Can You Copyright Neighborhood Boundaries?

from the insanity-in-the-map-world dept

Another day, another crazy ridiculous copyright lawsuit. A mathematician who focused on creating more accurate maps that designated actual neighborhoods, rather than just zipcode-based neighborhoods, is being sued by a company called Maponics, who claim it owns the copyright on the neighborhood boundaries the mathematician created. Seriously. The mathematician, Bernt Wahl, developed some neighborhood maps for a company a few years back, and that company sold the copyrights on those maps to Maponics. But Wahl has kept creating new maps, and gives them away free to researchers. After all, they're maps. It's basically factual information, and Wahl considers his neighborhood boundary definitions to be public domain. But Maponics is basically telling Wahl he can no longer make any more maps, and only it can sell his neighborhood maps. Yet another example where copyright is clearly being used to stifle, rather than encourage, creativity.

Filed Under: bernt wahl, copyright, mapping, neighborhoods
Companies: maponics


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:27am

    Erm, aren't such boundaries a part of property deeds and therefore public property? Strange.

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

    • icon
      Mike (profile), 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:34am

      Re:

      Erm, aren't such boundaries a part of property deeds and therefore public property? Strange.

      Ah, perhaps that wasn't clear enough in the post. The maps he created are based on what the *real* neighborhoods are, rather than the mapped ones. So, for example, within a city, there may be neighborhoods like "Soma" or "Cole Valley" or whatever, that aren't official neighborhoods, without official boundaries. He went and figured out what those boundaries should be.

      The *city* has official boundaries, but the neighborhoods don't.

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

  • identicon
    Stephen, 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:36am

    If you can't compete, sue

    This is about competition. The companies own comments refer to his maps as "fire sale" prices.

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

  • identicon
    Hulser, 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:45am

    It's the process, stupid

    I'm not saying that I necesarilly agree with Maponics for suing the mathematician, but I think the story is a bit more complicated than just the copyrightability of neighborhood boundaries. To me, it looks like the problem is that the mathematician is using a copyrighted process to create his neighborhood maps. It would seem to me that Maponics would have a better case if it focused on the process (which, as I understand it, can be copyrighted) rather than the output of the process i.e. data (which can't be).

    If someone owns the copyright on a black box that spits out widgets, but doesn't own the copyright on widgets, doesn't the company have the legal right to prevent other people from using their black box to make widgets?

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

    • identicon
      m, 17 Oct 2008 @ 9:49am

      Re: It's the process, stupid

      To me, it looks like the problem is that the mathematician is using a copyrighted process to create his neighborhood maps.

      Copyrighted what?! Might want to look up what copyright is for.

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

      • identicon
        Hulser, 17 Oct 2008 @ 10:07am

        Re: Re: It's the process, stupid

        Copyrighted what?!
        Based on the article..."a fractal-based urban-mapping technique". The article doesn't specify, so I can only assume that Maponics has copyrighted this process (in spite of the fact that the mathematician was the one who developed it). On reviewing the article again, however, the suit does appear to be specifically about the maps that were created by this process while he was working for the real estate company, not about maps he's created using the process after. However, I think the issue is still not so clear cut. Again, I'm not saying that Maponics is right, but I can at least see the difference between one type of data, like baseball scores, and another kind of data, which is the output of a copyrighted process.

        Might want to look up what copyright is for.
        The original intent of copyright is completely irrelevent to my point. I agree wholeheartedly that the original intent of copyright was to promote innovation and that this ideal has been corrupted over the years...however, this has no bearing on my point the legal issue of copyright is complicated by factors such as data being output by a copyrighted process.

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

        • identicon
          hegemon13, 17 Oct 2008 @ 11:06am

          Re: Re: Re: It's the process, stupid

          I think m's point is that copyright does not apply here. A patent on the process could possibly apply, but not a copyright. However, Maponics threat is clearly about copyright, which can only cover a specific expression of fact as opposed to facts themselves. If Wahl is using the same colors, fonts, legends, etc, he could violate copyright. If he is simply using the same public information/process, he is not violating copyright, though it is possible that he has run afoul of a bogus patent.

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

          • identicon
            Hulser, 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: It's the process, stupid

            A patent on the process could possibly apply, but not a copyright.
            Right. I pointed this out below too, but I mistakenly used "copyright" when I should have used "patent".

            However, Maponics threat is clearly about copyright, which can only cover a specific expression of fact as opposed to facts themselves.
            Right, but...the original point I was trying to get across is that because the copyrighted material was created by a unique process (which was presumably patented), the issue is not as straightforward as it first appears. I bet the vast majority of people would say that it's downright silly to try and patent baseball scores. On the face if it, it's just a dumb idea. But if you presented the Maponics scenario to the same people, I'd bet that far more would be sympathetic to the "copyright" holder. I'd further bet that this will come into play in the arguments from the Maponics lawyers.

