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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.