Copyright Claims Lead To Removal Of Popular Pebble Watch Faces

from the because-copyright,-that's-why dept

Like many folks, I recently got the Pebble smartwatch that I ordered through Kickstarter (still the highest grossing Kickstarter project ever). I've played around with a few of the different watch face options, but hadn't noticed this until another Pebble owner (and Techdirt reader), Tim K, alerted us to the fact that a bunch of watch faces designed by the community (not Pebble itself) that had been available for free have been removed due to copyright claims, including some of the top rated, most popular watch faces. Illusion, seen as taken down below, is still the 4th most popular watch face, and was as high as the top 3 just recently (I would imagine that having it taken down will hurt its popularity).
In a forum post, the creator of that watch face, and a bunch of others, notes that TokyoFlash issued the takedown request, claiming copyright infringement. That led to a (mostly ill-informed) debate on the copyright of watch faces (including the factually incorrect claim by one person that you have to enforce you copyrights in every case or you risk losing them). It also resulted in a number of people noting that they would never buy a TokyoFlash watch now because, really, who wants to support a copyright bully?

Of course, this sort of thing is not exactly unprecedented, even if it does seem ridiculous. Just last year we wrote about the Swiss Railway Service (SBB) accusing Apple of trademark and copyright infringement because of a clock face in the clock app in iOS6 that is strikingly similar to the SBB's iconic clock.

Even if these claims are legit from a legal standpoint, it seems rather silly and extreme to issue such a takedown. Sure, TokyoFlash will claim that the Pebble is a competing watch, but does anyone really think that someone who was thinking of buying a TokyoFlash watch would suddenly switch to a Pebble because of the interface? It seems likely that issuing the takedown will do more to drive potential customers away from TokyoFlash than the availability of the watch face on Pebble ever could.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 2:27pm

    'does anyone really think that someone who was thinking of buying a TokyoFlash watch would suddenly switch to a Pebble because of the interface?'

    or, in fact, the opposite.

    the problem is with the whole copyright/trademark/patent fuck up that those in congress left everyone else to deal with, once they had managed to ignore all of the suggestions put to them to correct problems before they arose. in typical fashion of the 'those that know all-know fuck all, that wont be told anything by anyone' this is the crap that's left!

     

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  2.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 2:36pm

    It never ceases to amaze

    Companies love to fight any free advertising these days. I have no idea what a TokyoFlash watch looks like. If I liked the face on my Pebble, I might have been persuaded to buy one for occasions when an actual watch seems more appropriate.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 2:54pm

    I think the you needs to be your in "enforce your copyrights".

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:03pm

    Re: It never ceases to amaze

    It seems tokyo flash watches are LCD watches with various LCD patterns, so in a way, the pebble sort of competes with them when they can display images that look identical to the tokyo flash watch faces... but eh.

     

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  5.  
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    Scott Yates (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    One of the faces looked like this

    https://github.com/dmnd/illusion

    I can't see how the hell that could be considered copyrightable.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:51pm

    Re: One of the faces looked like this

    Yeah, i'm not sure it can be copyrightable, since it's basically an "idea", and ideas aren't supposedly covered by copyright.

    FWIW, here's the tokyoflash version:

    http://www.tokyoflash.com/en/watches/kisai/optical_illusion/

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:52pm

    Seriously? One who asserts what is presumably a legitimate copyright claim is now all of a sudden a bully?

    Being user submitted, it is to be expected that many would push the "copyright envelope", whether intentionally or not. Noting instances where the envelope has been exceeded and requesting removal does not make one a bully, unless the definition of "bully" has now been expanded beyond instances such as your Prenda line of articles (which do relate to "bully-ish-ness".

     

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  8.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 3:52pm

    Now I'm torn deciding to delete this watchface off my Pebble because this company repulses me, or keep using it to spite them.

     

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  9.  
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    akp (profile), May 2nd, 2013 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    Keep it for spite, of course.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Re: One of the faces looked like this

    Typefaces are not copyrightable subject matter.


    Code of Federal Regulations
    Title 37: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights
    PART 202—PREREGISTRATION AND REGISTRATION OF CLAIMS TO COPYRIGHT
    § 202.1 Material not subject to copyright.

    The following are examples of works not subject to copyright and applications for registration of such works cannot be entertained:

    . . . .

