With the growing popularity of smartwatches, one of the most coveted features on the hot Moto 360 is the ability to customize your watchface. While nobody is going to mistake a Moto 360 with a faux graphic for a true $15,000+ USD high end luxury watch, enthusiasts have nonetheless had a bit of fun copy the look of popular ultra-high end watch models.
Considering the state of piracy crackdowns affecting other digitlal spaces like music and considering how closely most luxury watchmakers covet their designs with design patents and other mechanisms, one had to wonder if a crackdown might be coming. And indeed it was, and in force.
A coalition of nearly a dozen of the world's elite watchmakers has become mailing cease and desist letters to torrent sites hosting imitations of their watch faces. Among the participating vendors are:
- Mondaine Watch Ltd.
- International Watch Comp. (IWC Schaffhausen) (Swiss, subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A. (JSE:CFR)
- The Swatch Group Ltd. (VTX:UHR) and subsidiaries (Swiss)
- Omega SA
- Certina Kurth Frères SA
- Flik Flak (a Swatch kids brand)
- Société Cartier (subsidiary of CFR SA)
- Fossil, Inc. (FOSL) (Texas-based)
- Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. (KORS) (New York-based)
Note, of the 11 companies involved four are brands of the monolothic Swiss "Swatch Group", which also sells products under its own name. Two others (Armani and Fossil) are tied together via a licensing pact (with Fossil providing the designs). And yet three more (Panerai, Cartier, and IWC) are all operated by Richemont, another top power conglomerate.
Luxury watch imitation faces are popular for the Moto 360
Of the independent parties, Mondaine's presence on the list isn't exactly suprising. In 2012 it threatened to sue Apple using its arsenal of design patents when it felt the iPhone's clock looked a little too much like it's iconic designs.
And that was it's reaction to a 2D homage on a phone. One can only imagine the furor at Mondaine when it discovered users were torrenting face designs inspired by its stylings for use on the Moto 360 -- an actual watch. (Apple settled with Mondaine for 22.5M Swiss Francs ($23.34M USD) and likely will be on the hook for more royalty payments.)
Indeed, virtually all the companies involved have a bit of a track record with aggressive, and at times allegedly frivolous, intellectual property litigation.
So far many of the larger face sites are warily tolerating these request, encouraging users not to upload images from those brands and taking down infringing faces when they receive notices. A person by the name of "Luke", who operates of FaceRepo, one top clearinghouse for face designs, spoke with TorrentFreak, telling the magazine:
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.
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.
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 practices a user reputation tracking system, where it warns users when their content is taken down. Users who get too many takedowns are booted from the site. FaceRepo is also being proactive, incorporating filters to try to block the upload, even, of designs that match a company who's known to send the legal threat letters.
Smallers sites, though, may be less compliant and bolder. Sites do run the risk being booted by local piracy police. Typically given 24 hours to comply with takedown notices, failure to comply may earn a website a takedown notice in the U.S. under the terms of the oft abused 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That said, some sites appear willing to take the risk. Some sites have started charging for face designs inspired by the most expensive and coveted of watch designs.
Apple is likely closely eyeing this issue, as well, given its upcoming Apple Watch launch, its recent launch of the Watchkit Developer SDK, and its previous struggles with Mondaine's threats.
Thus far Apple has not opened up the Apple Watch to developer-made face designs, but that does appear to be part of Apple's long term plan, given its claims that thousands of faces would be available (eventually). The Apple Watch starts out at $349 USD, but is rumored to potentially top out at a whopper of a pricetag in thousands for its gold variant.
The overall market direction in terms of whether these takedowns become the norm still remains to be seen, for now. Not all watchmakers are being so draconian, based on what we've heard. Some are realizing that there is still a clear difference between a smartwatch homage and the real thing.
XDRV spoke with an IT specialist who made a face for the Moto 360 resembling one of Detroit, Mich. watchmaker Shinola's designs. The professional, being local to Shinola, showed them the design and reportedly the folks and Shinola were keen on it, and gave the product their blessing. In this case the key factors to an amicable imitation appeared to be the developer's good communication, coupled with the watchmaker being open minded.
That could change for the worse, of course. But to be optimistic, on the flip side you might see more egalitarian jewelers like Shinola looking to partner up with talented facemakers, licensing and officially selling their faces for nominal fees, with the goal of building brand awareness.
Either way, it's clear that some watchmakers may be a bit more anti-establishment and may be aware of the crucial role design imitation and even outright "theft" of imagery has played in the world of art and jewelery. As late Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs recalled:
Picasso had a saying - 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.
Swatch, Fossil, and CFR, however, aren't quite ready to buy that line.