Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The importance for government of respecting open source and open data copyrights

An interesting situation has arisen in Italy, with the country's Agenzia delle Entrate, the Italian revenue service and taxation authority, accused of copying OpenStreetMap without respecting the site's copyright license.

As documented on the Open Street Maps discussion list, Italy's OpenStreetMap community discovered a little over three months ago that the maps used by the Agenzia delle Entrate in the website of the Italian Observatory of the Estate Market (housing market site) closely resembled those from OpenStreetMap.

In fact, they were able to establish that the Agenzia delle Entrate had copied data from OpenStreetMaps, then superimposed other data on top.

Now given OpenStreetMaps is an open source project, crowdsourcing the streetmaps of the world, that shouldn't normally be a problem.

OpenStreetMaps' data is freely available to copy and reuse - that's the entire point of it.

However there was one factor that the Agenzia delle Entrate had ignored. That the copyright license to freely reuse OpenStreetMap data came with one condition - to credit the source.

Using a Creative Commons by Attribution license, which is also the default copyright for Australian Government information, OpenStreetMaps required only one thing of organisations and individuals reusing their data - to provide an attribution back to the source.

This the Agenzia delle Entrate had failed to do.

OK - this isn't a big issue, and the folk in Italy's OpenStreetMap community weren't that worried to start with. They simply emailed the agency to ask it to correct this omission.

No reply.

Three months later - with no formal response from the agency, and no rectification of the copyright on the site, the OpenStreetMap folk stepped up their criticism.

They created a website where Italians and others can view and compare OpenStreetMap with the Agenzia delle Entrate's site to see how the Italian government agency has violated copyright for themselves.

You can view the website here: http://agenziauscite.openstreetmap.it/

It's in Italian (naturally), so if you don't read the language an online translation tool can help, but isn't required to compare the maps.

I suggest that visitors use the search tool in the left-hand map to find 'Milan', which is the city recommended for comparison purposes. Note that the agency took its copy of OpenStreetMap a few months ago, so is not as up-to-date as OpenStreetMap itself.


The situation has grown from a simple omission into an active campaign, not only because the government agency ignored the community concerned, but also because that community now feels that if the government is prepared to ignore copyright requirements so blatantly, how is any other copyright in Italy safe.

Essentially if a government agency won't do the right thing when reusing intellectual property, why should businesses or individuals trust them - or do the right thing themselves.

It's something that every government agency should ponder.


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