Prior to March 2006
Geofftech.co.uk has been up on the internet since 1999, and had tube related content on it almost immediately with a quiz about station names. It really grew though in 2002 onwards when I put up a page about the attempt I was going to make on getting the World Record for travelling around the system in the fastest time possible.
Over time the pages grew and I added more and more content to the site. At the time I was a big fan of the site Going Underground blog, from which I spotted a 'map mash up' - an alternative London Underground map. It was the 'Great Bear' which is the first and original of all the mashups - simply by renaming the stations to something else. It was a piece of art that even appeared at the Tate Modern gallery. You can still by a copy of it online today.
I remembered that I'd been sent a few copies of others like this on email by people who knew I liked the tube, and so rather than have been being forwarded continually around the ether I put them all up in one place on my site, and called them 'Sillymaps' - because that's mainly what they were.
It contained fun things ... not just 'mash-ups' of maps, but useful things. e.g. I always thought that a map showing you exactly what parts on the Underground were actually underground might be quite useful from a mobile-phone point of view.
So I made up a map that had shaded grey area showing what actually parts were underground, and what weren't.
I made other maps, and collected some more from the the internet, and people who found my page would also send some in to me for me to add the collection.
I would assume that because of my exploits of running about on the tube, and attracting people to my site that way, that one one day ... TFL became aware of it. Or maybe they'd been aware of it for ages and it hadn't bothered them much, until one day they got in touch with me. I still don't know why they contacted me when they did when the content had been there a long time, but one morning, I check my email ... and I find this message to me:
Wednesday March 8th 2006
This firm acts for Transport for London and Transport Trading Limited who are respectively the owner and licensee of the world-famous bar and circle device ('The Roundel') and the Tube Map.
I would like to talk to you about your website www.geofftech.co.uk
Unfortunately, I was unable to trace a telephone number for you on the site, hence the email.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience (my direct line details are below).
I look forward to hearing from you.
I still find this amusing to this day ... how many personal (non-business) websites of people do you know that put their phone number up on a site? Er .. I would say practically none. That let me know immediately that I was dealing with someone who was not particularly internet-savvy.
So I read it, read it again and decided in the immediate moment to do ... nothing ... not just yet, because i want to sleep on it and think about it. Again - in retrospect - I do wonder how much they were scare mongering, and what they would have actually done if I'd ignored them and done nothing and never replied to them. Instead, I told a couple of people - chatted to another much experienced blogger friend of mine about what to do.
Thursday March 9th 2006
So I called them. I still can't believe that I did this really, I think now I should have held out for a bit and let them contact me via my hosting company, but no ... I called them. I spoke to the woman on the phone who had sent me the letter, who was all full of legalese and wasn't interested at all in anything I had to say. She had her instructions from TfL : threaten me to get me to take my stuff down.
Eventually, I agreed with her that I would have the offending images removed by Monday - that was all that was said, a verbal agree of 'by Monday', which I agreed to. But before then ... I could blog about it.
(Again, my opinion on the lawyer's technical prowess was that she was sorely lacking. It would have taken me 30 seconds to remove the images from my site there and then whilst I was on the phone with her, but it's as if she imagined that it would be some long convoluted process. Obviously it's not).
Friday March 10th 2006
So on Friday morning, I wake up and over breakfast I write about it on my blog. The original post is still right here on my blog to this day.
My website normally gets about 4,000 hits a day, and the most comments that I ever had was about fifty.
On this post? I get over 200 comments and my site traffic doubles to over 8,000 hits. People were reading, and word was spreading!
Comment No.48 may just be my favourite, a friend of mine - Ian makes a little logo representing how he feels about the situation:
Saturday March 11th 2006
Now I work for the BBC, and whether that helped me get the attention of one of my 'colleagues' or not, but by that afternoon I'd been invited by Chris Vallance onto the Radio 5 Live show 'Up all night'. At the moment I've unfortunately lost the audio of the programme and the MP3 link doesn't work. The link that is on the blog post that I wrote about that - Map Masher Marshall - which too (over 60+) generated a whole load of comments.
But it was over the weekend that things started to get really interesting - when other people started to pick up on the story on the 'net and started to write about it themselves.
An old ex-BBC colleague of mine Nik wrote a brilliant post on his blog about it : Remove London tube map parodies, or else!
He then took a copy of ALL of the maps off of my site and hosted them on his own site, here:
He then writes suggesting to others to download the ZIP file that he's provided with the maps and for other people to host them too!
