Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Controversy Over San Francisco Public Transportation Data

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the information-wants-to-be-expensive-sometimes dept.

Cellphones 111

paimin writes "A struggle is breaking out in San Francisco over whether the developer of a publicly-funded installation of real-time tracking for the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency has a right to control the use of data from the system. The situation is not totally clear, but this sure seems like an attempt to use patent threats to hijack public data. The city paid for the system, and the developer claims he lost money on the deal, so now he's shutting down applications like Routesy and Munitime that use data from the system unless they license the 'copyrighted' data from him."

cancel ×

111 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Whoops (2, Insightful)

njfuzzy (734116) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503169)

Just because you lose money doesn't mean you can change the rules after the fact. I guess this guy shouldn't have bid so low to get that contract.

Re:Whoops (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503235)

It's called 'renegotiation'.

Others call it blackmail.

Whatever. he dude's playing a dangerous game.

Re:Whoops (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503667)

Public data should not be subject to patents. End of story?

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504197)

he dude's playing a dangerous game.

Sure, but Testosterone Man will surely get him in the end.

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28506687)

Hmmmm...shutting down public information systems to extort additional payment? Sounds like an act of terrorism to me. Send 'em to gitmo!

Re:Whoops (2, Insightful)

Nekomusume (956306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28508841)

It's called 'fraud'.

He's claiming the data is his under copyright. You can't copyright facts. Thus, fraud.

Re:Whoops (1)

gnupun (752725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503711)

If NBIS owns (copyright owner) the data, he has to pay whatever they charge. If the San Francisco local government owns the data, then it's probably public data, I'm not sure. NBIS may own copyrights on that data because they have invested tens or hundreds of thousands in employees and installing those transponders. They can only recoup the cost + make a profit by charging tens of thousands per month.

It's just business -- you can't walk into a BMW dealership and demand they give you a new car for $1,000. The seller sets the price, and if you don't like it, don't buy it.

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503809)

But if the seller sells me a car for $1,000, he can't come back and ask that I pay him another $20,000 after that.

The city paid for the system, and the developer claims he lost money on the deal, so now he's shutting down applications like Routesy and Munitime

Maybe the developer shouldn't have bid lower than cost.

Re:Whoops (3, Insightful)

Paradise Pete (33184) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504243)

NBIS may own copyrights on that data because they have invested tens or hundreds of thousands in employees and installing those transponders. They can only recoup the cost + make a profit by charging tens of thousands per month.

Their motivation is clear, but data is not typically copyrightable. That they have invested money and want to make a profit doesn't change that.

Re:Whoops (3, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504601)

It's just business -- you can't walk into a BMW dealership and demand they give you a new car for $1,000. The seller sets the price, and if you don't like it, don't buy it.

But if you do walk into a BWM dealership and ask them for the best price on a BMW complete with a navigation system that lets you see where you've driven, how fast, what your fuel efficience was, etc, etc, etc.

They turn around and sell you a car; but it turns out it was below their cost.

They can't turn then around and say that all the data produced by the navigation system actually belongs to them and that you need to pay copyright license fees in order to see the data your navigation system has been collecting for you... (er for them??).

Re:Whoops (3, Informative)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 5 years ago | (#28506589)

they cant...you need to pay copyright license fees in order to see the data your navigation system has been collecting for you... (er for them??).

The auto industry is one of the culprits that does almost exactly that with the fault descriptions, and related data logs from "their" controllers. IE many data parameters cannot be looked at our changed with any of the data readers available to non-dealers. Sure they are required to allow these readers to exist and show some standard faults and data in a open format. But most of the data logged on your car, will require you to pay money to a licensed dealer to access. This may be justified while the car is under warranty, but there is no unlocking, or accessing that data for free once the warranty has expired.

Re:Whoops (3, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28506273)

If NBIS owns (copyright owner) the data, he has to pay whatever they charge. If the San Francisco local government owns the data, then it's probably public data, I'm not sure. NBIS may own copyrights on that data because they have invested tens or hundreds of thousands in employees and installing those transponders.

I work for the company that runs a big chunk of E-ZPass, and even though

  • the transponders are built by a private company,
  • "rented" to citizens from stores leased by us, a private company,
  • they send their money to us, and not the government,it would never even occur to us to treat it as if it were our data.

    Someone in SanFran City Hall is doing a piss-poor job of contract management!

Re:Whoops (1)

Quixote (154172) | more than 5 years ago | (#28510547)

Someone in SanFran City Hall is doing a piss-poor job of contract management!

THIS! I live in SF, and almost all of the City government is utterly inept. Good example: a psychiatrist nurse who makes $360K per year. When asked why, his manager replied: because he puts in overtime since we are understaffed. And yet it doesn't occur to the manager that hiring a second person would be cheaper than paying 2x overtime to the most senior person! Despite it being pointed out numerous times, the city continues to make this nurse the highest paid city employee year after year.

Another example: anyone who has ridden the SF Muni knows how rarely they are cleaned. And yet there are several MUNI cleaners who make over $100K/year , according to the City's payroll records. Imagine that: janitors making over $100K, and then we wonder why nothing gets cleaned.

