A company called AND are donating streetmap data for the whole of the Netherlands to OSM. This will help OSM by getting the data for areas they haven’t mapped, and by improving AND’s data for some areas where OSM have more up-to-date data.
This is a major achievement for OSM. An entire country’s worth of mapping information is being made free because of the existence of a Free mapping project.
I don’t know the exact details of the deal but I think this could be a good example of the dynamics of how Free projects affect existing proprietary projects.
The existence of a Free equivalent to an existing proprietary project puts pressure on it to go Free before the new project supplants it. Possible historical examples of this in Free Software include QT and Motif and the free GTK and Gnome projects, Sun’s Java and the various free Java implementations. If the proprietary project can go Free before the new project is complete or at least capable of competing with it then it can move into a leadership position in the Free community and retain many of the advantages of leading a project.
OSM is BY-SA. A vocal minority of the OSM community would like OSM to be Public Domain or to have a licence tailored to geodata or to the economic interests of bespoke cartographers in some way. There are arguments to be made in favour of this, although I don’t agree with them, and the AND deal may show that BY-SA is better for encouraging commercial contributions to Free projects.
BY-SA prevents companies just taking OSM’s maps for themselves and improving their own maps without returning any further improvements or passing on OSM’s freedom to their own customers. Attribution only or public domain wouldn’t have this effect. So this encourages contributions. And by doing this, BY-SA also protects companies investment in OSM, ensuring other companies can’t just take contributors work and use it without return or without contributors keeping the freedom to use OSM’s work. Again, this encourages contributions.
So I think this may show at least in part why it is important to start Free projects even if they seem almost impossible tasks (such as mapping the whole world). And why it is important to use copyleft for these projects.