We've never quite understood the strategy of electric automaker Tesla to sue the BBC and Top Gear because of an episode that involved a Tesla roadster, which the Top Gear crew mocked, at one point claiming it only got 55 miles before the batteries ran out of juice. This was a marginally amusing segment on a show that's known for tossing around a (somewhat joking) insult or six about lots of cars. In other words, no big deal. Except to Tesla -- and specifically its founder, Elon Musk, who lashed out angrily about the show and then sued for "libel" over the episode. Apparently that strategy failed even faster than a Tesla battery* and did so twice. After having the first lawsuit tossed out, an amended lawsuit met the same fate with the judge saying that the claims were "not capable of being defamatory at all, or, if it is, it is not capable of being a sufficiently serious defamatory meaning to constitute a real and substantial tort." In other words, go away.
The thing is, I can't see how this made any sense at all. Most people would have just moved on, but by suing it seems to only call more attention to the original claims and generate much more interest in that episode. If Tesla had just let it go and focused on, you know, building great cars, no one would have cared much about a jokey comment from a TV show.
* This, too, is a joke, so don't sue me for making a joke about your batteries. I'm actually a big fan of Tesla and am eagerly looking forward to the company's future models which look pretty damn cool.
When I heard that the BBC was suing Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset, just knowing the two players involved, I expected to side with the BBC. But on this one I'm left scratching my head over the BBC's ridiculous claim. Apparently, the BBC thinks that it owns the idea of a reality TV show about dancing, a la "Dancing With The Stars" here in the US. In the UK, the BBC apparently runs a similar show called Strictly Come Dancing. Mediaset has apparently launched a new show, Baila! Everyone seems to admit that MediaSet didn't even copy Strictly Come Dancing. Instead, Mediaset points out that it actually adapted a South American dance show "Bailando Por Un Sueno (Dancing For A Dream)," which is different... in that it includes "scantily-clad dancers," and has even included "a model [who] danced topless and simulated sex."
Silvio Berlusconi's son, Pier Silvio Berluscoi, apparently responded by saying that it's "Ok to copy ideas" in television, and he's right. Copyright applies to expression, not ideas. And, even in this case, the ideas appear to be different -- in some ways very different. So, I don't get it. Does the BBC really think that it can own the idea of people dancing on a television show? It seems clear that some of this is to protect the BBC's relationship with a competing Italian TV network, which did license the BBC's show -- but still this seems like a gross overreach by the BBC.
We've been somewhat mystified about the complaints people have about images of people on Google Street View. Google is now "blurring" people to help deal with the issue, but it seems pretty silly, really. You're out in public. Someone can randomly take your photo. Of course, the backlash against Google Street View has been particularly harsh throughout Europe, where people insist it's a massive affront to their privacy. And yet... Glyn Moody points us to a blog post comparing the reaction to Street View to the reaction to the BBC putting up a high-def image of crowds at the Royal Wedding, and asking people if they can spot themselves.
This raises an interesting question on privacy and balance.
Google decided to blur the faces of ordinary people going about their ordinary activities caught on Street View.
The BBC have decided, where events like the Royal Wedding are concerned, it's fine to have high definition street shots showing the faces of ordinary people in the crowd; not to mention police officers, armed forces and - presumably - under-cover crowd security officers.
It certainly seems like a double standard. Is there something different about this being an "event"? I can't see how that makes much of a difference, really. Is there something about it being a "US" company vs. a UK organization? Or do people just not really think through these things until someone freaks out and screams "privacy violation!"?
We've been discussing the ridiculously anti-free speech super injunctions in the UK, which block the press or anyone from reporting on certain things (even if factual). What's amazing is how frequently these seem to be used by famous people in the UK, basically, to avoid being embarrassed by their own actions (having an affair seems to be a big one). Most of the folks in the press seem to find these quite ridiculous, which is why it's surprising to many to find out that the BBC's Andrew Marr took out one such super injunction himself a few years back to avoid having details come out about an affair he had with another journalist. The only reason it's come out now is that he's admitting he's "embarrassed" that he got the super injunction in the first place. As others point out, it's pretty hypocritical as a journalist to then seek to censor other journalists.
Mr Hislop, who has twice challenged Mr Marr's super-injunction, said: "As a leading BBC interviewer who is asking politicians about failures in judgment, failures in their private lives, inconsistencies, it was pretty rank of him to have an injunction while working as an active journalist.
One of my biggest complaints about the way some old school journalism folks view "the news business," is that they still have trouble recognizing they're in the community business. They're so focused on delivering the "news," they forget the bigger issue. The news business has always been a community business. It was a way of bringing together a community of people with something in common (usually locality), and then selling their attention to advertisers. The big problem facing the industry today is that there are many more ways for communities to form. They used to be one of the few games in town. These days, however, there are many, many more places for communities -- and most of them treat the communities much better, and provide a lot more value. And yet, too often we hear newspaper folks talk down to and insult the idea that they should ever be expected to actually rub virtual shoulders with their community. They don't like using comments. They don't want to talk to fans or critics alike. They just want to report the news and move on.
Obviously, there are many, many exceptions to this. And the number of exceptions are growing and that's a good thing, because eventually they won't be exceptions at all. For now, though, it's nice to highlight stories of journalists recognizing the importance of actually communicating with their community. Pickle Monger points us to a piece by a long-time BBC reporter, Paul Reynolds, talking about his experience embracing the community rather than shunning it, and recognizing that this involvement of the public really is "the future of news." He admits it wasn't always pleasant, and it did require establishing something of a thick skin, but he seems to feel that it's worth it.
