Using Satellite Imagery from the government as a copyright hack

I image the main reason there’s no satellite imagery layer on osm is it’s expensive and companies clutch on to their rights to the photographs their (expensive) satellites take, perhaps rightfully so.

But the US government can not own copyright and its works are public domain.

And where I live, the government flies planes (or drones probably) every two years to photograph every square foot in the county so they can make sure they’re adequately squeezing the taxes out of us in case someone builds a pool inside their fenced yard without getting the government’s permission first.

Those photos are paid for or taken by the government. And indeed our county has a mapping/GIS site that you can browse the imagery; from several angles even… and scroll back and forward in time It’s rather nice. No wonder they need so much tax money… But it’s just our county.

Is there a project somewhere to collect and aggregate all of this government-produced areal imagery into one big free “satellite map”?


At one time there was a Wikipedia-DE project to do this, but that is a decade or so back.

The thing you are likely underestimating is the effort it takes to generate, provide and update a global mosaic even if the imagery it is built from is free and open.

Given that having the imagery in one mosaic is not necessary for core OSM is the reason that OSM Editor Layer Index is just fine as it is.

PS: ELI would be a good starting point for a global mosaic, except that because it was deemed too much work, the original licences are not recorded in a machine readable fashion so you essentially have to go through each of them to find out if you could incorporate them on a larger non-OSM project.


In the US, only federal government works (more specifically, works created by federal government employees in the course of their official duties) are automatically in the public domain. At the state and lower levels, there’s a patchwork of different laws and rules and licenses.


GitHub - osmlab/editor-layer-index: A unified layer index for OSM editors. collects available imagery to be shown in OSM editors (and JOSM also has own index)

If it is available on a free license and it is not included in ELI it would be a good idea to include it there.

Do you know what is the license of that dataset?

Pardon me, but being available on a free license is not a requirement for inclusion in ELI. Which is why having the license available in machine readable form was a ‘good idea’.

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The FAQ read otherwise: editor-layer-index/ at gh-pages · osmlab/editor-layer-index · GitHub

It doesn’t, wit

In situations where the license is unclear, you can also request the owning organization to grant permission using the general waiver.

And if you don’t believe me, none of the global mosaics that OSM has used over the years is available on open terms. Starting with yahoo in 2009, over Bing, Maxar/Digital Globe, Mapbox and so on.

True, I had “free license” be synonymous with “usable in OSM” in my head, which of course it isn’t.

Right, it can be amended to “If it is available on a free license or has special exemption for use in OSM like for example is happening with Bing”.

(I hope that would be accurate?)