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NYC & SF iPod Subway Map Controversy 361

Posted by Zonk
from the free-as-in-beer dept.
scruffy323 writes "NYC and San Francisco are claiming copyright violations for freely distributed subway maps." From the Wired piece: "More than 9,000 people downloaded the map, which was viewable on either an iPod or an iPod nano, before Bright received a Sept. 14 letter from Lester Freundlich, a senior associate counsel at New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority, saying that Bright had infringed the MTA's copyright and that he needed a license to post the map and to authorize others to download it."
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NYC & SF iPod Subway Map Controversy

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  • Sue away! (Score:2, Informative)

    by DaFunker (898185) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @05:36AM (#13692450)
    I'm not quite sure that owning a map of a subway system really takes away from people actually riding it, which I would hope would be the goal of subway operators. Kind of like because I own a Rand McNally atlas of the United States I never have to leave home. I can just go on fantastic voyages via my collection of pretty maps. You'd think the subway system management would realize that people having easy to access maps of their subway would actually help their passengers and probably increase their number of riders. Oh well, sue away!
  • by The Slashdotted (665535) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @05:46AM (#13692474)
    Bright also used a map that became outdated when the BART system extended one of its lines and shortened another, said Jim Allison, a spokesman for BART. "We don't have a problem with people disseminating information about BART," Allison said. "We do have a problem with people pirating information that is incorrect," he said. The spokesman added that BART is preparing to unveil its own free, downloadable iPod map on its website. So they don't want wrong info, and they will provide their own info for FREE soon. They need to protect their trademark for it to be valid. Why is this a problem? It does not "search for a station". It is a resized JPG. NeXT thing you know Apple will go after him for a "Ipod map"
  • Re:Duh. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Vengeance (46019) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @05:46AM (#13692475)
    "They will have little recourse when someone else decides to start selling exact replicas of their maps"

    Good.

    People need access to subway maps, and getting them from the MTA is like pulling teeth. This despite the fact that when you can find a token booth with a clerk who actually HAS such maps, you can get one for free.

    That's right, NYC doesn't sell these maps, it gives them away.

    So perhaps they don't NEED to have any recourse against those who would sell such copies?

    I don't think that an image such as a municipal subway map should even BE copyrightable. By rights it should be public-domain information.
  • Article (Score:2, Informative)

    by dorkygeek (898295) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:01AM (#13692504) Journal
    New York MTA - Cease and Desist

    January 01, 2005 -- 03:25 PM

    To: iPod Subway Maps Submissions
    Subject: ipodsubwaymaps fedback: your unauthorized use and coying [SIC] of NYC subway map
    Date: 9/14/05: 12:52 PM

    We have no record of you having a license to include MTA's copyrighted New York City subway map on your website, or for you to authorize others to download a copy of the subway map.

    You must cease and desist immediately. Take the NYC subway map off your webiste and confirm to me by email that you will not do this again. If you disagree with any of the above or otherwise wish to discuss this further, call or email me. Thank you

    Senior Associate counsel
    Metropolitan Transportation Authority
    347 Madison Avenue
    New York, NY 10017
  • by ifwm (687373) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:19AM (#13692532) Journal
    repeat after me C-O-P-Y-R-I-G-H-T trademark is completely different, copyright can be selectively enforced
  • by cbr2702 (750255) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:23AM (#13692537) Homepage
    If you don't enforce the copyright, you lose it

    Nope. That's trademark. Copyright does not require enforcement.

    Relatedly, I would expect that distribution of their maps would only help them, so why shut this guy down?

  • by sparkhead (589134) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:38AM (#13692569)
    "Or, better yet, if the NY Transit Authority made the maps available for download then it wouldn't be a problem either."

    The map is available, linked in the text of the summary above. Maybe RTFA is too much to ask, but how about reading the summary?

  • Re:I grew up in NYC (Score:3, Informative)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:40AM (#13692570) Journal
    In summary, I consider this lawsuit to be insane and unnecessary.

    There was no law-suit. A cease and desist was issued to Bright, he complied. He then went and made his own map that he uploaded under the CC license, he hasn't been sent a new cease and desist for that map. MTA is broke, it's recently begun trademarking its symbols and issuing licenses to use them. They couldn't allow Bright to continue and still have their trademark be valid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:46AM (#13692589)
    What exactly are they claiming copyright on?

    You can not copyright factual information. See eg Feist v Rural Telephone where the US Supreme Court ruled that lists of numbers in a phone book was not copyrightable.

    The names of the subway stations, their geographic locations, and the fact that rail lines connect them, are all facts which are not copyrightable. So I'm wondering just what in this image is subject to copyright.

    If you make a map and add something to it, you can claim copyright. Like say you made a map which highlighted certain tourist attractions, you can copyright that. But the locations of the streets are just facts which you can't claim copyright to.
  • Re:I grew up in NYC (Score:3, Informative)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:50AM (#13692593) Homepage Journal
    A downloadable map makes a world of sense
    Doesn't it just. That's probably why THE MTA ALREADY PROVIDES ONE [nyc.ny.us]. I found this one by typing "NY Subway Map" into google and hitting "I feel lucky".
  • by aussie_a (778472) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:11AM (#13692642) Journal
    And that's why he wasn't sent a cease and desist when he made his own map using the facts. From the article:

    I'm very aware that they are copyright violations, but I'm not trying to make money or do anything malicious. I'm not in this to piss people off.

    I'd say this guy knew he was breaking the law, which is why he didn't kick up a stink. Everyone is actually acting fairly amicably in this situation (based on my impression from the article anyway).
  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:15AM (#13692650) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if the MTA can own a copyright? Federal government can not. I think MTA is a regional government organization...

