Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Should rail timetables be restricted under government copyright?

NSW has been the scene of an interesting series of events over the last week regarding the right of iPhone developers to republish NSW Rail timetables in their applications.

Covered in the Sydney Morning Herald articles, CityRail puts brakes on iPhone timetable app and How RailCorp's derailing commuter 'apps', last week it emerged that NSW Rail had threatened four developers with legal action for repackaged NSW rail timetables into applications for iPhones, breaching copyright.

The reason for the legal action given to the SMH was,
"RailCorp's primary concern is that our customers receive accurate, up-to-date timetable information," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Next the NSW Premier stepped in and as covered in the article, Rees orders RailCorp to talk to iPhone app makers, releasing the news publicly initially via his PremierofNSW Twitter account.

I've blogged previously about the need for government to make it easier to reuse publicly released government information.

Why copyright material that is made available online anyway? if the aim is to simply prevent out-of-context use or commercial reselling, there are options like Creative Commons available.

Indeed the ABS has taken steps in this direction, beginning to publish most website content under a Creative Commons license.

I envisage timetables as an appropriate type of information to be offered as a web service or RSS feed. This would allow NSW Rail full control over the accuracy of the information while allowing other websites and mobile applications to integrate it into their offerings. The public can then vote with their feet as to which version of the information they prefer, and how much they are willing to pay for it.

Much the same type of service is already offered by the Bureau of Meteorology - and the success of OzWeather on the iPhone is a testament to the successful integration of information possible when there's a web-savvy government agency and a developer who finds a way to add value to the raw data.

1 comment:

  1. "RailCorp's primary concern is that our customers receive accurate, up-to-date timetable information," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

    Surely they should stop printing timetables then, as these are also likely to go out of date...

    ReplyDelete