AN EXPERT on information technology law has said that the advertising agency JC Decaux would be unlikely to win a case against a web design firm over a free iPhone application it developed for the Dublinbikes scheme.
The real-time application, which allows users of the scheme to find their nearest Dublinbikes station and see how many bicycles and spaces are available, was swiftly withdrawn from the iTunes AppStore by Fusio after JC Decaux, the company behind the rent-a-bike initiative, threatened legal action.
TJ McIntyre, a lecturer in law at UCD and the chairman of Digital Rights Ireland, told The Irish Timesthat correspondence sent to Fusio by JC Decaux failed to provide any legal basis for the agency's claim that it owned data related to Dublinbikes.
“There are a number of basic types of intellectual property rights that let an organisation control how information is used. Copyright very clearly doesn’t apply in this particular situation because it is impossible to have copyright over facts, such as what time a bus will arrive, etc,” Mr McIntyre said.
“In situations where a database has been compiled over time and at great expense, there can be limited protection for organisations. However, as JC Decaux obviously has not gone to such lengths, then they would be unlikely to win a case on these grounds either.”
JC Decaux has put a hastily amended disclaimer on the Dublinbikes website prohibiting use of the data contained within.
Mr McIntyre said there was an outside chance that the ad agency could make a claim on the basis that Fusio was “screen scraping” – a process where software is used to extract data from websites for use elsewhere – but he doubted it would succeed.
There is no Irish case law on screen scraping, although Ryanair has brought proceedings in the High Court against several firms which have extracted information on the airline’s flight information for use on its own websites.
“Ryanair’s situation is different to that of JC Decaux because there is a commercial dimension to the airline’s case, so there could be ruling on the grounds of unfair competition, but that isn’t present in the Dublinbikes situation as Fusio were offering the application for free,” said Mr McIntyre.
“Irrespective of the law regulating screen scraping, it is absurd and undesirable that a venture which is set up and run in conjunction with a public body should be attempting to prevent the public from accessing information about the service,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council, which is running the scheme in conjunction with the ad agency, said the issue was one between Fusio and JC Decaux.
Dublinbikes is not the only company to have faced legal threats over its iPhone application. Last month Apple withdrew the Stationstops app, which provided information on New York’s subway system, from its iTunes store after a copyright infringement claim by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority.
While Fusio erred on the side of caution by withdrawing its application, there is a happy ending of sorts. Since news broke of the legal threat against it earlier this week, Fusio has been contacted by a number of firms looking to employ it to develop mobile applications.