    While the rendering of the map might be copyrightable, the information about the routes is not. He should have someone else render a map.

    Bruce

  • by jafiwam (310805) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @07:43AM (#13692692) Homepage Journal
    Copyright Violation = copying or distributing without permission

    Trademark Violation = using _symbolism_ or _words_ too similar to a protected logo or symbol

    There's no trademark violation here. Its a copyright violation.
  • by ergo98 (9391) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:59AM (#13692975) Homepage Journal
    It's called "public trasit" because the public pays for it. If this is the cause in NY, then what they're basically doing is suing a member of the public for use of publc property.

    Nonsense. So if you decided to tear down some of the ads in the subway, sticking up your own in their place, is that just a public use of public property? Of course it isn't.

    While it is publicly funded, it isn't free reign to do what you want. For instance in this case it's pretty clear that the subway company licenses the map to users who add a value ad (e.g. tourism guides, etc), and in return those republishers return some of their take to the subway. The net result is the offsetting of some of the costs of us (the taxpayers - which is a group interest, not millions of individual interests. You can't take the seats home for your living room because that conflicts with the interest of the group), reducing the subsidization. If Joe User wants to republish the map in PDA form - make a business model, charge a token charge, and offset those taxes.
  • by ZeLonewolf (197271) * on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:03AM (#13692989) Homepage
    It's interesting you ask. Works created by federal government employees during the course of their official duties are not copyright-able. The same may or may not hold for state or local governments.
  • by voss (52565) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:34AM (#13693114)
    Anyone else have a problem with this?

    Im surprised the first amendment hasnt been invoked
    on this. The first amendment clearly supersedes copyright
    in the case of publications of a government owned entity.

    Allowing the government to copyright government documents
    would make the public records laws meaningless because you
    couldnt disseminate them yourself.

    Now the government could say "You are not allowed to sell government
    publications for profit, but you may freely distribute them and recoup
    the cost of publication." under the commerce clause.

    We are not talking about a patent or an individuals copyright we are talking
    about a government publication made freely available to anyone who asks
    simply being redistributed in a more convenient form by a private citizen.

  • U.S. Postage is not copyrightable by itself, but the USPS does contract out designs to private artists, sometimes duplicating prior art that was not done specifically for the Post Office. They usually get a "license" to publish the artwork as a stamp, but they don't get subsequent "licenses" to redistribute the image elsewhere, so if you want to get a license to redistribut the stamp image you need to contact the original creator of the artwork.

    Confusing? Yes, it it. The Post Office in this case is not claiming copyright on it, but they are not going out of their way to let you copy the stamps either.

    Stamps that are of "classical" images, such as the bust of George Washington or federal monuments would be (or may be...you still have to be careful here) free to copy, but stamps are also "legal tender" in the USA as well. Litterally, they are money and can be exchanged just like dollar bills. Rarely are they used for that purpose, but they can be and are backed by the U.S. Congress and federal government just like a dollar bill. I wouldn't want to be an ass and try to buy a car with a box of stamps, however, even if the law says you can.
  • by nsayer (86181) <nsayer&kfu,com> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:36AM (#13693400) Homepage
    Im surprised the first amendment hasnt been invoked on this. The first amendment clearly supersedes copyright in the case of publications of a government owned entity.

    YHGMTPOT 1st ammendment.

    There is indeed tension between copyright and freedom of speech. But since both are present in the constitution, it is up to the courts to achieve a balance. Which, for the most part, they have. Your free-speech rights simply do not include publication of works whose copyright belong to someone else.

    You are actually confusing two principles: The copyright / free speech dichotomy and the copyrightability of government-produced works. On the latter, works produced by a federal government employee in the ordinary course of his duties are not copyrightable. That does not, however, extend to state, regional or local government-produced works.

  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @12:42PM (#13693929)
    You can not copyright factual information. See eg Feist v Rural Telephone where the US Supreme Court ruled that lists of numbers in a phone book was not copyrightable.

    The map in question is highly stylised, and not to scale. That makes it copyrightable.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @03:44PM (#13694673)
    Some of us remember when you didn't have to pee in a jar to get hired (innocent until proven guilty? HAH!) much less show [gestapo accent]"your papers!"[/gestapo accent], could legally listen to any radio frequency (Telecommunications Act of 1934 as eviscerated courtesy of the cell phone industry), etc. etc. etc.

    And this, mind you, all came about in the 1980's. Back when Reagan was "getting the government off the backs of the people". Long before the DMCA, broadcast flags or any of the stuff that people whine about today.
  • by rhizome (115711) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @04:25PM (#13694830) Homepage Journal
    we all know that if you let copyrights slide on one area, the other can be harder to enforce.

    For the millionth time, this is only true of trademarks.
  • Re:Feh (Score:4, Informative)

    by _Ludwig (86077) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @04:47PM (#13694929) Journal
    They're not "grossly distorted," they're distorted for clarity. If they weren't, they'd have to either be about six times bigger to cover the distant lands of Queens and Staten Island (which shouldn't be on the subway map to begin with since it has its own system, disconnected from the rest) or all the stations in midtown Manhattan would have to be smooshed together in overlapping 3-point type. The NYC subway map is famously considered to be a usable balance between legibility and actual geography, unlike for instance the London tube map, which blows off geography altogether.

    What they should do is dump the ill-advised redesign of a few years ago (the one that introduced the pointless yellow background, the clutter of useless bus stop connection lists, and Staten Island.)

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