A couple of years ago I made an open source parody fun image generation / service information sign maker and today it’s been shut down due to lawyers from Transport for London (TfL).
I made it in a weekend as during the week I was doing my civic duty with some good legal professionals on a period of Jury Service. People made images to share with their friends, make jokes, announce anniversaries, quote prayers, tell poetry, advertise events, leave personal messages and write inspirational comments and so on. I have not seen any offensive images that people made with it either on the site or on Twitter. When it launched it got a fair bit of praise and positive coverage from many places including BBC America, ITV, The Londonist, The Atlantic Cities, The Guardian, The Next Web, B3ta.com, etc..
This Thursday (10 Dec 2015) I got an email with a scanned letter from a lawyer from Transport for London (TfL), a UK public transport authority. Here it is with names, email and addresses redacted.
So, I’ve destroyed the site, deleted the code and emailed them my confirmation of that. I decided to do it as soon as I was able (about 24 hours of the request) as I didn’t want the distraction and hassle, so I can get back to work.
As of last Thursday the site tubesign.herokuapp.com is offline and I cannot put it back online. The Ruby code, misc files and the CC-By-SA images on Heroku where it was hosted have all been deleted. My repository on GitHub has also been deleted although others may have copied their own forks of the MIT licensed code. It was only a few lines of unspectacular Ruby code anyhow.
Some people have speculated that this may also have been due to candidate for Mayor of London and MP for Tooting, Mr Sadiq Kahn tweeting one of the images someone made showing the hashtag “#youaintnomuslimbruv” – and then dozens of people replying saying it was made using the parody website. Perhaps we will never know, it doesn’t really matter. It appears that whilst a Labour MP, ‘Mr Khan is no Corbynite leftwinger‘ but one would imagine that he might stick up for RMT Union members against TfL management. And so should you also support the staff during their industrial actions – it was these same TfL bosses who issued this takedown.
I was surprised to see that letter in my inbox and disappointed that TfL were not willing to be more civil and reasonable in their approach. However, it’s not the first time TfL have acted in this way before in a case about a fan website about tube map variations – I remember it going around the blogs at the time in 2006.
Big institutions struggle and work slowly with technology but is it just me or is it a bit surprising to see how they have made no progress in almost ten years?
Now back to making some better transport maps.
Updates (last updated 16 Dec)
I wrote the majority of the article on Thursday before even I took everything down. After the hype I put it on private, and have subsequently edited some sentences as I, social media and the newspapers have calmed down. This post switched to public on Sunday.
All of these articles contain examples of the funny and parodic images that people made. (You can also visit the Internet Archive to see what the site looked like: https://web.archive.org/web/*/tubesign.herokuapp.com)
Guardian: Parody London tube sign generator taken down after ‘legal threat’ from TfL
I enjoyed many of these (323) pun filled comments particularly a thread which started “Is this some kind of Situationist Mornington Crescent?” and “. This also made me chuckle: “It met its Waterloo probably because it made some transport kings cross – you can bank on it! Barking mad!”
James Cattell is issuing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to TfL (It’s a UK local government authority and not a private or public corporation) asking about any complaints they received and about how much time and money this has cost them and ultimately us, the paying public, via ticket fares. You can follow this request here on the excellent MySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/unofficial_london_underground_st/new
Someone has put up a different site: https://www.tubesign.uk/ I found out via Twitter – this is completely not associated with me.
They have removed the TfL logo, do not store any user generated images on the site and users can only make an image and download it.
The BBC have reported on that other site. New parody Tube sign website has been created Although they don’t give a link to it. I assume it’s the same one as in Update 3
TfL have acknowledged the FOI request and have said that “A response will be provided…by 15 January.”
TfL has responded to the FOI request: Says there were no complaints about it, and it took their internal legal department one hour: