Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Hollywood Lawyers Threaten ‘Hobbit’ Pub

Film producer Saul Zaentz owns the film, stage and merchandising rights to JRR Tolkien classics such as The Hobbit. Ostensibly to protect those rights, lawyers for the company are now threatening small businesses across the UK with ruinous legal action if they don’t stop using the term ‘Hobbit’.

When Hollywood paints their version of the piracy picture, they’re careful not to mention the millionaires and the affluent who do rather well despite unauthorized copying. Instead they focus on the little guys who make coffee and run errands on set, and the mom and pop businesses scraping an honest living on the periphery.

But when the big rightsholders feel under threat, they’re happy to crush those very same people in pursuit of money. Cue an awful story today from the Daily Echo.

For the last 20 years a little pub in Southampton, England, has been serving beer to the local community and all that time it’s had the same name – The Hobbit. But Saul Zaentz, the producer behind movies such as The English Patient and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, has sent in the lawyers to do something about that.

Zaentz owns the merchandising rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and his lawyers have warned that if the pub doesn’t change its name and remove all references to Tolkien-related items by the end of May, its owners will be sued for infringement.

Understandably its owners are upset. They can’t afford to fight the studio but their pub’s very identity is now at risk. People supporting a Facebook campaign against the studio’s threats is growing quickly.

But even more worrying is that this action by Zaentz against a local pub doesn’t sit in isolation.

In November 2011, Zaentz sent his lawyers to threaten the owners of a small cafe in Birmingham, England, near to where Tolkien was born. The sandwich bar, known as The Hungry Hobbit, was accused of copyright infringement despite operating under the name for the last 6 years. The current owners are first-time business owners of less than a year’s standing.

In a letter titled “Unauthorized Use of Hobbit” – Zaentz’s lawyers ordered the owners of the cafe to stop using the word Hobbit or face legal action, claiming that the sandwich bar’s use of the term would be detrimental to the brand and would leave people to believe that the outlet is endorsed by Zaentz.

But the threats don’t even stop there. A small company in Scotland making wooden lodges dared to refer to one of their products as “hobbit houses” on their website. Of course, Zaentz sent in the lawyers and the company were forced to comply.

But let’s step back for a moment to see what origin of the word ‘Hobbit’ actually is. Was this something conjured up from the depths of Tolkien’s imagination in 1937, a product of his mind and his mind only? That’s up for debate.

In 1895, folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham listed a massive collection of interesting creatures his publication ‘The Denham Tracts Vol 2‘ which included “. . . nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants..”

And, of course, ‘Hobbits’.

It seems absolutely ridiculous that 125+ years after an imaginary creature was reported somehow a company can come along and turn the lives of normal people upside down over the use of its name.

Trademarks may have to be protected, but being a heartless bully can’t be the answer.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

EU Court Bans Anti-Piracy Filters On Hosting Services

In a legal battle between music rights group SABAM and social networking site Netlog, the European Court of Justice delivered an unprecedented ruling today. The Court ruled that hosting sites can’t filter copyrighted content as that would violate the privacy of users and hinder freedom of information. The case at the highest European court has far-reaching consequences for many online services including cyberlockers and BitTorrent sites.

For several years music rights group SABAM and the social networking site Netlog have battled in court. To protect the rights of its members, SABAM demanded that Netlog should install a tool that would scan all files uploaded by its users for copyright infringement.

Today the European Court of Justice delivered its ruling, concluding that the social network can’t be forced to install an anti-piracy filter.

“This obligation would be contrary to the requirement that a proper balance is ensured between the protection of copyright and the freedom of entrepreneurship, the right to privacy freedom, and the freedom to obtain knowledge and information,” the Court announced.

The Court noted that the privacy of users is more important than protecting copyright. In addition, it fears that a filter would result in censorship of legitimate content, thereby obstructing freedom of information.

“[The filter] could potentially undermine freedom of information, since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications,” the Court writes.

The unprecedented decision may have major implications for all services in Europe that host user uploaded content, not least among cyberlockers such as RapidShare. Also, the verdict would prevent copyright holders ordering BitTorrent sites to filter uploaded files, something that isoHunt already does based on a US injunction.

“I think this would apply to general file-hosting services, just as it has also done to conventional ISP services,” Mark Owen, head of the intellectual property practice at the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis told TorrentFreak. “A rightsholder may be able to get an injunction provided it is drafted narrowly enough. The ruling is against injunctions which it thinks are too wide, such that they are tantamount to a general duty to monitor.”

Rick Falkvinge, founder of the first Pirate Party in Sweden, is happy that the EU Court of Justice has placed the rights of people above those of corporations.

“I think it is quite remarkable, and very promising, that Europe’s highest court says outright that the copyright monopoly and people’s right to privacy of correspondence cannot be protected at the same time – and most importantly, that the latter has unequivocal precedence,” Rick Falkvinge told TorrentFreak.

“This is what we have been saying since 2006, that there is a strong conflict between the copyright monopoly and fundamental rights. It is quite a relief to see that not only confirmed in black and white, but also a verdict that the fundamental rights override the copyright monopoly.”

The entertainment industry on the other hand, will be greatly disappointed, as they are pushing hard for online services to take greater responsibility when it comes to copyright infringement.

