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M.T.A. Is Easing Its Strict, Sometimes Combative, Approach to Outside Web Developers

Publication Date: 
September 28, 2009
The New York Times
Michael M. Grynbaum

Visiting Professor Jonathan Zittrain is quoted in this article on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's move towards being more open with web developers about their data. The New York Times reports:

For months, entrepreneurial software designers have tried to create programs that ease the hassle of getting around New York. But in many instances, the designers encountered an unexpected bug: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The agency would demand thousands of dollars in fees and might also send a cease-and-desist order to the digital doorsteps of local developers who used system timetables, maps and routes in their applications. The developers said they were only trying to improve the system; the authority warned of copyright infringement and intellectual property theft.


Reluctance at a public agency is to be expected, said Jonathan Zittrain, an expert in Internet law and a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

“When you are a government official, you’re just waiting for the article that’s going to come up that says you did something wrong or risky, and it makes you extremely risk-averse,” Mr. Zittrain said in an interview.

“I love that the subversive act of the 21st century in the subway is not graffiti, but mapping out the stations so you can know where to exit the car,” he said with a laugh. “Twenty years ago they would have been tagging the cars. In both cases, the city is upset.”