I was considering the use of the OpenStreetMap API to retrieve vector features and combine them with other source data through a commercial tool. However, OpenStreetMap uses the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 (CC-BY-SA) license for its vector feature data. The OpenStreetMap copyright page mentions that:

OpenStreetMap is open data, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (CC-BY-SA).

You are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt our maps and data, as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors. If you alter or build upon our maps or data, you may distribute the result only under the same licence.

Does this mean that any item produced with OpenStreetMap data would need to be shared through CC-BY-SA? I do not want to place such restriction on our users, since they may combine OSM data with data that has distribution restrictions. I also wonder if people that use the OSM file import capabilities of several GIS tools are aware of the OpenStreetMap content license.

3 Answers 3


OpenStreetMap is moving towards the Open Database License (ODbL) License Structure


"We want to change the current CC-BY-SA 2.0 to Open Database License (OdbL) 1.0. "

Lots of debate has been going on for months



I believe you're correct: "If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one." Basically, the same license that permits you to obtain the data prohibits you from keeping it (not sharing).

There is now a CC-BY-SA 3.0 too, but I don't immediately see the difference between that and 2.0 (except the title, "Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic" vs. "Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported"). Perhaps the full legal text is different, but that stuff makes me queasy.

  • 2.0 vs. 3.0 is minor legal clarifications. The core of the license remains the same. ("Unported" is because there are now legal-text variations suitable for many different countries; the 'unported' is their newest term for the 'generic' worldwide one.) Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 16:12
  • 4
    The OpenStreetMap community seems to be aware of the limitations imposed by CC-BY-SA. The OpenStreetMap wiki mentions that they are considering a license change and they explain why CC-BY-SA unsuitable for OpenStreetMap. One of the problems they found is that products where CC-BY-SA data is mixed with other data needs to be distributed under CC-BY-SA.
    – Jaime Soto
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 17:11

OSM legal FAQ (Common License Interpretations) mentions the difference between a Derivative Work and a Collective Work:

If what you create is based on OSM data (for example if you create a new layer by looking at the OSM data and refering to locations on it) then it is likely you have created a derivative work.

If you generate a merged work with OSM data and other data (such as a printed map or pdf map) where the non-OSM data can no longer be considered to be separate and independent from the OSM data, is is likely you have created a derivative work.

If you overlay OSM data with your own data created from other sources (for example you going out there with a GPS receiver) and the layers are kept separate and independent, and the OSM layer is unchanged, then you may have created a collective work.

If you have created a derivative work, the work as a whole must be subject to the OSM licence. If you have created a collective work, then only the OSM component of the work must be subject to the OSM licence.

  • 1
    Great find! It's good to know that there is a possibility of combining OSM data with restricted data using a layered approach.
    – Jaime Soto
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 16:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.