I must admit, since I rejoined the ranks of public transport users, I was delighted to use the ShowNearby app on my Android to help me figure out which bus would arrive earlier and the fastest routes home. With this information, I figured I have been able to shave 10 to 15 minutes every day.
Then, the bus times fell silent. It transpires, according to newspaper reports, that SBS Transit has blocked off machine access to its bus times--these can now be accessed through its IRIS iPhone App or by keying in security codes on its Web site, one app at a time.
Since I now spend extra time traveling, I had some time to think about why I am doing so and its legal issues.
SBS Transit collects its bus times. However, single pieces of information such as bus number 123 will be at bus-stop X at this time is just information. It could enjoy some database protection rights under copyright law but the use by the third-party apps involves a few bus times (selected in each instance by the app user) instead of an entire database.
SBS Transit is also not in the app business. It, however, is in a dominant position as a public bus service provider in Singapore although that has a sector regulator (the Public Transport Council), so an argument that dominance in one market is being used to reinforce another market is a possible argument. One of the developers was reported to have asked for a license without success.
Having said that, there is no telling whether SBS will charge for its IRIS app in the future, whether for iPhone or other platforms.
So far, we have not heard from the Public Transport Council or the Land Transport Authority (LTA). If the goal of the LTA is to have more and better public transport information, then this may be an area they will need to wade into.
Finally, the words of Court of Appeal in the RecordTV case deserve a rewind. The court said: "There is a public interest in not allowing copyright law to hinder creativity and innovation. Rights conferred by copyright law are statutory rights. Where the statute is not clear, the court must strive to strike the right balance between the copyright owner's interests and the public interest in the use of new technology."