it is not quite reasonable to complain about lack of attribution by small users of OSM data when the big violations of the license are essentially ignored. And like Martin i think taking action here does not necessarily mean legal action since bad publicity is often a much more effective way especially in case of big companies and institutions.

I understand it is difficult to actually do something about the big violations but addressing the small scale users of data instead because this is more likely to achieve visible results is not the way to go i think.

A clear and prominent statement by the OSMF that condemns the way Apple handles use of OSM data would be a start...

Comment from SimonPoole on 23 January 2014 at 15:07

@imagico the basic issue is that their are far far too many "if"s in this whole matter. You can't simply accuse an individual or company of violating its legal or contractual obligations publically regadless of how much you think you are right, you need to be fairly sure since you might end up on the wrong side of a court case.

@dieterdreist in general opinions offered by our legal counsel cannot be made public.

Comment from dieterdreist on 23 January 2014 at 15:53

@simon so there has been legal consultation? I am not asking to make it public, I have been hoping it might be accessible to foundation members, but I understand that this also might not be possible (in the end, everybody could become member of the foundation). I think what you could ask Apple for is a statement that they are not using ODbL data. This is not clear from their current attribution.

Have there also been talking with creative commons? I guess for them it is also very bad if open license violations don't even get accused because of fear that the license could not hold up (there is a lot of data around, often from PAs, which is also licensed creative commons).

And yes, basically this is a confirmation, if you are big/powerful enough you must not care for license obligations, especially if you use the data from 2004 to 2012.

In all this we should not forget that also OSM is starting to become powerful, even to resist in a court case, we are steering towards 2 million users, and my guess is the publicity we would get for being sued by Apple for asking that they respect our open license would be immense and their moral damage so huge, that they will probably not do it (and you'd be astonished how many donations we'd get in order to be able pursue a potential court case).

Comment from imagico on 23 January 2014 at 16:20

@SimonPoole you do not have to accuse them of anything, just state disapproval of the fact they are using OSM data (which should be possible to verify beyond reasonable doubt) without making their customers aware of it in a way the creators of this data would like them to. If you want to make a stronger statement accuse them of disrespect for the 1.5 million OSM contributors the OSMF represents (OK, that would be quite a stretch but legally this is completely harmless).

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