Accessible Odeon | July 12, 2004

Dear Sir/Madam,

I was deeply saddened by the Odeon's decision to force Matthew Somerville to remove his accessible version of your site with the threat of legal action.

http://www.dracos.co.uk/odeon/

I'm a regular patron of my local Odeon but am unable to use your website due to my choice of computer platform and browser (Mac OS X and Safari). Because of this I am unable to book tickets online, leading to a reduction in the number of times I visit your cinema. I contacted you well over a year ago about this accessibility problem and was told you were working on a solution. Unfortunately this solution has yet to be realised.

Being a web designer myself, I understand that it's not always easy to retrofit such a large website. However you do have a legal obligation under the disability discrimination act to make your online services accessible. Matthew has done an extremely good job of creating an accessible version of your site. Rather than threaten him with legal action, wouldn't it be better to work with him in order to comply with your own legal requirements and create a more user friendly customer expirience?

Yours

Andy Budd

Posted at July 12, 2004 10:54 PM

Comments

JB said on July 12, 2004 11:02 PM

“We would ask, therefore, that you immediately remove the “Accessible Odeon” part of your website from the web.”

We ask that you assist us in ensuring that we convey the message that we don’t really care about all our customers…only certain ones….. thank you.

Eduardo said on July 13, 2004 12:28 AM

Sorry, but the emails from Odeon are kind, and they point enough reasons to remove the site.
if they don’t want more customers, that’s their choice, but IMHO the amde some points.

Note that I dont use any of both sites, since I dont live un UK.

Eric TF Bat said on July 13, 2004 1:25 AM

Andy, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here. Odeon isn’t complaining because Matthew’s site is embarrassing their subsentient web designers. Their argument is that Matthew is collecting personal information from the web-browsing public under false pretences. His site claimed (if the emails are accurate) to be the official Odeon website, and it wasn’t.

It’s pretty much the same as if I built a site called Andy Budd:::Blogography and began running copies of your articles and collecting the email addresses of people who commented on them. And if I argued that I was doing it because your version had two colons in the title and was therefore unfair to C++-phobes, would you agree to a “compromise”? Or give me a job, perhaps?

Sue said on July 13, 2004 5:27 AM

Well I not from UK but I took a look at this company’s current site. Checked in Safari and I see what you mean. So I took a look IE and whoa!! This site belongs on www.webpagesthatsuck.com. My eyes are still bleeding! What is with all those JavaScripts anyway? I have never seen a site built like that. It is too bad the site is so inaccessibe for people in the UK.

Jeff Minard said on July 13, 2004 9:40 AM

It’s pretty much the same as if I built a site called Andy Budd:::Blogography and began running copies of your articles and collecting the email addresses of people who commented on them.

I believe that is not “pretty much the same.” That would be blatantly stealing copyright material for no reason other than spite - this man did it so it would work for people.

Odeon, while they have the every right to exercise their power to do this, has made a bad choice IMO.

I find the fact that they have quite bluntly rejected his offer to modify the site anyway they saw fit apalling. He was offering to build them a website and extend their market segment FOR FREE. He wasn’t making money from the site and, while he could have been storing the personal info, I doubt he was.

I agree with Andy and Matthew that the site should have stayed - at least in one form or another.

Jeff Minard said on July 13, 2004 9:42 AM

@Andy: erm - that top part was supposed to be a <cite> which seems to have been stripped out. :-\

Robert Lofthouse said on July 13, 2004 11:24 AM

I loathe that web site (the official one), I usually end up going to warner bros in the west end because I can’t find out the showtimes/book tickets for the odeon.

The current web site makes me think they didn’t consider their target audience at all - the general public.

Having an unaccesible web site is causing that company a lot of harm. They would likely see an increase in their profits if they enlisted the help of Matthew.

dan said on July 13, 2004 11:33 AM

I think I can see both sides of this argument.

Here’s a guy who wants to illustrate just how inaccessible the Odeon site is - Here’s a company who don’t want some random screwing around with their corporate ID and infringing copyright laws.

Really, the best solution would have been a polite “thanks for pointing out how inaccessible our site is, we will take it on board and do something about it asap. In the meantime, please take down the part of your site which infringes our copyright” from Odeon. And a “I’m glad you see my point, sorry I had to take such extreme measures to get you to do something about it… but i’m not scrounging for a job, i’m not collecting data etc etc” form Matthew Somerville (no relation to fellow Brighton resident, Jimmy!?).

The whole sorry episode brings to mind some guy who once decided to redesign www.wiredsussex.com ;)

Dave Child said on July 13, 2004 1:26 PM

That’s got to be one of the stupidest things I’ve seen happen on the web. He asks them if there is a possibility of compromise and they instead insist on more? They clearly don’t understand what the hell they’re doing. They lost another customer in me too as I now can’t book online. UGC isn’t much better, but at least I can book.

