Avantix Data

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by b0b, 27 May 2010.

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  1. b0b

    b0b Established Member

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    If you'd figured out a way to access the data Avantix uses, what would you do with it.

    I'm looking at 2 applications:
    1) Using the data to assess the fare check rule on routeing points

    2) Searching for splits - this is harder though, since there needs to be some intelligence on where to look for splits

    anyone else got any "cool" ideas?
     
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  3. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    Regarding 2), if you also had access to timetable data you could probably do something moderately useful even without recourse to the routeing guide, based on the fact that direct trains are always permitted routes. Then obviously the stations that the direct trains stopped at would be places to look for splits. I don't think the Avantix data has details of the time-based ticket restrictions in computer readable form though, only human readable, so that couldn't easily be factored in, which would make it a bit less useful.
     
  4. googolplex

    googolplex Member

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    I think you'd run into legal issues if you made any tool into a website or distributed it widely enough for the powers that be to notice.
    How much is it for developer access to the various railway systems which would be useful with such a tool?
     
  5. b0b

    b0b Established Member

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    My plan is to build a small TCP server and/or command line where I expose the interfaces that the Avantix GUI uses so you can ask any fare question you like. You will still need Avantix and thats gets me out of distributing any data. Just trying to determine how useful that might be.

    I'm able to do a basic fare enquiry as of now just as a demo I don't need the GUI.

    as for plan (2) I'm able to read the national timetable so I might be able to hint to the split searcher where to split. ;)
     
  6. mallard

    mallard Established Member

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    How are you accessing the data? As a programmer myself, this seems like an interesting project. Having poked around in the data files with a hex editor there doesn't appear to be any obvious way to interpret it, it's not using a common database engine as far as I can tell.

    I suppose you could be loading Avantix's own .dlls to access the data, not looked at that approach myself yet...
     
  7. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    It's interesting to think about what the legal issues might be. As far as I can see the main one would be that ATOC hold the copyright to the fares data, and if you distributed it without their permission you'd be infringing their copyright. On the other hand if you just made software available (or even sold it) that allowed people to read a copy of the fares data that they already owned (e.g. because they had bought the Avantix Traveller CD), and interrogate it in new and interesting ways that are not possible with the simplistic Avantix Traveller application, I can't see how that could run into any copyright issues. It wouldn't even involve any physical copying of data such as would be involved when ripping a music track from a CD onto an iPod - the software could read the fares data directly off the CD. The user owns a copy of these files since they bought the CD so they are free to read them; I don't think they can be compelled to solely use the accompanying Windows-only Avantix Traveller software application for this - indeed they wouldn't even need to install it if they had separate software that could read the files directly off the CD.

    One option for making the fares data available through a website could be to host it in a country (such as the USA) with broad "fare use" provisions in copyright law, and claim something along the lines of the fares data only being made available for educational or research purposes, or make a more fundamental argument about it being in the public interest for people to be able to know what the restrictions are on the tickets they are buying etc. The website that distributes some versions of the Avantix Traveller CD for free does this and it hasn't been closed down yet - yet what it is doing seems to me much dodgier, as it is giving away Atos Origin's proprietary software for free. A website that simply made the fares data available without getting involved in "software pirating" would have more of a leg to stand on I think.

    I guess for a lot of people another concern might be what ATOC would do if people were seen to be "rocking the boat" with respect to all this - could they simply stop selling the Avantix Traveller CD? But why do they sell it anyway? Is it perhaps a legal requirement that details of all the fares and restrictions have to publicly available at reasonable cost to anyone who wants to inspect them?
     
  8. googolplex

    googolplex Member

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    There's likely to be clauses in the license agreement prohibiting the data from being extracted - however they'd have a job detecting people who did it and even then, going after them could be difficult.
    The data should really be freely available, I think it's like a bank asking you to pay £10 to see the terms and conditions of your bank account - which they'd never get away with.

    I'd also be interested in knowing how the data is accessed and what the formatting is if the OP could shed some light.
     
  9. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    I was thinking along the lines of if you just buy the CD but don't install the software, then you haven't agreed to any license agreement and there is no contract there between you and ATOC that anyone can enforce. However you do own a physical copy of the fares data (albeit encoded in a series of pits and lands in the surface of the CD) that you have paid for and own and are therefore entitled to read for your own personal use, but not to distribute copies to anyone else. To be fair there is quite a bit of debate over whether you own the physical CD medium when you buy some software. But see for example the "Sold, Not Licensed" Blog which I think talks a lot of sense.

    In any case if I understand correctly, it looks like we're saying that it would be the individual user using this hypothetical new software to read the fares files on their Avantix CD that would be doing something wrong, and the person distributing the new software would be on stronger legal ground? I guess if it became popular though ATOC would become very unhappy and would be looking for any way they could to stop it.

    Reading between the lines, maybe some kind of screen-scraping of the Avantix Traveller application? Although it is certainly possible to read the data files directly. It's a slow, tedious project but in my spare time over the last few months I've been writing some C code to parse the contents of the data files directly and I now know how all 3 main files are structured. I wouldn't like to promise anything though, as there's a lot still to do and it may not see the light of day! Besides, I'm not sure if we're allowed to talk about things like that in depth on this forum (I haven't seen any serious discussion of it before)?
     
  10. b0b

    b0b Established Member

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    I reinstalled Avantix to see if I get a click through license and also checked the Help to see if there was anything in there, and there was neither - so as far as I know standard copyright on the data would be the only thing to apply. I don't know if there is a shrink-wrap license though.
     
  11. bignosemac

    bignosemac Established Member

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    The tems and conditions of the license agreement are on the TSO website:

    http://www.tsoshop.co.uk/bookstore.asp?DI=605747
     
  12. b0b

    b0b Established Member

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    If that is the license then I think we're in pretty good shape for figuring out the internal format of the data or how the GUI works as long as it is for personal use. I was worried we might be getting into territory where we could be accused of reverse engineering in violation of a license term.
     
  13. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    I agree; it seems quite promising and (dare I say it) surprisingly reasonable; it is really just enforcing the copyright over the data in a different way, kind of like they're covering their backs. It's good that it doesn't make any mention of the software used to read the data. I am confused by the first paragraph referring to "downloading the data file" though; surely if you buy the CD there is nothing to download? And also they pull the usual trick of saying they own the CD, not you, even though you have bought it. But actually the rest of the license seems liberal enough that that clause wouldn't even need to be challenged in order to use the data in the way we've been discussing.

    Have to say also I found this clause quite amusing:
    I don't think the fares structure really needs any help to bring the passenger rail industry into disrepute!
     
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