$500 to license free subway maps from the MTA

iPod subway maps

So the word is in on what it will take for the iPod subway maps site to continue distributing its wares: $500 will net a one-year license from the MTA to reformat and distribute New York subway maps for free (the license does not allow the maps to be sold, to raise money for the license or otherwise). Clearly there are arguments on both sides, here — since the MTA is already providing the maps as free PDF downloads from their own site, in one sense it seems silly to crack down on an effort to make the maps more useful to folks on portable devices (which, logically, are more likely to be carried and accessible whilst actually on the trains). In another sense, one could argue that iPodsubwaymaps.com shouldn't be allowed to generate ad revenue obtained from distributing the maps. Still, it's hard to say whether or not it feels reasonable to shell out $500 to disseminate an otherwise freely available piece of information in a different format that people clearly find useful — and there's another sense in which it feels like iPodsubwaymaps.com has done a favor for the MTA by saving them some work and the cost of hosting the maps. These are exactly the kinds of cases in which traditional copyright law feels unsatisfying in the age of digital mashups, and we can only see the demand for these kinds of "information conversions" increasing.