At last count, there were over 4300 people in the City government who made more than $100K/year. In a city of 700K, that is a pretty large number. But hey: it's public money. So what if the government runs out of money? They'll just raise taxes or fares! (Yes, MUNI fares are going up on Wednesday).

Re:Whoops (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503845)

I don't get all of the controversy, but the info on Routesy.com is certainly a bit interesting. It sounds like the developer didn't have interest in charging for the app. "NextBus Information Systems, not to be confused with NextBus, claims that an agreement from 2004 gives them full authorization to collect $1 per download from any application developer. Even after I offered to make Routesy free, they still insist on collecting a fee."

Sounds like Muni wanted him to pay them, and he understandably has no obligation by some random 3rd party.

Did I not understand the whole situation per that story and the actual newslink?

Re:Whoops (1)

wujing (1584803) | more than 5 years ago | (#28510949)

Rolex [watchmvp.com]

Google Uses It (1)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503203)

This isn't the first time someone has used this data; looks like they're too scared to go after the big guys.

http://maps.google.com/intl/en/landing/transit/ [google.com]

Re:Google Uses It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503683)

Google uses static schedule data. NextBus is about dynamic next stop arrivals.

Re:Google Uses It (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504145)

Except it sucks on my campus. I've seen a timer (we have scrolling LCDs with information at the most popular stops) go from "10 minutes" to "0 minutes" to "arriving" and then "30 minutes" without any bus passing by.

Re:Google Uses It (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504569)

No, Google doesn't use it. Google uses the published schedules. NBIS uses realtime GPS position data of the vehicles.

Re:Google Uses It (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509565)

That's a shame I know that the Metro Transit in King County, WA provides the data for free in a couple of forms. You can look up the current position of the buses as they pass sensors.

Additionally a few UW students put together a more useful system that can be access via an automated message system. Also available via an iPhone friendly page or texting. If one doesn't have a smart phone that can handle java or doesn't wish to pay for the bandwidth. One Bus Away [onebusaway.org]

As of now, our transit provider hasn't been put into that sort of problem, but they haven't offered to steal the idea and put it in place officially either.

Me things he looses (1)

stevew (4845) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503209)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database. Further, unless he specifically provided for it in his contract up front, work done for hire belongs to he who pays. If you under-price your services, that isn't the cities fault.

Finally, what about the guy who thought he was HELPING the city and county of SF by not giving the other admins the passwords. They locked his butt up. SF doesn't play nice when under pressure.

Re:Me thinks he looses (1)

memnock (466995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503237)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database.

sounds like he copied his business practices from Microsoft. maybe he copyrighted copying other companies business practices also?

Re:Me things he looses (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503363)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database.

Are you sure about that? Maps are databases.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

TimTucker (982832) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503379)

Are you sure about that? Maps are databases.

I would think that Maps would generally be considered as "images" rather than databases.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

SpzToid (869795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503611)

Maps tend to be more useful with vector data, as opposed to consisting of a raster image. Databases are then much smaller, and all kinds of calculations become possible.

Re:Me things he looses (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503679)

No a map is a piece of paper with images on it. They can be copyrighted. You are talking about a database with names and numbers (names like cities, streets, rivers, etc. and numbers like addresses, latitudes, etc.). That's not a map, that's a database. Granted it is a database that with the right software engine can be used to display a map, but a map on its own it is not.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

mikewas (119762) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503675)

The buses' movement is public data, but the article mentions that transponders were attached to buses to allow this data to be collected. Who paid for this (the article doesn't say)?

If I pay to collect the data & generate a database that doesn't mean that I can be forced to give the data away. But also, I can't stop anybody else from collecting the data & making their own database. If you don't want to buy it from me go forth & make your own database.

Re:Me things he looses (4, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505025)

If I pay to collect the data & generate a database that doesn't mean that I can be forced to give the data away. But also, I can't stop anybody else from collecting the data & making their own database. If you don't want to buy it from me go forth & make your own database

That's an interesting argument, and it's logical from where you're coming from.

But the copyright law comes at it from a different direction.

If you go to a lot of effort to collect data, that's commendable. In copyright law, that's called "sweat of the brow."

But in copyright law, you can't copyright data that you've collected just by sweat of the brow. It also takes some kind of creativity or innovation or judgment.

That's what the Supreme Court decided in Feist. Phone numbers can't be copyrighted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service [wikipedia.org]

Is it the locations or the predictions? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28507431)

Ahh, but in this case the data that is being collected is bus location information. The information the everyone wants access to is the bus route timing predictions. Those are created via some complex code that looks at the location information and other parameters and information to produce a prediction of when the bus is to arrive. This information may well be copyrighted as it is not "in plain view" but is generated via some creativity.

Now, if someone else were to generate their own predictions from the actual raw information that is one thing. But just redistributing the predictions generated by NextBus sounds like taking propriatory information and distributing it without the consent of those who created it.

Re:Me things he looses (2, Informative)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503861)

Are you sure about that? Maps are databases.

Not in copyright lingo they aren't. Interestingly, maps were one of the original works mentioned in the earliest federal copyright act. [wikipedia.org] "Databases" has a very different meaning; US copyright law has been loathe to grant protection to facts themselves. IIRC, the EU does have copyright protection (or some kind of protection) for databases.

