Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mass Transit fights to protect its information...

...from people making applications that would improve use of and increase ridership on trains.

Schedule Use
Second Avenue Sagas writes about how the MTA, New York City's mass transit authority, has been trying to force/scare people away from making unaffiliated applications. For instance, Chris Schoenfield "wrote an application with the Metro-North schedule data." However, the MTA
ordered him to cease selling the iPhone application. This charge rested on the claim that the MTA owns the copyright to the schedule data and that Schoenfeld’s use of the data violates that copyright.
Unfortunately for the MTA, the charge
has no basis in legal reality. As the Supreme Court held in the seminal case Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991), pure facts are not copyrightable, and train schedules have long fallen under this rubric of pure fact. The MTA can claim a copyright on the presentation of its train schedules, but the train schedule information itself falls under Feist.
I thought I had read (perhaps on Fat Knowledge?) about the Frankfurt train system (or some other German city) doing the same type of thing, but I can't find that story anywhere.

Use of Images
The MTA could come after me for putting this 7 in a purple circle on my blog without their permission. And it wouldn't even matter if I changed the color to green: judging by the case of a guy in San Francisco trying to poke fun at his own city's mass transit system, the MTA seems to think they own the rights to every letter contained in any color circle. Nevermind that (according to Wikipedia's legal department anyway) "text in a general typeface and simple geometric shapes are not protected by copyright."

There may be hope. The New York City Council has written a letter to the MTA urging them to open their scheduling data for application developers, and the Muni T-shirts are back on sale, but this is one big Copyfraud put on by the MTA.

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