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Cheers - AE

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Spot the difference.

Look very carefully at the two images below. They're not the same but the more perceptive may be able to tell the difference.

Did you spot it? Well done. If you look closely you'll see that they look fuck all alike. The one on the left probably won't be well known outside Australia but is the logo of Woolworths, one of the country's two major supermarket chains (confusingly known as Safeway in Victoria for reasons that I've never bothered to look into, though they're very slowly changing them to Woolies). The one on the right is much more widely known as the manufacturer of, well, among other things the music player that has the entire combined music collection of the Exile household stored on it and the computer I'm typing this on. Oh, and one of the world's most stupid mice and a very snazzy phone that I nearly bought but for an ongoing barney over something else. But never mind that or the not so subtle differences between the two companies' corporate logos, I'm more interested in subtle similarities. And there must be powerful similarities because Apple have mounted a legal challenge to Woolworths over the use of the logo, and according to The Age they say it's too close to theirs. So let's look at them again in detail.

Both have a kind of 3D effect going on, and both have a leafy thing at the top leaning to the right. But while one is silvery and solid, has a two tone effect, a drop shadow and is shaped like an apple that someone's taken a bite out of the other is green, has smooth tone changes, no drop shadow and is shaped like some apple peel that has been arranged in a shape reminiscent of the letter W. It's also not entirely unlike something I had to bag earlier today after the dog curled one out in the local park, but fortunately for him not green. If Apple want to sue the dog, which given everyone else they've gone to court with they might do, they're welcome to get in touch with me via the comments section or something. As far as I'm concerned the mutt is on his own if he's going to start shitting out trademark infringements, but I ought to mention that his net worth is a few disintegrating lamb bones buried around the garden and since the offending (in more ways than one) item has been destroyed and appeared accidental as he seemed to pay no attention to arranging it in a particular shape it seems like it's unlikely to be worth the effort. And being just a dog it's unlikely he intended using it the way Apple fears Woolworths will use their logo:
Woolworths' application includes a wide class for electrical goods and technology, putting it in direct competition with Apple should the retailer choose to brand computers, music players or other devices.
Do fucking what? First off, does Apple think that Woolworths are going to do a Tesco and start selling electronic goods bearing in mind that Woolworths is just the supermarket brand of Woolworths Ltd, that the group already has a dedicated consumer electronics chain called Dick Smith Electronics, and that Dick Smith already fucking sell Apple computers? Seems unlikely. But let's just say for the sake of argument that Woolies do start doing computers, MP3 players and snazzy phones and that all of these carry a green W that looks a lot like apple peel. That brings up the second point: do Apple think that we're all so moronic we'd be unable to tell the difference? Even if Woolworths went so far as to make something like a notebook computer with an all aluminium case and a glass screen and trackpad nobody would confuse it for a MacBook because, and I think I may have mentioned this already, the logos are fuck all alike. Not only that but also the MacBook will have OS X installed on it while what we might call the WoolBook will almost certainly come with whatever edition of Windows is around at the time.

So what's the fucking problem, Apple? The logos are strikingly different, the company names aren't remotely similar, and even if Woolworths made a visually similar product telling it apart from an Apple product wouldn't be hard. Perhaps the fear is that the Woolworths products might well be cheaper and would eat into Mac sales down under? Again, that doesn't seem likely. For one thing the Mac/Apple fanbois will accept no substitutes, full stop, and they'll know the fucking difference without looking at the logos. You won't lose these people because even if it looks like a Mac they'd want the kosher Apple product. For another I doubt producing something that looks and feels like a Mac at the same time as keeping the costs down is going to be that easy, so the reality is that any cheap curly-green-W branded computers that may appear are likely to be bog standard grey or black plastic cases rather than the aluminium used for Macs. In turn that means while these products would nominally be in competition they're really in different areas of the market. Joe Technophobe who knows square root of bugger all about computers is probably not going to drop a couple of thousand bucks on a Mac when he can download all the porn he wants and email both the other computer owners he knows on a Compaq or something a quarter of the price of a Mac. Yes, I know about the Mac Mini, but that's still twice the price and doesn't come with a monitor. So in short, someone who just wants a computer and isn't fussy is probably not going to become an Apple owner anyway.