When you go around preaching the concept that ideas can be "owned," you're just asking for a lawsuit when you then ask people to voluntarily submit their own ideas. At some point, the Travel Channel put up a website, asking viewers for ideas for new shows. I'm sort of surprised they would do this, seeing as they must have known what would happen next. Some guy submitted an idea that probably a dozen or more people submitted: do a reality show on a family driving around the country in an RV. And, when the Travel Channel, along with NBC and the BBC announced a show called "The Great American Road Trip," the guy Christopher Cardillo insisted it was his idea that was being taken unfairly. So he sued for both copyright infringement and racketeering.
Of course, you can't copyright ideas and Cardillo had never actually registered the copyright on the proposal itself anyway, so there was no copyright claim. And, now the court has also tossed out the ridiculous racketeering charge. The idea that setting up a website to solicit show ideas is akin racketeering seems to be a bigger stretch than even some of the most ridiculous lawsuits we see on a daily basis.
While it's good that the court dismissed this, I'm amazed at a few things. First, on the copyright issue, the court notes "plaintiffs' failure to register their idea is fatal to their copyright claim." But, um, shouldn't the court know that you can't copyright an idea? While it gets the results right, the reasoning is weird.
Similarly, on the racketeering issue, the court spends a lot of time focusing on how there's no pattern of racketeering from a single incident, but it's not clear that there was even a single incident that is in any way illegal. The idea of doing a reality show of people traveling in RVs around the country is hardly unique, and the actual show is quite different than what Cardillo proposed anyway (his involved just his family driving from the US to South America -- the real show involves a bunch of families around the country involved in a contest).
Still, in the end, it's surprising that in a TV industry made up of folks who keep insisting that ideas can be "owned," that anyone would ever bother to put up a website asking for show ideas, and not expect to get sued.
The incredibly popular UK BBC TV show Top Gear has been involved in a legal fight with publisher HarperCollins over the plans to publish a book revealing the identity of "The Stig," the always secretive test driver who appears in the show unidentified in a racing suit and helmet. The BBC spent its (publicly-funded) money to try to prevent such a revelation, but the UK courts have pointed out the basic free speech rights involved, and allowed racecar driver Ben Collins to admit that he's The Stig and have his autobiography published. Of course, in watching this battle unfold, I was confused as to why the BBC was going after HarperCollins, rather than targeting Ben Collins directly (and, by the way, I'm assuming the "Collins" in both names is a coincidence). Either way, as HarperCollins notes, this does appear to be a victory for free speech. In the meantime, if the BBC is really so upset that "the mystery" is gone, why not just get a new once-again secret Stig? In fact, the BBC has actually done exactly that in the past, dumping Perry McCarthy as the original Stig after his identity was revealed.
THREsq has an interesting story about how the guy, Louie Psihoyos, who won an Oscar for best documentary this year for The Cove, apparently has a pretty quick legal trigger finger against anyone using a photograph he took 15 years ago. He's sued a bunch of companies over the years, and the latest is the BBC and CBS. He claims that it cost him $100,000 to create the photograph, which can be seen here:
And, yes, THREsq is showing the photo as well. In these two cases, it seems like clear fair use, since we're both reporting on the photo itself. However, where the BBC potentially got into trouble is in using the same photo to illustrate an article about Intel betting on TV and video content. What's odd, however, is that the reason CBS is being sued is "that CBS Marketing appropriated it for commercial display at the 2009 Intel Developers Forum." This makes me wonder if CBS Marketing used the image at the event that the BBC was reporting on, leading the BBC to believe it had the ability to use that image. That could make the legal fight a bit more interesting.
However, the article also notes that Psihoyos has sued a bunch of times in the past over this photo as well. For example, a year ago, he sued Apple for the second time over this photo. While that lawsuit was eventually settled, the details suggest that Psihoyos was barking up the wrong tree on that lawsuit. It wasn't a case of Apple using the image, but a random iPhone app developer. You would think that Apple would have a clear DMCA safe harbor response, which would protect it from such a lawsuit, so I'm a bit surprised they ended up settling.
Following on the US FCC's decision to let Hollywood add some DRM to movies it broadcasts to television, it looks like UK regulators Ofcom have gone even further in allowing the BBC to similarly use a form of DRM to try to stop copying of HD programming. Not surprisingly, this also came at the request of the entertainment industry. But, again, this seems to be about breaking what your technology allows, just so that the entertainment industry can have the illusion of control. The reports all say things like "This will allow broadcasters to stop piracy of shows," but that's patently ridiculous. There are always ways around these blocks for those who really want to get there -- and those shows will still end up online just as quickly (or maybe a few seconds later). And at that point, the locks are meaningless... except to folks who didn't want to have to buy an expensive locked down settop box that is required to view this kind of content. It's an incredibly anti-consumer move that has little to no benefit to the entertainment industry, other than in their minds.
Back in February, we noted that UK newspapers (the same ones who are blocking aggregators and putting up paywalls) were getting angry that the BBC was going to release an iPhone app. Their complaint was that it was somehow unfair, since the BBC is publicly funded, even though all it was really doing was taking its website and formating it better for the iPhone. Unfortunately, it looks like the BBC has agreed to put the whole thing on hold while it explores the issue. This is really unfortunate. At the same time that UK newspapers are locking up their content, they're trying to force others to do the same as well. Of course, they don't seem to realize that this won't help them any. It certainly won't help their business model. As for the BBC... well, it'll be a bit more annoying, but I imagine most folks who want their BBC content will quickly open a browser and go straight to the website. But they won't suddenly agree to pay Rupert Murdoch to access his news.