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When Fandom Clashes with IP Law

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When Fandom Clashes with IP Law

Postby MrFredPFL » Tue Jul 23, 2019 9:53 pm

Story :

Until recently, companies have largely tolerated individuals who seek to bring their fictional worlds to life, on the theory that going after one’s fans is not good for business. When Quidditch leagues started popping up at universities, Warner Brothers considered commodifying them as part of its Harry Potter franchise, but ultimately declined to do so. There are more than 300 real world Quidditch teams at universities worldwide.

But as the experience economy has grown, with more consumers (especially millennials) preferring doing over having, many owners of cultural property have reconsidered their laissez-faire attitude, and we are now seeing more efforts to commodify some long-tolerated fan activity. Companies are increasingly issuing cease-and-desist demands to third parties using their creative capital, and they’re offering their own official alternatives.

There are many examples: J.R.R. Tolkein’s estate shut down an unlicensed Lord of the Rings summer camp. DC Comics enjoined a custom carmaker from making and selling real-life replicas of the Batmobile. Disney filed a trademark suit against a game maker for creating a mobile version of the fictional card game from the Star Wars universe, “Sabaac.” Warner Bros. shut down a venue that emulated The Great Hall at Hogwarts. A year ago, Netflix sent a cease-and-desist letter to the owners of an unauthorized Stranger Things pop-up bar in Chicago; they’re now rolling out their own officially licensed pop-ups nationwide. The Cartoon Network prevented fans from opening an unauthorized Rick and Morty themed pop-up bar in Washington, DC.

At a basic level, this makes business sense. In today’s economy, the value of merchandise, and merchandising experiences, far surpasses the value of the underlying intellectual properties themselves. Merchandising is a $262 billion-a-year industry. Exclusive merchandising licenses drive cultural production, underwriting the costs of making films and directing which creative projects get pursued in the first place. For example, Star Wars films brought in $8.2 billion.
Star Wars merchandise: $37 billion. And the merchandise market has only become more valuable as new technologies have enabled new modes of experience, emphasizing interactivity, role-playing, performance, and embodiment.

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