Blocking of transport app prompts legal warning for developers

App developers that create apps for government agencies have been warned to seek legal advice to avoid the possibility of their work being blocked.

 

The warning follows a decision by the NSW Government to block a transport-based app, following the shutdown of a similar app in 2009.

 

App developer Ben Hosken created an application called Sydney Buses, showing the location of buses in and around Sydney and Newcastle.

 

Users could zoom in and out of the map, roll a bus over to see which service it is, and filter the buses using a search mechanism. The program was designed and developed based on information collected by the Roads and Traffic Authority.

 

The information was made available as part of the government’s apps4nsw program, enabling developers and public servants to “come together and make web apps using NSW government data”.

 

In the two weeks that it was live, it received more than 200,000 views. However, it has now emerged that on February 28, the government withdrew the live bus data, ultimately closing the app down.

 

According to a spokesperson for the NSW Transport Department, the government does not yet have sufficient computer capacity to provide real-time bus information on an ongoing basis.

 

“The system is not yet able to provide a reliable or sustainable feed,” a government spokesman said.

 

Foad Fadahi, research director of market analyst firm Telsyte, says that consumers’ app needs occasionally come into conflict with the needs of government agencies.

 

“It is vital for developers to work within the framework of the government regulations in place, so seeking good legal advice is really paramount,” he says.

 

“Also, if a similar app has been blocked before, it’s likely to impact their app… There are also issues around IP infringement, copyright, etc. All those things should be considered, especially if there are a lot of upfront costs [for the app].”

 

While Hosken could not be reached for comment, a similar scenario occurred in 2009 when NSW state corporation RailCorp threatened a Sydney software developer with legal action if he failed to withdraw a train timetable app.

 

The app, develop by Alvin Singh and known as Transit Sydney, displayed upcoming train information in a similar format to the monitors in Sydney stations, and was an instant success.

 

Yet within days of its release, Singh received a cease and desist notice from RailCorp, stating: “Copyright in all CityRail timetables is owned by RailCorp”.

 

“Any user of these timetables, in a manner which breaches copyright by a third party, can only occur through the grant of a suitable license by RailCorp,” the notice said.

 

As a government body, RailCorp information is protected by Crown copyright, a provision in copyright law that has also been used to block attempts to access information on the Victorian bushfires, and even information such as the locations of public toilets.

 

A spokesperson said it is not yet possible for RailCorp to grant third party developers access to internal passenger information systems.

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