Who Owns CPD Alerts & Data?

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis announced yesterday that the CPD would be providing free safety alerts, crime trends, and CAPS meeting info through Nixle.com. According to the Chicago Tribune, Weis stated, “We’re just trying to get as many ways out there that you can look at what’s going on at the Police Department.”

Excited at the prospect of more accessible data about crime and safety issues, I signed up for the service this morning and received my first alert later this afternoon. It had this text at the bottom.

That last line, which claims Nixle, LLC owns the copyright and has “all rights reserved”, is both confusing and troubling. The information contained in the alert was provided by CPD and, unless Nixle.com is actually creating the text of each one, belongs to the CPD and the residents of Chicago. It’s possible that Nixle.com has hired the CPD to create alerts for their customers and as such would own that work product, but given that the service is entirely free I find that hard to believe.

I hope to confirm this soon, but it’s reasonable to assume that the CPD is paying Nixle, LLC to provide this service to Chicago – which is a mistake. EveryBlock.com already provides the same service, and had the CPD asked them for help I’m certain they would have provided it, for free. The CPD should have simply created a set of feeds (would have taken them all of one afternoon to set up) and let others handle delivering that data to consumers in new and interesting ways.

As it stands now, there is no way to access the data outside of Nixle and – if the footer of the e-mails are to be believed – no way to legally use any of the content. So much for the concept of government-as-platform and Weis’ goal of getting information out there in “many ways”.

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Updated:

Hugh’s comment prompted me to review their TOS. From their site’s Consumer Terms:

Intellectual Property Rights
All text, software (including source and object codes), visual, oral or other digital material, photographs, information, data, graphics and all other content of any description included in the Services, including any Communications, (collectively, the “Content”), and all copyrights, trade marks, service marks, patents, patent registration rights, trade secrets, know-how, database rights, and all other rights in or relating to the Services and the Content (collectively, the “Intellectual Property”) are owned by us or by our licensors, and are protected by copyrights, trademarks, service marks, international treaties or other proprietary rights and laws of the United States of America (“U.S.”). The Services and the Content are also protected as a collective work or compilation under U.S. copyright and other laws and treaties. No Content or Intellectual Property may be copied, modified, published, broadcast, or otherwise distributed without our prior written permission.

You may only use the Content, the Services, or the Intellectual Property as expressly permitted by these Terms of Service and for no other purposes. Any reproduction permitted under this Terms of Service must contain the following notice: “Copyright 2009 Nixle, Inc. All rights reserved.”

And, from their Agency Terms:

As a authorized user of Nixle, you are granted a personal, nonexclusive, nontransferable, non-assignable, revocable, limited license to access and use the Web Site, Services and Content for Authorized Use only and not for commercial purposes. “Authorized Use” means your use for non-profit or informational purposes, but DOES NOT include (a) using the Content, or parts of the Content, to create your own database for the purposes of communicating with Recipients without using the Nixle Services…

and,

You may not use any robot, spider, other automatic device or manual process to monitor or copy the Content. Any violation of the foregoing provisions constitutes unauthorized use and may result in immediate suspension or termination of the Services, as well as civil or criminal liability.

They are clearly asserting copyright over the content that is created by the CPD and going so far as to assert that the CPD is prevented from sharing any of this data directly with anyone outside of Nixle.com. I wonder what AG Madigan will think of this policy in light of her recent FOIA work.

Looking forward to the details showing up on www.citypayments.org.

13 thoughts on “Who Owns CPD Alerts & Data?

  1. Hi Justin

    “…there is no way to access the [CPD] data outside of Nixle and – if the footer of the e-mails are to be believed – no way to legally use any of the content…”

    Yes, but there’s no way to use the CPD data outside of Everyblock, either. Are you familiar with the reuse restrictions on Everyblock? If not see Everyblock’s FAQ.

    http://www.everyblock.com/about/faq/#contentpolicy

    The FAQ explains that the reuse restrictions on Everyblock are conditions of Everyblock’s operating agreement with CPD. So in that respect Everyblock and Nixle are not so different, and CPD data is not so open as you might think. Everyblock is short of a demonstration of CPD’s data openness. Reuse is after all one of the 8 open data principles.

    http://resource.org/8_principles.html

  2. I would tend to interpret Nixle’s copyright claim as applying to their screen designs as a derived work rather than an attempt to claim rights to the underlying CPD data.

  3. Thanks for the comments Hugh. You’re totally right about EveryBlock not allowing folks to repurpose what they’re pushing, but there are two key differences:
    (1) EveryBlock isn’t a government agency nor their delegate. Regardless of whether Nixle.com is receiving cash from the CPD for their services (my guess, unconfirmed), they have been dubbed ‘official’ and seem to be the recipient of content created specifically for their distribution. That content belongs to us and it should be public. What EB gets is all available somewhere else online (albeit mostly in highly inconvenient places and forms).
    (2) Nixle.com doesn’t at all explain their position on open data nor why they don’t provide better access, unlike EveryBlock.com. That goes a long way with me.

    As to the copyright claim, it came at the bottom of an html e-mail w/o any special formatting (logos, pictures, fonts) other than html links. A similar footer was not attached to the registration welcome / help links e-mail, and I can completely understand if this is an oversight. But after reading their Terms of Service, their assertion of copyright over the text of the messages issued through their site is clear:

    “Intellectual Property Rights
    All text, software (including source and object codes), visual, oral or other digital material, photographs, information, data, graphics and all other content of any description included in the Services, including any Communications, (collectively, the “Content”), and all copyrights, trade marks, service marks, patents, patent registration rights, trade secrets, know-how, database rights, and all other rights in or relating to the Services and the Content (collectively, the “Intellectual Property”) are owned by us or by our licensors, and are protected by copyrights, trademarks, service marks, international treaties or other proprietary rights and laws of the United States of America (“U.S.”). The Services and the Content are also protected as a collective work or compilation under U.S. copyright and other laws and treaties. No Content or Intellectual Property may be copied, modified, published, broadcast, or otherwise distributed without our prior written permission.

    “You may only use the Content, the Services, or the Intellectual Property as expressly permitted by these Terms of Service and for no other purposes. Any reproduction permitted under this Terms of Service must contain the following notice: “Copyright 2009 Nixle, Inc. All rights reserved.””

  4. i think guys you should know that the data that’s input it in to nixle.com its own by the agency and Nixle LLC. how ever all of nixles servers they are located with in USA federal government facility with an organization called NLETS.org and you should do your homework a little better check things out before making those inaccurate allegation

  5. “What EB gets is all available somewhere else online (albeit mostly in highly inconvenient places and forms).”

    EB’s roots are screen scraping as chicagocrime.org, but u years they have depended on a custom feed from CPD that is not available to anyone else.

    “EveryBlock isn’t a government agency nor their delegate.”

    Neither EB and Nixle are govt agencies, but both are delegate agency to the extent they operate under agreement with CPD to provide data dissemination services, and both agreements include severe reuse restrictions. EB & Nixle are not so different as you may think and CPD data is not so open as you may think.

  6. “I wonder what AG Madigan will think of this policy in light of her recent FOIA work.”
    The openness of CPD data is not a FOIA issue until some ambitious young person FOIAs CPD “pls give me what you gave EB” or “pls give me what you gave Nixle” and are denied.

  7. “…their [Nixle’s] assertion of copyright over the text of the messages issued through their site is clear”
    Thanks for rooting out Nixle’s IP claim. Yes, I agree it is a clear claim, but let’s not take it too seriously – a copyright claim is just a claim. A lot of gov types on the gov side of open gov data are confused about the role of copyright w.r.t. public data. For example, Alderman Ed Burke claims copyright to the agendas and “minutes” of his Finance committee on their website.
    http://www.committeeonfinance.org/legal.asp

  8. cop 2,0:
    I’m unclear what is inaccurate about the ‘allegations’ that are made in the post; where the information is stored on a server doesn’t change their claim of copyright over public information. The first sentence of your comment is unclear; do you know if the CPD or Nixle.com actually creates the text of the alerts? In all of the promo materials that I watched for Nixle, it seems clear that they are a message / alert conduit and not in the biz of creating the alerts from raw crime stats.

