Bruce Willis might be suing Apple UPDATE: But he isn't.

The actor apparently wants to leave his iTunes collection to his four daughters.

The Daily Mail reports the Bruce Willis – he of Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, and, of course, "worst picture of the decade" nominated mega-flop Hudson Hawk fame – is said to be considering legal action against Apple, in order to be able to leave his iTunes collection to his daughters.

Neil Sears writes:

If he succeeds, he could benefit not just himself and his family but the millions who have purchased songs from Apple’s iTunes Store.

Willis has discovered that, like anyone who has bought music online, he does not actually own the tracks but is instead ‘borrowing’ them under a licence.

Most purchasers do not bother to read the details of the terms and conditions they agree to when buying an album but the small print makes it clear that music bought through iTunes should not be passed on to others.

At the risk of being wrong: Willis is not going to win this one.

European courts have been increasingly active in ruling that "first sale doctrine" – which states that exclusive rights to distribution are exhausted after the first sale – holds for digital goods, since a right to use a good for an unlimited period of time, when exchanged for money, is legally indistinguishable from a sale. This was most recently demonstrated when the ECJ declared in July that consumers have a right to resell downloaded software as "used".

US courts, on the other hand, have been far more inclined to treat the licenses under which digital goods are sold as legally enforceable contracts. So, for instance, MDY v Blizzard, a case in which Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of World of Warcraft, sued a manufacturer of cheating software, was found in Blizzard's favour in part because it was held that users are merely licensees, not owners, of the World of Warcraft software.

For Willis to win, he would most likely have to get the contract declared unenforceable, which would have far more wide-ranging effects than merely letting him pass music on to his daughters. For one, it would open the door to used sales of digital media, but it would also severely limit the ability of businesses to control how their digital goods are used. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether those businesses then change their offerings. But, as one example, would Adobe continue to sell student editions of their software if first sale doctrine allowed those students to resell the software at will?

Update

We should have known it was too good to be true. The Guardian's Charles Arthur reports that Willis' wife has denied the story, and that the Mail's reporting of it was most likely an uncredited lift from the Sunday Times. But where did the story come from? Arthur writes:

There's an article from Marketwatch, from 23 August, which bears an odd resemblance - but it has no mention of legal challenge. It's all talk about Estates and Wills.

Which brings us to a horrible pause: might it be that someone saw a mention of "Estates and Wills" and thought it was "estates and Willis"?

Erk.

Bruce Willis when he's not suing Apple. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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