NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum


Google StreetView could be really helpful when creating new areas of the map.

For example, you might have done a good ground survey and recorded an excellent GPS trace of some roads, but you've forgotten a road name (and it doesn't appear on the OS data) so you use StreetView to virtually walk down that street and read the name off the street sign. Likewise you might use it to check exactly where that postbox was, or what the exact name of that shop on the corner is.

But would this be legal?

I don't think this is quite as simple as just tracing off the Google Map. Tracing is obviously prohibited by Googles own T&Cs and pretty dodgy from a copyright point of view, as you are clearly just copying their work.

However if we used StreetView images in this way, then wouldn't we be creating entirely new information by interpreting the contents of the images, rather than simply copying existing information?

asked 27 Aug '10, 10:56

GrahamS's gravatar image

accept rate: 28%

closed 31 May '12, 17:15

Richard's gravatar image

Richard ♦


Has anyone ever tried to ask Google for their opinion? OSM is a sufficiently large movement that we ought to be able to ask for their permission directly. As a large company they would probably want copyright laws and their TOS interpreted broadly, but they may still be friendly enough to give an exemption for manual mapping by volunteers for a nonprofit like OSM.

(04 Nov '11, 17:48) Qwertie

Yet one more case is seeing an unclear object in aerial imagery, and checking from StreetView what that object actually is. The same information could be deduced from the aerial image with enough experience, and so StreetView isn't actually used to add any information, just confirm suspicions... So what's the actual source in that case? Oh, isn't data copyright a wonderfully complicated thing! :)

(30 May '12, 19:13) Ilari

The question has been closed for the following reason "The question has turned into a debate, which would be better suited for the legal-talk@ mailing list. OSM's position on sources is to be whiter-than-white, and not to use any third-party sources for which we do not have explicit permission. Please direct any further follow-ups to legal-talk@. Thanks --Richard" by Richard 31 May '12, 17:15

Your question is essentially the same as if you were to ask for using Google aerial imagery, where we'd also be creating "entirely new information".

The answer is that whether this is legal or not depends on your jurisdiction. It may be legal where you live (because "facts are free") but still someone in another jurisdiction, using the Google-derived data that you have added, might get into trouble.

So we don't do it- not because we know for sure that it's illegal everywhere, but because we don't know for sure that it's legal everywhere. ("We're here to map the world, not establish case law".)

When pressed for a statement on the issue of tracing from aerial imagery at the SotM conference in Limerick 2008, Ed Parsons of Google said that it was possibly OK if you have a personal connection to what you trace (e.g. you trace a walk that you have been on). That would mean that it would be permissible to use a Google aerial photo, or by analogy a Street View photo, to "freshen up" your memory if you've been mapping in the area anyway, but not to map a place you don't know.

But that is anecdotal only and we don't have it in writing, so it is always safest to use only sources that have explicitly allowed OSM use.

permanent link

answered 27 Aug '10, 11:31

Frederik%20Ramm's gravatar image

Frederik Ramm ♦
accept rate: 23%

edited 09 Sep '10, 21:40


It is not "essentially the same", as others said, as when tracing over aerial imagery we are copying geo-rectification data (including any errors or "copyright easter eggs").

If I'm writing an article about a subject, I may use a copyrighted textbook as a reference, together with my own research and other references, but I may not copy from it.

By extension, if I'm making a map, I may similarly refer to copyright material but may not "copy it".

I assume, for example, that nobody has any problem with referring to a shop's logo (copyright of which belongs to the shop) to establish its name.

(02 Aug '11, 13:28) banoffee

Tracing an aerial photo is problematic because it's not just facts you're using; the photo has to be orthorectified to match it to the ground. But simply looking at an aerial photo and seeing that a known road has four lanes presents no more problems than using Google as a search engine to see what local sources say about a road or path (last two examples on>Tag:highway=path/Examples).

Similarly, use of Street View depends on how you use it. I've used it for checking signed routes of numbered highways ( - note that nobody objected to that; the reversion was because of my choice of ref tags). But be careful not to use any information not directly from photos: for example don't use the overlaid street names to see what intersection you're at.

In relation to the specific case given in the question, there shouldn't be a problem with using a photo to see what a street name is as long as you don't use Google's map data to position yourself. But there are probably better sources such as official subdivision plats that form part of the legal description of the land.

permanent link

answered 27 Aug '10, 23:40

NE2's gravatar image

accept rate: 9%

edited 04 Nov '11, 22:15

LM_1's gravatar image



I've never done so, but if I were to do so, I'd only use the "images" to find out where a road name ends/finishes, for example, by looking at the road sign. I wouldn't use the overlays (which are often wrong soong anyway).

Even then, I'd only use it to augment a walk that I'd already done.

Is this why Google often blurs street names, even though they can not be connected to any personal data ?

