Monday, October 30, 2006

Biting the hand that feeds you

(Via The Smallest Minority -- his post)

I've made a few posts here about Firefly and Serenity. Firefly was a Fox TV series by Joss Whedon (of dubious Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame--I never liked those shows) that could best be summed up as a repeat of Reconstruction set 500 years in the future in another solar system. Firefly was the best TV show I never watched. I got it on DVD after reading so many great things about it. From there, I went to Firefly Talk, The Signal and various fan fiction writings. Eventually, and amazingly, there came Serenity, the Universal Studios movie that continues the Firefly story.

The only reason that Firefly didn't fade into obscurity, and one of the primary reasons Serenity was made, is a rabid fan base. I've been around SF fandom since the 70s, and I've never seen a group with such loyalty to a show--especially one that was canceled after 13 episodes. These fans, known as Browncoats, have made viral and guerrilla marketing into something approaching an art form. In some part, they are responsible for Serenity being made, and being profitable.

So Universal, proving that Hollywood still doesn't get it (remember what happened to all the Star Trek fan sites a number of years ago), has decided to threaten 11th Hour Art, who runs a small CafePress shop that has merchandise using the Chinese characters for "serenity", among other things. The demands made are simply overboard, including demands for a retroactive license, customer lists, turnover of all remaining merchandise, cessation of business and a firstborn male child and the obligatory threat of a lawsuit.Other vendors are pulling their wares out of fear of a similar letter.

Now, we can sit here and argue about copyrightand whether these people were in the wrong. That's all fine and good, but the fact of the matter is that Universal has relied on the Browncoats and the vendors they support to tote the note for the advertising of Firefly and Serenity. These folks worked and continue to work their whatevers off because they love this story, and they want more. The fans have proven that they will part with a lot of money to buy not only the DVDs, but merchandise as well.

The only problem was that Fox never licensed anything, and the word is that getting Universal to license it is akin to pulling teeth, and rather expensive to boot. However, in fairness, I will note that it has been done (a year after the movie came out, ahem), and there are now some licensed products coming into being.

So I'm going to issue a big "Way to go, Buttheads" award to Universal studios and their lawyers, who are now being the recipients of way more viral marketing than they probably anticipated.

Clueless morons. You'd have never gotten this much flack if you'd simply written a nice letter offering some generous licensing terms--and you'd have made more money to boot.

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