SAP resurrects the “screenshots” issue

Tuesday 6 January 2009 @ 6:22 pm

Some of you may remember my “Don’t Pay Twice” campaign back in the summer of 2005. This was my response to Business Objects’ attempt to eliminate independent training by making it more expensive. Business Objects convinced several training providers that they needed to pay special fees for the privilege of offering Crystal Reports public classes. These providers were also required to buy courseware from one of two “authorized” vendors. These vendors were willing to pay Business Objects a $30-$40 fee for every course book they sold.  So why would courseware vendors agree to pay this exorbitant fee?

Business Objects claims that no one can use a Crystal Reports screenshot in a book without their approval. They sent letters to courseware vendors (including me) telling use that we need to get permission to use screenshots in our books. Most vendors ignored those letters and nothing more was said in the three years since. Now it appears that more letters are going out from SAP (who now owns Business Objects). I read one of the letters this past week and it talks about screenshots and adds a new warning about using SAP trademarks like the term “Crystal Reports”. The letter was very impressive, with majestic references to various sections of US copyright and trademark law. Sprinkled throughout the letter was the Latin incantation “inter alia” to make it seem almost pontifical. It sounded so ominous that it brought to mind the blustering Wizard of Oz (“ignore the little man behind the curtain”).

As I explained in 2005, using screenshots of a software product in a book is a “fair use” of a copyrighted work (see Sony vs Bleem).  And there are also several clear cases to show that “nominal” use of a trademark word or phrase is fine for any purpose at all, so long as you are not claiming to be affiliated with or authorized by the trademark holder (see Volkswagen vs Church).

The real irony is that SAP could be out up to US $1 Billion for illegally using Oracle software and materials. That kind of loss won’t help their current financial position any, and it may also be why they have started to aggressively cut costs as shown by this leaked internal memo. Hopefully they wont want to add a loss of goodwill and karma to all this by continuing to threaten the people who promote their product line. (Thanks to Jay Hackenbracht for these last three links.)

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