That Busy Tone…

Photo from Walt Stoneburner, some rights reserved.

Yesterday I wrote about “tone of voice”. Today I’ve learnt that whereas I thought “tone of voice” was the marketeer’s equivalent of what lawyers call “look and feel” it actually addresses the way in which a company ‘speaks’ to its clients. This, for the avoidance of doubt is “speaking” not in the sense of an overpaid voice over actor, but in the sense of the “corporate voice” and style of writing.

Now, I was surprised to discover that businesses hire people to come up with this for them (is this my dream job? Paid wordmonging without recourse to legal text?!) it also leads to questions around ownership of the work.

We can all sit here and be reasonably comfortable that the look and feel of a document or website is protected by copyright. But in order for copyright to apply to a company’s “tone of voice” the tone itself must be a “Work”.

It is well established that copyright will only apply to the expression of an idea – and as tone of voice seems to relate to the way in which an expression of an idea is uh expressed, can it be a Work in itself?

Are we looking to establish our rights in the expression of the expression of our ideas?

That doesn’t sound like it’s an assertion we can make, but if we can pay someone to create this mythical tone of voice, surely we can find a way to ensure ownership of it is transferred to us upon completion.

How? Well, watch this space…


I Don’t Like Your Tone, Young Man

Photo from aepoc, some rights reserved.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for our friends in marketing.  They do a lot of good work, and in some industries – fashion and tech spring to mind – they convince me to buy lots of pretty things that frankly I don’t need.  Which must benefit some shareholders somewhere.

However, they do speak a foreign language, and working on brand creation matters will often expose you to this.

Today I was asked about “tone of voice”.  This is something I tend to associate with oral communication, in particular, arguments with Ms HotShot where she says “I don’t like your tone of voice”.

Apparently to a ‘marketeer’ however, it means the logo, colour and typeface that a brand uses to convey its values and qualities.  This is something that some brands pay thousands to consultants to develop, but often don’t consider the ownership of.

Now we lawyers like to call this “look and feel” and we like to be able to turn round and tell people that we own the copyright in it, especially if they start trying to imitate it.  But if the marketing bods haven’t considered this from the outset, we often find that, actually, we don’t.  And this can be embarrassing.

So tone of voice / look and feel – whatever you call it, make sure you own it, before you rely on it.

BBC’s derivative non-attribute licence to everything?

Photo from jcoterhals, some rights reserved.

The IP Kat has picked up on an interesting matter that has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently.

When Andy Mabbet, who blogs at, was following the BBC’s recent coverage of riots in Tottenham, he noticed that they were using photographs that were credited as simply “from Twitter”, so wrote to complain that they were not providing proper attribution.

Mr Mabbet’s complaint brought a curious (by which I mean fundamentally wrong) response:

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain.

Now, this goes to the heart of a matter that is dear to anyone with an interest in promoting the principles of intellectual property law.  The idea that material available to the general public on the interent is somehow suddenly “in the public domain” is one of the most common misconceptions about the infringement of online material there is.  The prevalance of this erroneous view is only increased when eminent British institutions like the BBC come out in support of it.

Now Mr Mabbet was bemused (like the rest of us) by this response, so pressed the matter.  The BBC (hopefully suitably embarrassed) then released a follow-up statement which reads (and I may be paraphrasing somewhat):

Sometimes copyright law is a right pain.  You know, all that contacting people for permission to use their work, attributing it appropriately and giving credit to those individuals that scurry around taking great photos that we’d like to use – too much.  Gets in the way of saying the same thing over an over again on our 24 hour news channel.  So you know what?  When we think it is too much of a hassle to obey copyright law we just don’t.  Simple.

Is this any better?  I mean the statement itself does admit that the BBC’s earlier response was wrong, but is their new official line which admits that sometimes they will use a photo before obtaining permission to do so setting any better an example?

I’ll leave the last word to Merpel:

Merpel wonders if it is too late to apply the BBC’s logic to content on TV and iPlayer. After all, she thinks, television and the internet are platforms available to most people who have a TV set or computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. If so, she would not mind recording or downloading all of the BBC’s Spooks. Merpel is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.