The week’s news included; Aldi loses appeal in M&S IP infringement lawsuit, TikTok takes down more Universal Music, ICO orders leisure centre to stop collecting biometric data, Elon Musk sues OpenAI for contract breach.

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page, Facebook page and Instagram Page, for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.

Opinion articles of the week: 

  • City A.M. – Interest rates aren’t as influential as you think
  • CNBC – ‘Stupidity’ poses a bigger threat than AI, CEO of Italian defense giant Leonardo says
  • City A.M. – The government must go further to make childcare affordable

1. GOOGLE FACING  €2.1BN LAWSUIT OVER ADS PLATFORM

Google is facing  a €2.1 billion group action lawsuit from 32 media groups over its advertising practice. The tech giant is accused of abusing its dominant position in the digital advertising space to underpay media companies who run ads on their platform. Google had already been fined €220 million in France and charged by the EU over its advertising business. The media companies claim these cases support their argument and are now seeking damages. The claimants include media companies in 13 EU countries. Google however, denies the allegations and claims the action is “speculative and opportunistic”. The court case has been filed in the Netherlands due to its strong reputation in handling antitrust cases. 

2. ALDI LOSES APPEALS IN M&S IP LAWSUIT

Aldi has lost its appeal against a decision that found it infringed on Marks and Spencer’s festive gin bottle design. The court initially found the Aldi’s gin bottle was too similar to Marks and Spencer’s and ruled they must stop selling it. Last week, the Court of Appeal held that the court made the right decision. The judge found that Aldi’s design could indeed confuse consumers due to the similarities with M&S’s. Aldi has been locked in intellectual property disputes for some time. It recently won its case against Thatchers over its cloudy lemon cider (see previous top 10). In 2022, Aldi and M&S also settled their dispute over Aldi’s Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake (see previous article).

3. TIKTOK PULLS MORE UNIVERSAL MUSIC SONGS FROM ITS PLATFORM

The battle between TikTok and Universal Music is raging on. TikTok announced it is pulling more music under Universal’s label from its platform. Previously, only songs by Universal artists were removed from the platform. Now, songs by Universal writers are also being removed. In total, 4 million songs or around 30% of “popular songs” could be removed as part of the dispute. Industry experts however, warn this could reach 80% due to split copyrights. This is where song writers jointly contribute to songs and therefore, have a share in the copyright to songs. Universal Music Group have many song writers who have contributed to songs and hence, their catalogue of songs could be affected.

The dispute is centred around the royalty payments that TikTok would need to pay to Universal to use its catalogue of music. Universal claims TikTok is trying to bully the label by seeking to pay a “fraction” of the standard rate.  TikTok has become an important platform in the discovery and promotion of music. Whether this dispute will ultimately harm the user experience on TikTok remains to be seen. 

4. ICO ORDERS LEISURE CENTRE TO STOP USING BIOMETRIC DATA 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered a company to stop using facial recognition and fingerprint scanning at a leisure centre it operates. Serco Leisure, a subsidiary of the UK contractor Serco, operates 47 leisure centre’s. In 38 of these centres, biometric data on over 2000 employees had been collected to track their attendance. Only two of the sites however, used fingerprint scanning technology while the rest used facial recognition. Serco had not explained why it was “necessary or proportionate” to collect biometric data of staff instead of using ID cards to clock in. Now, Serco has three months to destroy all biometric data it has collected and stop collecting new data, except where legally required. This marks the first ICO order against an employer requiring them to stop collecting biometric data. There is growing concern over the increasing use of biometric data by companies and the potential impact on privacy protections. 

5. ELON MUSK SUES OPEN AI FOR CONTRACT BREACH

Elon Musk is taking legal action against Open AI, the maker of ChatGPT. The billionaire claims the company has abandoned the principles he agreed to when he helped found the business in 2015. OpenAI was set up as a non-profit, open source mission made to “benefit humanity”. Although Musk left OpenAI in 2018, these principles formed part of the Founding Agreement upon which Musk agreed to help set up the firm. Musk claims however, that now OpenAI is focused on maximising profits for its main investor, Microsoft, abandoning this contractual agreement. OpenAI had indeed set up a for-profit arm and according to Musk, it has become a closed source de facto subsidiary of Microsoft. He now seeks to ensure the court obliges OpenAI to return to its Founding Agreement. OpenAI said this lawsuit stems from Musk’s regret that he’s no longer part of the company.

6. THE BODY SHOP TO CLOSE 75 STORES

The Body Shop is closing 75 stores and cutting nearly 500 jobs as part of its restructuring. The cosmetics company fell into administration in February and is now reshaping the business into a more sustainable model. 116 Body Shop stores will remain open for now but administrators warn that almost half of stores could close. As part of this wave of closures 489 store workers will be made redundant while up to 300 jobs will be lost at the company’s head office. As the cosmetics space became more crowded, Body Shop failed to stay profitable and has consequently faced some financial turbulence in recent years. 

7. GAMING CUTS 

Last week, both Sony and Electronic Arts (EA) announced hundreds of job cuts as sales reel from the cost of living crisis. EA said it is cutting 670 jobs, roughly 5% of its global workforce to streamline its business. Furthermore, a first person shooter Star Wars game was also cancelled. This follows cuts announced in December. EA has said it will release fewer new titles and invest more heavily in its core games.

Sony announced it will cut 900 staff globally and close its London studio. They cite a “challenging time” for the gaming industry due to “unsustainable” costs to develop games along with a global economic slowdown. Costs of game development have reached record highs. The average cost to build a triple-A game now costs between $80-$100 million. A triple-A game is a high-profile game typically produced and distributed by large, well-known publishers.

8. APPLE SCRAPS PLANS FOR ELECTRIC CAR

Apple has reportedly scrapped its plans to launch its own electric car. The tech giant has been quietly exploring this project since 2014 but has never formally confirmed it. Insiders claimed Apple’s electric vehicle would be completely self-driving and would not even have a steering wheel or pedals. Apple was not close to production and the project was mainly in the research phase. Analysts speculate that the decision to scrap the plans could be due to the increased competition in the EV space along with weaker customer demand. Global electric vehicle sales topped 13 million in 2023, up 31% from 2022.

9. BITCOIN BOUNCES BACK

Bitcoin is back again, passing $60,000 for one coin. The cryptocurrency hit $62,495 last week and is nearing its all-time high of $67,707 achieved during the pandemic. A huge factor in this recent increase was the US SEC’s decision to allow Bitcoin Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). These ETFs allow investors to invest in a fund that tracks Bitcoin’s price but without actually owning the coin. This brings interest in Bitcoin to the mainstream and increases hype. There is now renewed optimism in cryptocurrency markets and we could see more record highs in crypto markets in the near future. 

10. UK HOUSING MARKET 

UK house prices have risen on a year-on-year basis for the first time in 12 months. Annual house prices rose 1.2% in the year to February. Rising interest rates and a wider economic slowdown hampered demand in the housing market. Now, mortgage approval rates are rising and the economic outlook is still very uncertain but somewhat more positive. The average UK house price is currently £260,420. This is still 3% lower than its recent highs. 

This comes as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it is investigating eight of the UK’s largest house building firms. The CMA claims there has been a “persistent under delivery” of new homes. There is a significant gap between the number of homes built and the number of homes needed. This is making obtaining housing for rental or purchase increasingly difficult. Fewer than 250,000 new homes were built last year across Britain. There is a 300,000 home building target for England alone so house builder firms are falling well short of targets. The developers under investigation are Barratt, Bellway, Berkeley, Bloor Homes, Persimmon, Redrow, Taylor Wimpey, and Vistry.