The EU Copyright Directive could threaten OpenStreetMap

March 24th, 2019, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT

On 26 March 2019, the European Parliament will vote for a third time on the new EU Copyright Directive. Article 13 of the new directive will de-facto force content platforms to filter uploaded contributions by their users. If a platform does not prevent uploading of copyright-protected content in accordance with “high industry standards of professional diligence” (i.e. upload filters), the operator of the platform is liable for copyright violations of their users.

This, according to OpenStreetMap (OSM), threatens the OpenStreetMap project. According to OSM, the new rules can be met by the large platforms, such as Google, Youtube and Facebook, but small, independent and free platforms like OSM would be forced to introduce such filters or face catastrophic liability. If the project had to invest more resources on pre-filtering content than on anything else, the project would be a shadow of its former self.

OSM was founded in 2004 and is an international project to create a free map of the world. To do so, we, thousands of volunteers, collect data about roads, railways, rivers, forests, buildings and a lot more worldwide. The map data can be downloaded for free by everyone and used for any purpose – including commercial usage. It is possible to produce your own maps which highlight certain features, to calculate routes etc. OSM is increasingly used when maps which can be very quickly or easily updated are needed, such as ambulance services, fire brigades, humanitarian development and humanitarian crises response. Most GIS software, from major commercial to free and open source software suites, include OSM maps as a layer or connect to it via a web map service.

According to OSM, upload filters are very impracticable for multiple reasons. If a user uploads changes which are rejected by a filter, these changes have to be rejected as soon as possible. This requires extra time of its volunteers which could be better spent improving the map than checking for false positives. Furthermore, if a rejected contribution and a contribution of another user edit the same object in the database, an editing conflict occurs, which cannot be solved automatically. If an edit by a new contributor is rejected by the filter although the edit is fine, the contributor becomes demotivated due to a lack of positive feedback.

Lastly, the development, setup and optimisation of the filter requires a large amount of work from volunteer software developers. It may require spending money to purchase services. Both the work of volunteers and the donations and membership fees are limited resources which can be better spent elsewhere to take our project forward.

While there is a “Wikipedia exemption”, it is not clear whether this would be valid for OSM. Even Wikipedia does not feel confident that this exemption satisfies their requirements.

OSM members and others protested the directive on 23, and OSM has also encouraged European citizens to get in touch with members of the European Parliament, with info provided at

Contact OSM,

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