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X Factor Rhythmix Row Has Cost My Charity £8k - and It's Still Not Over

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SIMON COWELL
PA

Hopefully by now you might have heard of a little charity I work for called Rhythmix. Maybe you know us for all the great work we've done over 12 years working with vulnerable young people across the south east of England.

Possibly you've heard about the very important work we do with young people with severe learning or physical disabilities.

Or maybe you've attended one of the literally hundreds of gigs we've put on showcasing the music created by those young people. Or even from the CDs of that music we've released?

None of those? I'm joking of course. You know us from such informative headlines as 'Charity sues X Factor over name of girl band' and PR statements from X Factor such as "they only trademarked it for educational purposes!"

To summarise; on 23 September 2011 Simco (a company largely owned by Simon Cowell) tried to take control of the identity Rhythmix for use by some contestants on the X Factor using trademark methods available to them in Europe.

Simco and X Factor did this in the full knowledge that 'Rhythmix' was an existing trademarked name of a music charity that works with vulnerable young people. The use of the name was announced on the X Factor on 1 October, and the charity wrote to Simco, Talkback Thames, ITV, Syco, X Factor and their legal representatives repeatedly in the subsequent three weeks asking for the name to be changed or for Simco to stop seeking to control the identity.

On 26 October at 9am, I signed a letter from the charity publicly asking Simon Cowell to stop his staff pretending that the charity was causing a fuss about nothing and simply change the name. At 5:43pm that day the name of the girl band was changed.

What I wasn't able to say at the time, and I still wasn't able to say even yesterday, is that despite us writing to Simco's legal representatives over and over again - and despite them taking days to reply, then taking a week, then not answering at all, then suggesting a joint PR statement, then suggesting nothing, then having a think and a lie down - on the day they announced the name change they didn't consult us to agree how to do that.

They actually released the statement, then sent us an email titled "Without Prejudice/subject to contract/private and confidential", (which is what we weren't allowed to discuss) telling us their conditions for allowing us to take over the trademark application that in our opinion they should never have launched in the first place. They only had one condition, to be precise, and it goes as follows: "This would be on the understanding that your client would refrain from any derogatory comments about them/Syco/Simco/TalkbackTHAMES/X Factor going forward."

Our lawyers very politely wrote back saying, "that sounds fine, except for the bit about not being able to say anything about it, which our client Mr Davyd feels is a little bit mad and makes you sound weird, and of course failing to mention the £8,000 in legal costs run up, because you did something you shouldn't have done in the first place."

They continued, "what about you pay the legal fees, give us the trademark application you shouldn't be pursuing, and we agree that our clients should be allowed the basic right of free speech."

I'm summarising and paraphrasing, but that was the general gist. They didn't respond. So we wrote to them again. And they didn't respond. So we wrote to them again. Can you guess what happened next?

Yesterday we released a new "open letter" and the internet, which these days closely resembles a swarm of angry wasps from where I am sitting, had a collective hissy fit.

So today, I'm pleased to say that we received a very nice apology from X Factor plus a cheque for £8,000. I'm joking again. What we got instead was another semi-correct, partially misleading PR statement from them which said "In fact, on 26th October, lawyers acting for Little Mix wrote with Syco's approval to the charity, offering to give them the trade mark, but the charity didn't accept the offer and specifically asked that the trade mark application should not be withdrawn."

Can you clever readers see what they did there? They mentioned all the bits that make them look lovely and cuddly, and none of the bits about letting a children's charity whistle for eight grand and telling them to keep their mouths shut.

So what's gone wrong here? Sometime on or about 23 September, a researcher working for Simco/Syco et al was asked to check the name Rhythmix to see if they could use it for a girl band.

Their reply was presumably "It's a music charity that works with vulnerable young people" or alternatively "I have no idea how google works, let's wing it".

Upon receiving this information, somebody at Syco/X Factor/whoever these people are, instead of saying what 99.9% of the population would say i.e. "Oh, that looks a bit crap, let's change the spelling or use a different name", presumably instead said "work out if there is a way in trademark law we could get that name off them, and make sure it's legally watertight so we can control the identity in full and lay out weird terms and conditions for allowing their continued existence."

I have no idea whether they stroked the white cat on their lap or said their catchphrase "exxxxxxxcellent" immediately after this, but it does tell us an awful lot about the culture of working in television; the answer is yes. Now what was the question again, and how many people do we need to tread on to make it happen?

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