Today’s ruling follows a similar European Court of Justice ruling last November which concluded that Belgian Internet provider Scarlet could not be forced to monitor subscriber traffic to detect piracy because that would violate the fundamental rights of both the ISP and its subscribers.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

UK Seize Popular Music Blog, Arrest Operators and Threaten Readers

As part of a criminal investigation the UK Government has shut down the popular blog RnBXclusive which posted news, commentary and links to music. Authorities have arrested the owners of the site for allegedly defrauding the music industry. In addition, the Serious Organised Crime Agency is threatening users of RnBXclusive that they face 10 years in prison if they downloaded music through the site.

Founded in 2008, RnBXclusive.com quickly became one of the most popular R&B / hip hop blogs. With over a quarter million fans on Facebook it was the go-to destination for many music fans.

But that all changed today when the UK Government’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) took over the domain and arrested its operators.

“SOCA has taken control of this domain name. The individuals behind this website have been arrested for fraud,” reads a message on the site’s home page.

In addition to arresting the site’s operators for allegedly defrauding the music industry by posting links to copyrighted music, SOCA also warns those who used the site to download tracks.

In a rather threatening tone SOCA explains that RnBXclusive readers face up to 10 years in prison.

“The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists. If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law.”

To guarantee maximum impact the warning also displays the IP-address of those who visit the site. SOCA explains that they may use this information for further investigation.

“SOCA has the capability to monitor and investigate you, and can inform your internet service provider of these infringements. You may be liable for prosecution and the fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution.”

The above is reminiscent of a message that was displayed when the UK authorities shut down the popular BitTorrent tracker OiNK. At the time, the site’s visitors also received a warning. The OiNK case, however, turned out to be a waste of tax payer money and the site’s owner eventually walked free.

Finally, SOCA’s warning on RnBXclusive concludes with a rather tendentious claim which appears to come directly from a music industry lobby group.

“As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry.”

The above is worrying, because it wouldn’t be the first time that UK authorities are dragged into a criminal investigation solely based on evidence provided by the entertainment industries. In fact, this was the main reason why the operators of another BitTorrent tracker – FileSoup – had their case dismissed.

In the US similar mistakes were made with the seizure of the music blog Dajaz1. More than a year after Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized the site’s domain, they finally gave it back. It turned out that the seizure was a mistake.

Mel of Dajaz1 also sees similarities between today’s actions and the seizure of their site in 2010.

“Unbelievable, apparently the UK Govt doesn’t believe in Due Process either and their claims of damaging the industry and artists is unsupported propaganda,” she told TorrentFreak. “We’re completely against the process of seizing first and asking questions later.”

Thus far UK authorities haven’t officially responded to the RnBXclusive shutdown and arrests. We will add an update as more news becomes available.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Apple's Jonathan Ive gets knighthood in honours list

Jonathan Ive, Apple's head of design, has been awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours list.

Mr Ive, who can now style himself Sir Jonathan, has been made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE).

Raised in Chingford, Mr Ive began working for Apple in 1992 and since then has been the brains behind many of its products.

He described the honour as "absolutely thrilling" and said he was "both humbled and sincerely grateful".

Mr Ive added: "I am keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the UK of designing and making.

"I discovered at an early age that all I've ever wanted to do is design."

Team work
Mr Ive has been lauded for the tight fit between form and function seen in Apple gadgets such as the iPod and iPhone.

Born in February 1967, Mr Ive inherited a love of making things from his father, a silversmith, and reportedly spent much of his youth taking things apart to see how they worked.

From the age of 14, he said, he knew he was interested in drawing and making "stuff" and this led him to Northumbria Polytechnic - now Northumbria University - where he studied industrial design.

On graduation he started work as a commercial designer and then, with three friends, founded a design agency called Tangerine.

One of the clients for the agency was Apple which was so impressed with the work he did on a prototype notebook that it offered him a full-time job.

Mr Ive was apparently frustrated during his early years at Apple as the company was then suffering a decline. Everything changed, however, in 1995 when Steve Jobs returned to the company he helped found.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

He has a very determined sense of getting things right”

Deyan Sudjic
Design Museum
"What's made him so outstandingly successful is the relationship he's had with Steve Jobs and Apple," said Deyan Sudjic, director of The Design Museum.

"He's been working there for 19 years and has built up the kind of relationship that's very rare."

Mr Jobs described Mr Ive as his "spiritual partner" in the recent biography of the Apple co-founder written by Walter Isaacson. However, it also said that Mr Ive was "hurt" by Mr Jobs taking credit for innovations that came from the design team.

Mr Ive's eye for design combined effectively with Mr Jobs' legendary attention to detail and the products that have emerged from the company since the late 1990s have turned Apple into the biggest and most influential technology company on the planet.

Mr Sudjic said Mr Ive's talent was to help people stop worrying about technology and just get on with using it.

There have been some mis-steps along the way. Most recently, Apple's iPhone 4 was criticised because many people said signal strength dropped when their hand touched the phone's metal case. This was thought to be because the antenna for the handset formed part of the device's metal shell.

In contrast to many other design celebrities, said Mr Sudjic, Mr Ive had not cashed in on his fame but had let what he and his team created speak for itself.

Mr Sudjic said: "He has a very determined sense of getting things right."

The knighthood is the second time Mr Ive has been recognised in the honours list. In 2005 he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).

His KBE was announced on the diplomatic and overseas list.