When lifehacks pose a problem for intellectual property

We’re all familiar with imitation handbags and dodgy ‘designer’ sunglasses that people might try to sell you while you’re on holiday but there are some common more everyday intellectual property issues out there that you may not have considered to pose an IP problem. You might have come across them under the guise of a ‘lifehack’ but they may not be as innocent as they at first seem.

While many ‘solutions’ to paying for services – and circumventing IP rights and contracts with service providers – emerged long before the term ‘lifehack’ become an internet buzzword, we can’t help but notice that many of these quick fixes are now being presented as lifehacks online. For those not familiar with the term, a lifehack is a way of solving an everyday problem or making a task easier. The issue is that some of these ‘hacks’ could land you in hot water.

Game Consolesps3

It’s no longer a simple case of unlocking unlimited lives by pressing secret key and button combinations, games users now want much more flexibility and freedom. They want to open up their games consoles so they can play games they’ve not purchased from the same manufacturer. As we know, there’s a lot of money tied up in affiliating particular games franchises to certain brands and in selling new games and extras online. Suffice to say, games console hacking is more than frowned upon in many circles.

Sony in particular haven’t taken kindly to hackers targeting consoles such as the hugely popular PS3, which they perceived to risk denting game creators royalties. You can read more about Sony’s battle against one particular hacker, GeorgeHotz here. More recently, a group of hackers were charged with stealing intellectual property relating to the Xbox One and Xbox Live consoles from a number of games companies in the US. This included stealing data about the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, part of one of the biggest game franchises ever developed.

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Did you know the consumption of coffee is growing among young people while at the same time their thirst for alcohol is diminishing? Coffee is big business across the globe and in Britain; coffee culture is as firmly established in the home as it is on the high street. Along with the machines, which produce coffee in an instant – without actually using instant coffee – the machine manufacturers make their money by selling branded coffee pods to be used in conjunction with the machines.

Unfortunately, as reported in this recent Guardian article, many consumers have been exploring ways to cut out the middleman so that they can use alternative products with their machines in order to save cash. Pods generally use barcode type identification systems to signal to a machine that they are an approved product but hackers have figured out a way to bypass this digital rights management in some cases.

What is most interesting about this lifehack is that while using different branded pods in your own machine or selling coffee pods that work in other manufacturer’s machine isn’t illegal, laws such as the US digital millennium copyright act mean the bypassing of DRM mechanisms is an offence.

Netflix IP

According to YouGov, Netflix is now the 8th biggest brand operating in the UK. While the company originates from over the pond it has certainly found a huge customer base here and grown rapidly over the last few years, but did you know the programmes available on Netflix here in the UK differ to those available in other countries?

With different licensing and distribution rules in place in different countries, the programmes they show and timescales differ enough for some computer users to want to trick Netflix into thinking they’re watching in a different region. By using virtual private networks to appear as though they are watching in the US, many UK users are able to watch shows that haven’t made their way onto UK Netflix yet. However, according to this article from the Independent, this is something Netflix is now seeking to address.

Can you think of any more everyday ‘lifehacks’ that could pose intellectual property problems? Were you guilty of unknowingly carrying out any IP breaches yourself or do you have a query about a hack you think might breach the law?

Please share your comments or questions below and we’ll provide answers where possible.