Exhibit 1: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are all over the internet, and Stephen Colbert talks about his YouTube popularity on the show. It’s the internet buzz that everyone on television wants for their own show.
Well…everyone except the folks who run the Comedy Central channel:
This is legally correct—they own the show and have the right to control its use—but what the heck are they thinking?
I can understand the case for South Park. They sell the South Park seasons on DVD. As I write, the 8th season is in the top 200 of all DVDs sold on Amazon. If all the best parts of South Park are available free on YouTube, who will buy the DVDs?
But when it comes to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, are they insane? What else are they going to do with the old episodes? It’s current events television. Nobody wants to even watch last year’s episodes on TV, let alone buy DVDs full of the stuff. Amazon has only one listing for Daily Show DVDs, and that’s for the Indecision 2004 Special
Exhibit 2: Universal Studios presumably decided to greenlight the movie Serenity largely because the series it’s based on, Firefly, had such a rabid fan base. To take advantage of this, they provided an unusually large amout of artistic and promotional material and encouraged fans to participate in the marketing of the movie by setting up web sites and printing bumper stickers.
It seemed to work fairly well:
While the theatrical release of Serenity met only modest success at the box office, the Browncoats campaign maintained momentum through the DVD release, whose success spurred additional sales of the original Firefly DVD. At one point following the release of Serenity on DVD, both Serenity and Firefly were #1 and #2 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list despite the Firefly DVD being over a year old.
But now, this:
“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.
I guess you can stop the signal.
Again, Universal is legally in the right. Or maybe it’s Fox forcing Universal to do it. This was a woman selling Serenity-themed T-shirts without licensing the rights.
But what the heck are they thinking? For $8,750 they’re going to alienate a huge number of fans of the show. Not to mention that next time Universal tries to enlist their fans in promoting a movie, they’ll probably get a cold reception.
Or an invoice.
[Update: I have corrected the gender of the artist behind 11th Hour based on a comment by Tom McAllister. His comment also had the best summary of the situation: “this was a ham-fisted first approach by the legal department of a corporation that the fans had thought of as their partners in fantasy.” That’s beautifully put.]