Sam said on July 13, 2004 2:38 PM

Dunno about accessibilty (have not checked it:-() but for simple access to cinema info, try the cinema finder at http://www.scoot.co.uk

Isofarro said on July 13, 2004 2:51 PM

dan says: “Here’s a company who don’t want some random screwing around with their corporate ID and infringing copyright laws.”

Odeon have been aware of Matthew’s work for quite some time - and quoted in the press about it. Well over a year they’ve known about it. The copyright, trademark and database infringements are red herrings - if Odeon were concerned with these issues, they would have stopped the website when they first knew of the issues.

The main issue is over data protection, as stipulated by the Data Protection Act. Odeon have a fair argument there.

Which is also interesting - these people who signed up via the accessible Odeon would probably not be customers had they been forced into the inaccessible Odeon site - since it wouldn’t have worked.

I wonder how much traffic Accessible Odeon were pulling - it would certainly give a nice number for the numbers of people benefitting from an accessible website.

Lee said on July 13, 2004 8:50 PM

Unbelievable. That site has been useless to anyone not using IE for YEARS! They’re not interested in the problems, or the solutions, they’ve got corporate blinkers on. He’s using our logo, customers may think he represents us, stop him.

Mindless. Right, where’s their email address? Where’s the local paper’s email address? And the RNIB while I’m at it.

Picking on one web designer who is providing an excellent service to those of us who don’t have M$ stamped on our asses is one thing, let’s see how they feel about ALL of us.

If it’s okay with Andy, I think that’s a pretty good email to start (though I don’t use a Mac).

I’ll post progress on my blog.

Matthew said on July 13, 2004 10:29 PM

Thanks for all the comments. :-)

Eric TF Bat: “His site claimed (if the emails are accurate) to be the official Odeon website, and it wasn’t.” - I never claimed to be the official Odeon website (I said the exact opposite on every single page), nor do Odeon say I did.

dan: No relation to Jimmy, or Julia, I’m afraid :)

Isofarro: “I wonder how much traffic Accessible Odeon were pulling” - over a quarter of a million hits a month.

pid said on July 14, 2004 2:39 AM

Classic.
Another prime example of a large company being unneccessarily heavy handed.

I find it somewhat shocking, if we have all the facts, that Odeon have been aware of the site so long, and still felt it necessary to blunder in with legal threats, rather than open a dialogue.

I find it unlikely that an increasing number of complaints triggered this action, as it really doesn’t seem well thought out.

Having said that, I think they are quite within their rights to request the removal of the site, and express concern about privacy.

Maybe Odeon should be the first test case for the Disability Act, after all - they’ve been asked, and have clearly made no effort to resolve their issues - so could be said to be deliberately discriminating by refusing to act.

Ignorance is bliss eh?

Robin said on July 14, 2004 6:26 PM

Hey, what’s happening here?

Is the Odeon a state-owned company?

No? Well IT IS UP TO THEM WHAT THE HELL THEY DO.

I sympathise with Matthew Somerville and anybody else who wants to use the Odeon website but can’t for one reason or another, but what makes Somerville, or anybody for that matter, think that they should be in the business of helping the Odeon out, whether they like it or not?

Oh, and if the Odeon care about one customer more than another, that’s up to them.

Now, I’ve berated my (ex.) bank for not properly supporting platforms other than Windows. Initially, I suggested they look into supporting other platforms. Then I wrote to them about it. Then I berated them and immediately afterwards closed my three accounts with them and took my mortgage elsewhere.

Now, how many of you are prepared to w@nk on about the horrible Odeon blah blah blah but still go there and watch their films? Lots, I bet.

So here’s a suggestion. If a company/business doesn’t do something you want them to, try suggesting they do. Then turn up the volume. Then tell them if they don’t care, you don’t either and will ditch them. And if they still ignore you, they don’t deserve your custom: follow through, ditch them, and find a replacement by asking around for a business that actually responds/cares about their customers.

Using this strategy, I’ve embarassed the hell out of/shamed a lot of small-minded nobodies in large companies and effected a hell of a lot of change for the better (more polite CSRs, more support for disabled people, etc) but I have learnt to choose my battles and tackle the problem with a bit of cunning.

But the bottom line is, what private businesses do (within reason, and I suspect where to draw this line is where the debate will be) is up to them and if they want to ignore a sizable group in their market then they have the right to do so, and with a bit of luck, fail accordingly.

OK!?

Lee said on July 14, 2004 7:31 PM

Actually, with regards to a web site, the government says they MUST make it accessible, it’s the law.

And, as for leaving their business, yes, we could do it, and that gives us the moral high ground, but it won’t make them change the site. Now, a few hundred emails and plenty of bad publicity, I’m betting that will.

See my blog for more info.

pid said on July 14, 2004 9:07 PM

Well said.

