Oh ... Really?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Biting the hand that feeds

Then: "Help us promote this movie you wanted us to make! Here's a web site you can display your artwork! Guerrilla marketing! Yay!"

Now: "Cease and Desist! You are infringing on our copyright! You owe us $8750!"
Unreal. Completely unreal.

Universal Pictures took a big leap of faith, in Joss Whedon and the loyalties of the fans of his canceled TV series, Firefly when they made the movie, Serenity. They asked the fans for their help in promoting the movie, and the fans responded. Universal even went so far as to put up an official web site where fans could gather, share their artwork inspired by the series and movie and share guerrilla marketing techniques. The movie didn't do so well at the box office, but it got great reviews and the DVD sales beat all expectations. Most of the credit for the success enjoyed by Serenity belongs squarely with the efforts of the fans. Indeed, it was because Universal comped tickets to early screenings to A-List bloggers that I discovered the 'Verse myself ... Instapundit, being a neighbor, organized a local viewing with his share of this bounty. I didn't make it then, because of family issues, but I kept it in mind and when I saw Serenity in the video rentals, I got it then. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now they have set loose their legal hounds from hell. A fan, who goes by the handle "11thHour" and whose artwork was featured in some of the releases of the Serenity DVD, was sent a Cease and Desist letter by lawyers representing Universal. She had a CafePress store in which she sold items imprinted with her artwork. Her art was her own, as inspired by Firefly and Serenity. She was first alerted to the issue by CafePress, when they told her that they closed her store because they received an infringement notice. She was in the process of removing all items that referenced Serenity in any manner at all when she received the C&D from the Universal lawyers herself. It the letter, harshly worded and everything, it also demanded, in addition to closing her store, a $8750 retroactive licensing fee.

"This firm represents Universal Studios Licensing, LLLP (Universal). As you presumably are aware, Universal owns the valuable copyrights and intellectual property in and to an assortment the theatrical motion picture "Serenity" and all images contained therein (the Universal Property). [See, e.g., Walt Disney Productions v. Filmation Associates, 628 F.Supp. 871, 876, 878, 879-80 (C.D. Cal. 1986) (defendant�s use of plaintiff's protected images in defendant's promotional trailer, brochures and other materials found infringing)]."


"11th Hour Art's offering for sale and sale of unauthorized "Serenity" shirts may give rise to multiple violations of law, giving rise to various causes of action for copyright infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition, among other claims. Recovery on one or more of these claims may include attorney's fees, treble damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages."

Now, of course, Universal has the absolute right to protect their copyrighted material, but do keep in mind that a year ago, when Serenity was released in theaters and then on DVD, they actively encouraged fans to help promote the movie. So, this part of the letter is particularly ironic:

That, no later than close of business on October 30, 2006, 11th Hour Art agree in writing to permanently cease and desist from the advertising, promoting, marketing, sale or distribution of any products bearing or referring to Universal Property

The One True b!X, who has done much for the Serenity and Firefly 'Verse, including organizing the "Serenity Now! Equality Now!" charity screening event on Joss's birthday in June, asked for fans to submit their hours spent on activities promoting and marketing Serenity. He has the result here: The Browncoat Invoice. Heh!

There is much discussion on this at The Firefly forum, where 11thHour first posted about receiving the C&D letter, and at Whedonesque. And now An Open Letter to Universal

As it stands now, 11thHour is trying to figure out her legal options, if just taking down the "offending" items from her store is enough, if they will really push the matter and make her pay a retroactive licensing fee, if she should get an attorney and how to pay for one ... all the while dealing with some pretty heavy duty personal issues. It just pisses me off to no end when the "little guy" gets kicked around by big business and their legal hounds. They threaten and intimidate, using attorneys and big legal words, and usually get their way. They know they have a free hand to do as they will because us little guys have no way to fight back.

Speaking of fighting back, I still have to deal with a certain car dealership that has ripped me off, and it under the delusion that I will just go away if they insult me enough. Updates soon on that, probably including the name of the dealership ...

Welcome, Whedonesque Readers! Stay Shiny! And see my previous post also, for a little pick-me up ... oh, and if any of ya'll could share with me how to get a membership there at Whedonesque? I see all the time people popping in there saying "Hey, first post ..." So how are they getting in? All I can find is that membership is closed. Hit that contact button up top or email me at Gmail.

UPDATE: Passed thru the storm

Posted by LissaKay on 10/28/06 at 03:31 PM in
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