Frankly the whole thing smacks of IP lawyers with too much time on their hands to me. Now unlike some libertarians I don't have a big thing about IP. I can understand why McDonalds might get pissed off if I opened a burger joint with golden arches forming the M and a similar menu with 'Mc' on the front of everything. They've built their brand up over 70 or something years and part of that comes from a standardisation so that other than some regional and national variations all McDonalds sell the same stuff made the same way. Similarly I'd understand Apple getting its corporate cock in a knot if someone started selling different spec products that are made to look exactly like their own, or even just to look like Apple made them. However, that's not the case here. Going after someone only peripherally in the same industry over a logo that bears almost no resemblance to their own and is just about impossible to confuse just shows that if we're going to have IP law it needs a fucking thorough overhaul. No more frivolous lawsuits over the most tenuous and inadvertent infringements - prove both loss on your part and intention to confuse on theirs or fuck off. No more patent squatting for twenty years. It should be about half that and revoked if you fail to bring it to market or develop it for more than say a year or eighteen months - either use it or lose it, cunts. And while we're on patents, no more patenting things that occur in nature and simply awaited discovery - pick up a fucking pencil and invent something and then we'll talk. No more exclusivity on patents either if someone can convincingly argue that they came up with the same idea as you completely independently - share it like grown ups or have the patent revoked so everyone who feels like it can copy the design. No ridiculous copyright restrictions either. Someone taking a photograph of your building or, say, a lighting display on it, isn't fucking copying it any more than if they accurately reproduce it's image afterwards by dint of an eidetic memory and a dab hand with a paint brush. Copying it would mean building another one just like it, not simply making an image of it. Your building is on public display, so if you don't want it photographed I suggest you dismantle it, dig a big fucking hole and rebuild the fucker underground and out of sight. If you do that then you can make no photography a condition of entry to the cave in which your building stands. Otherwise we can all take photographs and you can go and fuck your hat. There are music and literature copyright abuses too - haven't Cliff and The Who earned from their old stuff for long enough now? Didn't stop 'em wanting more, though rather than taking the opportunity to reduce it from the already over generous 50 years they were just turned down for an extension. And for books you need only look at the Harry Potter series to see how eager some people are to scream copyright theft, even if they do sometimes wait until years after the publication of the offending book*.

I'm fine with company logos being sufficiently different for consumers with half a brain to tell them apart, I'm fine with creators of original work being credited for it indefinitely, I'm okay with inventors having a fair chance to get their idea to market and I'm okay with both earning a residual income from their work for a reasonable time. But stifling anything because it's a tiny little bit similar or expecting to be paid a fortune by someone who independently came up with an idea you've sat on and done nothing with for years, or to still be earning residual income 5 fucking decades on is taking the piss. The whole fucking IP thing has got badly out of hand, and the rate things are going I can imagine some cuntweaselly lawyer acting on behalf of a well known California based computer manufacturer sparking off a court case over this.

If those who want IP kept aren't prepared for some serious reform I wonder about its long term future, I really do.

*Personally I'm not sold on the merits of all the Rowling/Warner Bros suits either. Like the Apple and Woolworths logos there's room in my head for Harry Potter, Barry Trotter and Tanya Grotter and whatever. I'm bright enough to know the difference and so is nearly everyone else - it's really not necessary to go crying to the courts to ban books even if you're right that the authors are just feeding off your back. If you think your work is the original and superior then have the fucking confidence to say so and invite people to take the Pepsi** challenge.
**Just in case, Pepsi is a registered trademark blahblahblahblah and has no affiliation with The Angry Exile, who prefers Coke Zero anyway. 'Kinell!
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