It takes a Herculean effort of bad behavior to have oneself ejected from a Muni vehicle. But having your ability to create Muni paraphernalia ejected is disturbingly easy.
Greg Dewar, the mastermind behind the N-Judah Chronicles transit blog -- and co-author, with your humble narrator, of the SF Weekly feature "The Muni Death Spiral" -- estimates he's made around $1,500 in five years selling clever Muni T-shirts on Zazzle. So Dewar was surprised when an "anonymous copyright holder" tattled to Zazzle that he was trespassing on their intellectual properties with his "The N Is Near" shirt and others.
Dewar's first thought: The infamously litigious New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency was claiming it owned the ubiquitous letter-in-a-colored-circle image one sees on mass transit vehicles everywhere, as it did in a shakedown letter to a San Francisco man in 2009.
That wasn't the case. In fact, it was San Francisco's own transit agency that dropped a dime on the unauthorized use of its trademarks. "Your products infringe upon the intellectual property rights of San Francisco Muni. This includes images of buses, logos, maps, signs, etc.," reads an eye-opening letter from Zazzle to Dewar. "Zazzle has been contacted by representatives from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and at their request, to remove designs that may infringe upon their rights from the Zazzle Marketplace."
It would come as a great shock to learn that Muni now considers even an image of its vehicles or maps to be their own "intellectual property." The city is awash with art, clothing, and paraphernalia based on Muni imagery. Will every book or poster featuring an image or photo of a bus, trolley, or light-rail vehicle now be deemed a violation? Per Zazzle, that appears to be Muni's claim (this crackdown is even more curious considering Muni's laissez-faire attitude toward its transit data, to which tech entrepreneurs are allowed free access.).