    Hugh:
    I hope that you’re right, but the Agency Licensing terms are clear. I wonder if the CPD legal team reviewed these for their compliance with the new FOIA laws and would love to see how they respond to a FOIA request for all alerts sent to Nixle.com.

  9. “Looking forward to the details showing up on http://www.citypayments.org.”
    The Daley administration has a nasty track record of paying big bucks for hi-falutin solutions to what are these days very simple technical problem.

    “…the Agency Licensing terms are clear.” I read Nixle’s terms to prohibit reuse of the data when scraped from Nixle’s website, but not necessarily to claim an an exclusive right to the underlying CPD alert data. In other words, Nixle’s terms tell any clever open gov oriented users of Nixle “go get yer own data from CPD, good luck with that, chump.”

    “I wonder if the CPD legal team reviewed these [Agency Licensing terms]…”
    I’m sure they did and I beleive CPD deliberately shopped for a diseemination partner who would maintain a strangle hold on reuse, just like they did with EB. CPD wants talking points about hi tech & openness but they don’t want to lose control.

    CPD fears Mon AM QB-ing of their resource allocation decisions, and so does not want civilians to slice & dice crime stats, for example, comparing & contrasting areas, districts, and beats and years, quarters, and months.

    “I … would love to see how they respond to a FOIA request for all alerts sent to Nixle.com.”
    At first blush things like EB & Nixle give the impression openness w.r.t. CPD is a solved problem, let’s move on. But we have a lot of work do to even with CPD. A FOIA such as you mentioned would serve to encourage CPD to further tackle their open data policies, and in particular challenge their misguided attempts to control reuse. In general if a gov agencies gives to one they have to give to all. But again FOIA does not come into play until someone dashes off a letter.

  10. While I beleive a FOIA request might help as a teaching moment for CPD, encouraging CPD to think about your lead question, who’s data is it anyway? but understand FOIA can’t really help someone without an agreement with CPD to build an EB or Nixle beater. Of course, a govt agency allowing for a 3rd party website to clobber their own in terms of usability is a defining characteristic of truly open gov data. Because the FOIA law in IL has that built-in delay of one week, you can’t FOIA “real-time” data, you can’t do a “standing” FOIA, and you can’t use IL FOIA to demand a custom data feed, even one that someone else is getting. Best you might be able to do is maybe get CPD to give you what they gave Nixle last week, not particulalry useful. IL FOIA might help illucidate the issues but it can’t be used to force CPD to open this. CPD needs to embrace accountability to the extent of empowering 3rd parties to present performance measures, this is very hard for them.

  11. Thanks for this post, Justin. This is an interesting situation with Nixle and I think it’s important for us to understand it because I think we are going to see more of it. Permit me to offer yet another perspective.

    “I wonder if the CPD legal team reviewed these [Agency Licensing terms]…”

    IL FOIA prohibits govt agencies from imposing reuse restrictions on public documents. That is, if something is FOIA-able then, once released, it is in public domain, and may be used for literally any purpose whatsoever, up to & including making money, which is after all the MSM model for doing FOIAs.

    In fact, a govt agency isn’t supposed to even ask you what you want to do with the documents you request under FOIA, except that if your purpose is commercial the agency may deny your request for waiver of copying fees.

    A govt agency can use their website to honor their obligations under FOIA, but if they do they may not slap reuse restrictions on the posted data any more than they can restrict reuse of a released paper doc. So for example what Burke is doing with the Finance committee documents is flat-out wrong-headed.

    BUT nothing in IL FOIA prohibits the RECIPIENT of govt documents from prohibiting reuse. For example, it is typical for a MSM outfit to claim copyright when they post or print the the results of a FOIA or a report summarizing information garnered thru FOIA.

    So, what CPD did with EB & Nixle demonstrates a profound understanding of IL FOIA – by intermediating through a privileged 3rd party, a govt agency is able to give the impression of being champions of transparency, while imposing reuse restrictions, and without even admitting that the information is public/FOIA-able! If CPD itself had offered alerts directly from their own website, they would have helped lay the groundwork for a claim that they have to offer them to everyone without reuse restriction. It’s really quite clever what they are doing. We should expect more of these privileged 3rd party deals as we ratchet up pressure for transparency.

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