Once upon a time there was a little show, it was called Firefly. It lived on a network called Fox which didn’t find this show to be very profitable so it was canceled (before the first season even finished airing might I add). In the show character Jayne Cobb wears a rather ridiculous looking hat sent to him by his mom (Episode “The Message”).
Since the shows cancellation, it created a cult following that has just continued to grow. The cult following helped to bring about a movie and quite a bit of merchandise. Understandably, Fox, who holds the intellectual property rights to Firefly had no intention of creating merchandise for a show that they canceled. So the fans took matters into their own hands. The most common and popular piece of fan art was (and is) Jayne’s Hat. Independent, one person knitters on websites such as Etsy made and sold their own versions of Jayne’s Hat.
Fast forward to a few days ago, the company licensed to make the Jayne Hats, began notifying Fox of all the copyright violations. The result of which is a series of cease and desist letters sent to these single person entrepreneurs. Do they have the right to do this? Yes, and no one is disputing this fact. What everyone is so mad about is the way they are going about it and the fact that they suddenly care after a decade of not caring. We’re not talking about a six month passing fad…we are talking about a decade of people replicating the silly hat.
Now that we know the facts, let’s step back for a moment and look at that other great fandom of Star Wars. Say what you want about George Lucas, the one great thing he did (besides you know, creating Star Wars) was embracing the fan culture. He allowed the fans to create and do things that I am sure in many ways violated his intellectual/copy write property. What George seemed to understand that Fox apparently doesn’t is that in this genre it’s the fans that drive the popularity of a show. If they feel an ownership to and of something they are going to propel it forward, in turn making it more profitable for the powers that be.
Now Fox can learn from this, but I doubt they will. They have seen an opportunity to make money and they will hoard their ability to do so worse than a squirrel with a nut (I imagine much like the squirrel in the Ice Age movies…but I digress). This is one of the catches of the geek culture. Our love and obsessiveness of our shows, books, movies create financial opportunities for the corporate powers to sell us stuff, creating more for us to obsess over. It’s a perpetual cycle. The other issue that we are a creative bunch, we like to create based on our fandoms. Thus causing us to clash with corporate entities as the geek subculture continues to grow in strength.
Fox, however, underestimates the browncoats (aka Firefly fans). Firefly is a show about a ragtag group of rebels who stick it to the alliance. Fox exerting their power has only done enough to make the fans perceive them as said Alliance. Creating a legion of browncoats that will come up with ways to by-pass the copyright laws and not pay a dime to Fox. (see current Etsy listings for that hat that one guy wore in that short lived show) Yes, I am calling it there will be an underground black market of Jayne Hats.
My thoughts on the matter can be summed up as such:
Give to Cesar that which is Cesar’s but leave me my goram hat!