Re:Me things he looses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504171)

To be granted copyright in Sweden (which is a part of EU) the work (which could be a book(fiction or fact),a map, a photography, an act, a computer program or basically anything else needs to include some originality, in Swedish they say ""hÃjt sig till en viss grad av sjÃlvstÃndighet och originalitet" which means roughly "risen to a certain degree os independence and originality".

So while a map can be copyrighted, you have to show that you put some work into it. It can't be trivial.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

the_one(2) (1117139) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505219)

If I remember correctly cooking recipes are not copyrighted in Sweden (or was it USA? I read to much /. ...)

Re:Me things he looses (2, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505681)

But maps are "facts themselves." Unless, of course, you want to argue that there's "artistry" in deciding what kind of information to put on the map -- but then you could argue that there's exactly the same kind of artistry in deciding what to include in a database!

In other words, if the Copyright Act of 1790 made a distinction between maps and databases, then it was wrong. Either both should be copyrightable, or (better yet) neither should be!

Re:Me things he looses (2, Interesting)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505883)

You're absolutely right. The boundaries in copyright law are pretty fuzzy when it comes to things like this.

Maps were almost certainly included in the original act purely to appease mapmakers, not for any principled theory of what copyright should or should not apply to. Retrospectively, however, people justify maps by saying that they do involve artistry, and it's not totally unreasonable. You could even argue that more artistry is involved in making a map than in taking a photograph.

The most well-known case dealing with whether a collection of facts can be copyrighted is Feist. [wikipedia.org] But the issue is complex, because while facts themselves aren't copyrightable, enough selection of facts can produce a result that is. What is "enough" is usually determined by a court case (or a settlement).

Re:Me things he looses (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507237)

Unless, of course, you want to argue that there's "artistry" in deciding what kind of information to put on the map

Maps are a lot smaller than the territory they represent. They leave out most stuff. How could there not be skill and judgement (i.e. Artistry) in choosing what to show?

Re:Me things he looses (3, Insightful)

Paradise Pete (33184) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504275)

Maps are databases.

Maps are the presentation of data, not the data itself.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507175)

Maps are the presentation of data, not the data itself.

I have put enough front ends on databases to know that it's not much of a distinction. And likely to be less relevant as more maps become software allowing multiple views of the same data, not paper. Also, it's worth noting that the watermarks [everything2.com] seem to be added to maps at the database not the presentation.

Re:Me things he looses (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503577)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database.

You heard wrong. Individual facts aren't copyrightable. But collect a large number into a database or encyclopedia and they are copyrightable.

But this is a different question from who owns the copyright, and the license terms, if any. This would be in the contracts...

Re:Me things he looses (2, Informative)

bitingduck (810730) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504083)

IANAL, but I believe it also depends on how the facts are organized. If its a simple list by date or time alphabetical order, then they generally aren't copyrghtable. Being able to copyright that would prevent someone else from collecting the same facts independently and publishing them in an obvious order. If there's some creative addition to the data structure or organization then the database may be copyrightable, while the facts themselves are still not copyrightable.

I.e. someone could publish a database with some creative structure and relationships and you can't copy that and republish with the same structure, but if you just take the facts and organize them some other way you can do that.

Re:Me things he looses (1)

joconor (889441) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504635)

You need to study up on this issue a bit. The disputed issue isn't a database, by which you presumably mean the published MUNI schedules. The issue is the *arrival prediction information* which NBIS claims is covered by patents. The arrival information is determined based on realtime reported GPS position of the MUNI vehicles. Then, presumably, NBIS applies some algorithm taking into account traffic patterns to predict when the vehicle will reach each of its stops.

The basic issue is that since this is a *publicly funded* project, can NBIS keep the public from using this information in any way they, and San Francisco, desire.

Re:Me things he looses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504951)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database.

You can copyright a database.,

You can't copyright the data contained therein. (in the US, anyway)

Re:Me things he looses (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 5 years ago | (#28508675)

Gee - last I heard - you couldn't copyright a database. Further, unless he specifically provided for it in his contract up front, work done for hire belongs to he who pays. If you under-price your services, that isn't the cities fault.

Actually, databases are generally copyrightable as a compilation; however the underlying data generally isn't. So, if he is collecting real time data from muni buses; data muni makes available, I don't see how he is violating someone else's copyright. It's not like he is downloading a thrid party database, which might be protected.

Lost money? (3, Insightful)

mmarlett (520340) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503225)

The developer, at least in the linked articles, does not claim that it has lost money on the system. It simply claims to own the data and that it has licensed the exclusive rights (from another private company) to develop with the data. The question becomes, "So, OK, you have paid to develop this data, but why? It is, after all, public data."

Re:Lost money? (4, Informative)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503365)

The question becomes, "So, OK, you have paid to develop this data, but why? It is, after all, public data."

This gets into the contracts and the "data rights" agreements. For example, there are a few different contracts that can be set up even when a government pays a company to develop an application.

No Data Rights: The customer (government) buys the application and can use it as is. The customer gets no detailed information, source code or redistribution rights, just an end product.
Trade-off: The developer charges less for development as they believe they will be able to sell it elsewhere or further develop it as the sole source.

Limited Data Rights: The customer buys the application and has full access to the detailed information, source code, etc. However, it can not be redistributed for a number of years (say, 5). After that number of years, the customer has full data rights.
Trade-off: The developer charges slightly more for development, as they will not have a monopoly on the product after a few years.

Full Data Rights: The customer has full access to everything necessary to duplicate and modify the product immediately.
Trade-off: The developer chargers more as they can not guarantee that they will make any further money off of the product.

It's like professional photographers. It's a picture of you, but if you want a copy, you're going to have to pay for it. If you want the negatives, you're going to have to pay for those as well. There are further variations that combine these ones, but they give you an idea of the three types that get modified for an actual contract. From the article, it sounds like NBIS is trying to claim that SF doesn't have the data rights to redistribute the information beyond a specific set of applications/methods. To figure out what the truth is, we would need to read the contracts.

Re:Lost money? (4, Informative)

mmarlett (520340) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503595)

The city of San Francisco says that it is a no data rights agreement. From the article:

Muni spokesperson Judson True says ... that, no, Muni owns the data in question and that the public is, of course, entitled to access it. In fact, he went even further: Muni isn't just giving us all permission to access the data, they're also committed to finding ways to make it easier to get to it.

Re:Lost money? (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28508449)

That's why I said we'd have to look at the contract to be sure. Whenever you have two parties disagreeing on who owns what, go look at the contract. At this point, I don't trust Muni to say "we screwed up" and I don't trust NBIS to say "no, we really don't own alternative distribution methods".

Here's the NBIS quote, also from the article:

Our Franchisee rights cover commercial use of the data, as well as exclusive rights to distribute the NextBus data to mobile phones.

Simply put, show me the contract and we'll see which of the two is lying.

Re:Lost money? (1)

Gregory Arenius (1105327) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509015)

I read that same quote elsewhere and its really surprising to me. As far as I'm aware Muni is super stingy with all of their data. Even their route data isn't freely available for reuse. For instance, I'm trying to put all the Muni lines into openstreetmaps.org but I can't just go on to Muni's website and copy the data from their. If you want to use that data you have to enter into a licensing agreement with Muni where you have to do things like give them quarterly reports on how many users access that data. I've been manually going around and regathering it myself just to avoid having to deal with them.

According to some Google people I spoke with at WhereCamp a bit back even they had to sign that agreement in order to put the Muni info into Google maps. I find it hard to believe that with those kinds of policies in place Muni is going to let people freely view their realtime info, especially if it might make them look bad by showing exactly how often they're late.

However, if I'm wrong and there is someplace where Muni makes this data available I'd love to here it. Otherwise I'm just going to assume the Muni spokesperson is fibbing and hopeing the whole situation blows over quickly.

Cheers,
Greg

Re:Lost money? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503657)

This gets into the contracts and the "data rights" agreements. For example, there are a few different contracts that can be set up even when a government pays a company to develop an application.

Doe the FOIA trump a government's restrictive licensing of data of this kind?

Re:Lost money? (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28508387)

Sorry, don't know FOIA. The following is a guess on it.

I'd say it would depend on the information and the data agreements. For example, you aren't going to get the source code to a program a government is using. There wouldn't be any reason and in the No Data Rights and Limited Data Rights circumstances the government would have to break the contract if it released it under FOIA. Kind of like having a subpoena trying to trump doctor patient confidentiality.

As to this case in particular, a FOIA can only be for information a government already has. This data has to be accessed in real time for it to be of any use. So, one way or another it wouldn't help.

Finally, the information is open to the public, it's just a matter of how it is getting to the public that is being contested here. I don't believe the FOIA would apply to that.

Buy a car (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503251)

Problem solved.

Re:Buy a car (1)

Daffy Duck (17350) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504367)

You haven't been to San Francisco, have you? :)

Easy to buy a car, not so easy to park it. Friends of mine who realized their dream of moving to the big city ended up moving back to the suburbs after less than a year because the daily job of finding parking took about an hour and a half. That's 10% of your waking life gone with nothing to show for it.

Seriously, ask any San Francisco resident, a story about a great parking spot is enough to bring a tear to their eye.

Re:Buy a car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28505229)

Your friends are retarded. San Francisco is 7 mi by 7 mi. They should've bought a bike or took a bus or done anything else besides insist on driving to work everyday.

Re:Buy a car (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28506965)

After I moved to SF, I sold my car. No need for it here.

Cars in San Francisco (2, Insightful)

Cassander (251642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507371)

After I moved to SF, I sold my car. No need for it here.

Unless, of course, you ever want to leave SF for any reason. I know there's some decent public transportation to surrounding areas, but it's far from comprehensive, especially after the sun goes down.

Speaking of public transportation, it sure would be nice to get BART up here (I live in Santa Rosa). Fuck you Marin County, fuck you very much.

This is only the beginning (3, Interesting)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503277)

It may be bus arrival times in San Francisco today, but this whole notion of data being exclusive property isn't new and isn't going away. And if Bilski stands and ends up partially undermining software patents, then I would hazard a guess that more companies are going to try monetizing the data aggregates and outputs. Even without Bilski as software becomes more of a commodity market, then data and data aggregates will become the value market.

This isn't a new concept. The public pays for scientific research at an institution of higher learning also funded by tax dollars, yet sometimes the only way you could get a copy of the results is pay for an expensive subscription to a scientific journal, which claims copyright on the published data.

This case probably isn't a good example and the developer trying to be the data gatekeeper is going to lose, but it's only the beginning. There will be more.

Re:This is only the beginning (3, Informative)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503421)

"I would hazard a guess that more companies are going to try monetizing the data aggregates and outputs."

see http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/05/19/1846258 [slashdot.org] for wolfram¦alpha copywright claim over its outputs

Re:This is only the beginning (4, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503489)

Look at the outfits that monetize the NOAA's data: that's public information as well. The NOAA was "publishing" this information in a very complicated binary format, and these outfits were making a ton of money in converting it to other purposes. I remember reading here on Slashdot a couple years ago that the government was thinking of making weather data available in XML or some other standard format, and that a couple of these outfits went after them in court to try and prevent it (thereby preserving their distribution lock.) I don't know what the eventual outcome of that was.

Re:This is only the beginning (5, Informative)

igjeff (15314) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503625)

They lost, and they lost rather completely.

Here's a starting point for exploring some of this data. There's probably more places where this data is available from the NWS in very open formats, and I believe more is to come.

http://www.weather.gov/rss/ [weather.gov]

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503689)

They lost, and they lost rather completely.

Here's a starting point for exploring some of this data. There's probably more places where this data is available from the NWS in very open formats, and I believe more is to come.

http://www.weather.gov/rss/ [weather.gov]

You know, that's exactly what I wanted to hear. Thanks for that.

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503917)

I can't really find anything about a lawsuit (but I have not searched anywhere near exhaustively), but I can find where Accuweather tried to get (former) Senator Rick Santorum to pass a bill preventing NOAA/NWS from providing data to the public:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Weather_Service_Duties_Act_of_2005 [wikipedia.org]

Even prior to that time period, the NWS provided pretty good access to their data. I think the utter failure of that bill prompted them to go ahead and make a consumer portal at weather.com.

This slashdot story suggests that weather.gov existed already and that Accuweather started about by trying to make noise against a policy change:

http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/04/06/27/0216251.shtml?tid=103&tid=126&tid=95&tid=99 [slashdot.org]

(I imagine that is the discussion you mentioned, but who knows).

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504021)

(I imagine that is the discussion you mentioned, but who knows).

Could be. I had just remembered a little about it, and it kinda seemed relevant.

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

fava (513118) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504195)

There are 2 theys in the story, which one lost?

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

coolsnowmen (695297) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507169)

There are 2 theys in the story, which one lost?

...a couple of these outfits went after them in court to try and prevent it (thereby preserving their distribution lock.) I don't know what the eventual outcome of that was.

They lost, and they lost rather completely.

The most recent subject would be "a couple [of these outfits]" referring to the outfits that sued.

Re:This is only the beginning (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503743)

This is available in XML for years now. A while into it, AccuWeather apparently tried to apply some pressure, but it's been up and running to the day.

Re:This is only the beginning (2)

gemada (974357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504485)

Look at the outfits that monetize the NOAA's data

please stop using the word monetize. it is a weasel word.

Re:This is only the beginning (2, Interesting)

jvkjvk (102057) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507887)

but isn't that the point? the only people who would 'monetize' formerly open data are weasels.

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

BillX (307153) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509191)

XML is available. See http://www.weather.gov/forecasts/xml/ [weather.gov] I while back I threw together a quick n dirty script that queries the NDFD every few hours and drives an LED weatherball [cexx.org] in front of my house. Keeps me from having to remember to check a weather report every night :-) If you back up to the main page, there are even links to view the forecast models themselves.

Re:This is only the beginning (2, Interesting)

bitingduck (810730) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504149)

This isn't a new concept. The public pays for scientific research at an institution of higher learning also funded by tax dollars, yet sometimes the only way you could get a copy of the results is pay for an expensive subscription to a scientific journal, which claims copyright on the published data.

That model is starting to go away (with the publishers kicking and screaming). The US government is starting to (started a while ago) include clauses in grant contracts that limit the exclusive data rights of the investigators, and also require gov't funded authors to use copyright transfer agreements that give the publishers a limited time for exclusive publication. I haven't been keeping up closely, but it's inevitable and accelerating.

Re:This is only the beginning (1)

jwilty (1048206) | more than 5 years ago | (#28507567)

This isn't a new concept. The public pays for scientific research at an institution of higher learning also funded by tax dollars, yet sometimes the only way you could get a copy of the results is pay for an expensive subscription to a scientific journal, which claims copyright on the published data.

This is a good example...one that has been recently addressed by the NIH public access policy [nih.gov] , much to the chagrin of the "expensive scientific journals." As the Internet makes data mining more accessible (and therefore more common), I think we'll see more of these types of arrangements for government-funded projects.

This seems comparable to uni students (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503389)

Seems a comparable situation to when students have claimed rights over their own work that has been funded by their university. As i recall they all ended up with the university winning.

I also seem to recall a few occations of similar stuff where workers stuff was claimed by their employers, also tended to go in favour of the employer, usually especially so because it was stated in whatever contract

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (3, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503541)

I also seem to recall a few occations of similar stuff where workers stuff was claimed by their employers, also tended to go in favour of the employer, usually especially so because it was stated in whatever contract

There are, however, limits on those kinds of shenanigans. I worked as a developer back in the eighties for an outfit whose employment contract not only entitled them to ownership of any software or intellectual property that I developed while on company time (obviously I had no problem with that) but ANYTHING I did outside of work, even if in a completely unrelated field, for a period of FIVE YEARS after I left their employment. Naturally I refused to sign that little bastard until they fixed it to my (and my attorney's) satisfaction. Even so, I have the feeling there aren't many courts that would have upheld that contract, but I felt it was best to have the worst portions excised.

The place was run by chimpanzees anyway, with a couple of orangutans in the head office. Yeah, it was a game company, and as employers go they made Electronic Arts look good.

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503897)

but ANYTHING I did outside of work, even if in a completely unrelated field, for a period of FIVE YEARS after I left their employment.

Depending upon what state you live in, that kind of no-compete contract could very well be illegal, or at least unenforceable (IIRC California basically doesn't enforce these at all). Five years is a long time, too! I could understand 6 months or a year...

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (2, Insightful)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503921)

Even so, I have the feeling there aren't many courts that would have upheld that contract, but I felt it was best to have the worst portions excised.

Better a few billable hours up front than hundreds of billable hours in a court case later.

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504035)

Even so, I have the feeling there aren't many courts that would have upheld that contract, but I felt it was best to have the worst portions excised.

Better a few billable hours up front than hundreds of billable hours in a court case later.

Yep, that was my attitude as well.

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505003)

Heh.. I've had a few people try to get me to sign crap like that, and the only argument they could make is "but it's the standard contract! Everyone here signed it!"

-jcr

Re:This seems comparable to uni students (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28508313)

Heh.. I've had a few people try to get me to sign crap like that, and the only argument they could make is "but it's the standard contract! Everyone here signed it!"

-jcr

Yeah. That's precisely what happened there, but as it happens I refused to sign it. It took about three months for personnel to notice that, and they came by and told me I'd forgotten to sign it. I said, no, I hadn't forgotten. A few days later, this secretary comes around with a stack of forms for me to sign (insurance stuff, etc.), with the signature line of that stupid employment agreement sticking out of the bottom. Nice try, I told her.

So then the personnel manager comes over and tries to convince me that I needed to sign it as a condition of my continued employment because, as you say, "everyone else signed it." I told him that was not made clear before I was hired so it simply did not count, and furthermore that everyone else here screwed up was no reason for me to do the same. I mean, did I look like a lemming? Of course, I was perfectly willing to leave if it was that important to them, but I didn't really think it was: somebody in personnel had made a boneheaded mistake and wanted me to give them an easy way out.

Ultimately it came down to the fact that they had some serious deadlines to meet and I was right in the middle of doing just that. So we came to a meeting of the minds, eventually.

So watch what you sign folks, because it can come back to bite you in the ass.

Data and copyright? (1)

QuantumV (1307135) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503397)

I thought you there was no copyright on data under US law. C.f. the OpenStreetMap legal issues http://www.opengeodata.org/?p=262 [opengeodata.org] . There may be contractual rights in the picture, but only if those were negotiated already.

Tactic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503461)

They are hoping the City won't take it to court, but settle the case. It's a type of judicial blackmail to make back the $$$ they lost.

Complete nonsense.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503585)

1) The patent only grants exlusivity to the owner for the method itself, not the data.
2) The data is intrinisically owned by the City of SF.

Both these points will destroy and generally make the company look like money grubbing greed-monsters from the netherrealm.

It's not the patents - it's just insane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503633)

NextBus' patents do not play a role in this. It is just plain access and who gets to play gatekeeper. Overall bizarre but one would expect that the City could usher one of their staff attorneys in and send NextBus Information System a c&d.

Can you copyright a published prediction? (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503663)

I don't know, I really hope not. But my guess is that this douche-bag NBIS company could hire enough lawyers to make it not worth anyones money to find out. Their only interest is protecting their own application.

Also remember this is a small subsidiary of the real company that produces the prediction software and system. Someone thought it'd be a good idea to try to sell mobile applications to consumers, so they split off what looks like a dinky subsidiary. The really stupid thing is this works at cross-purposes of the REAL company (the one who likely makes all the money) who just wants to sell these systems to cities to improve their transit systems. Having a strong developer community developing software that interacts with YOUR system is a hell of a lot smarter that trying to protect the tiny amount of revenue this kind of application can provide.

Re:Can you copyright a published prediction? (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503821)

But my guess is that this douche-bag NBIS company could hire enough lawyers to make it not worth anyones money to find out.

I doubt it, because it sounds like the owner of the installed system, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, believes it owns the rights to the data it's generating (train arrival estimates).

From the article:

Muni spokesperson Judson True says otherwise. In fact, he says that, no, Muni owns the data in question and that the public is, of course, entitled to access it. In fact, he went even further: Muni isn't just giving us all permission to access the data, they're also committed to finding ways to make it easier to get to it.

Of course it could be that there's some fine print in the original procurement contract between the SFMTA and NextBus that the Muni spokesman isn't aware of, but given their commitment to making the data available for use it does at least seem as if that's a legal fight that'll be paid for by the SFMTA (i.e. the taxpayers who bought the system) rather than by any individual company wanting to use the data.

Copywrongs (4, Insightful)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503811)

If the data could be copyrighted, ownership would go to the creator of the data. That would be the city of SF, not the programmer. They created the data with the software they contracted him to produce for them, then they ran their software on their hardware, watching their mass transit movements and recording the results on their computers. The programmer could not own the data because he could not create it. He has no mass transit system with which to do so.

In any case, it is highly unlikely anyone could copyright the data. Copyright requires at least minimal creativity. Data produced automatically requires no creativity. In addition, works produced by the government (ie. by the public for their own good via their chosen representatives) cannot be copyrighted.

The programmers actions are likely to be considered by the court (unless he backs down very quickly) blackmail. These days, if the actions threaten public safety, they might even be considered terrorism. Under these charges, even if he backs down the damage is done and he might well be looking at many years in prison. The SF DA could file such charges to scare him as they often do with other charges. But terrorism charges tend to go all the way through once the process is started. To prevent others from trying this stunt, they may well do just this. And I hope they do.

The contract may have given him the right to use the data. There's no doubt it my mind that it did not give him sole use, much less state that he also had sole control over its use. There's no way the SF city attorneys would have allowed that in a contract.

Re:Copywrongs (2, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503949)

In any case, it is highly unlikely anyone could copyright the data. Copyright requires at least minimal creativity. Data produced automatically requires no creativity.

True, but the "minimal" creativity is extremely minimal. Meaning that if anyone did any selection or editing or massaging of the information in any way, it might pass the threshold.

I once asked my IP law prof if images captured by automated cameras (e.g. from toll booths) could be copyrighted, since there was no human involvement, and it was basically a purely mechanical process, devoid of creativity. He agreed with me in spirit, but said that even the act of installing a camera, or setting up an automated camera, would likely qualify as enough creativity in courts these days.

In addition, works produced by the government (ie. by the public for their own good via their chosen representatives) cannot be copyrighted.

That only applies to works of the federal government. State laws vary. (An added caveat is that the federal government can acquire copyrighted works).

Re:Copywrongs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28505805)

True, but the "minimal" creativity is extremely minimal. Meaning that if anyone did any selection or editing or massaging of the information in any way, it might pass the threshold.

True, but (in the US) you can only copyright the expression, the data itself cannot be copyrighted.

Re:Copywrongs (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509201)

In any case, it is highly unlikely anyone could copyright the data. Copyright requires at least minimal creativity. Data produced automatically requires no creativity.

True, but the "minimal" creativity is extremely minimal. Meaning that if anyone did any selection or editing or massaging of the information in any way, it might pass the threshold.

I once asked my IP law prof if images captured by automated cameras (e.g. from toll booths) could be copyrighted, since there was no human involvement, and it was basically a purely mechanical process, devoid of creativity. He agreed with me in spirit, but said that even the act of installing a camera, or setting up an automated camera, would likely qualify as enough creativity in courts these days.

The camera installation and setup, like the creation of the software, requires creativity, at least in the design. I disagree with your prof in that the data produced afterwards fits the definition. Extrapolate from a simple turnstyle with a counter. Counting mechanically requires no creativity. Doing it electronically is no different in principle. More complex data, same answer, IMO.

In addition, works produced by the government (ie. by the public for their own good via their chosen representatives) cannot be copyrighted.

That only applies to works of the federal government. State laws vary. (An added caveat is that the federal government can acquire copyrighted works).

California code says the state can acquire copyright of works such as art and software. It also says data created must be disclosed upon request, just as any government document. I couldn't find whether there's a copyright associated with data.

Re:Copywrongs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28507525)

Ahh, but I remember well when NextBus first started. They wrote the software and then sold the service to various transit systems. (There are many the run NextBus services - or at least trials - see http://www.nextbus.com/ [nextbus.com] )

Now, NextBus owns all of the code, IP rights, and equipment that runs the service. They got paid to install tracking devices on the buses in Muni but other systems already had tracking devices so they just used the tracking data feeds. What NextBus did was take that tracking information and, with their software technology, produce useful information about future arrival times at bus stops. (aka Predictions). This information was generated within the NextBus computers with NextBus developed software.

So, now while I agree that the behaviors here seem a bit strange, I would doubt that the generated data would belong to Muni unless there was a contract that specifically said so. I would doubt that a photographer would say that the pictures belong to the plants or people that he photographed with his camera using his skill... Even if paid to do so - such as wedding photographers owning the copyright on the photos from your wedding...

Re:Copywrongs (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509229)

Muni already paid for the results from the operation, which are used to run the system. To my mind, NextBus is trying to double-dip by charging for what Muni has already paid to use.

where is the company? where does he live? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503927)

yust yoking youse yall :p

Arrival times != timetables (4, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504023)

To me the author of the article is deliberately confusing public timetables with transmissions showing the position and expected arrival times of a bus.

