by: Nancy Baym
Back in October a Serenity fan site got not just a cease-and-desist letter, but also a PAY UP NOW demand from Universal Studios, apparently for violating copyright in t-shirts being sold through the site.
“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.”
The Demand continues, and includes such stipulations that within 72 hours I must agree to: pay a retroactive $8,750 licensing fee; the permanent closing of my shop; turn over any merchandise referring to the Universal Property; and provide the last 12 months complete sales records… there’s more, but that’s the gist… oh, except for the threat of federal court and the statutory damages thingy of $150,000 per infringed work… don’t want to go leaving that part out.
The questionable image in my shop were, for the most part, already pulled down by Cafe Press after the first email notice I got last week. I was then already going through my shop and revising the wording in some descriptions as needed to fully comply with the notification. At present, the only instances where the word “serenity” is mentioned is to explain the translation of the Chinese characters, but without any references to the movie of that name.
I can confidently state that my Cafe Press shop is totally free of any associations with “Serenity” the movie… unless of course Universal now claims ownership of the actual word “serenity”, no matter how it is used, both in English and Chinese. In that case, there’s a certain adult diaper manufacturer who’s in deep doo doo now… pun is like, totally intended…
I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically. I’ve spent most of the past few days since the notification overhauling my shop. I’ve put aside all other projects, and haven’t gotten that much sleep doing this. I’m actually starting to feel ill… this whole thing is just sickening…
As you can see if you click that link, outrage ensued, not least in the form of hundreds of comments. The matter now seems to have been resolved, but, as is always the case in these episodes, not without cost to the would-be plaintiff:
Guess this whole traumatic episode is a variation on the Mars vs. Venus way of seeing things. I think like an artist and guerilla marketer, not a lawyer… and it’s mighty surprising just how much fuss can arise from that different way of seeing things. So *that’s* how things got so complicated. As a die hard guerilla marketer, I thought the image was a modestly mild way to put the word of Serenity out in the world; but the legal point of view sees the image as taking advantage of the intellectual property. Honestly, my intent was just the opposite of taking advantage of our shiny movie… but y’all knew that.
Live and learn. Or rather, live, get hit with a scary demand become a tortured wreck before it’s resolved over a week later, and learn…
But lest you think that suing fans is all damage and no fun, this does seem to have strengthened the sense of community amongst the already-tight fans of this fan-driven show:
Actually though, despite all the torment and stuff, the part of this story that is truly mythic, wonderful, and will, always, always be the heart of what makes this ‘verse so gorram amazing is all of you… the Browncoats… who stepped up, had my back, stood at my side, and, most assuredly, were taking strategic tactical positions from high ground too. Folk came from all around, even revealing themselves from the cover of lurkdom, to let me know I wasn’t alone in this… and when I heard, “Browncoats got your back”, I knew that no matter how scary or crazy it got, somehow, things would work out. It’s been a rough time, it’s taken it’s toll on me… but I discovered something rather wonderful, or perhaps re-discovered something wonderful… the people that have come into my life because of a work of art disguised as a TV show, are the best folk it’s ever been my privilege to know.
How are fans to know when they’ll be appreciated and when they’ll be sued? Especially when these lawsuits seem to get dropped or ‘resolved’ so very frequently after they’re threatened?