Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cutesy AR App Busts Up BP Logo, But Is It Harmless? We Say Yes


Cell Phones
Cutesy AR App Busts Up BP Logo, But Is It Harmless? We Say Yes

by Matthew Zuras — Jul 7th 2010 at 6:30PM

So there’s this cheeky new app concept that’s been floating around the Internet lately, and it’s raised the question of how trademarks are protected in the virtual space. “The Leak in Your Hometown,” an augmented reality app for the iPhone that hasn’t yet been approved by Apple, captures any BP logo that the phone’s camera detects, and superimposes an animated pipe, billowing some kind of miasma. Cute, but is it legal?

Adbusting like this is a facile form of protest, but the main failure of this app is the fact that it’s both private and self-selecting. Turning a Pepsi logo, say, into a billboard that reads ‘OBESITY’ is charming, but it also reaches a multitude of viewers who may or may not believe that the soft drink giant contributes to American fattiness. “The Leak in Your Hometown,” in contrast, will only be downloaded and viewed by people who already believe that BP is evil. (Well, that may include all of us nowadays, but you get our point.) If an ad gets busted, and no one’s around to see it, did it ever really happen?
The discussion, though, is all theoretical unless Apple approves the app, which could have its army of attorneys scrambling at yet another lawsuit. Chris Cameron at ReadWriteWeb wonders if this app isn’t a blatant case of trademark infringement, and what precedent an app like this could set for the AR space. While he notes that parody is often protected, he doesn’t really give libel law its due. Unless people mistake a busted BP logo for the real thing, the company has little legal recourse. The real question is whether Apple would approve an app that negatively targets a business, and we’re betting that they won’t.

BP has much, much larger problems than a minor iPhone app (like 60,000 barrels of crude soaking poor cormorants each day), so the corporation probably won’t take the developers to court (if the app ever manages to get into the App Store). “Hometown” creators Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking write on their site that AR adbusting “will offer future artists and activists a powerful means of expression which will be easily accessible to the masses.” Although we think their distribution platform limits the effectiveness of their message, we agree that the virtual space may become the next stomping ground for digital protest. But, until we see the first case of virtual trademark infringement hit the court room, we think activists have little to worry about. [From: ReadWriteWeb]

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