If the position and expected arrival time is calculated on the fly, that's more of a service than just pure publically available data. If the condition of this service being provided is that the data is confidential or restricted to licensees. The provided data is processed real time using their equiptment and code. It's one thing to say "at 2:12pm the bus is 5 miles from transponder 2A, 1/5 mile from 4B and 8 miles from 1E" which is pure statistics (albeit collected from private equiptment), but to say "it's just left the anystreet stop and will arrive at noname plaza in 6 minutes in the current traffic conditions", could be seen as editorialising. If you're able to get as much of this information whenever you want, it then goes beyond fair use too.

An extreme argument of what the author is saying could be this: The fact that Michael Jackson died is public fact, a 400 word article going into the detail of how he died is copyrighted and subject to fair use restrictions. The interesting argument that applies here is, if that same news report was machine generated based on a few facts fed into it and the rest padded out through AI, could you copyright that?

Re:Arrival times != timetables (1)

Gnavpot (708731) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504855)

To me the author of the article is deliberately confusing public timetables with transmissions showing the position and expected arrival times of a bus.

If the position and expected arrival time is calculated on the fly, that's more of a service than just pure publically available data. [...] If you're able to get as much of this information whenever you want, it then goes beyond fair use too.

On the other hand, I also wonder if custom website presentation is being confused with unauthorized use of data. I would very much like to know how the phone retrieves the data.

Does it retrieve it from the city's public available webpage via a normal http request?

Or does it make unauthorized requests to the web server or some database server behind the city's public web server?

Or does it retrieve it from a server set up by the developer of the iPhone app?

In the first case, I will claim that this is a web browser which has been customized to show only one web page and modify it to make it better suited for the host equipment.

If the owner of the data can forbid that, it may also mean that they can forbid the use of any unapproved web browser on their web page. That is an extremely dangerous path.

Re:Arrival times != timetables (1)

Gregory Arenius (1105327) | more than 5 years ago | (#28509035)

The system uses GPS systems that use report in their location every minute. Even if they predictions that nextbus publishes aren't open the raw gps feed could be very useful. The nextbus prediction system leaves a lot to be desired; With the raw data I'm sure someone could do significantly better.

Cheers,
Greg

What part is public, and what part is proprietary. (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505201)

I met the inventor of NextBus some years ago at the Hacker's Conference. What they get from the bus is position, speed, and a few bits of data like the destination sign setting, "doors open" and "wheelchair lift deployed". After much crunching on this data, info like "Next bus at this stop: 6 minutes" comes out. Over time, as more data comes in, the predictions get better. It's a good machine learning problem, because you have actuals; you can tell when the bus eventually gets to the stop, so you have hard data from which to validate the prediction algorithm. You don't even need a map.

The early business plan for NextBus had a little dedicated receiver they were going to sell to consumers. The idea was that you have one at home, and it tells you the number of minutes until the next bus gets to the stop near your house, so you know when to leave the house. That was before the World Wide Web, so that wasn't necessary.

Originally, Muni management hated the system, because it was too honest about their bad service. But after much political effort, eventually it was deployed on a few lines, where it was very popular. Then it was put in everywhere.

Muni probably owns the raw data, and NextBus probably owns the predictions. I'm not sure on that, though.

Re:What part is public, and what part is proprieta (1)

knifeyspooney (623953) | more than 5 years ago | (#28514255)

Muni probably owns the raw data, and NextBus probably owns the predictions.

NextBus is the developer, but the litigious company in this case is called NextBus Information Systems (NBIS). NBIS claims to own rights to the data NextBus's apps produce. It's unclear whether the two companies have any other financial relationship -- if they have any at all. As far as we know, NBIS may be a rogue, an SCO of the transit info business.

Make up your mind. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505311)

> ...attempt to use patent threats...
> ...
> ...unless they license the 'copyrighted' data...

Is this about patents or copyrights? BTW data is not protected by copyright in the USA.

Well I hope he can get a few bucks because... (1)

BlackBloq (702158) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505789)

What company would I pay that has a silly mandate such as this. I would rather eat nails then let such a deal be struck by my lawyers! I would never talk to or deal with a nitwit who claims right or tries to claim right to my data. He is awaiting the loss of his assets due to incomprehensible lack of new business! That would be like the creators of a 3d animation program claiming to own the rights to a movie because their software was used. Good luck !

Here is another CEO (1)

AnAdventurer (1548515) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505893)

That clearly deserves a raise, what a great business man!

Wheres the outrage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28506005)

People should be furious about this, as a long-time MUNI rider I waited over 5 years to get this system working. Secondly, why aren't I reading about this in the Chronicle or SFgate.com? MUNI sucks worse then any of you all can possibly imagine. Management is incompetent, buses often come two in a row back to back then nothing for 45 minutes. Emplyees get bonuses for being extra rude to passengers, well at least it seems that way. Buses are old, and dirty. The coup d' gras? They're raising the fare to $2(US) in 2 days. FAIL.

Contract? (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 5 years ago | (#28506497)

You would think this would already be in the contract they signed. I mean, it's not only programmers who have to guess the possible errors users will make ("Enter the number of fingers on your right hand: [Same as my left.]"). Lawyers and consultants should have stipulations if something doesn't occur as planned. Point to page Section 27, paragraph 3, and avoid the cheesy media coverage.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>