New York MTA: Railroad Schedules are Copyrighted

August 22, 2009 by Rico Mossesgeld  
Filed under Cellphones, Services, software

It’s New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority vs. Chris Schoenfield, with the former insisting the latter pay license fees or take down his iPhone application. The app in question lists schedules for trains running on New York’s Metro-North Commuter Railroad service. That, according to the MTA, is a violation of its copyright on the information.

Station Stops App

Station Stops App

Since when did schedules for a mass transit service enjoy copyright protection? In any case, MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz has an unrelated explanation: ” ‘The bigger concern is that he is not licensed by us, so we can’t verify the information he is providing is correct. If people have problems with his information, they won’t be calling him. They’ll be calling us.’ ”

Fair enough, but the licensing agreement wants Schoenfield to sign would free them from any commitment to provide updated schedules! From Schoenfield:

Schedules change. Only MTA knows when. In order to keep my app up to date, I need every schedule change sent to me before its effective date, so my user’s app will be accurate and they don’t miss their train.

Under the contract, MTA will not notify me or automatically send me new data when the schedule changes. I need to somehow psychically predict when this is about to happen, and then send a request for a new CD-ROM – even then, MTA is under no obligation to send me one.

So what happened to the concern for providing reliable information? Even worse, the licensing proposal calls for retroactive fees and $5,000 on top of that.

And what about concerns over copyright? One reader at StationStops, Schoenfield’s blog, claims that the MTA’s scheduling information is available online—free for anyone with enough knowledge to download automatically. When a company fights against common sense, money’s probably involved—or at least the impression that money can be made.

Providing MTA customers with schedule information is not a cash cow for MTA to ‘milk’. Its a responsibility of theirs that they are incompetent in handling. The price pressure on iPhone apps is driving them down to a point where some apps – especially those which do not have a global market, like StationStops – are not making a profit. *I* have yet to make a profit on StationStops, and I have the paperwork to prove it.

Amen, Schoenfield. Amen.
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