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Odeon rolls credits on copycat website

Hasta la vista, accessible cinema service

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Odeon Cinemas' website is so frustratingly bad that last year accessibility campaigner Matthew Somerville took it upon himself to recode a version of it that worked. The original site only allowed access to people using Internet Explorer and Windows and was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Despite predictions when his site first went up that the lawyers' letters would arrive immediately Odeon Cinema initially welcomed the site - as did many disabled people who could access the site for the first time. Somerville offers the site as a public service and makes no money from it.

But this all changed with the arrival of an email from Luke Vetere, marketing director at Odeon, to Matthew Somerville which said: "we insist that you remove the "Odeon Booking Service", "Register" and "View My details" areas and Odeon links and content from your "Accessible Odeon Website" and cease using our trade marks, content and listing by no later than 5pm on Monday 5th July 2004." The email continued: "we reserve our legal rights to take such steps as are necessary to protect our customers and Odeon's intellectual property." Odeon claimed that increasing numbers of customer complaints had led to the action.

Somerville replied, apologising for any inconvenience, and asking why the cinema chain objected now but was happy when the site first went up. He pointed out that his site allows access to people who would otherwise not be able to access it. Finally he called for some form of compromise.

Odeon replied again, asking for all copyright material to be removed.

Somerville also made a usable version of the National Rail Enquiries website - for more on his work have a look at www.dracos.co.uk. He hopes to take down the rail site in October when National Rail Enquiries has promised it will have sorted out its own site.

Updated

Odeon Cinemas has responded to our questions by email. The company cites data protection concerns for taking this action now, a year after the Accessible Odeon website launched.

It is not in a position to determine if Somerville contravened any data protection regulations but notes it has "received a number of complaints about the website from customers who have submitted personal details in the mistaken belief that the 'Accessible ODEON Website' is affiliated to ODEON Cinemas Limited, which it is not. As a result of this confusion, some of our customers have expressed concern that by registering their e-mail address and other personal details via the website, they have unintentionally given their personal details to a website that is not owned by ODEON and does not conform to data protection requirements."

The company denies sending a cease and desist notice but "merely asked Mr Somerville to co-operate and remove confusing information from his website".

Odeon says it asked Mr Somerville to remove from his website "anything which it felt may confuse website users into thinking that his website was affiliated with Odeon, such as its branding and metatags, in an effort not only to stop Mr Somerville's website causing confusion among customers but also to prevent confusion continuing by unauthorised use of Odeon's copyright, trade mark and database rights.

The company declines to tell us how many customer complaints it has received about Somerville's site. As for usability, or lack of it, Odeon Cinemas says it is "constantly updating and improving its website," and is working with consultants regarding disability access issues, on an "ongoing basis". ®

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