Don’t Buy Rotolight

In the age of the internet there are many reasons we might choose to buy or not buy a specific product. We have a wealth of knowledge (and opinion) at out fingertips. At its most idealistic the internet is a place to share ideas and information. One factor we can consider much more easily now when purchasing is the character of the company.

Online, and in social media, companies increasingly exhibit brand personality. They interact more directly with us and we hear from them much more directly than in the past where our information would be limited to advertising and trade publications.

So why have I titled this article Don’t Buy Rotolight? I will be very upfront, I’ve never used a Rotolight product – the title is confrontational and my current personal opinion about the company based on their recently exhibited character.

While I have never used a Rotolight, many other people have. One of those people, video trainer Den Lennie, made a video where he tested the Rotolight Anova against a Kino Flo Celeb – two LED lights – and compared them to a tungsten incandescent light. In the test the Anova exhibited a very unflattering colour, even when used with supplied filters. Den made no direct comment or judgement on the matter, leaving it up to his viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Recently Rotolight decided they didn’t like the video and rather than contact Den to talk about the test (they later claimed that the specific unit he tested with was faulty) they filed a DMCA takedown notice with Vimeo to have it removed.

This is hugely significant. The DMCA is legislation that was an (ultimately flawed) attempt to tackle the difficulty of enforcing Copyright protection online. It has many provisions, but the significant one here is that it requires internet companies like Vimeo to take immediate action on notification of infringing content. If they do not take action they may not receive “safe harbour” in the event of legal action – they would be considered party to the infringement.

The DMCA also takes into account the fact that claims could be used maliciously or to attack those exercising their legitimate rights to use protected content. For this reason it is a illegal to knowingly file a false DMCA claim. Specifically it is an offence under Title 17, §512(f) of the US Code to misrepresent an act of infringement. It is also perjury.

You can see Den Lennie’s account of the whole situation on his F-Stop Academy website.

Rotolight later claimed, in attempting to justify their actions, that their Trademark was infringed. Trademark is not Copyright. It is not covered by the DMCA. Even if the DMCA did protect trademarks, mentioning a trademark (in the title of a video or elsewhere) is not infringement on that trademark unless it might cause confusion (ie. using a trademark to impersonate a brand).

This action is not okay. That this was their first step in trying to address what they apparently saw as an inaccurate representation of their product says a lot about their lack of respect for their customers and the larger community of filmmakers. There were many better options available to them, including commenting on the video in question and contacting Den Lennie directly and they didn’t choose either of those. They chose to look for a justification to have the video removed – that they’ve confused Trademark and Copyright isn’t that important, the point is that those IP rights were being used as a justification to remove the video.

Rotolight have apologised for their actions, and while they’ve acknowledged they could have handled it better, what they haven’t said is “we were wrong” – and they were. They claim that people claiming they filed a copyright notice were wrong – yet the notification email from Vimeo posted on Den’s website clearly show that they did. In their apology they continue to hype their products and justify their actions.

So – should you buy a light from Rotolight? I don’t know – ask someone who’s used one. Personally I think I’d spend my money elsewhere.

Of course this isn’t entirely unprecedented – GoPro did a similar thing earlier in the year. They too apparently didn’t understand the difference between Trademark and Copyright and didn’t respect the rights of others to reference their trademarks. So I guess you shouldn’t buy GoPro either.

Just to be clear some of the graphics in my header image here are the copyright protected property of Rotolight. I am using them subject to the fair use (or fair dealing) provisions of US, UK and New Zealand copyright law which protect my right to use copyright protected images for the purposes of review, criticism and reporting. The names Rotolight, Rotolight Anova, Kino Flo and Kino Flo Celeb are all trademarks of their various owners.