Ming the Mechanic:
Transport of London sucks

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Transport of London sucks2006-06-07 17:29
picture by Flemming Funch

A while ago I mentioned a site that was showing an assortment of variations of the London tube map, using anagrams, and a bunch of other funny things. The original site was taken down, and is still down, because Transport of London's lawyers contacted the owner of the site, and forced him to take it down because the Tube logo and the map is their "intellectual property". Which is rather ridiculous for a public institution like that to spend money on lawyers to threaten people who love the tube, and who spend their time getting creative with its symbols.

Now, as a number of other people who thought it was stupid, I put up a mirror of that site. And, now, 3 months later, the lawyers for Transport of London have contacted me and asked that I take down that site. Their letter is below. They had first written me without saying who they were, asking what the rules were for my site in terms of materials that violate copyright or trademark laws.

Anyway, hm, I'm not sure what to do. It makes little difference to me whether I have a page with silly tube maps or not, but the principle is important. But I'm not sure if it is important enough to put up a fight and let them try to sue me.

Thank you for your email.

The page in question is http://www.opentopia.com/tubemaps/

We act for Transport for London (“TfL”) and Transport Trading Limited (“TTL”) who are respectively the owner and the licensee of an extensive portfolio of intellectual property rights including the world‑famous bar and circle device (“the Roundel”) and the tube map (“the Map”). The page described above infringes these rights.

I would be most grateful if you would take this page down as soon as possible.

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me – details below.

Many thanks in advance for your help in this matter.

Kind regards

Sophie Woollen


Commercial Department
Healys Solicitors
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7 Jun 2006 @ 19:07 by Ge Zi @ : revenge
Don't think you can't take down the site just like that.
How much traffic does the site actually gets?
If it's worth to educate those people who come, tell the story of the situation and make a lot of fun of these people - satire always hurts best ;-)

my two and a half cents...  

7 Jun 2006 @ 19:44 by Bob Hiltner @ : Public Domain?
In the U.S., I believe anything like that "government-owned" is really public domain, on the theory that the taxpayers funded it and therefore own it. Is this a quasi-public/private agency (a la U.S. Postal Service) and has different rules?

On Transport for London's site:
Transport for London is a public authority under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and so, from 1 January 2005, any information held by Transport for London, and its subsidiary companies, is accessible by the public on written request, subject to certain limited exemptions.

Suggest that, *if* they have the rights, you must take down the page--even though it seems stupid that something so public would entail such rights--as it is their prerogative (and, potentially, duty) to enforce their rights.  

7 Jun 2006 @ 22:42 by ming : Rules
Hey, I don't much like doing what I'm supposed to. Particularly when I think it is wrong. I think a public utility, which probably is subsidized by tax payer money, should be a public thing, and its information should be public. And it should be fair game to get creative with their subway map.

The page doesn't get a whole lot of traffic. Just one of many mirrors that were set up, and it doesn't have many links to it. But my mention of it here shows as number 3 of 797,000 in Google, when you search on "silly tube maps", so it is not hard to find.  

8 Jun 2006 @ 00:38 by enora : tube
The only thing I think that MIGHT be an issue would be security, even if these are public in England. And they do say it's copyrighted/trademarked and private property. If it's a public system, as you mentioned, paid for by tax monies, the artwork might not be in that same category. They were very polite, of course, asking you to remove it. If I were in your shoes, I'd walk funny. But seriously, I'd comply with their request/threat because I do respect copyright and trademark. It's up to you, Ming! Good luck whatever you do.  

8 Jun 2006 @ 10:19 by Peter @ : Tube lawyers
It is all really quite simple, lawyers need to justify their existence and wages by giving themselves meaningless things to do. They do not understand the freedom of the 'net and how it changes the whole mechanics of information transferal. The legislators fail to understand that once a piece of information is digitised, in reality it becomes a linear sequence of ones and zeros and therefore becomes a number, albiet a very large number, but a number none the less. How on earth people think can they can copyright a number beats me.

Perhaps you could decimalise the offending file, print it out, send it them via snailmail, and ask them why, they think they own that particular number. It seems as though people think it ok to own numbers, in the same way as they used to think it ok to own people.  

8 Jun 2006 @ 13:33 by ming : Polite
Normally, if somebody nicely writes to me with a concern about something they own a copyright on, and which they'd like removed, I'd be very responsive. For that matter, also if they're not nice at all. I relatively frequently get a nasty letter from some artist or writer who's mad that a picture of their painting, or one of their articles is found in somebody's weblog posting on my server, and they want it removed. And, normally I just contemplate their stupidity for a moment, and then ask the "offending" weblog owner to remove it. We're mostly talking about a content author who doesn't really get the web, and who doesn't realize that somebody saying nice things about their work, and linking to them, is a very good thing for them. So, if they don't like it, that's their loss. "Thank you, Sir, I'll never link to your website again; I won't ever mention your name again; as a matter of fact I'll forget all about you, starting right now".

