Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trademark bullies, trademark hypocrites

Fans sometimes make tribute merchandise for their shows, often with references only intelligible to those already in the know, and sell them on do-it-yourself sites like Zazzle. I did a post on Television Without Pity's versions here. The WB, which owns the show Supernatural, with which I have a love/hate relationship, claimed rights over "Metallicar," the fan-generated name for the car driven by Sam and Dean Winchester, the show's main characters: a black 1967 Chevy Impala (recommended vid!). Since the name refers to one of Dean Winchester's favorite bands, the WB's assertion of rights in Metallicar is a bit tricky. Apparently, the WB has decided that only the WB gets to profit from such unauthorized associations--which is what it's doing with the Impala. Currently, those who buy the fifth season from Best Buy can get a free "Supernatural-inspired classic car keychain." (Intriguingly, Best Buy apprarently advertised Season 3 as coming with a "'67 Chevrolet Impala." What could have changed between then and now?)

Here's what Best Buy's website says:
Free Exclusive Key Chain

It only makes sense that CW's hit drama/horror series, Supernatural, would come with a collectible gift that celebrates the show's signature car.

And while supplies last, The Complete Fifth Season on Blu-ray or DVD includes a free Best Buy exclusive key chain on-pack.

Today's hypothetical: if purchasers understand that this is a reference to the Impala (as they must be intended to do), does it matter that the promotional materials don't use the name? Is it better, from Chevy's perspective, that the key chain doesn't look much like the Impala? Or is it worse?

My position is, of course, that the WB should be free to talk about the Impala, the show's third main character. (The Television Without Pity thread on the Impala is 100 pages long.) But the WB should also not be such a bully when fans do the same thing the WB has done.

1 comment:

tim maguire said...

It always interests me (though perhaps not from a legal standpoint) how so many in the entertainment industry maintain an adversarial relationship with theirs own fans and supporters. Often to the detriment of their bottom line. The most famous case is Sony v. Betamax, where Sony went all the way to the Supreme Court to try and stop a technology that they ultimately have made large sums of money from.

Science Fiction literature has long had a supportive relationship with "fan lit," but as it spreads out to the general market, they remain one of the few areas to recognize the benefits of having their fans participate in the creation process.

It's called free publicity and the rest are loath to accept it, going instead for the quick buck.