As if it wasn’t bad enough for The Number to have to pay up £40,000 to settle a copyright infringement claim by BT over comparative advertising, it also had to publish an apology to BT, but not for the original ad. For more go to
Topic: Comparative advertising
Who: BT and The Number/118118
When: February 2004
The fledgling directory enquiries service The Number/118118 settled proceedings brought against it by BT over a 118118 "Public Notice" ad published last year, and then had to issue a public apology over its press release announcing the settlement.
The problem with The Number's press ad was that it was almost exactly the same as an ad published the previous day by BT, telling readers that BT was changing its directory enquiries number from 192 to 118500.
BT immediately issued proceedings for copyright infringement and won an interim injunction preventing further use of The Number 's copycat ad.
Both advertisements were headed "Public Notice" and might have misleadingly given the impression that they were official Oftel announcements about new directory enquiries services. As a result of this, both BT and The Number were fined £10,000 by ICSTIS, but BT's original copyright proceedings against The Number rolled on.
Then, in February 2004, a settlement of the case was announced. It looked like a walk-over for BT. The Number undertook not to republish the advertisement and agreed to pay a total of £40,000. £30,000 of this was to cover BT's legal costs, with the remaining £10,000 to be donated by BT to charity.
Uncowed, The Number published a press release about the settlement. This criticised BT for being a "sad and lonely company" and "sending in their legal heavies to squeeze a small company just 1% of its size for a bit of extra cash."
The press release went on to suggest that The Number had tried, but failed, to persuade BT to donate the entire £40,000 to charity, rather than taking £30,000 of it for costs. It turned out, however, that this was untrue. There had in fact been no suggestion by The Number that the entire £40,000 be paid to charity, and BT demanded that The Number publish an "unreserved apology to BT" for this error.
This The Number duly did and perhaps this is now the final end to the story.
Why this matters:
One wonders how the settlement figures were computed, although, bearing in mind that there was an interim injunction application back in the summer of last year and preparations for the full trial will have been proceeding for some months, the costs figure is not surprising and may in fact be considerably below the full costs incurred. As for the charitable donation issue and The Number's subsequent apology, The Number's first press release was certainly very punchy, but it clearly went a punch too far.