While digital watches have been becoming more complex in recent years, the advent of a new generation of smartwatches is changing the market significantly. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony, Pebble, Motorola and LG all have an interest in the game, with Apple set to show its hand in the early part of 2015.
Currently Android Wear compatible devices such as Motorola’s Moto360 are proving popular, not least due to their ability to display custom watch faces. Fancy Tag Heuer’s latest offering on your wrist? No problem. Rolex? Omega? Cartier? Patek Philippe? All just a click or two away.
Of course, having a digital copy of a watch on one’s wrist is a much cheaper option than the real deal. See that Devon watch fourth from left in the image below? A real-world version will set you back a cool $17,500. The copy? Absolutely free.
While it’s been fun and games for a while, makers of some of the world’s most expensive and well known watches are now targeting sites offering ‘pirate’ smartwatch faces in order to have digital likenesses of their products removed from the market.
TorrentFreak has learned that IWC, Panerai, Omega, Fossil, Armani, Michael Kors, Tissot, Certina, Swatch, Flik Flak and Mondaine are sending cease and desist notices to sites and individuals thought to be offering faces without permission.
Richemont, a company behind several big brands including Cartier, IWC and Panerai, appears to be one of the frontrunners. The company is no stranger to legal action and recently made the headlines after obtaining court orders to have domains selling counterfeit watches blocked at the ISP level in the UK.
Notices seen by TorrentFreak reveal that the company, which made 2.75 billion euros from its watch division during 2012/2013, is lodging notices against watch face sites citing breaches of its trademark rights. Owners are being given 24 hours to remove infringing content.
We discussed the issue with Richemont’s PR representatives but were informed that on this occasion the company could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week a source informed TF that Swatch-owned Omega had also been busy, targeting a forum with demands that all Omega faces should be removed on “registered trademark, copyright and design rights” grounds. Although the forum would not talk on the record, its operator revealed that the content in question had been removed. Omega did not respond to our requests for comment.
While watchmakers are hardly a traditional foe for those offering digital content, history shows us that they are prepared to act aggressively in the right circumstances.
Mondaine, a Swiss-based company also involved in the latest takedowns, famously found itself in a huge spat with Apple after the company included one of its designs in iOS6. That ended up costing Apple a reported $21 million in licensing fees. The same design is readily available for the Moto360 on various watch face sites.
So how are sites handing the claims of the watchmakers? TorrentFreak spoke with Luke, the operator of leading user-uploaded watch face site FaceRepo. He told us that the site had indeed received takedown notices from brand owners but made it very clear that uploading infringing content is discouraged and steps are being taken to keep it off the site.
“Although some of the replica faces we’ve received take downs for are very cool looking and represent significant artistic talent on the part of the designer, we believe that owners of copyrights or trademarks have the right to defend their brand,” Luke explained.
“If a copyright or trademark owner contacts us, we will promptly remove infringing material. To date, all requests for removal of infringing material have been satisfied within a matter of hours.”
Learning very quickly from other user generated content sites, FaceRepo notifies its users that their content has been flagged as infringing and also deactivates accounts of repeat infringers. A keyword filter has also been introduced which targets well known brands.
“If these [brand names] are found in the face name, description or tags, this will cause the upload to be rejected with a message stating that sharing of copyrighted or trademarked material is prohibited,” FaceRepo’s owner notes.
The development of a new front in the war to keep copyrighted and trademarked content off the Internet is hardly a surprise, and considering their power it comes as no shock that the watchmakers have responded in the way they have. We may be some time from an actual lawsuit targeting digital reproductions of physical content, but as the wearables market develops, one can not rule them out.