RailCorp targets rogue iPhone app

RailCorp targets rogue iPhone app

Summary: NSW state corporation RailCorp has threatened a Sydney software developer with legal action if he fails to withdraw a train timetable application that is currently the second most popular application in its category in Apple's App Store.

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TOPICS: iPhone, Apple, Legal
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NSW state corporation RailCorp has threatened a Sydney software developer with legal action if he fails to withdraw a train timetable application that is currently the second most popular application in its category in Apple's App Store.

The Transit Sydney app
(Credit: Alvin Singh)

The idea for the application, Transit Sydney, came to web developer Alvin Singh after he began teaching himself how to program in Cocoa Mobile, the Apple-created programming language used to build applications for the company's hugely popular iPhone.

"In December I had some spare time and thought I would learn to program for the iPhone," said Singh, whose day job developing for a News Ltd online property requires a daily commute on Sydney trains.

During that month and January, Singh developed and worked with App Store reviewers to refine the look and feel of Transit Sydney, an iPhone and iPod Touch compatible application that lets users search timetable information for services on Sydney's lines.

The $2.49 application, published by Singh's one-man company FunkWorks, was an instant success, and is currently the second most-popular travel application in the travel section of Apple's Australian App Store.

The application, which displays upcoming train information in a format similar to the monitors found in every Sydney station, ranks just behind a timetable application for the London Underground and just ahead of a similar application with information on Melbourne's trains.

Transit Sydney is selling several dozen copies per day — an encouraging result for Singh, who acknowledged it needs additional functionality and was testing the waters before spending additional time and effort developing the application.

Users are clamouring for more functionality — including weekend timetables and live-updated information on track works and cancellations — but Singh has been planning on adding those enhancements in a future version. "I eventually got it to a point where for most people it's usable, and if you're a weekday commuter you can use it," he says.

Yet within days of its 18 February release, Singh received a cease and desist notice from Rail Corporation NSW, the government body that administers Sydney's CityRail network.

"I advise that copyright in all CityRail timetables is owned by RailCorp," said the email, which has been seen by ZDNet.com.au. "Any use of these timetables in a manner which breaches copyright by a third party can only occur through the grant of a suitable licence by RailCorp."

The notice came as a surprise to Singh, who believed that timetable information about public transport systems was public information and pointed to a wealth of similar App Store applications providing timetables for train systems in Melbourne, Perth, Singapore, Paris, London, and even another application with the same Sydney information.

As a government body, RailCorp information is protected by Crown copyright, a contentious provision in copyright law that has recently been used to block attempts to access information on the location of Victoria's bushfires and even seemingly innocuous information as the locations of public toilets.

At this stage, it is not possible for RailCorp to grant third-party developers access to our internal passenger information systems.

RailCorp spokesperson Paul Rea

A 2005 inquiry by the Copyright Law Review Committee recommended relaxation of Crown copyright provisions to allow for more easy access to public interest information, but those changes have yet to be implemented and RailCorp is standing by its challenge.

"RailCorp's primary concern here is that our customers receive accurate, up-to-date timetable information," RailCorp spokesperson Paul Rea explained. "This includes details of service interruptions, special event services, track work and other changes."

"At this stage, it is not possible for RailCorp to grant third-party developers access to our internal passenger information systems. As such, any third-party CityRail timetable application would contain inaccuracies and have the potential to mislead our customers."

Asked under what terms a developer could get access to a "suitable licence" as per the email sent to Singh, Rea said such licences are currently unavailable to developers while RailCorp firms up its own mobile development strategy. A timetable application for iPhone and other mobile users is expected later in the year, he said, although it was not yet clear whether this would be provided for free or at a price.

Singh is taking a wait-and-see stance for now while he gets further legal advice on the situation or a formal legal letter of demand from RailCorp, and is considering escalating the dispute over availability of public information to the office of NSW Ministry of Transport or the NSW Ombudsman.

Topics: iPhone, Apple, Legal

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Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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67 comments
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  • win-win

    so let's summarise:

    * man develops app
    * people love app
    * railcorp concerned that people get wrong info and ask man to stop

    so how about railcorp employ man:
    * pay him to continue app development
    * give him access to better data
    * keep the people happy

    or am i making too much sense?
    anonymous
  • look at the reviews

    not so sure people are loving the app!
    anonymous
  • Typical incompetence from CityFail

    The guy was developing a program that CityFail failed to bring out themselves. Obviously its popular and they are just are realising their own incompetence yet again.

    I agree with James. Give the guy a job. He seemed to be able to do what CityFail wasnt able to do, without their budget and red tape.....Funny that. Maybe they should also outsource timetabling, train driving, signalling, security, cleaning, management, organisation etc etc to someone else, because they seem to be incompetent at everything they do.
    anonymous
  • RailRort exposes themselves

    How can RailRort be concerned with the "accuracy of information" provided by them when the frequency of late and cancelled trains prevents this anyway?
    anonymous
  • If only...

    If only CityRail would spend as much time making the trains work as they seem to be spending to stop this guy...
    anonymous
  • what's that muffled sound?

