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Controversy Over San Francisco Public Transportation Data 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the information-wants-to-be-expensive-sometimes dept.
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."
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Controversy Over San Francisco Public Transportation Data

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  • Whoops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by njfuzzy (734116) <ian AT ian-x DOT com> on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:23AM (#28503169) Homepage
    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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:34AM (#28503235)

      It's called 'renegotiation'.

      Others call it blackmail.

      Whatever. he dude's playing a dangerous game.

      • by Jurily (900488)

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

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Nekomusume (956306)

        It's called 'fraud'.

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

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          You can't copyright facts but you can copyright collections of facts.

          This would be where anyone standing at the station would be able to know how many people got on the train or what time the train showed up. The collection of facts would be when you do this and present it in a usable form like a database for a real time tracking application.

          However, I still think fraud is at play here because he was paid to do X in which he is limiting by breaking a process in X because he wants more pay.

    • by gnupun (752725)

      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. Th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Paradise Pete (33184)

        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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vux984 (928602) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @12:28PM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

          by Dare nMc (468959) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @04:08PM (#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.

          • by St.Creed (853824)

            Actually, under the Block Exemption Rules, this is illegal in Europe. Any dealer or repairshop has the right to obtain the proper software and tools for reading the data. Any attempt to hinder the competition doing so could result in huge fines (a 1 billion dollar fine for Daimler, and the threat of another one, was enough to have them change their attitude about the law) .

            Ofcourse, that's the socialist EU we're talking about here. I'm sure the USA has a much better system for aiding and improving competiti

            • by Dare nMc (468959)

              Sounds identical to the USA laws, at least in intent. Since it is all based off ISO/SAE in the USA I would bet it is 100% the same as Europe's laws. Everything is in the loopholes, IE they are not required to share all useful information gathered, just a little more than the minimum. IE they wouldn't be required to have more than something like 1Kbytes of fault history information, and not much vehicle state information along with each fault. If you do more than the minimum inside the controller, then y

              • by St.Creed (853824)

                Okay, slightly different, because in the EU the manufacturer can choose not to disclose *any* information. However, everything that is available to the bound dealers MUST be available to the independent cardealers as well, to create a level playingfield.

                I think in practice it should work out nearly the same.

      • Re:Whoops (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Nutria (679911) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:29PM (#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!

        • by Quixote (154172) *
          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 m

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      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 ob

  • 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: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

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

      • by hedwards (940851)
        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 b
  • 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.

    • 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?

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

      Are you sure about that? Maps are databases.

      • by TimTucker (982832)

        Are you sure about that? Maps are databases.

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

        • by SpzToid (869795)

          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: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            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.
      • by mikewas (119762)

        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.

        • by nbauman (624611) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @01:11PM (#28505025) Homepage Journal

          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]

          • by Anonymous Coward

            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

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by langelgjm (860756)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mrchaotica (681592) *

          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: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by langelgjm (860756)

            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 ca

          • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Paradise Pete (33184)

        Maps are databases.

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

        • 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: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bitingduck (810730)

        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 data

    • by joconor (889441)

      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 *pu

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

      Yeah, that's what I heard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service [wikipedia.org]

    • 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? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mmarlett (520340) * on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:32AM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:51AM (#28503365) Homepage Journal

      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? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mmarlett (520340) * on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:20AM (#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.

        • by Ironsides (739422)
          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.

        • 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

        • by theodicey (662941)

          No data rights, at the very least. Possibly more.

          It's confusing terminology because here "no data rights" means Muni gets complete access to data (but none to source code).

      • 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?

        • by Ironsides (739422)
          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 o
  • Buy a car (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Problem solved.

    • by Daffy Duck (17350)

      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.

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

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

      • by Cassander (251642)

        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.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:39AM (#28503277) Homepage

    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.

    • by wjh31 (1372867) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:58AM (#28503421) Homepage
      "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
      • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:06AM (#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.
        • by igjeff (15314) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:25AM (#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]

          • 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.

            • by maxume (22995)

              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

              • (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.

          • by fava (513118)

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

            • 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: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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.

        • by gemada (974357)

          Look at the outfits that monetize the NOAA's data

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

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jvkjvk (102057)

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

        • by BillX (307153)
          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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bitingduck (810730)

      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.

    • by jwilty (1048206)

      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.

  • 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
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:14AM (#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.

      • by langelgjm (860756)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TinBromide (921574)

        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.

        • 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.

      • by jcr (53032)

        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

        • 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 m

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • 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 cros

    • 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 co

  • Copywrongs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:54AM (#28503811) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by langelgjm (860756)

      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

      • by DynaSoar (714234)

        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 dis

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:20AM (#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?
    • by Gnavpot (708731)

      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 w

    • 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

    • by theodicey (662941)

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

      No, that's not even an issue. The timetables are entirely public data generated by Muni (SFMTA) and are available many ways including Google Transit's GTFS. The author seems aware of this.

      The only issue is about who has the rights to the data generated by Nextbus's proprietary prediction algorithms. According to Muni's spokesperson they have already paid

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @01:29PM (#28505201) Homepage

    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.

    • 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.
    • I just interviewed all of the parties except gray island ceo. the audio can be heard at http://seniordad.com/SrDad/SFBR/SFBR.html [seniordad.com]
  • > ...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.

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

  • You can't sell an iPhone app unless Apple agrees. Someone doesn't like your app and writes a water-muddying letter to Apple. Apple doesn't like muddy water and pulls app from store. No other means of distribution. Geek squashed.

    Ergo, don't buy an iPhone and don't produce apps for iPhones. Problem solved.

  • I'm confused. Is this a patent problems thread, or a some-government-official-screwed-up-a-contract-again thread?

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