One major new feature of the new iPad unveiled by Apple in San Francisco on Wednesday was a new version of the company’s photo editing software iPhoto developed specifically for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.
Apple showed off how iPhoto for iOS can be used to geo-tag photos, placing them on a digital map. Unfortunately for Apple, several bloggers quickly noticed that the map included in the app bore an uncanny resemblance to the OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced mapping project that relies on location data provided by upwards of 400,000 volunteer contributors around the world.
The resemblance came down to individual parking lots and footpaths shown-off in Apple’s iPhoto map for areas outside the U.S., but which do not appear in Google Maps or other mapping software, outside of the OpenStreetMap. You can toggle back and forth to see the similarities between Apple’s and OpenStreetMap’s views online even if you don’t have an iPad and iPhoto thanks to a handy free app whipped by a programmer.
While the OpenStreetMap project allows anyone to make free use of its data, its usage policy does require that they provide attribution back to OpenStreetMap under a Creative Commons “Share Alike” license. Apple does not appear to have credited OpenStreetMap for its usage of the data, according to the bloggers and members of the project itself.
Apple has not yet responded to the claims or to TPM’s questions about them.
“Apple are thieving bastards,” wrote IT consultant Alistair Aitchison in his blog post on the subject.
To OpenStreetMap’s credit, the organization behind it has so far been remarkably sanguine and charitable about Apple’s apparent uncredited use of their data, publishing a blog post late Wednesday “welcoming” Apple to the fold of those companies and organizations that rely on the crowdsourced map.
As Jonathan Benett, author of a book on OpenStreetMap, wrote in the post:
The OSM data that Apple is using is rather old (start of April 2010) so don’t expect to see your latest and greatest updates on there. It’s also missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.
But we’re delighted to see another prominent map user make the switch to OpenStreetMap, and look forward to many more.
OpenStreetMap was launched first in the UK in July 2004 by by Steve Coast, a Web entrepreneur. Coast remains the Chairman of the Open Street Map Foundation’s Board of Directors. The OpenStreetMap Foundation is a wholly non-profit enterprise that subsides off donations and exists to manage the servers on which the map data is stored and made available, similar to and inspired by Wikipedia’s Wikimedia Foundation. Coast has taken the news in stride as well.
“It’s really positive for us,” Coast told TPM in a telephone interview, “It’s great to see more people in the industry using OSM. We do have concerns that there wasn’t attribution.”
Asked if anyone at OpenStreetMap had been in contact with anyone at Apple, Coast said: “Not at this stage. We’re still gathering our thoughts and figuring out the best way forward.”
As for why Coast and others in his organization have been so relaxed so far regarding the apparent unattributed use, he told TPM that he thought it was “a great validation of our work.”
“It shows crowdsourced solutions for mapping are comparable to commercial solutions,” Coast told TPM.
Still, Coast maintained that OpenStreetMap’s Creative Commons data licensing terms were enforceable by law, a stance that has been upheld in U.S. court on at least one occasion in 2008. As such, he and his fellow members of the Open Street Map project are politely urging and hoping Apple will address the matter soon.
“It’s the same as infringing on any copyright work,” Coast told TPM. However, he said: “I doubt it would ever get to that [court] stage.”
As for why Apple would have used OpenStreetMap over its previous default mapping product — Google Maps, Coast has a theory.
“Google has been starting to charge for some of their map data,” Coast told TPM. Coast said that this was why the popular geo-tagging social network and “check in” app Foursquare recently switched to using Open Street Map data on its network.
Aside from that, there’s also Apple’s escalating competition against Google across multiple tech industries — from smartphones to digital media stores — so it makes sense that Apple might want to pivot away from reliance on a Google product for its mapping offerings. The only issue, it appears, is that Apple forgot to credit it’s new map partner.