Of course, this assumes that Google haven't digitally altered the appearance/text of some road features, to detect copyright breaches.

permanent link

answered 06 Sep '10, 00:01

rmw's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%


I think the blurring of street names is just an unintentional side-effect of the technology they use to blur out car registration plates.

(06 Sep '10, 15:35) GrahamS

KFC signs with Col. Sanders face get blurred accidentally as a side effect of the system blurring human faces...

(04 Nov '11, 18:35) Baloo Uriza

Short answer:
a street sign is not copyrighted; a photo is copyrightable; a street sign inside a photo is not copyrightable.
Long answer:
Aerial imagery and streetView are not comparable.
In first case, images are rectified using complex algorithms (compensate distorsions with Digital Elevation Model, positions and angles from the camera, noise and colors filtering, etc). Tracing on them is not allowed without permission because you don't copy facts only, you also copy those georeferencing information.
In second case, when you read a street sign on a StreetView picture, you use the content of the picture, not the picture itself. This is 'fact', the street sign is not copyrighted by Google, neither Google made any creation on that content. It's true that to find the picture and display it on your browser, the StreetView interface had to use the image georeferences. But this is a 'mean' to find the picture, not the content of the picture, this is not what you are copying for OSM (which is again just the street name, a 'fact').
If you need some evidence, it is always possible to detect copies from aerial imagery since each provider has small artefacts which can be detected in the copy. When you copy a street sign, it is simply impossible to detect if it's coming from SV or a normal survey. People saying that it's not explicitely allowed and then forbiden without any evidence about creation or added value violation are just spreading FUD.

permanent link

answered 08 Sep '10, 13:27

Pieren's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%

edited 16 Sep '10, 19:05


Whilst I'd generally agree, it would only be in conjunction with other sources - local knowledge or recent survey.

Assume that:

  1. Google (as an intentional easter-egg), or by co-incidence someone else, could have rented a shop for one day as the van went past, and that any shop sign you see on SV with no other evidence could be a "google-only feature".
  2. Google's van could have gone past just after some pranksters switched street signs around, and it was put back the next day.

If you'd get "caught out" by these or anything similar, I'd think you are overstepping the mark.

(02 Aug '11, 13:56) banoffee

If you live in Europe you will infringe law because you are copying from a database which is protected in the EU by the database directive.

(02 Aug '11, 16:39) dieterdreist

Again, you are doing the classical mistake. You mix database of photos and presence of facts inside photos. It's not because my car is visible on SV that it becomes the property of Google. It's not because the collection of photos is owned by Google that the content of the photos are the property of Google.

(05 Aug '11, 23:54) Pieren

What can be a problem is copying the whole content or a significant part of this database collecting facts. That's why Ed Parsons says "checking the odd street names is OK.. but every street name I would suggest would represent a bulk feed" ([1])


(06 Aug '11, 00:03) Pieren

Problem I see with GoogleStreetView is that it not totally WYSIWYG. Just because of the time Google took the pictures. I have examples where pictures dated July 2009 show a bank named Dexia. In the meantime Dexia sold the building to another a bank. In 2012, the building hosts a bank Argenta.

permanent link

answered 10 Mar '12, 11:42

gerdami's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%


Well, that's why you'd only use Street View as a cross-reference or refresher and not an independent source, even if licensing permitted the latter.

(11 Mar '12, 00:21) Baloo Uriza

A google arial photograh as its possible to see by using the street maps, is just a good comparison to refresh your memory and yes sometimes 'old'. I even have the impression that the streets in appearing in Google have the same errors in the basic layer for OSM. Its like looking at your neighbour in the classroom and coppying the wrong answers and getting the question afterwards 'were you able to see it' and both end up with a low value.

permanent link

answered 30 May '12, 21:12

Hendrikklaas's gravatar image

accept rate: 5%

Just get out there and see the street for yourself. Better still look at all the rest of the area that StreetView doesn't show, footpaths, cycleways, parks and so on. You might enjoy the fresh air and you will certainly learn something new almost every time you go out, even about areas you thought you knew.

I find OSM most fun as an outdoor activity. Trawling through someone else's old photos would be a very poor second best. Is using StreetView allowed? We don't need it, so who cares?

permanent link

answered 30 May '12, 22:11

ChrisH's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%


A commendable response I'm sure Chris, but I (tried to) deliberately word the question to avoid "armchair mapping" protestations.

Even the most fastidious ground survey can omit or forget some important detail. Returning to an area is not always an easy option. IF StreetView could be legally used, then surely it would make more sense to check it than making a hundred mile roundtrip just to confirm if that sign said "Road" or "Street"?

Incidentally I believe that to create the best possible map we should be open to using every source available to us, not just the ones that are "most fun".

(31 May '12, 16:16) GrahamS

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text]( "title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported

Question tags:


question asked: 27 Aug '10, 10:56

question was seen: 33,131 times

last updated: 31 May '12, 17:15

NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum