OSM Trademark Violations and Lack of Enforcement, General and Specific Examples

OpenHistoricalMap predates the trademark policy by several years, but OHM reached a separate agreement with the OSMF board for protection against a different, unaffiliated project, Open History Map, in exchange for honoring the terms of the policy.


Really extremely difficult to find Trademark Policy FAQ - OpenStreetMap Foundation


It never occured to me that crucial information would be omitted from the actual policy and only be included in the FAQ about the policy :smile:. I wasn’t even aware of the FAQ’s existence since it’s not linked from the policy page.


Point each of them at each other (policy at its faq, faq at the policy). It matters not where one falls into these rabbit holes. We’re all on the same team, some of us know this, some of us know that. I am earnest that I and others only know so much. This is one of the things that makes OSM wonderful. I have tripped a bit and stubbed a toe here, but I keep learning and I hope all of us continue to do so.

Trademark is an easily misunderstood topic and knowing that many are beginners helps. Patience, please. I see a lot of potentially neat stuff ahead, maybe some of Brian’s “tightening up” for good reasons. This happens when we listen to each other. Then, “speak as a community” (quoting Frederik).

Seems to me we’re still talking to ourselves, which is good. Though, it isn’t the finish line Frederik says. Yet.


By 1 (one)?

But in any case that is irrelevant outside of the OSMFs offer to grandfather domain registrations prior to that date (which is now more than a decade ago). Just because a trademark holder doesn’t have a published policy on how their trademarks can be used doesn’t mean that its a free for all, just that the allowed use is solely governed by the law.

Unluckily there is no way to head off (as in stopping the registration before it goes in to effect) conflicting domain registrations in legacy and national top level domains contrary to the opposition process in trademark registration. Which is why trademark holders (including the OSMF) are mostly just reactive to domain registrations which tends to cause bad blood, but clearly isn’t their fault.

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2013 was a very long year before 2018. :wink:

I only pointed out OHM’s coexistence agreement to show that the mere existence of Open…Map projects doesn’t necessarily mean that the OSMF has been turning a blind eye when it comes to trademark defense. In fact, that whole incident wasn’t just about domain names. Apparently some nastygrams were exchanged between the two OHMs in the runup to OpenHistoricalMap securing a U.S. trademark registration with the OSMF’s support. So if anything, even a grandfathered community project has an incentive to work with the OSMF to prevent a competing, non-OSM-related project from coopting its name.

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Ah yes my bad, I was thinking of January 1st, 2013 which is the date that the grandfathering terms are based on. The reason for that is that it is a bit before it was announced that a policy would be put in place to avoid a gold rush (actually getting an agreed on policy took ‘slightly’ longer than anticipated).

That is the frustrating thing. All those Open Something Map projects that ignore the policy are not just damaging OSM as a whole, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

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Not to further complicate the discussion, but just for the record in case somebody stumbles across this thread, the openhistoricalmap.org (and .net) domains were registered in 2009 by Topomancy, whose members were all deeply active OpenStreetMap community members.

All of this may be irrelevant to policy or immaterial in light of the agreement between OHM and OSMF, and OHM’s subsequent trademark registration, but I wanted to add it for clarification. As @Minh_Nguyen mentioned, we were subjected to a cease and desist request that led us to get things straightened out, at not an inconsequential cost.

OHM is extremely grateful to the OpenStreetMap community for the support it has provided throughout the lifespan of the OHM project and to the OSMF for the cooperation and support it has provided as we worked through these issues. OHM would not exist as it is today without OSM. As we move forward, we continue to look to the OSM and OSMF community for clarification and guidance on how to best protect OpenStreetMap’s trademarks and intellectual property.


There is significant support here (on an effective channel for gathering community consensus) to “better the situation” with solid suggestions.

While I don’t know if our Legal Working Group (LWG) reads this (they are busy people, but topics like this should garner the attention of at least one of them), their enlightenment to this community on what the current situation is can establish a baseline. Maybe we need that, and/or maybe somebody here could volunteer to do some of that groundwork.

Beyond that, I have heard suggestions to:

“Dual-link” the Policy and its FAQ (point them to each other),

List project names (“Open*Map”) in a helpfully-structured method that makes it clear “why this, but not that.” If there is an appropriate Foundation-identified web or wiki page which might already exist, please link it here — it could be a further extension of the existing Poicy page. CLARIFY why “this is never allowed” actually IS allowed in certain circumstances, with examples of why and how. This may (should?) result in a re-write.

A link to a clear method to get started a process for requesting use of the trademark.

A commitment to “routinely send letters to projects using the trademark without permission.” I understand we have a method to report these, good! But without being coupled by legal enforcement, OSM becomes a toothless tiger.

An LWG news bulletin to this community on where they are with a potential that OSMF might “adopt the stance that permission is routinely given as long as you ask and unless there’s a good reason not to.”

It isn’t difficult to get this into the hands of our LWG, perhaps even as simply linking this topic. Are there any volunteers? I don’t know my way around LWG as well as I might or should, though I suspect that’s true of all here (mmm, not Simon and maybe some others).

Trying to grease these skids…I know we can do this.


You just have to go to osmfoundation.org, in the legal section on the top level page you will find (since years), the following, nicely grouped, 4 entries with links:

If you want to find the information there is no way you can miss it, I really don’t think it is necessary to try and invent excuses for those that don’t (for example people organizing SOTM’s don’t seem to have any problem finding the relevant application form).


