The Empire Struck Back

Believe it or not, the Office of the UK Secretary of State for Defense has objected to The Flying Cloud. What a very strange thing for them to do! Read the latest news and updates, offer support and suggestions, and post your comments here. But remember to be civil, because we're all gentlemen here.

The Empire Struck Back

Postby PaulGazis » Thu Mar 29, 2012 5:55 am

Believe it or not, it seems that someone on the Office of the UK Secretary of State for Defense
objects to the Flying Cloud! On 28-March-2012, they contacted our Zazzle store and ordered them
to remove most of the items because these allegedly 'reference the Royal Air Force'.

It's difficult to escape the impression that someone at the Office has too much time on their hands.
There's also an element of inconsistency here. The world is full of commercial products, ranging from
coffee table books, photo albums, and calendars, to Snoopy and the Red Baron that are about as
specific a 'reference to the RAF' as anyone could possibly imagine. Why do they ignore these dire
threats to Her Majesty's Armed Forces and go after a few small pictures of airships(!!!) because they
include some barely-detectable roundels as part of the artwork? This seems rather small-minded. I'd
expect broader vision from the heirs of Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Nelson :)

I have no particular plans to recreate the Zazzle items because they were never in great demand. But
it's difficult not to feel some concern for The Flying Cloud itself. Will my ISP receive a nasty letter
from some over-ambitious barrister? Will a squadron of Tornados fighter-bombers stoop from the skies
above my local hang gliding site? Will I have to stand off teams of highly-trained SAS commandos with
my sling?

Almost certainly not, but a bit of preemptive publicity might still be in order. If you're concerned about
the possible threat to our favorite airship captain and his gallant men (and women), spread the word,
let your friends know, and point more people toward this site.

Thanks!
PaulGazis
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Sopwith3 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 2:05 pm

Wow, that's amazing! I've looked at the image and those guys don't have a leg to stand on. There's a clear provision in copyright law for 'incidental appearance' of insignia as part of a larger image. And in this one, the colors don't even match! But you're probably doing the right thing spreading the word. I'd hate to see the R-505 shut down by some bureaucrat. I'll tell all my friends, and like you say, we'll all be gentleman about it :)
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Mutabilis » Thu Mar 29, 2012 6:20 pm

There's a silver lining in every dark cloud. It might help our favorite story to gain publicity.
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Kona » Thu Mar 29, 2012 9:40 pm

It's interesting to note how paranoid everyone is about copyright infringement these days. I can't for the life of me understand how your story or the few trivial products on Zazzle, which can only amount to an homage to the traditions of the Royal Air Force, could threaten the integrity of that institution. If they are going to demand wiping out of existence every "reference to the Royal Air Force" in the known universe, they have a tall order ahead of them. Did Zazzle comply with the order, or did they ask you to remove the objects? If the former, Boo to Zazzle, the cowards. I'll do no more business with them, and you can tell them that for me.
The tide is out; please leave a message.
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby PaulGazis » Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:01 am

Thank you all for your support! I wait, with considerable interest, to see what will happen
next. The first news I had about all of this was a rather stern succession of emails from
Zazzle to the effect that they'd removed most of my products because of an IP complaint.
When I sent a query and learned the identity of the plaintiff, I was quite astonished. Surely
it's not April Fool's Day already!
I thought. That's still half a week away!

A brief examination of the web sites of some of the relevant ministries revealed that those
fellows do try to make some rather sweeping claims to any and all appearances of the RAF
insignia, but even the most casual examination of any bookstore, video game parlor, or DVD
store will show that this 'policy', such as it is, is not applied on a consistent basis. In my
personal library alone I count more than dozen volumes with RAF emblems on the cover, the
world contains any number of pictures of Snoopy perched atop a doghouse emblazoned with
the familiar red, white, and blue roundel, and what about... Biggles?

I don't fault Zazzle for knuckling under. It's not their job to fight these battles. They
provide good service, I will continue to buy products from them, and I urge the rest of you
do the same! For that matter, I'm not particularly upset with the Office of the UK
Secretary of State for Defense
. That's the way large bureaucracies work. Though I hope
some nameless drone there wasn't enjoying this opportunity to pick on the little guy :)

But spread the word, tell your friends, and I may even consider sending a story to the local
news. We 'little guys' need to stick together!
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Mutabilis » Sat Mar 31, 2012 2:04 am

A question on the side, how old is that insignia?

I mean, depending on country, copyright expires 50-75 years after the death of the artist.
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby PaulGazis » Sat Mar 31, 2012 3:45 am

Mutabilis wrote:A question on the side, how old is that insignia?

I mean, depending on country, copyright expires 50-75 years after the death of the artist.

I've begun to look into the matter, and it appears that the armed forces of several English-speaking
nations make some very broad claims regarding the use of their insignia. If you examine the website
of the UK Secretary of State For Defense, and they seem to imply that no one can offer any product
that displays RAF insignia for sale without their explicit permission. The even go so far as to suggest
this claim overrides freedom of speech and extends to even the most incidental appearance of that
insignia. ("Oh look, in the corner of your magazine cover, one of our roundels! Cease and desist!")

This, of course, is utter nonsense. We pass thousands of commercial products that display RAF
insignia every day. These range from newspapers and books to models, children's toys, cartoons,
video games, movies, and the like, often for purposes that are far from incidental. I recall with
particular fondness the 1/16-scale Spitfire Mk V I had as a child. I invite all of you to provide your
favorite examples.

I imagine what we're seeing is the conventional legal strategy -- particularly common in intellectual
property law -- of making the broadest and vaguest possible claims, then relying on precedent,
expensive lawyers, and the threat of legal action to browbeat people into conceding privileges that
could not be justified on legal or moral grounds. When following this strategy, it pays to go after
fellows who lack the resources to defend themselves, to establish precedents one can later use
against fellows who can.

I have no problem with this. It's the kind of thing large organizations do. And heck, if I was a Brit,
I'd want my armed forces to be aggressive! But I do feel rather sorry for the poor bureaucrats who
have to enforce policies such as these. During my years at NASA and elsewhere, I saw first-hand the
soul-crushing toll this can exact on well-meaning people.
Last edited by PaulGazis on Sun Apr 01, 2012 2:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Owen Smith » Sat Mar 31, 2012 12:45 pm

As a British Citizen I am saddened that my taxes are being wasted in this way. At a time when our armed forces are being severely cut back this is a ridiculous use of money. The UK has no aircraft carriers at the moment but that's OK because nothing bad will happen until 2020 when the new ones will have been built (yeah, right...)
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Owen Smith » Sat Mar 31, 2012 12:50 pm

Mutabilis wrote:A question on the side, how old is that insignia?

I mean, depending on country, copyright expires 50-75 years after the death of the artist.


UK copyright law is 50 years. The Beatles first single is now out of copyright in the UK. So the RAF roundel is well out of copyright, unless special rules apply.
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Re: The Empire Struck Back

Postby Big Ralfie » Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:13 am

I believe someone is pulling your leg. I'm hardly put to believe that there's an "Office of the UK Secretary of State for Defense". For one thing the British do not have a secretary of state, they a "Home Bureau". Add to that that their defense obligations are fulfilled by the "Ministry of Defence". that was not a typo, that's how the Brits spell defense. As a matter of fact, I'm looking it up and.... I'm... eating... my... words... because of The Right Honourable Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence, is a real person who was appointed by that left-wing winnie PM David Cameron. Talk about being a martinet!
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