Jun. 23rd, 2010

maradydd: (Default)
...but getting that across to NMBS is taking some doing.

Let me explain. Here in Belgium we have a public railway service in the technical sense of the term: the National Railway Company of Belgium (abbreviated NMBS in Flemish, SNCB in French) is wholly owned and operated by the government. It's an "autonomous government company", a bit like Ma Bell in the old days, but crucially, it is a nationalised system.

Up until fairly recently, an enterprising young student, who goes by the handle tuinslak, operated a site called i-rail.be. It was a rather popular mobile site which offered transit and routing information formatted for mobile phones, and did a far better job in that space than NMBS' own routeplanner (which has never been usable on mobile phones, and up until very recently was a crash-prone Web 1.0 monstrosity; it's much nicer on a regular computer now, but still not great). tuinslak informed NMBS back in 2008 that he was putting together a routeplanner for mobile users; they ignored his email until about a week ago, when they sent him a cease-and-desist order.

What burns me up is the claimed basis for the C&D. NMBS claims (translated) that i-rail "reuses the data of NMBS. This violates [NMBS'] intellectual property rights, as well as copyright and database rights."

So let me get this straight -- a nationalised company, which is to say, a company owned part and parcel by the citizens of Belgium, is claiming that a Belgian citizen's use of data generated by NMBS is in violation of intellectual property rights? By virtue of being a Belgian citizen, tuinslak has those rights himself. Whose intellectual property rights is he violating? His own?

I'm looking forward to seeing this one go before the courts. I'm not sure if tuinslak is planning on fighting it (though I'm going to contact him and find out); it's clearly something that the EFF should be interested in, and if he doesn't have a legal defense fund in place then I want to get one started.

Relatedly, Lorin Parys has an op-ed in De Standaard, calling for NMBS to put effort into a developers' API for its public information and to quit wasting time and taxpayers' money on an in-house replacement for a third-party mobile routeplanner site that clearly made a lot of people happy. I particularly liked this bit of rhetoric (again, translated):
If we can make non-personally-identifiable information from government and businesses public, we can unlock a stream of creativity and entrepreneurship. The government must lead the way, not lock the door.

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maradydd

September 2010

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