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.