Monday, August 1, 2016

Deprecating Mapbox GL Style Sheet Support

For an update on the situation go read the latest.  Short version:  We're putting it all back.

If you follow the open source mapping world (and why would you?), there's been some interesting rumblings about Mapbox Intellectual Property of late.

I don't totally understand this, but Mapbox is unhappy with the stated goal of copying Mapbox Streets.

Is Mapbox Wrong?

Legally, I haven't a clue.  Ethically, they're probably quite right.  Their participation in the community earns them the benefit of the doubt.

So then, if we take them at their word, the word is "Thou shalt not copy Mapbox Streets".

It's an interesting word and it kicked off a bit of examination of my project.  Am I using any Mapbox IP and what are the consequences?

Mapbox Now and Mapbox Future

Is this really a big deal?  Mapbox is a good open source citizen and they're clearly trying to be very gentle.

But here's the thing, Mapbox took venture capital.  A sale is a likely outcome and those people aren't going to be as nice.  Think Oracle and Java.

So, what Mapbox IP do we use and what should I do about it?

Mapbox Vector Tiles

My users do use vector tiles.  Some Mapbox hosted, but always their own custom data.  Some users even have their own services.  Both cases are fine.

Vector tiles are undeniably open.  They've stated so any number of times and data formats are well understood in IP law.  I think we're good there.

Mapbox GL Style Sheets

This one's dodgier.  Though the format itself is open, there are restrictions on the style sheets we can use.  I can follow those restrictions, but will my users?  Ha!

Most open source users consider anything publicly available to be fair game.  The Mapbox Streets styles are the best out there.  There's no way they won't borrow from them.

So now we've got a style format that's tempting you to cheat.  That's strike one.

Data formats encode technical thinking.  If I implement OpenGL ES shaders to support Mapbox GL Styles then how different are those from Mapbox's own shaders?  It's a question that gives me pause.  That's strike two.

Goodbye to Mapbox GL Style Sheets

The style sheet format is cool, but it's too dangerous.  I'm ripping it out of the toolkit for version 2.5.  If you're using it, grab the code and make your own copy.

We do have Styled Layer Descriptor format support coming out soon.  Not as cool, but a nice safe OGC standard.