I did offer a thumbs-up, but I say here a BIG thumbs-up; thank you, Simon.

To others here: is your itch feeling scratched enough?

… list of numerous things the OSMF “should” be doing, but mostly has done (OK no specific webpage) …

It is a similar issue as with missing attribution, the panem et circenses (aka satisfying the communities blood lust) approach to enforcement doesn’t really achieve the goals of the project. You might get away with it in a monopoly situation (aka Wikipedia), but not in the market OSM participates in.


A suggestion has been made to make a list of trademark agreements to date, and the FAQ would be a nice place for that.
Newer pet project could see similar ones on this list and maybe think a bit more than “c’mon, it’s just my pet project”.

Is there any objection to do this?


I’m still not entirely clear on what the actual policy is around “Open…Map” patterned project names after reading these documents. The Trademark Policy says remixes of the “OpenStreetMap” wordmark are not allowed, without any mention of exceptions. But then the Trademark Policy FAQ says that remixes are allowed (via license) for names registered before 2013 under certain conditions, and licenses may be considered for names registered before 2018. It is not explicitly stated, but this suggests that names registered after 2018 are not allowed. However, the Project Licence and Domain Grandfathering Application doesn’t mention these dates and seems to suggest that a new project could also be granted a license for a remix of the “OpenStreetMap” wordmark. I’m guessing that’s not the case, but it really is not clear to me. It is also not clear to me which of the currently existing “Open…Map” named projects have or have not been granted a license by the OSMF. If there is a list somewhere that would certainly help clarify things.


This is my take also. If the OSMF is serious about its trademark policy, it needs to communicate in clear, consistent language how the policy works and how the community might interact with it.

Emphasis mine.

This response is so utterly confused and at odds with the reality of any plain reading of the befuddled mess of materials discussed above that I can only assume it’s a generic defense of the organization from a former board member. It would be better if you just said something like “past boards have done work in this area, and it’s clearly not perfect and we should continue to strive to better defend our intellectual property and make sure our documentation is all consistent and up to date.” (this is also the point where one usually puts out a call to action for volunteers to help, but the responses in this thread sound like something any well-intentioned volunteer would run rather than walk away from)

With all the points people are bringing up about why the documentation around the trademark policy is broken and needs to be fixed, it’s hard to believe the reaction seems to be “it’s fine, go away, and also we’re going to harass your project if you don’t follow our confused, conflicting, and badly-written policies”

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I won’t weigh in further on the quality of the current trademark policy and its presentation and enforcement. However, I hope we all appreciate the importance of having a trademark policy that governs the project as a whole. In spite our almost comically literal name, laypeople still have a lot of misconceptions about what we do, which others can take advantage of.

I’m currently on year 18 of trying to dispel the misconception that Wikipedia has anything to do with Wikimapia (the ad-supported, nonfree map built on rampant copyright infringement). Not long ago, someone spotted my Wikipedia shirt and gave me an earful about how the site had “gone political”, before it became apparent that they had confused Wikipedia with WikiLeaks. OpenStreetMap’s literal name makes us even more vulnerable to this kind of dilution.


IMHO you are approaching this the wrong starting point.

The policy lays down what use is permissible without an explicit licence (quite a lot) with some explanatory text on the whole subject matter.

Everything else is the subject of a bespoke licence with the OSMF (for example via a local chapter agreement, SOTM quick licence etc).

Further there is a commitment by the foundation to offer specific historic projects a licence even though that typically wouldn’t be considered today. This makes sense as nobody wants to enter in to protracted disputes with old community projects when the goal is mainly to stop the bleeding which can be achieved by agreeing on licence terms that limit the potential damage. On the other hand the OSMF dosen’t want the problem to get worse by increasing the number of remixes in use.

The nature of the beast is such that these agreements are not necessarily all going to be the same, for example the solution for OHM is vastly different than it is for OpenRailwayMap (standard grant as per grandfathering form).

The application form in question contains prominent links both to the policy and the FAQ which give all the necessary background information and dates.

The LWG minutes document all the non-SOTM licences that have been granted and further at least all the formal (and probably most of the informal, see below) enforcement actions undertaken. You could naturally ask the LWG for a summary or simply dig through them yourself.

In general my feeling from the little I see going on is that the process for SOTM licensing is working well and for the other cases, well that is what kicked off this thread.

The thing to realize is that when things go smoothly nothing is going to turn up on anybodies outrage radar, for example when I talked the Ripe NCC out of launching OpenIPMap (see 20180308 LWG Meeting Agenda/Minutes - Google Docs), only the conflicts are news.

But as I pointed out a posting or two back, it is something nobody here is going to change that there is substantial friction between trademark and domain name space that is the source of most of the issues that there are with community projects.

PS: Kathleen did a talk on the policy at SOTM 2020, and naturally prior to the adoption of the policy by the OSMF in 2018 there was public discussion on most of the issues that have been raised here.


Just as a data point, it was mainly drafted by a former Wikimedia Foundation counsel and based loosely on theirs.

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We do. We did most recently about two weeks ago, and it worked.


Does that mean that the recipient of that letter turned over their domain registration to the OSMF? Or something else?