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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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  • Shameless plug (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AdamInParadise (257888) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @05:50AM (#13692480) Homepage
    If you want to find your way in the NYC Subway, you can download a legal subway guide for your mobile phone or BlackBerry from my website [clocklabs.com]. It does not use the official subway map.

    Regards
  • by joshiz (684675) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @05:58AM (#13692493)
    While there is a separate private company formed for the NY subway, it still is a quasi-public agency, subsidised (at least in part) by taxpayers through various taxes on fuel, sales, property, etc. Simply by letting anyone into the Metro system (whether they pay a fare and use a train or not), they are agreeing it is a publicly available sysetem. With that in mind, the maps are subject to being copied under "fair use" criteria. If someone was using them to profit, to attack the subway system, or any other use that would be harmful -- then I could understand an argument against such a use, but in this case, they are being used for the same reason as their original intent -- so people can find and plan where they are going.

    I would argue if complete systemwide paper maps were available for free on every train, then there would be no need for people to download them for use on their iPod. Or, better yet, if the NY Transit Authority made the maps available for download then it wouldn't be a problem either. In SF there is a fully downloadable hi-res pdf of the entire MUNI map so how can they argue what platform you are using it on?

    As far as the London Journey Planner (as it is called there), I could understand their defense because they have spent million of dollars and countless person-hours developing that map, the typeface, the signs that go in the trains, etc. Certain elements were invented by that very London Underground map and while they may seem obvious to us now, before that, most transport systems did not have an adequate graphical language for representing their systems until the London Journey Planner came to be. With that in mind, the London Transit Authority could sue every major city in the world for copyright infringement so I think this really has no merit.

    If something is working for the greater good and works, it becomes very hard to stake a claim for it and win. We shall see.

  • by MTO_B. (814477) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:03AM (#13692510) Homepage
    Public information should not be made public... unless you pay a license fee.

    This is crazy, so it's a license for their own design,, not others... But how are other's suppossed to make subway maps unless using official information that should be made public anyway?
  • by delta_avi_delta (813412) <dave.murphy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:27AM (#13692540)
    I think they have to be seen protecting their "Intellectual Property" in case someone else borrows the image and starts printing t-shirts, or using them for some other money-making purpose. You can buy everything from t-shirts to tea-towels with the London underground map embossed, and many tourists do, so I guess it's a bit of a cash cow.

    That said it's ridiculous that tourist guides, free maps, and free-to-view billboards can carry the image, yet I can't load it onto an iPod. The first thing I do in any new city is take a photo of the metro-system with my phone, I'm not sure how they're going to police against that.
  • by sofakingon (610999) * on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:30AM (#13692549)
    Last time I checked, works created by a United States government agency are public domain at the moment of creation. Does this not count for city/county/state governments? I'm a Federal contractor and all of the work that I do belongs to the Federal Government. Is there something I'm missing?
  • Re:I grew up in NYC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BushCheney08 (917605) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:32AM (#13692555)
    I would imagine that they don't want to be held liable in case the maps are wrong or out of date or something. Technically, it's a copyright violation. OTOH, it's free publicity for them and a convenience to their riders. Totally a situation of which way the wind is blowing today.
  • by aussie_a (778472) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @06:50AM (#13692592) Journal
    Can anybody explain what is the public benefit in suing people like this?!!

    1) They're not suing, they sent a cease and desist, he complied.

    2) He had the incorrect information on his website, so 9,000 people used an outdated map.

    3) They're broke, and they're issuing licenses to desperately seek money. The public benefit (and this is arguable, as they may be a really shitty company and the public benefit might be them to become bankrupt) is that by not breaking the law and abusing their copyright, they will be able to reap money from their labour and continue to provide the service to the citizens of their city.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:34AM (#13692873)
    "Now, for what really matters: I don't know American law (I mean, US law, since America is a continent and no country should take hold of this name), but in my country a public place is, well, public, and everyone is entitled to make photos or drawings or maps or sketches etc.

    Maybe it's not a public place after all?"

    American law is very similiar to International law. The US signed the Berne Convention. This situation has NOTHING to do with it being a map of a public space verses a private one. If he wants to do all the work of drawing up his own map? He can do that. HOWEVER! What he can't do is make copies of a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder AND DISTRIBUTE IT! Note as well that charging for verses free makes no difference, except in the penalty phase of a court case. Copyright law's basic principles aren't that hard to understand and I don't know why you all try to make it hard to understand by muddying the issue with irrelevent details like the nature of the space.

  • by PaSTE (88128) <paste@m3.14ps.ohio-state.edu minus pi> on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:29AM (#13693089) Homepage

    This can only lead to bad things. I live in Columbus, Ohio, which has a bus system that spans almost the entire city. Columbus is a large, sprawling city, so this is no minor network we are talking about. Some time ago, when the city was growing very quickly and the bus system had added a large number of new routes, the transportation authority (COTA) hired an outside company to make a professional map of the entire bus system--again, for a city that spans 100 square miles and has 50+ bus routes, this is no trivial task.

    The problem is that the company that made the map claimed copyrights on it, and won a long court battle against COTA preventing the city from posting or distributing these maps. So the only way you can get them is in paper form from the map company themselves, and they are not very happy about giving it away for free. It's nearly impossible to find a map of the entire bus system, meaning navigating using bus lines is a real bother. You have to piece together shotty, off-scale, individual route maps, and even then you have to guess which routes take you where. Check http://www.cota.com/ [cota.com] to see what I mean. This is one of the major complaints people have about the bus system, and probably one of the main reason more people don't use it regularly.

    Don't be fools, New York. Don't make public transportation a hassle. Don't end up like Columbus. Please.

  • Re:Feh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by justin12345 (846440) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @11:36AM (#13693636)
    It would be nice if he did draw his own. It would be even nicer if he drew one that was accurate to the actual geography of NYC. The mta maps are grossly distorted, making it difficult to use them to do things like say... choose the subway line closest to a given location.

    The MTA has this little problem with confusing the concepts: ""art" [nycsubway.org] and "map" [columbia.edu].
  • Are they kidding? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by localman (111171) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @12:21PM (#13693843) Homepage
    I understand corporations are idiots. And I understand that defending intelletctual property is all the rage these days. But why do they have to do things that make no sense for their business? How can the distribution of free maps cause them any trouble? Don't they normally have to print maps? Isn't this better for them? Are they really saying they don't want subway users to have easy access to how to use the subway? The map isn't a trademark, so it's not like they have to go after everyone for it. And even if it was like that, who cares? It's a friggin' free map that they post all over the place so people will use and PAY FOR their subway access.

    That's the secondary effect of all this ridiculous IP chest beating these days. Now everyone thinks they should protect every idea or bit of information they have since that's what everyone else is doing. Even if it makes no sense and it actually hinders their goals, they'll protect their IP to the death.

    Good luck.
  • by Scudsucker (17617) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @02:49PM (#13694471) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Your analogy is stupid. You are talking about making physical changes to existing property. This guy is making maps available for free that have absolutly zero impact on physical property or the operation of it.

    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.

    And the subway wouldn't be getting a take from people using the guys map to travel on said subway? And besides, a map is a drawing of facts, and you can't copyright facts. They guy should make his own map from scratch and tell those authorities to go to hell.

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