Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hey, Browncoats! Get Over It

Let me preface by saying I am a dedicated Browncoat. I listen to Firefly Talk and The Signal podcasts every week. I bought nine copies of the DVD and gave them to everyone I could for Christmas last year. I talk about Firefly INCESSANTLY and constantly try to convert people who have yet to watch the TV show or the movie. I care. A lot. And I want another movie, at minimum.

I can't find much in the news about this; it's pretty much rehashing of the same six lines of text. Apparently, Universal, the movie studio who owns the rights to all things Serenity, has issued cease and desist orders to certain fans who are making money off of unlicensed merchandise. The report is that they have also demanded $9,000 in license fees from one party. The fans are, also apparently, WAY up in arms against Universal's "evil" act.

The main reason for the outcry is because Universal encouraged grassroots marketing/viral marketing when the movie came out last summer. Basically, that means they wanted fans to talk about it to non-fans and get them to see the movie. It failed. The movie made less worldwide than its very small budget of $39 million. A year later, it remains hugely popular among the cult (i.e. Browncoats) and we are constantly trying to increase said fanbase in an effort to get a sequel. The whiners are now saying Universal is slapping us in the face for doing what they told us to do.

But you know what? The whiners are wrong.

First, making money off of someone else's property is illegal*. Universal is not only way within their rights to stop it, they are OBLIGATED to do so. Part of trademark law is that you have to defend your trademark or risk losing it. There are DOZENS of ways fans have furthered the cause without financial gain, so crying that this is unfair because they are only marketing Universal's property is ridiculous. People buy shirts that say "Nike" and "Tommy Hilfiger" all over them and never ask for a marketing discount. So just quitcher bitchin.

Also, it should (and has) occur to people that it's a great sign that Universal feels this property is worth defending. It could just be because QMx officially licensed some Serenity products that Universal woke up to the possibility that more money could be made off this investment that failed, and in order to be able to do that, they have to make an effort to eliminate the unlicensed merchandise. But it could also be that they are seeing that the fanbase is growing, and the potential for a successful sequel is growing with it.

So instead of being childish whiners, let's rejoice.

*Please note that I am not a trademark attorney, my understanding of this stuff is rudimentary, and there's a possibility I'm not completely accurate.

Thank you to Tom, who provided this link with much more information. What I said stands regarding the outcry, but it sounds like the attorneys were a bit overzealous. I'm glad it's all resolved positively!


Anonymous said...

Well ... there are complications.

First, the woman who was the first who was retroactively invoiced by Universal identifies herself as 11th Hour. She has participated in the Guerilla Poster campaign, and still offers free poster designs on her website

She also posted on the (now gone) offical Universal site where they had offered a chance for people to display their Firefly/Serenity items for sale (!) and then she went on doing the same after they folded the site.

The posters show images and characters from the tv show and film but Univeral has no objection to those, they're free. They have objected to the sale of other items though ... well, "objected" is too mild a term I guess. They informed the site where her items are shown for sale Cafepress. Those things certainly include items inspired by the film/show
but then, that was the whole idea when Universal encouraged it on their site and it's still the idea.
The artwork that she has put together is her original work, not the logos or fonts or other undeniably protected material. When first notified by Cafepress about a letter of objection from Universal, she set about trying to comply with their wishes but that letter was immediately followed by the letter demanding payment for past sales ($8725).

She, and other Browncoats, have said that they care about the franchise and want to be in compliance. If Universal's legal department wants to change the rules now after first encouraging exactly what they were doing, they want to discuss the new guidelines but ... well, the first contact (!) in this matter is a bill ... a retroactive invoice for nearly $9000 to people who thought that their work was mutually beneficial to and with the studio's. They are disappointed at this sudden flip in the relationship from people who they thought of as partners in fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Oh wait ... I hadn't read yesterday's news ...

The case is settled.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Tom, thanks so much for the additional information.

As a creator of intellectual property that I do make money from, I am of two minds about this whole issue on the whole. I want the kind of rabid fandom Serenity/Firefly has, but I don't want people to benefit from MY work. And it's never a cut-and-dried situation.

I concede that it would be unfair for Universal to say one thing, then turn around and punish people for doing what they said to do. From what you say and what is in the information you linked to, it sounds to me like this all comes from the lawyers.

And we all know how they screw everything up. :)