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

    • identicon
      Brave guy with a Name, 17 Oct 2008 @ 10:29am

      Re: It's the process, stupid

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it only printed goods that can be copyrighted? Ideas (processes) have to be patented.

      I patent dumb reasons for suing people over illegitimate copyright issues. Money Please!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2008 @ 10:35am

      Re: It's the process, stupid

      You can't patent formulas.

      This is why software patents are wrong.

      You shouldn't be able to copyright the results of a formula.

      This is why Maponics will lose.

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

      • identicon
        Hulser, 17 Oct 2008 @ 10:56am

        Re: Re: It's the process, stupid

        You can't patent formulas.

        But you can patent processes. (BTW, I mistakenly referenced the copyright on the process, whereas it should have been patent.)


        You shouldn't be able to copyright the results of a formula.

        Well, whether you should be able to is a separate issue from whether you legally can.


        This is why Maponics will lose.

        I hope you're right, but I'm guessing that the Maponics lawyers will try to say that because the maps were a result of a (presumably) patented process, that they are somehow unique in their expression.

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

    • icon
      DVDxR (profile), 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:12pm

      Re: It's the process, stupid

      You can't copyright a process. You can patent a process (dumb, but you can). You can only copyright a finished work.

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

  • identicon
    Mike, 17 Oct 2008 @ 10:04am

    Re: It's the process, stupid

    Greed is killing our economy, this same greed will kill our intellectual community too. But that's OK at some point the copyright system will implode on itself, we will put the lawyers out of work just like the overpaid bankers. Oh wait a minute that wont happen, our government will just bail them out too. Silly me.

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

  • identicon
    ian, 17 Oct 2008 @ 11:04am

    the *other* neighborhood expert here

    yes, i'll claim expertise here.
    Adding some more context to this story...Urban Mapping, www.urbanmapping.com does not stand as defendant or plaintiff to any legal proceedings. We do have Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MapQuest, SuperPages, YellowPages and many others as clients. don't want to comment on the merits of any matters, but there you have it

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

    • identicon
      DanC, 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:46pm

      Re: the *other* neighborhood expert here

      Ah, you've apparently discovered some previously unknown meaning of the word 'context' that includes shameless self-promotion while simultaneously adding nothing of value to the discussion.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:48pm

      Re: the *other* neighborhood expert here

      I'm a neighborhood expert too. I've lived in neighboorhoods my entire life.

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

    • identicon
      person, 16 Nov 2008 @ 12:28am

      Re: the *other* neighborhood expert here

      You also tried to license the neighborhood data in the article, why not have the five groups making neighborhood data work together and share it with the world instead of fighting over it.

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

    • identicon
      person, 16 Nov 2008 @ 12:31am

      Re: the *other* neighborhood expert here

      You also tried to license the neighborhood data in the article, why not have the five groups making neighborhood data work together and share it with the world instead of fighting over it.

      P.S. the data should be available for free, not from a person blogging to get free SEO links to sell his product.

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

  • identicon
    Tim, 17 Oct 2008 @ 11:55am

    Processes

    Patent law specifically prohibits the patenting of processes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:06pm

    BUSH's threat

    Didnt the Prez just sign some bill giving more power to those who seek Itelectual Property ?

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

  • identicon
    No Six Pack, 17 Oct 2008 @ 6:06pm

    Expensive snake oil

    Looks like Maponics paid 40k for snake oil.

    Facts are not subject to any of the so called intellectual property rights and hopefully it stays that way.

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

  • identicon
    Darrin Clement, 18 Oct 2008 @ 6:37am

    additional information

    Maponics has posted a response "To The Edior" on the original story to clarify several things. http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2008/10/neighborhood

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

  • identicon
    FoolsGold, 18 Oct 2008 @ 4:11pm

    Maponics Copyright product of algorithm

    I'll print out a hard copy of the article and take down to Joe's Neighborhood Bar to read it. Ofcourse, I'll have to check the copyrighted boundaries for that bar's "neighborhood".

    Ofcourse the company that hired the programmer is not happy if the 'work for hire' winds up being given away free but I have a feeling that Joe's Neighborhood Bar will let me spend my money there irrespective of what my actual neighborhood is.

    Whenever a particular neighborhood develops a certain attraction to being used in real estate ads, the boundaries of that neighborhood expand.

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

  • identicon
    Gelderlander, 20 Oct 2008 @ 1:16pm

    Little Guy vs. Little Guy

    This isn't a greedy-big-evil-corporation preying on the little guy. This is a case of little guy vs. little guy. Maponics is the small guy too! It's a small business with just a handful of employees in the tiny village of Norwich, Vermont. Check it out!

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


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