Back in June, we wrote a story about how a private company was claiming it owned Muni arrival (and arrival prediction data). Calling themselves NextBus Information Systems (NBIS), the company made a practice of reaching out to folks creating applications for Muni data, and telling these people that, as the rightsholders of this data, they could make demands such as licensing fees or advertising placements.

In the case of Dustin Mierau’s MuniTime, NBIS COO Alex Orloff approached him, saying his company owned the arrival data delivered by the app, and demanding to place NBIS-controlled ads on the app. Mierau said no, “because I knew ads controlled by NextBus, if the design of their web application is any indication, meant poorly designed ads scaring the MuniTime interface.”

Another company, iCommute, was approached by Orloff, who this time was demanding a licensing fee. When approached for our earlier stories, Kelly Beener, spokesperson for AppTight, the makers of iCommute, said that “our understanding of the issue leads us to believe that NBIS is accurate in their assessment of their right to control the publishing of Nextbus predictions and therefore we are not inclined to seek a change in our agreement.” Their attitude towards NBIS remained consistently positive in a comment they made on the Appeal on July 20, when they said “we’re confident that NBIS is acting in good faith and in the best interest of all involved.” (They did not respond to an email from us for this story.)

From what I’ve seen, all (NBIS’s) claims are smoke and mirrorsBut are they acting in good faith? Apple, for their part, isn’t so sure. After Steven Peterson’s Routesy app, the subject of our earlier story, was removed from their app store after continued emails from Orloff asserting ownership of the Muni data used in the software, he refused to retreat. After sending repeated requests to Orloff and NBIS CEO Ken Schmier, asking them to remove the complaint they had filed against Routsey. After they refused, Peterson enlisted IT/New Media/tech issues lawyer Colette Vogele (disclosure: as we were founding the Appeal, we had an informational meeting with Ms. Vogele, but do not have a business relationship with her).

“Apple’s lawyers seem to prefer to speak to other lawyers” said Peterson. After a letter from Vogele laying out why they believed NBIS was not acting in good faith in laying claim to this data, Apple agreed, and Routesy returned to the app store.

“Now” says Vogele “we’re exploring if what (NBIS was) doing constitutes ‘interference.’ They were clearly infringing on Steven’s rights.”

So I take it you don’t think they have the right to license the data?

“From what I’ve seen, all their claims are smoke and mirrors. They need to put up or shut up — either show up with proof that they do have the copyright and ownership, or stop trying to take people as suckers.”

We called Alex Orloff to get his perspective, but he refused to communicate over the phone and requested an email. We’ve sent that, but have not received a response as of publication time. We will let you know if/when we do. But we did note something interesting: the NBIS web site, which was once, to put it kindly, bare bones, is now very similarly branded to NextBus’. However, what the company actually does remains a mystery.

Beyond a doubt…no one besides the SF MTA owns all Muni data.That inspired us to reach out to NextBus (which is not NBIS) representative (and open transit data advocate) Mike Smith. When we pushed him on the relationship between NBIS and NextBus, and NBIS’s NextBusalike branding on their site, Smith said “Though I acknowledge that there is clearly a great deal of confusion with respect to NBIS, their use of the name ‘NextBus’ and our logo, I have been asked to not discuss their relationship with NextBus Inc.”

However, regarding the data and its ownership, Smith says “SF MTA still has not fully cleared up this issue. We are waiting for them. I thought this would be resolved by now but the latest word from Muni is that they do not know when they can further clarify things.”

That’s not what the MTA says, however. Muni spokesperson, Judson True, says that in the MTA’s most recent contract with NextBus (which was approved August 4 by the Board and “is close to being finally certified”) “We took the legal steps to ensure beyond a doubt that no one besides the SF MTA owns all Muni data.” He sent us the portion of that contract dealing with this issue, which you can view at the bottom of this article.

NextBus’ XML copyright data hews to True’s assertion — while, in June, it claimed a copyright of “NextBus, Inc,” that has been changed to “San Francisco Muni,” Peterson and Vogele noted.

Though he has a lawyer and the MTA behind him, Routesey’s creator hasn’t gotten cocky. “I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with Alex (Orloff)” he said. “I have a hard time believing we won’t be hearing from him, again.”

And, given Orloff’s demeanor thus far, there’s a fair chance Peterson’s right. He’s promised to keep us posted, and we promise the same to you.

1.33. Ownership of Data. The City recognizes that the AVLS and related software provided by Contractor under the AVLS Contract are proprietary systems to which the City’s interest is limited to the license provisions set out in this Maintenance Agreement and in the AVLS Contract. Notwithstanding any understandings or agreements created prior to this Maintenance Agreement to the contrary, however, all data generated, transmitted, distributed, manipulated, compiled, stored, archived, or reported by the AVLS concerning SFMTA vehicles and operations, including but not limited to data concerning vehicle location, predicted arrival times, route and stop configuration and historic AVLS data is the property of the SFMTA without reservation of rights or other restriction of any kind. AVLS data concerning the location of SFMTA vehicles in real time and predicted arrival times are records that the City may make available to the public through passenger information display signs, data feeds (including but not limited to XML data feeds), internet web pages and weblinks, information kiosks, public information systems, PDA and cell phone applications, electronic messaging, and other technologies that may be utilized to inform persons wishing to access, process, or archive information concerning public transit in San Francisco. Contractor may retain and use copies of SFMTA AVLS data for reference and as documentation of its experience and capabilities.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!