Trademarks — and Copyrights — in the Public Interest?

Originally posted 2005-09-26 18:31:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

South Brooklyn section of MTA Subway MapWired News reports:

Transit officials in New York and San Francisco have launched a copyright crackdown on a website offering free downloadable subway maps designed to be viewed on the iPod. . . .

More than 9,000 people downloaded the map, which was viewable on either an iPod or an iPod nano, before Bright received a Sept. 14 letter from Lester Freundlich, a senior associate counsel at New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, saying that Bright had infringed the MTA’s copyright and that he needed a license to post the map and to authorize others to download it.

Not very freundlich of Lester, was it?

“I removed it promptly,” said Bright, a design director at Nerve.com. “I’m very aware that they are copyright violations, but I’m not trying to make money or do anything malicious. I’m not in this to piss people off.”

Last week Bright received a similar cease-and-desist letter from officials with Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, demanding that Bright remove a map of the San Francisco rail system.

I blogged about this topic in general — the assertion of intellectual property rights in arguably public goods such as train-line symbols — in June. My conclusion then:

It’s one thing to say that services aren’t free and that even when, as in the case of the MTA, they succesfully address significant externalities, their costs should not be unduly disconnected from users. But it’s another thing to say that, however revenue-starved, a public institution (in the broad sense of the word) such as the MTA should restrict the public, much less the bloggy, enjoyment of a public iconography such as the train number symbols and the image of the classic subway token.

In other words, if you get a C&D letter from the MTA, give me call, won’t you?

The issue here is not quite the same. It is narrower, and deals only with the copyright in the maps. But in a broader sense, it is the same: Should these public authorities, ostensibly in the business of helping people get around, be more interested in rent seeking than in … helping people get around?

I don’t think so.

UPDATE: Excellent legal analysis, as usual, by Patry.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:  How did the MTA’s ad department let this past the boys in legal?!

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Author:Ron Coleman

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6 Responses to “Trademarks — and Copyrights — in the Public Interest?”

  1. Tal Benschar
    November 25, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    1. What’s protectible about the NY City subway map? The colors? Seems like an awfully thin copyright at best.

    2. Since the MTA lets you view it for free on their website, what are their damages?

  2. September 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    A good program for the analysis
    SEO PowerSuite

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