Developers should be mindful of IP

Governments are unlikely to directly police mobile apps, but those that infringe state department data may get apps pulled, cautions lawyer.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Governments are unlikely to restrict mobile app content, but developers should be mindful of infringing on intellectual property (IP) owned by state departments, according to a lawyer.

Last month, Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) ordered a local developer to remove a feature from its Park-a-Lot Lite app that was pulling data off the state department's Web site.

The move drew criticism from the online community. In a ZDNet Asia report on the issue, some readers also noted their disapproval and voiced concerns about government censorship and restriction on mobile apps.

Bryan Tan, director at Keystone Law, told ZDNet Asia that mobile apps are not subject to the same content regulation laws that apply to TV or movie content in Singapore.

Tan noted that in this case, the issue was on data copyright, not censorship. The area of contention centered on the data taken from the LTA Web site, and was not an effort to police apps, per se.

"Governments are beginning to be careful about copyright--not so much to exert rights to compete with private endeavor but to ensure private enterprises do not create derivative works, using government copyright, to then suppress innovation," he said in an e-mail.

He pointed to other examples involving copyrights, where governments restricted the use of map data. Last year, the Australian government refused to provide data to Google for the latter's map showing bushfire locations in the country.

The government cited Crown copyright provisions, which restrict the use of government-produced information without its explicit content. This is contrary to data protection provisions in countries such as the United States, where government agency data is held in the public domain.

Where the Singapore government is concerned, Tan said the issue of data copyright is tied to tax payers' money.

"It needs to be protected, otherwise, it would lead to situations where tax payers are made to pay individuals who built the IP [originally already] paid for by the same tax payers.

"The LTA has the right to choose who can link to its Web site so the original app maker has no grounds to reinstate [the app's function]," he said.

Singapore-based iPhone developer, Joash Chee, noted in an e-mail to ZDNet Asia that he is especially careful about managing copyrights. Chee has released an iPad app called Free ABC Songs, which include songs from FreeABCSongs.com that he does not own.

He said he was especially careful to obtain permission from the site owner to use the songs in order to avoid infringing its copyrights.

Chee noted that the effort of reaching out has translated into a working relationship with FreeABCSongs.com owner, Matt R, and he is confident this partnership will help birth paid-app opportunities.

He said he is also mindful about copyrighted graphics. He either taps free online resources that permit commercial use, or otherwise, he creates his own, he added.

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