To this day, that mirror still works! And if you follow that link, it's how my website used to look back in 2006.
Sunday March 12th 2006
Over the weekend, it went really crazy. BoingBoing pick up on and link a story to me which really drives traffic my way. And then people are getting in touch with by email : LOADS of people, telling me that they have grabbed a mirror image of my site and they are hosting them themselves somewhere up on the internet.
I lost count in the end, but by the end of Sunday I think there are around seventy mirrors sites up on the internet of my page and the maps.
So, to re-cap : There was just my one site before TfL decided to threaten me. And after they'd done that there were now SEVENTY sites with the maps.
Monday March 13th 2006
Now, if you remember, from the phone conversation that I'd had with them the previous week, we'd agreed on the phone that i would have the items removed 'by Monday'.
Again - akin to 'there being no phone number on my site', I thought it was terribly unprofessional of them not to specify a time. And so 'by Monday' I took (deliberately) to be anytime on Monday, and figured that I'd take them down at the very last moment (11.59pm) on Monday night.
Mid-morning on Monday, I got an email - which led to another phone call - with the solicitor wanting to know why I hadn't taken them down. They said that they assumed that they would be gone by the start of the working day on Monday. I told them that it was surely wrong for them to assume anything that hadn't been agreed, and that my working day didn't start until later (I was on nightshifts that night), and that 'by Monday' to me, could be right until the close of play on Monday night.
So a few terse words were conveyed by the lawyer who was happy when I finally assured her that I would have the images down by midnight tonight. And I did ... at 11.59pm and 59 seconds that night, I hit my 'update' button on my FTP client, and replaced it with a just a blank page whilst I considered what to do next.
Tuesday March 14th 2006
I blog again, under the post of 'Map Masher Marshall', which is what now appears to be my new nick name! It features an excerpt of the programme from the weekend.
Wednesday March 15th 2006
The Solicitor's have been busy and immediately reacted to some (but not all) of the mirror's that were now appearing. One mirror was taken down with a sad message saying so is still here.
Thursday March 16th 2006
By Thursday I had made it onto TheRegister website. They run a story about me in their 'Bootnotes' section under the title of London Underground sets lawyers on tube spotting geek. I absolutely loved them for this!
Monday March 20th 2006
TheRegister again (this time in their 'Telecom's' section) run another story on me: Tube Geek in trouble again, as I'm after another host for my website.
This all gets a mention on Wikipedia under the entry for London Underground Anagram map. To this day, I still can't believe I've been written about on Wikipedia.
Tuesday March 21st 2006
The Register run another story - 'Clara.net boss blasts ridiculous publishing laws' - and this was another one of my favourite parts. Then then boss of ClaraNet (my hosting company) phones me up in person to advise to me what it says that in that story : that I should host my site on a web server outside of the UK.
"So let me get this right", I say to him on the phone."You're the managing director of a web hosting company, and you've taken time out of your busy day to personally call me up and recommend that I take my business elsewhere?". He chuckles "Yes!" back down the phone at me, and talk about the oddness of the situation.
Two months later it just so happened that I did move to the USA (where I lived for four years) and during that time (in 2007) I did move my hosting to an American base hosting company. Which is where it still is to this day. Which makes me wonder ... what would TFL do if I put those maps back on my site now ... because they're not hosted in the UK anymore!
There was a little more fallout as Nik put up another post on his site/blog - tube map troubles in time out - as the story had indeed made it into Time Out magazine (edition No. 1858, 29th March 2006).
I got a mention in 'Metro' too ...
I moved back to the UK in 2010, and tidied up my website. I realised that that with my website safely hosted on an American server, it would be safe to write about the whole story where TFL's lawyers can't touch me.
Sillymaps used to be a rather brilliant collection of alternative tube maps - until TFL lawyers decided to get involved and threaten me with legal action and spoil the fun.
I made no money from this - I'm not a business, I'm just a fan on the London Underground and its history, have held the world record for going round it, raised thousands of pounds of charity money in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, and am almost always 'pro-tube' ! You won't hear me knocking it as countless others of commuters do.
And yet - they decided to pick on me because I was getting too popular, and one small guy against a large organisation with money and solicitors stood no chance.
People often asked me what happened with the incident and indeed the 'Sillymaps' page - and it's now this page instead! A little timeline/history of what happened to me and my website one week back in 2006 ...
Buy my Station Master App on the iTunes Store which I've created, it's the definitive guide to travelling around the London Underground, with everything you need to know.