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2011: The year of David and Goliath legal battles

31 January 2012 

Everybody loves to hear a David and Goliath-style story where the little person bravely takes on the big guys and wins. It’s a formula that has formed the plotline of many a Hollywood blockbuster and is guaranteed to bring on the ‘feel-good factor’ in spades.

The legal arena is no exception with David and Goliath court triumphs provoking extensive media coverage and public admiration. 2011 was a year when a number of such legal battles hit the headlines, when individuals and small companies challenged the mega-corporations and were victorious.

First up is that behemoth of talent shows that people tend to either love or hate, ITV’s X Factor. In October an X Factor act was forced to change its name following a successful challenge by a Brighton-based music charity.

Rhythmix, which helps children to develop life skills through music tuition, hired lawyers to take on Simon Cowell’s company Syco after a girl band put together from individual contestants by X Factor took the same name. The show had also applied to register ‘Rhythmix’ as a trademark in Europe.

The charity worried that this would cause confusion and undermine the work that they carry out with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. A campaign conducted via social networking sites attracted many thousands of supporters and the girl band agreed to change their name to Little Mix.

Rhythmix then called on Syco to make a donation to help cover the charity’s legal costs of £8,000, which the company duly did.

From one multi-million pound entertainment industry to another now as Portsmouth pub landlady Karen Murphy took on the might of football’s Premier League in her fight to screen matches for pub-goers using a cheaper foreign TV decoder.

Murphy had been prosecuted for breach of copyright laws by the Football Association Premier League Limited (FAPL), which represents the broadcasting interests of the 20 English Premier League clubs, and made to pay nearly £8,000 in fines and costs for using a Greek decoder card in her pub, the Red, White and Blue.

She then took her case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and, in October, won the court’s backing.

The ECJ ruled that “national legislation which prohibits the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums.”

The ruling could have major implications for the Premier League’s exclusive agreements with Sky Sports and ESPN, and allow football fans to watch Premiership games for less via overseas broadcasts.

However it’s not yet clear whether this would apply to matches shown in pubs as the ruling highlighted a range of copyright issues.

Murphy’s case will now be considered by the High Court in London for a final ruling and a hearing date of February 24 has been set.

Finally, off to the cut-throat IT industry for another David and Goliath legal tussle that caught our eye in 2011. This is the story of a small Spanish IT company which defeated the mighty Apple in an iPad patent case.

In November a Spanish court preliminarily dismissed Apple’s allegations that Valencia-based tablet vendor Nuevas Tecnologias y Energias Catala SL had infringed on iPad intellectual property because its Android-based NT-K tablet was too similar in style to the iPad.

Apple had sued the company in November 2010 and obtained an injunction temporarily banning the importation of the NT-K, which is manufactured in China. The recent ruling lifted the injunction allowing Nuevas Tecnologias to receive the tablets, which had been held in customs in Valencia for a year, and market and sell them.

Nuevas Tecnologias has also filed a complaint against Apple with Spain’s antitrust regulator alleging competition violations.

Do you know about any other recent David and Goliath-style legal battles in which the little guy has come out on top? If you do let us know - give a short summary of the case and tell us what it was about it that attracted your attention.


Recent comments

Since this article was published Karen Murphy has won her case in the High Court. See the following article for more details:


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