Copyright on knowledge. How long does it stick ?

Let’s assume a street has no visible name sign, and I want to find it’s name and put it in OSM.
Which of the following situations are legal/OK ?

  • I find the name in Google earth and copy it (obviously not OK)
  • I know the name because I have known it for 20 years (Google did not exist at that time)
  • I know the name, since at least a few years, but cannot remember where I learned it
  • I get the name by asking some passerby or inhabitant in the street. No way to know how he learned the name
  • I read the name on some city plan in a bus stop
  • I find the name in a phone book, using for example the address of a shop I saw in this street

My opinion:
1 No
2-4 OK because it represents local knowledge. Some people mark it with a ‘note=’ tag indicating that it isn’t based on a street sign.
5-6 Not OK for mass copying, but I have used them as 2 independent sources together for the obscure unsigned street.

Re: Google maps - since Google changed over to its own data, they were unable to use our local municipal data because it’s still restricted. I now recognize the TIGER road name errors that I have since corrected based on a survey.

OK this sounds like common sense, but it’s still not very precise to me:

What is the limit between “mass copying” and not-mass, to you ?

Also, even for one name, what if I lookup in Google, then wait a few days before adding it into OSM ? the original knowledge would still come from a copyrighted source, but it could also be considered local knowledge by now.

These are all fine because they are primary research methods.

The first would be copying - not OK without permission from the copyright holder. Someone made that plan and they will have copyright over it. Just because it’s in a public space does not remove that protection.

The second is possibly OK, you’re extracting a single fact based on information you’ve gathered. In fact I have done similar to this myself once or twice (googled a pub name for the name of a rural lane) but I agree with MikeN that it should be OK. Routine use would constitute data mining which may or may not be OK legally, and as such is inappropriate for OSM (the project needs to be squeaky clean).

More than once, IMO. Facts aren’t subject to copyright but collections of facts are subject to database right under certain jurisdictions (like the UK, where the OSM servers are based).

No, it couldn’t. Local knowledge is knowledge which is common within a locality, like knowing the closing times of a pub for example. A fact you’ve learnt from a search can become part of your personal knowledge but time isn’t really a factor here.

If you’re stuck with roads you cannot name, add a fixme=noname tag and let someone who knows the name add it.

I’m still confused. To me time is a factor, or maybe intention.
I moved to the city I live in about 5 years ago, and I know a lot of street names, because I am interested in this kind of things (even before knowing OSM). However, I cannot remember which names I know because of searching in google (years ago), and which I learned through signs. Some could even be both. Because of this uncertainty, is all such knowledge unusable ?

What is the limit between “mass copying” and not-mass, to you ?

That’s a fine line - clearly “mass copying” would be to take a picture of the bus map, then transcribe all the usable information into OSM. One or two streets, possibly not when combined with a second source. Using 3 or more moves into the no-no zone. (Just my opinion, I’m not a lawyer)

Regarding old information that could have started with Google, now you know it but don’t remember the source. If you were interested in mapping concepts when you lived there, you would have been noticing road names on signs. It’s likely that if you didn’t see anything to change your mind about the name even if it was rooted in Google, it’s then reasonable to state that your local knowledge is based partially on a survey.

{Entering a very farfetched scenario} If you researched road names in Google out of a hobbyist interest and have a superb memory, and did not visit most of them, then your knowledge is probably Google based.

No, if you’re entering road names from your own knowledge of an area regardless of where that knowledge originally came from that’s absolutely fine.

Sorry to insist, but I’d really like to find out a clear rule that would prevent me from having a dilemma every time I contribute.

I learn a name from google, and 2 years later enter it in OSM > you say it’s OK
I learn a name from google and enter it in OSM right after that > you say it’s not OK

I see only 2 differences:

  • the time is longer in the first case: if that’s the discriminant, what is the limit between OK and not ?
  • the intention is different (in the 2nd case, obviously learning in order to feed the name to OSM): but how can this have a legal value ? who can prove what your intention was ?

There is no clear rule. Copyright law isn’t that easy.

But if you want a clear rule that applies to all OSM copyright-related discussions: if in doubt, don’t.

I share your confusion too!

And I also saw somewhere that OSM needs to be verifiable on the ground. There is a green lane near me that according to a council walking leaflet “is known locally as …” but there is no streetname and no properties to have an address. It is named on a few maps but I have not named it on OSM because I can’t prove it. There is another street near me that is incorrectly named and appears incorrect on many maps (including the Ordnance Survey!) so just because a few maps have it is no guarantee of accuracy.

That said, if I could use different official sources (such as a business’ website or a postcode finder website) then I would probably use it. I would never just copy from another map as there are too many errors in them all. For instance, I can tell you the original source of maps of my area simply by looking at the different errors they contain!!

Needless to say, OSM is correct! :slight_smile:


The road you describe above may be a candidate for noname.

I disagree here. Copyright does not hold for facts, only for creative products. There is nothing creative in putting the name of a street in Google Maps - if there would be any copyright on it, the copyright holder would be whoever named the street in the first place (usually that’s the local authority), and you would be toast whichever way you used to get it.

If you take all the names in a relatively large area from Google Maps, or if you copy the streets from there, that’s another issue - there may be a selection involved (in the first case, of which roads to show at all, in the second case of whether and how to show for example a bend in the road), but for single facts there will never be a problem with copyright.

“Copyright does not hold for facts” is the oldest canard in the book and I wish people would stop quoting it, or at least do some reading before mouthing of.

In the US you have Feist vs Rural, which says there is no copyright on uncreative collections of facts. So that’s easy.

In the EU you have database right which can apply to uncreative collections of facts. Database right is about as comprehensible as the Schleswig-Holstein Question, but as OSM is obviously available in the EU and in fact our servers are hosted there, we have to pay some attention to it. In some particular jurisdictions, such as the UK, copyright applies to “sweat of the brow” more than to creativity anyway.

Charlotte Waelde’s paper (linked from the relevant pages on the wiki) is probably the best treatment yet of database right and geospatial data.

But never mind all of that, Google Maps et al also have contractual Terms & Conditions. These impose further restrictions over and above those in copyright law.