Deutsche Bahn to open-source data activists: Drop deadNewsBy Sean O'Neil | October 2, 2012Share This article was originally published on Intercity rail giant Deutsche Bahn (DB) has threatened a developer with criminal and civil prosecution if he persists in publishing its timetables and station coordinates.The software engineer, Michael Kreil, says the public ought to have a right to access the public timetables of the state-owned railway in an open, machine-readable format.But DB, the largest railway operator and owner in Europe, says that it has given Google exclusive access to its schedules, which are partly supplied by private transport companies.Last Friday, DB told Kreil that if he persists in publishing its timetable information online, it will sue him. GigaOm brought the story to American readers' attention."Innovation without permission"In mid-September, Kreil had extracted departure times from a CD-ROM and published it as a torrent file.The data will be valid until December, when the company will update its schedules. But given the legal threat, it's unclear if other programmers will use the data to power public transit apps similar to Offi.In mid-September, DB gave Google exclusive access to the timetables, and the search company has integrated them into its maps and transit tool services.Kreil believes the state-run railway should publish its data in an open, machine-readable format under an open database license, or ODbl. App developers could create programs for targeted audiences and come up with fresh services that DB wouldn't on its own.State inertiaLast Friday, Birgit Bohle, the head of DB, made a statement expressing "skepticism about open data of any kind of rail database feed."In Bohle's view, timetables change constantly, and it would disappoint the expectations of people to allow faulty data to be disseminated, which might happen if unverified third parties were manipulating the data.Bohle did not address the concept used by other train companies worldwide, namely, defining an API that allows freshly updated data on a rolling basis.Supporters of the company added two additional points: While train tables are publicly available and apparently not copyrightable under European law, the information prepared in a machine-readable format that can be used for ancillary business can be withheld from the public.While some activists argue that the data of a state-owned company should be available to the public (i.e., its effective owners), the same analogy doesn't hold for other state-owned companies.In the US, data collected by General Motors doesn't have to be released to the public because the company is temporarily owned by the US government.In other words, this is not a legal issue but one of moral pressure and conflicting attitude toward digital-era ideologies around information technology. Activists might have a stronger case if they stuck to the grounds of encouraging innovation in digital products that could help citizens use a state subsidized service.