May the (IP) Force be with you

Yes!!! The first part of the third and final trilogy of the now Disney owned Star Wars series is finally set to release in Indian theaters on 25th of December, a full week after the rest of the world, thanks a ton- Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. But, as The Huffington Post correctly notes, it could be a lot worse, as is the case of China (9th January, 2016).

And no, this article, unlike the many others surfacing elsewhere on the Inter-web, does not contain any spoilers to the movie we have all waited a decade for. This piece will focus instead on the many IP battles that both Lucasfilm and Disney have initiated since the first ever movie’s release.

But! Here’s a link to an action-figure that ended up being a spoiler. Due to a shipping snag, the toy ended up at WalMart stores a week earlier than it was meant to, and Majorie and Justin Carvalho put up an innocent post on their podcast on Star Wars collectibles, Star Wars Action News and its corresponding Facebook page.
The post is as follows:

“Have we known this figure was coming? I just found her at WalMart– no other new figures,”

As it turns out, the packaging itself gives away something in the film. Obviously, Lucasfilm’s legal team sprang right into action, light-sabers at the ready and served a notice to the couple, who were forced to bring down the photos or face legal action. In a subsequent post, Justin relayed that the photos were removed due to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) request from Lucasfilm and its parent company, Disney.

Disney acquired Lucasfilm for a whopping $4 billion dollars in 2012. Although Lucas has previously given many interviews stating that he had never been much of a “money” guy and preferred to hold on to the rights of his movies instead, Disney clearly made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

$4 billion seem like a huge investment? Disney made $150 million dollars through royalty on toy sales in that very year. And now, the movie broke all records to rake in $529 million in the opening weekend.

Star Wars IP is not a thing from a far, far away galaxy, it has in fact been around since Ronald Reagan’s days. In 1985, Lucasfilm filed a suit to prohibit two lobbying groups from using “Star Wars” in television and radio advertisements in relation to the “Strategic Defensive Initiative”, a space-based missile system race that people believed would decide the winner of the Cold War; But, a Federal Court ruled that although “Star Wars” is a trademark owned by Lucasfilm, the public could use it to describe Reagan’s lunatic space race program.

Another unique trademark owned by Lucasfilm is the sound of Darth Vader breathing. But, they didn’t even stop there. In 1977, Lucasfilm coined the word “Droid” for the first movie, a word that has its roots in Android, which first appeared in 1729 in an English dictionary of mechanical and scientific terms. In September 2008, nearly 31 years after the first film’s release, Lucasfilm found it appropriate to acquire a trademark for the mark “Droid”.
Yes, Verizon actually licenses the word Droid for its handsets released through HTC and Motorola.

Lucasfilm wouldn’t even spare the small and mid-sized companies, as they sent a cease and desist notice to a firm named “Addroid” owned by Matt Cooper that provides an HTML5-based ad platform, named so only because it automates the processes involved in building and deploying ad banners and with no intention of selling products under the guise of Star Wars. When Matt replied to the notice saying the same, Lucasfilm agreed to a compromise and had him sign an agreement that restrained him from making anything consumer-facing, and in return he didn’t have to change the company’s name.

On a closing note, it would be unfair to list out Lucasfilm’s and Disney’s IP efforts on only one end of the spectrum. Although Disney did not come up with the original idea for Star Wars Uncut, they heart-fully embraced the idea put forth by Casey Pugh in 2009, now a Star Wars contributor. Casey Pugh hosted a website where fans could submit their own version of any scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and the result was an Emmy Award winning full length feature film that incorporates many different styles ranging from low-budget home videos to stop-motion Lego sequences to Beatles’ Yellow Submarine themed animation shots, all derivative works submitted by fans across the world. The movie was made available for distribution under a standard YouTube license in 2012.

Authored by Chirag Ravishankar

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
For any IP related queries, please write to us at [email protected]

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