If you’re a rock climber then the chances that you’ve accessed Mountain Project for route information is high. The website is a collection of uploaded photos, topos and beta by rock and ice climbers around the world.
Mountain Project was purchased by onX, a digital navigation company known for its hunting app earlier this year. The site has been owned by a number of companies over the years, including by REI.
Mountain Project is claiming that Open Beta is going against their copyright rules and is trying to get them shut down. Open Beta was created by Viet Nguyen, a climber and coder, to bring open source software tools to the climbing community. He used Mountain Project data to create publicly available interfaces (APIs) that others can use.
Electronic Frontier Foundation first reported about this news, and stated: “But although the site runs on the contributions of its users, Mountain Project’s owners apparently want to control who can use those contributions, and how. They sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mr. Nguyen, claiming to ‘own all rights and interests in the user-generated work’ posted to the site, and demanding that he stop using it in Open Beta. They also sent a DMCA request to GitHub to take down the OpenBeta code repository.”
EFF’s Mitch Stoltz, said, “Mountain Project’s owners are effectively usurping their users’ rights in order to threaten a community member. And even if Mountain Project had a legal interest in the content, Open Beta didn’t infringe on it. Facts, like the names and locations of climbing routes, can’t be copyrighted in the first place. And although copyright might apply to climbers’ own route descriptions, Open Beta’s use is a fair use. As we explained in our letter.”
Their letter reads: The original purpose of the material was to contribute to the general knowledge of the climbing community. The Open Beta data files do something more: Mr. Nguyen uses it to help others to learn about Machine Learning, making climbing maps, and otherwise using software to generate new insights about rock climbing. Rock climbers get a lot of practice at falling hard, taking a moment to recover, and continuing to climb. Mountain Project blew it here by making legally bogus threats against OpenBeta. We hope they take a lesson from their community: dust off, change your approach, and keep climbing.
Statement from onX
This topic is important and we wanted to shed some light on how ownership and licensing of climbing information works on Mountain Project. Hopefully we address some concerns and misgivings about the future of this information. This means that you’re going to see some legalese that doesn’t necessarily carry the tone of how we usually think and communicate or how we expect to engage with you on other topics, but it’s important that we use lingo that’s consistent with the Terms of Service we’re describing.
First off, onX will never ask you to pay to access the Mountain Project website or Mountain Project app. These are maintained out of deep respect for everyone who contributed to building Mountain Project. Visitors to this site may see ads for onX products, but there are no plans to introduce a paywall to access these resources.
Mountain Project’s Terms of Service remain unchanged. Mountain Project is a perpetual licensee of the data, but not its owner. As always, when contributors submit content to Mountain Project they remain the copyright holder and may elect to contribute it to any other source they choose outside of Adventure Projects.
We respect that an open-source resource built voluntarily in this way is another great way to support this community, but Adventure Projects didn’t acquire rights to the data through an open-source licensing model. Any user seeking to use Mountain Project content publicly, commercially, or for an open-source project would need to obtain appropriate licensing from each contributor.
Both Mountain Project and onX value the protection of user-generated content, so the request to remove Mountain Project content from GitHub and OpenBeta was not only a protection of our license, but a protection of the copyright of each contributor as well. In response to the data being posted and misrepresented as open source content, onX initially led with an explanation of the licensing and a request for voluntary action. But when those requests were refused, onX pursued an official DMCA takedown request. The Mountain Project account of the user in question was disabled because it’s against the Terms of Service to reproduce, distribute, or make derivative works of Adventure Projects content.
On a personal note, the people who make up onX genuinely care about the same things that you do, and our hope is that you’ll see that in our conduct. Our approach in the last few months has been to maintain the status quo for Mountain Project, and we are always available for a dialogue. We recognize that in this diverse community others may disagree with us. That’s OK, and those members are free to share their thoughts here as long as they abide by the community guidelines. We’ll listen.