We are, however, still waiting for the test case that various bodies have been promising they have in the offing, regarding this legislation.

Unfortunately, given that in practice UK law is largely based on precedent, it will take one case - lost by a reasonably sized business - before anything really changes.

Furthermore, once that does happen, our industry is largely unprepared for the deluge of requests for work that will follow.

Tom said on July 15, 2004 6:16 AM

Actually, with regards to a web site, the government says they MUST make it accessible, it’s the law.

Yeah, I think they deserve a taste of their own medicine.

From the looks of Matthew’s screenshot of his version, it seems it was clearly stated that it’s his version, and he took the pictures and information from the Odeon site. (Wait, what site? Looks more like an image to me.)

Steve said on July 15, 2004 11:22 AM

Matthew - good for you in your efforts to push (??) these guys into sorting their site. After exchanging many emails with the Odeon help department last year I received this helpful final statement on the matter (http://www.sugarshaker.com/gfx/odeon.gif).

Mathias said on July 15, 2004 12:12 PM

Don’t underestimate the power of the consumers. ;)

I recall (in Sweden) when upset environment concious consumers were standing in retail shops and literally unpacking goods they had just bought, leaving the garbage in the stores, to make a point of changing the packaging for what I recall being tooth paste (but I could be wrong).
This was as a follow up to a couple of newspaper articles that had no effect whatsoever regarding the companies in question and their packaging…however, as soon as the consumers started complaining AND doing things about it, earlier “impossible” changes soon started to happen. ;)

A few unhappy consumers made really big companies change dramatically, where newspapers and regular publicity had failed.

(on this note, I just bought a couple of copies of MS Office 2004 for Mac for our company. The amount of packaging for getting a CD was astounding. I probably should send MS the packaging back for recycling…)

In the Odeon case and by UK law, they have to be accessible. It is not optional, as they do provide a service and give no optional way of accessing the same information.

Joe said on July 16, 2004 7:34 PM

The BBC are on their back now :-)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3899685.stm

Jack said on July 17, 2004 5:59 AM

Hmmm. Interesting the argument is that the Odeon site is not accessible to people using screen readers. Slightly ironic that it’s a cinema site. Do many blind people go to the cinema? Not seen many white sticks in there lately. But it’s the principle, of course.

Taran said on July 17, 2004 6:00 PM

The general email address for Odeon’s web people is: info@odeonuk.com.

If you wish to address the guy responsible for the threatening letters, try luke.vetere@odeonuk.com (Odeon seem to follow the firstname.lastname@domainname rule).

Regards,

Taran

Ps. If you wish to try Luke’s boss, the new CEO of Odeon is a guy by the name of Tim Schoonmaker

Matthew Somerville said on July 18, 2004 1:39 AM

Jack wrote: “Interesting the argument is that the Odeon site is not accessible to people using screen readers. Slightly ironic that it’s a cinema site. Do many blind people go to the cinema? Not seen many white sticks in there lately. But it’s the principle, of course.” - Yes, blind people do go to the cinema. There are even audio described performances. And you could be booking tickets for your sighted children, or any other possible scenario.

Bwch'r Bant said on July 18, 2004 12:53 PM

I’ve knocked up an open-source interface to the Odeon website, usable in any browser.

It’s written in Perl and can be installed in any webspace with LWP installed. I encourage people to take a copy, install it on their own sites, and improve/develop it as they see fit.

Find it at http://www.geocities.com/opensourceodeon/

Andy Budd said on July 18, 2004 6:51 PM

Hi Jake,

As Matthew mentioned, quite a few “blind” people enjoy going to the cinema. Sure they may not be able to see the action but they can still listen to the film and follow along. An yes, increasingly cinemas are installing DTS audio description equipment

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3487115.stm

However please remember that web accessibility isn’t just about “the blind”. There are lots of people in the UK who have a visual impairment (for instance old people) who may still want to visit a cinema but find it difficult to use the Odeon site. And there are people who are mobility impaired or have some other physical impairment that can make using the web very difficult.

And maybe, just maybe I’m trying to book tickets on a mobile phone or PDA. I know mobile phone users go to the cinema because I’ve seen the adverts before the main feature starts asking you to turn them off, and in the UK anyway, lot’s of the films are sponsored by mobile phone company Orange. I wonder how they would feel knowing that the Odeon is discriminating against all of their users by not letting them book tickets online?

p.s. I’m sure you were just having a laugh but let’s leave out the jokes about white sticks can we. I’m sure web designers also go to the cinema but I haven’t seen any micro scooters there for a while either.

Matt Petty said on July 19, 2004 3:50 PM

As far as choice for consumers is concerned, yes, we could just stop going to Odeon cinemas. Except in many cases (I know of 3 specific ones) Odeon have opened a large complex near a small rival, undercut their prices, effectively closed them down, then raised their prices when the competition is gone. So the choice is removed.
The Walmart effect.