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NY MTA The Latest Public Transportation Group To Declare It Owns Facts

from the sigh dept

What is it with public transportation groups? Over the past year or so we've seen time and time again that these companies seem to think they own the data on their schedules, and have come down hard on anyone who supplies an iPhone app that gives people good schedule info. The reason many public transportation groups do this is they think they can make some money licensing the data, but this is silly. If an individual or a hobbyist can provide better data in a better format to users, that just encourages more people to actually buy tickets for the train ride, which is what you would think these train operators would want.

The latest example of this battle, sent in by Anthony Townsend, is the MTA in NY making life difficult for a guy who created a scheduling app for the Metro North train line. The guy also happens to have a blog about Metro North, that he's used to draw attention to problems with the service. That seems to have upset the MTA people, who claimed his site was "pretending to be an official MTA website." He pointed out how ridiculous that was, since most of the blog posts were highly critical of the MTA. Any reader would quickly recognize that it was not an official site.

Soon after that, though, the MTA threatened him over the scheduling app, claiming that it violates the MTA's copyright on its data. Except... you can't copyright facts. The MTA argues that if someone misses a train due to the guy's info, they'll get mad at the MTA. I'd argue that's overblown. First, so long as the app is clear that it's not official, there shouldn't be much of an issue. And, honestly, how often would that sort of problem occur? The real thing is that the MTA wants to squeeze money out of the guy, and sent him a licensing agreement demanding a share of any revenue he makes, but wants him to back pay for the past year or so, plus a non-refundable $5,000 fee. It also refuses to give him any notice as to when the schedule changes. Given the MTA's claims that they're against the app because people might miss the train, the fact that they're fighting him over being alerted to scheduling changes seems to make clear that the MTA is lying.

It's difficult to see how the MTA has much of a legal leg to stand on here, but they don't seem to have a problem being a bully against a developer who's actually helping riders have a better experience.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 2:20pm

    Fact or Fiction?

    Perhaps they are implying that the timetables are pure fiction!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 14th, 2009 @ 2:31pm

    A couple of points

    "What is it with public transportation groups?"

    Well, they're massive beauacracies filled with allllllll the wonderful people out there two incompetent to get jobs in airport security. Just so you understand what you're dealing with, sir.

    "these companies seem to think they own the data on their schedules"

    Be that as it may, I believe you're confusing "Public Transportation Groups" with mass-transit companies. I mean at least a mass-tran COMPANY can claim it's privately owned. If the CTA, a public tranportation group paid for by tax payer money, wants to make money off of it's schedule, then I damn well better be getting a cut, since I'm the ultimate shareholder.

    So...which one is the MTA?

    "you can't copyright facts"

    Honest question: does the schedule's status as a "fact" change if the train is late or early? What exactly is the FACT. The intended time? That doesn't sound like a fact to me. The ACTUAL arrival time? Yeah, fact.

     

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  3.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 14th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    Re: A couple of points

    Quite in agreement!

    I can state for a fact the bus schedules around here are a work of fiction... and thus copyrightable.

    Perhaps the fellow in question could compile his own data thru empirical measure?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    StationStops, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 3:02pm

    Its all thanks to Techdirt

    I am really excited that Techdirt decided to pick up my story - my past reading of TechDirt is at least partially if not wholly WHY I was aware of my legal position with StationStops for iPhone.

    I learned it from watching you.

    Like Techdirt, I brought my info public to spread awareness, because for every one of me there are 1000 people with great ideas who walk away because of call from a lawyer with baseless accusations.

    I knew MTA's accusations were baseless and I am making them eat their words.

    A spokesman from the MTA officially stated in a Stamford Advocate newspaper article today that MTA has no issues with my website. After a shouting match with an MTA lawyer on the phone who was insisting I take it down, this is IMMENSELY gratifying and already worth the ride.

    Keep up the good fight and don't take any shit from anyone.

    Peace
    Chris

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 3:16pm

    'The train arrived at 12:00PM' is a fact if and only if the train arrived on time.

    'The train is scheduled to arrive at 12:00PM' is a fact if and only if the train is scheduled at 12:00PM.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Didn't reply very well...

    This was meant as a reply to Dark Helmet...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 14th, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Re: A couple of points

    "Perhaps the fellow in question could compile his own data thru empirical measure?"

    From what I remember of Metro North, an accurate schedule would definitely be a transformative work.

    And yeah, nobody blamed THIS guy for delays and missed connections. Metro North has that much correct.

    The real problem with Public Transportation is that it's a bit of a money pit. If they see someone making money, they want a piece of it so they can pad their bottom line. Pound foolish, of course, but so tempting when they're filling out their quarterly report.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    william (profile), Aug 14th, 2009 @ 3:37pm

    What if the guy and a whole bunch of people starting to record the time of some buses coming and going and then publish it.

    Would MTA claim that they stole their scheduling data?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Fred (profile), Aug 14th, 2009 @ 4:36pm

    Right

    There's no way I'm disco dancing on the MTA.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 7:46pm

    Re: Its all thanks to Techdirt

    Keep up the good fight and don't take any shit from anyone.

    You sir, you should be saluted, awarded, and smiled upon for not backing down to the jackasses who have tried to bully you. Good job! I hope you have the tenacity to continue to fight the good fight!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 14th, 2009 @ 7:46pm

    Re: Its all thanks to Techdirt

    Keep up the good fight and don't take any shit from anyone.

    You sir, you should be saluted, awarded, and smiled upon for not backing down to the jackasses who have tried to bully you. Good job! I hope you have the tenacity to continue to fight the good fight!

    And now I feel like the jackass for doing it twice ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Michael Long, Aug 15th, 2009 @ 11:37am

    Re: A couple of points

    "... filled with allllllll the wonderful people out there two incompetent to get jobs ..."

    Two incompetent? Not too incompetent?

    Got to love mistakes like that in a sentence like that....

    Stones and glass houses, my friend.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2009 @ 9:28pm

    MTA isn't Robinson Crusoe. www.railcorp.nsw.gov.au Sydney's metro rail infrastructure owner and operator has tried the same caper. See a SMH article http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2009/03/09/1236447097082.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anony1, Aug 17th, 2009 @ 9:58am

    @ Michael Long: Obviously a spelling mistake takes away all merit from his comment right?

    Why don't you go STFU ok?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    StationStops, Aug 17th, 2009 @ 11:21am

    An update...I have obtained a lawyer specializing in Intellectual Property law, who has reviewed MTA's cease and desist and advised me that MTA has made no legitimate claims.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2009 @ 3:13pm

    http://www.mta.info/mta/google.html does this mean MTA negotiated a special deal with Google on their data. I think the Google licence say Google will do whatever they like with the data once its uploaded in their format .... Isnt the google transit data meant to be publcially available ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    lane, Aug 24th, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    copyfraud!

    This looks like "copyfraud." See this article: http://ssrn.com/abstract=787244
    From the abstract: "Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare's plays, Beethoven's piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet's Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner's permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use. Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech...."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Flora, Oct 20th, 2009 @ 11:29am

    Re: A couple of points

    The MTA is privately owned. It is not run by the city.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    C. Spencer Beggs, Jan 30th, 2010 @ 4:54pm

    Update on MTA Licensing

    It looks like the MTA has relented a little bit. The developer resources page of the MTA's Web site now provides access to data for free, but asks for a fee for logos, maps and symbols. It also says if an MTA-approved application is free, you need a license, but won't have to pay. Seems fair.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re: A couple of points

    TWO INCOMPETENT.. WHO ARE THESE TWO PEOPLE??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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