    Oh, yeah, it's the stifling of innovation, here we are in the midst of a global crisis and the Railcorp is so lame that one, it doesn't even have a mobile strategy yet, and two that it would even bother coming up with one.

    I say make all the information public and let smart innovators figure out what to do with it, that will probably save a few million per year in meetings and strategy consulting.
    anonymous
  • Waste of money

    I'm all for new innovations, but the timetables are rubbish. It's a sloppy app development typical of one man's novice efforts to get rich quick. I wasted my $2.49 and if there are dozens of people purchasing this app a day, I'm not the only one. It's fraud and iPhone should remove it.
    anonymous
  • Typiocal Corprate Thinking

    Litigate first
    Negotiate second

    get a grip RailCorp

    You provide a dodgy website that is not up to date

    You think you are bigger than you actually are
    anonymous
  • Shoot the lawyers

    Sack whoever is responsible in the RailCorpse.
    This is the sort of stuff that will make Australia fall behind the rest of asia.
    What a crock.
    anonymous
  • Waste of money??

    $2.49 is hardly a large amount of money considering what you paid for the fone. Do you work for RailCorp by any chance??
    anonymous
  • This isn't the only app CityRail has bullied to death

    There's another app called Metro Sydney that is made by a developer who has provided Melbourne and Perth with good apps that integrate all forms of public transit. Metro Sydney did the same, until CityRail threatened again and had the app pull the rail information. Metro Sydney holds the timetable information locally on the device, so it works without access to wi-fi or internet (which is great for iPod Touch users) We've been complaining on the MacTalk forums for ages, but CityRail has forced the removal of good functionality out of the app. Get some more PR around this story!!! a big enough outcry will force their hand.
    anonymous
  • Railcorp have been at it a for a while

    Railcorp have been playing this game for a while. Later last year they killed Metro Sydney and my old favourite Trainview (J2ME - http://www.grofsoft.com/tv.php) that had been around for years.

    I am sure they will get around to completing their mobile timetable application strategy, right after they work out how to make the trains actually obey a timetable.

    This also relates to Railcorp denying timetable information to other service providers like Google Transit.
    anonymous
  • TrainView / TripView

    I have developed a couple of similar apps over the last few years (TripView for iPhone and TrainView for standard Java-based phones), but was also asked to remove them by RailCorp last October.

    Ironically RailCorp actually approached me back in 2007 to ask about licensing TrainView, and back then they said they had no problem with me using their data. Seems like they've changed their minds since then.

    I'm not sure why they think it's such a big deal - surely a suitable disclaimer message to indicate the times are not official would be sufficient.
    anonymous
  • Apple should remove app from store

    It uses stolen content and it must be breaching some terms of service.

    Just because you can build it, doesn't mean you should be allowed to release it.
    anonymous
  • Freedom of.......

    Sorry where do we live?
    Do we fall under a Communist country?

    CityRail should be ashamed and publicly shamed, timetable information is part of public domain, they serve us, they should be happy of any assistance/available service to help them with their, on a global scale backward service.

    It reminds me of the same bull we are experiencing with free to air digital program information constantly being blocked by Channel 9, I have a digital dual tuner on my mac and subscribe to IceTV (Costs me money), 9 is always missing evening and weekend information on films.

    If you buy an app you are not happy with post comments on the Apple store (let other buyers know the downfalls, send an email to the developer help him make the app better, many a time I have received benefits from doing this.

    This is a real important application, one that should not be suppressed, I live in Melbourne well quite far out of the city, and I like to do my bit for the environment and not drive everywhere all the time. I would be absolutely lost without "Metro Melb.app", heck it even provides concise information for where I live (an hour and a half out of Melbourne CBD by car).

    Everybody lumps it on USA for how they sue everybody all the time, but in cases like this it is time for us Aussies to have easy abilities to joint sue companies that are giving us bad deals. How can CityRail, Channel 9 or any other company dare dictate to developers or customers of services utilizing free to air public interest information.
    Duh...! It’s basically free advertising you drongos...!
    anonymous
  • Wrong procedure

    As we have learnt from recent ICAC hearings, the developer didn't follow the normal City Rail procedures.

    He needed to find a dodgy Contract Manager in IT, and enter into a corrupt arrangement with suitable kick-backs up the chain.

    Then it would have been plain sailing all round.
    anonymous
  • smells like IceTV

    what a shame - this is the same battle IceTV have had with channel 9 of using public info.

    shame shitty rail - shame

    incompetent and arrogant
    anonymous
  • Transit Sydney iPhone appliaction!!

    This is a FANTASTIC application, WELL DONE Alvin!! Railcorp should of developed this ages ago and as per usual like there buses, trains and ferries there always too late!!!!!!!!!!
    anonymous
  • iPhone appliaction

    ... and why would that be????.... and why are you anonymous????
    anonymous
  • Waste of money

    HA, HA, LOL, yeah he / she probably does work for Railcorp, and i bet its not in IT Development!!
    anonymous