But the Tube Map is different of course. That's more like a shared public treasure, an icon that is seen and used by millions of people. It won't make any kind of difference for their bottom line, whether there are tube map variations on the net or not. It is more a matter of cultural creativity, of relating in an enjoyable way to the society we live in. Like carricatures of politicians or bits on Saturday Night Live that make a bit of fun of some public person or event. Or Andy Warhol paintings of Heinz Baked Beans cans.

The lawyer there writes in a friendly manner. But it is nevertheless an automatic thing. It is a legal machine, not a matter of some person who really cares, and who has some issue about how their creation is used, and who asks a favor from me. They start out writing nicely, probably, because they've found that they get faster results that way, and they make their money faster.  

8 Jun 2006 @ 13:39 by enora : That is true
about how these things start out. I agree that sharing the tube map doesn't make a difference financially, but if the city paid for it I guess they want to be the only ones able to use it however they wish. It's a strange thing, I've never thought it would be a problem to reproduce such a thing. I wonder if our Metrorail, for instance, would be upset if someone posted their map online.  

8 Jun 2006 @ 17:53 by b : You're right in that
it is a security issue. Someones worried that would be terrorists would misuse
the map. A little late to worry when there are som any maps of the tube to be found.  

10 Jun 2006 @ 16:26 by taranga @ : misusing public money/power
I've just sent this page to some of my elected representatives at the GLA pointing out the obsurdity of wasting public money - i'll keep you posted.

Stick with it Ming - every little restriction erodes that fundamental freedom of thought.  

20 Jun 2006 @ 11:01 by rayon : FromDistantMemory
From my time in design copyright, the artist who simplified the tube system into this map became famous for his then far sighted work. Yes it is rather an icon in the London design world, and would be protected just like a graphic designer's new alphabet design, for which the use of must be paid for, as with Royalties. Artists and writers in the main lead humble inexpensive lives and have a long history of financial struggle. This whole ethos of copyright is well respected in the areas abounding with design schools such as London, surrounded by ad agencies and every kind of designer and or artist under the sun.

It may sound strange in the wild west of NCN forging new frontiers etc, but the lawyer may just be aware of the strictness of copyright observance for artists, especially if she comes from Brighton where there are also design schools and even more out of pay artists, and she may even be a human being.

The fact that an item like this map is so universally recognised, again will increase the ire of its mis appropriation, particularly in a mass media machine like a worldwide web site of NCN. So in other words, Ming, if you were to circulate privately email to email, or post to all friends for light relief this would be construed more acceptable, perhaps not totally, but at least more respectful of the original artists creative genius. Again I say, the fact it is a universally recognised item increases the protection it will recieve from it's guardians (for the Tube Organisation is only the guardian) the only person who can ever own an artwork is the Artist, all others are merely holders or guardians, and therefore, to conclude Ming for you with the greatest respect, from me as one who worked while the copyright laws on design were being formulated, this is my offering towards your dilemma. Pperhaps private circulation is best for this!

To the comment that it is digitised as a number, is the same as saying the original is just made up of paint and cellulose, and who can own a blade of grass or colouring agent for paint.  

22 Jun 2006 @ 15:33 by xion @ : Copyrights & money
Look it's only an issue if you are making money from it. If it's public domain & there is additional ways of expanding on that public information. Whether through satire or honest expansion of information. It should be fine. It's just a form of wasted & intimidation. That serves no purpose than to intimindate & antagonize. I thought the British government was more mature than that.  

19 Apr 2007 @ 14:33 by David Vernon @ : Tampering
It has anything to do with whether you making money from it or not. They just don't want you or anyone else arseing about with it. It's there to give information as clearly as posible so they don't want spurious versions of it confusing everyone. If your site just had the the official version I doubt there would be a problem  

Other stories in
2012-01-24 00:50: Intellectual Property
2011-11-03 16:51: Seeing the world through the Internet
2009-06-11 18:53: Blogging/Microblogging and work
2008-02-23 17:19: Web 1, 2, 3 and 4
2008-02-22 11:07: Illusion
2008-01-09 22:45: A Communication Model
2007-12-02 20:41: Give One Get One
2007-10-25 21:47: Static or dynamic web metaphors
2007-09-18 22:54: Rethinking blogs
2007-07-04 23:59: Scrutiny of Information

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