Copyright Ideology Destroys Innovation


In a perfect example of how copyright destroys innovation, the SMH reports on a case where (publicly owned) Railcorp is blocking an innovator from distributing rail timetable information via the iPhone.   Based on a string of bad legislative amendments, and equally worrisome court cases, they claim copyright ownership over the timetable information.   Apparently this is not an isolated incident.

Now, it probably is true that copyright subsists in the timetable, and that the copyright owner is entitled to enforce their rights.  But exactly who benefits from this prohibition? Does Railcorp benefit when commuters don’t know the timetables?  Do commuters benefit?  Is there any utility from making commuters go directly to Railcorp to get the timetable?  Should we sue members of the public for answering questions like “When’s the next train?”

This is enforcement for enforcement’s sake.  Presumably because copyright ideologues have been battering away with the “IP is ridiculously valuable” meme.  Public institutions need to relearn the scepticism they used to have for copyright.  They need to realise that copyright ideology is about securing private windfall games, not about serving the public.

As a high profile case, this will likely be resolved in time.  This particular case is not the problem.  Rather, it exemplifies the many silent victims of copyright’s excesses – with one apparent victim turning into five overnight .  Who knows how many more there are out there? Not only those people who are crucified for successfully innovating against a competitor, but also those who decide it is better to avoid innovating out of fear. [If you have any more examples please let me know.]

2 Responses to “Copyright Ideology Destroys Innovation”


  1. 1 Malcolm Tredinnick 6 March 2009 at 1:12 pm

    A bit over four years ago, I investigated the possibility of creating a better online representation of CityRail’s timetables. I (foolishly or otherwise) contacted them first to find out if they were going to make a fuss. After getting a “we own it all” response, I decided not to spend the necessary $$$ on fighting whether it was a database of facts or a copyrightable work, because it was annoying but not practical for me to follow-up.

    The ironic part is that their response at the time include “we are in the advanced stages of planning our own upgrade”. Apparently the party line hasn’t changed in the intervening period.

  2. 2 Anon. 15 March 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Under US law, copyright does not subsist in the timetable. By judicial doctrine, too, so lobbyists will have trouble changing that.


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