Does Public Domain violate OSMF's FOSS Policy?

I would like to better understand OSMF’s stance on the use of Public Domain materials in the software hosted by OSMF. A few months ago, I learned (informally; partial reference) that OSMF mimics the Open Source definition provided by the Open Source Initiative. However, [1] and [2] state that OSI does not approve Public Domain software as Open Source (though they don’t reject it either).

  1. Does this mean that any OSMF-hosted software must not contain any Public Domain material, which would otherwise violate OSMF’s explicit FOSS policy?

  2. Is there any public resource explaining why OSMF uses OSI’s definition of Open Source and not FSF’s?

  3. And my last question (I have just noticed it): Why is OSMF naming their policy FOSS if they apply OSS? FOSS stands for Free Open Source Software, an inclusive umbrella term for free software and open-source software. Shouldn’t the policy be renamed to avoid confusion?

Thank you.


On reading the OSMF policy, it doesn’t seem to actually enforce open source, just highly pushes for it and reads more along the lines of “please justify using hosted services that we can’t easily move out of, or proprietary software over open source”. No actual enforcement or restrictions.


Alright. Am I safe to assume use of Public Domain wouldn’t require an explicit justification (since it’s not open source per se)? Thank you for the quick response!

– Edit

There seems to be one restriction (when contributing to core website and API):

“All software used to run the core website and API services of OpenStreetMap will always be open.”

Going by what I’m reading, doesn’t require anything special, but I’d say either the OWG or OSMF Board would be best to truly answer.

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With that extra bit, it doesn’t exactly define open, but it doesn’t say open source, which means you could argue public domain is valid. I’d say if there was ever a need we’d be more likely to tweak the wording than block a public domain software project from being used.

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It’s not a problem. There’s absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t
consider hosting something that is PD.

I am not aware of OSMF ever having formally decided to adopt either the
OSI or the FSF definition. It is much more likely that someone, in a
discussion, quickly grabbed one of the two without much thought.

The FOSS policy is meant to stop the un-reflected use of non-free stuff
where viable free alternatives exist; it isn’t gospel.


Thank you all for clarification! I also believe this is just a matter of wording it correctly. I am all forward OSMF using Public Domain in their software :slight_smile:. Let this discussion serve as a future reference.

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The default map on, osm-carto, is CC0/Public Domain Licenced.

Obligatory “not a lawyer” disclaimer.

As a software developer who supports the open source movement, the main justification for rejecting public domain and CC0 by OSI aren’t just the legal differences around the countries but also doesn’t weave patents (meaning that one can still limit the distribution of CC0 code and software with patents) alongside the possiblity to license a compiled software but not its source code under public domain (in contrast, the common FOSS licenses like BSD2 and GPL specifically mention “source code”). Any source code released under CC0 with no patent limits is thus proper FOSS but it isn’t guaranteed to be FOSS by the license alone.
This decision also has caused Fedora to rething CC0-licensed code to the point of declining such code for the following worries:

It’s pretty clear why the Fedora Project would be worried about something like this. Imagine a piece of CC0 licensed code gets merged with one of the system’s core packages, and ends up being distributed to millions of users. Suddenly the original developer emerges from the shadows, claims patent infringement, and demands compensation. Could Fedora’s lawyers, or more likely Red Hat’s, beat such a claim? Maybe. Is using CC0 code worth running the risk of finding out for sure? Not a chance.

Databases suffer neither from this as one cannot patent a database (only their underlying technology) nor have any kind of source code (only their underlying technology) but they still can be copyrighted and OSM is primarily a database, not a software distributor / developer.
Incidentally, to go back to the Fedora example, CC0 is still classified as allowed-content, meaning it still can be used for icons, images and similar data, only technology i.e. software for the aforementioned patent issues is problematic.

The punchline (and tl;dr) is that you confuse CC0 as a software license when it’s a fairly general license, used for all sorts of copyrightable materials like databases and they may fall under outside the scope of the FSF and OSI.

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