Last January, Seoul City’s Transport Operation & Information Service Center had sent out official notices to the mobile application vendors, announcing that the arrival time information of the Seoul Metro Subway trains was a private property owned by the Metro operators, and shall not be collected and used without their permissions. As a result, all the smartphone apps previously providing the Metro users with the actual train arrival times stopped their real-time services. Only as late as March 14, 2014 when the Metro operators agreed to such use of the information by the app vendors, the apps were allowed to resume the services.
Open Net welcomes Seoul City’s latest withdrawal of the ban, however late it seems. Nevertheless, there seems to be a bit of confusion on the Public Data Act and Copyright Act and we would like to set the terms clear. We think that the train arrival time information should have been made available to the app vendors regardless of the subway operators’ consent.
Train arrival time information disclosed to the public is not owned by anyone
Once the information has been disclosed to the public, the information is open for use by anyone unless there is specific infringement of rights. In other words, information once disclosed cannot be private property of anyone. Furthermore, according to the Public Data Act, the information regarding the train arrival times must be made available for free use, for profit or not, because Clause 17 of the Public Data Act stipulates that public agencies shall not limit or restrict use of public data except for the case of ‘infringing third party rights’ or others listed under Clause 28 Paragraph 1 and because there is no third party right involved here.
First, the app vendors are not using a database created by the subway developers but they are building their own databases by collecting the information already made available by the Seoul City’s own app. Thus, the subway operators’ database right cannot be a reason for restricting the use of the train arrival information.
Second, the train arrival time of the Seoul Metro is already being provided to the public free of charge through the Seoul City’s own app. This is clear evidence that the disclosure of such information does not financially harm the metro operators in any way.
Even more specifically, according to the Public Data Act Clause 26 Paragraph 2, the head of the public agencies shall not refuse the providing of public data for the reason that the agency is using that data itself. In other words, even if the Seoul City is currently running the app that provides the train arrival time information, it may not refuse such information to the private app developers for that reason.
The purpose of the new Copyright Act provision on Free Use of Public Copyrighted Works provision should be respected
Also, the newly added provision Article 24-2 on “Free use of Public Copyrighted Works” of the Copyright Act stipulates that copyrighted material created and publicly released by the government or fully acquired by the government may be used by anyone without permission. The train arrival time information, if copyrightable at all, must be available for ‘free use’.
Please read the Korean original here.