    (e) Typeface as typeface.


    Also see Policy Decision on Copyrightability of Digital Typefaces.


    Does it matter if the typeface is composed of diagonal strokes forming digits?

     

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  11.  
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    Reality Check, May 2nd, 2013 @ 5:53pm

    Re:

    good point.

    It's called backlash. Copyright has been so abused that anyone flexing their copyright muscle is instantly despised... Might not always be right, but I understand it.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2013 @ 6:24pm

    Oh great, the "You HAVE to enforce your copyrights OR ELSE!!!" bit again. Favorite pitch of greedy lawyers and gullible businessmen.

    Well, that cloud's got a silver lining, anyway: for the vultures to outright lie like that, they must be growing desperate. Maybe businesses are gradually catching on to the fact that they've basically been paying their lawyers to generate bad press for them, hence the "you HAVE to!!!" fake justification. Wonder what they'll do when that stops working...?

     

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  13.  
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    Ron, May 2nd, 2013 @ 9:24pm

    these copyright claims have advantage

    In paulicity, and for both sides. It keeps pebble watch in the news.
    Pebble watch team is too small to fight them. maybe at later stage it will be possible. till then, it is possible to do small changes to adjust the designs.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2013 @ 4:04am

    I noticed that you forgot to mention that Apple did end up licensing the design of that clock face from SBB (for $21M US). Apparently, even on the receiving end, they didn't find the claim ridiculous.

     

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  15.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), May 3rd, 2013 @ 5:43am

    Re:

    It's false anyway, because it's only (partly) true for trademarks, and not at all true for copyright.

     

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  16.  
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    Gwiz (profile), May 3rd, 2013 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    I noticed that you forgot to mention that Apple did end up licensing the design of that clock face from SBB (for $21M US). Apparently, even on the receiving end, they didn't find the claim ridiculous.


    Settling doesn't necessarily mean they didn't think the claim was ridiculous at all. It indicates to me that they felt the claim to be an annoyance and threw chump change at it to make it go away.

     

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  17.  
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    Greg (profile), May 3rd, 2013 @ 9:47pm

    Tokyoflash's response

    Dear Greg,

    Thank you for your email. The reason why we kindly asked Pebble to remove the copyright designs was our designers spend months developing these designs. Trial and error seeing what would work and what wouldn't. Some of the designs were designed by other people via the blog, and to protect their rights we hold patents on their designs as well, that can be signed over to the rightful owner at any time.

    Often people do not understand what they did wrong when they steal another persons hard work, but it is really the same as stealing a physical item or plagiarized.

    We are very impressed with Pebbles new watch and truly wish them great success and our motives are not to suppress designers but to rather encourage them to design their OWN designs. There are a lot of great designers out there so I'm sure you will see many new designs much better than ours in many cases.

    I have to agree with TF here. Copyright bully is like saying a person who was caught stealing saying to the person they stole from, Hey you're greedy. You have enough so I have the right to steal.

     

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  18.  
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    David Maylow, May 4th, 2013 @ 8:18am

    I think Tokyo Flash has done what any designer of original works and owner of copyrights is entitled to do.

    If I spent a long time designing something and had spent money copyrighting it, I would be very upset to see it being copied and freely available.

    I hope for all us Pebble users, lots more cool designs become available that are not copied from other artists but are original.

     

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  19.  
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    Laird Popkin, May 9th, 2013 @ 4:44am

    Re: Tokyoflash's response

    Classy!

     

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  20.  
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    spookiewon, Aug 30th, 2013 @ 3:50pm

    Re: One of the faces looked like this

    Maybe the fact that the creator claimed it was " Based on the Kisai Optical Illusion watch from TokyoFlash." at the bottom of the page tipped TokyoFlash off to the possible infringement. I don't believe a court would find it to be infringement, but the credit was egging them on.

     

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  21.  
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    shitzu, Sep 11th, 2013 @ 10:33pm

    Re: Tokyoflash's response

    "Some of the designs were designed by other people via the blog, and to protect their rights we hold patents on their designs as well, that can be signed over to the rightful owner at any time."

    That is a strange sentence. Why do they hold patents on someone else's designs? Why aren't they signed over to their rightful owner already, but instead wait for 'any time'? This sounds like Tokioflash is crowdsourcing designs only to patent them themselves.

     

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