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.

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Comments on “NY MTA The Latest Public Transportation Group To Declare It Owns Facts”

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20 Comments
Dark Helmet (profile) says:

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.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

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.

StationStops (user link) says:

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

Anonymous Coward says:

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 😉

lane says:

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….”

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