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Serenity vs Universal : Passed Through The Storm - Message from 11th Hour

Wednesday 1 November 2006, by Webmaster

To the awesomest folk in this here ’verse The Browncoats

I received an email response from Universal’s attorney late this afternoon. It took me a while for my nerves to settle out, had a stress relieving cry, and needed to have it really sink in, and also needed time to compose this message...

It’s okay now everyone. It’s okay. We passed through the storm.

Universal’s law firm has been authorized to conclude the matter. They have accepted the representations in my letter, and will not pursue any financial demands. The sales number I reported for the shirts relating to the design in question were de minimis, and my compliance with the cease and desist, and my agreement to permanently cease and desist (referencing the movie "Serenity" in my Cafe Press shop) has satisfied this matter.

Pinch me, cuz I must be dreaming. This was my best case scenario fantasy... but it’s true... yeeee and haaaaw, it be TRUE.

Now this is amazingly good news, and I’m definitely looking forward to a full night’s sleep; but this whole episode has been a wake up call for us all to proceed with much more care in regard to copyright matters. We can still kick up our heels and spread the word, but now we must be much more aware of the various legalities involved. Because if we don’t, then a certain law firm will...

To help illustrate just how conscious we need to be about legalities, below is an excerpt from the attorney’s email which explains the basis for the Demand I received:

" A page on your Café Press offering read “The shirts designated as ‘Art Only’ do not have the Serenity movie promo on the back.” This expressly suggests to consumers that the shirts not so marked all had the “Serenity movie promo” (logo) on the back, and in any event appears to ‘pass off’ on the motion picture Serenity itself. "

Well there it is, the thing that set this whole action in motion. That sentence on one of my shop pages did say that... but it was an older entry that I frankly forgot about. Funny how I meant that sentence one way, and it is interpreted much differently from a lawyer’s point of view.

This excerpt does relate to the "Serenity Swirl" image. This was the image I created to be a stand alone image that would not use any copyrighted imagery, yet still would help put the word of "serenity" out there in the world. "Serenity Swirl" was one of my early designs meant to help in our fan powered promotions, and was offered in my shop not long after it opened in December of 2004.

http://home.att.net/ the11thhour/swirl-back.jpg

The design was paired as the back graphic with certain primary artwork featured on the front of the shirt. The prices for Cafe Press are the same whether there is an image on one side of the shirt or both. I hated to leave a perfectly useful side of a shirt empty... it could be used as a "mini-billboard" to help spread the word of Serenity, so I’d put Serenity Swirl there. Sometimes I used a kind of fan "shorthand" to refer to the image as a "promo" because that’s what we Browncoats were working so hard to do back then, promote Serenity. But now I understand better from the lawyer’s letter that referring to it as a "promo" was perceived as "suggesting to consumers" that the design was being passed off on the motion picture Serenity itself.

Actually, that’s rather ironic, because back when the design was introduced, months before the release of Serenity, I never considered that regular ol’ consumers would even be aware of my shop. I figured that only Browncoats knew about it. When I wrote descriptions I worded them as though I was just talkin’ to the gang like I do on the message boards, because that’d be the only people who’d be dropping by. The items I offered were not to pass off on Serenity (mostly because we all were operating under the notion that hardly any folk were even aware of the movie, hence the whole guerilla marketing thing), but rather to offer items to fellow Browncoats... and some items would be things that would help spread the word.

Guess this whole traumatic episode is a variation on the Mars vs. Venus way of seeing things. I think like an artist and guerilla marketer, not a lawyer... and it’s mighty surprising just how much fuss can arise from that different way of seeing things. So *that’s* how things got so complicated. As a die hard guerilla marketer, I thought the image was a modestly mild way to put the word of Serenity out in the world; but the legal point of view sees the image as taking advantage of the intellectual property. Honestly, my intent was just the opposite of taking advantage of our shiny movie... but y’all knew that.

The other especially ironic thing (and this whole drama has been simply dripping with irony) is that the beginning part of my referenced sentence, "The shirts designated as ’Art Only’... ", well that was the result of folks emailing me and asking if I could offer the shirts *without* the Serenity Swirl design on the back! In fact some even said they wanted to buy the shirts, but held off because they didn’t want the "promo" back design on there... oh boy... So it turns out that the image was actually putting some folk off the shirts, not attracting them. Jeeeeeez, woulda saved me acre feet of grief by never trying to include an image to help spread the word... shoulda just left the shirts alone with only the art on the front.

Live and learn. Or rather, live, get hit with a scary demand become a tortured wreck before it’s resolved over a week later, and learn...

Actually though, despite all the torment and stuff, the part of this story that is truly mythic, wonderful, and will, always, always be the heart of what makes this ’verse so gorram amazing is all of you... the Browncoats... who stepped up, had my back, stood at my side, and, most assuredly, were taking strategic tactical positions from high ground too. Folk came from all around, even revealing themselves from the cover of lurkdom, to let me know I wasn’t alone in this... and when I heard, "Browncoats got your back", I knew that no matter how scary or crazy it got, somehow, things would work out. It’s been a rough time, it’s taken it’s toll on me... but I discovered something rather wonderful, or perhaps re-discovered something wonderful... the people that have come into my life because of a work of art disguised as a TV show, are the best folk it’s ever been my privilege to know.

We all got on this boat for the same reason, a passionate love for something truly marvelous, and the willingness to do what it took to keep it alive. This ride has taken us all on adventures we never could have predicted. I swear, we aren’t just fans of the ’verse... we LIVE the ’verse. I didn’t want to go on this latest adventure, but maybe I needed to. Certain recent, upsetting events, involving my fan work, had left me discouraged and drifting away... but whenever that has happened, something always pulls me back. This time, I needed a big pull I guess. Now understand, I do have a life (in case anyone was wondering) and do creative projects quite different than my FF/S work... but for some reason, I’m bound to this ’verse. I was hot welded to it back on a Friday night in September 2002, I can’t put it into words well enough, but it’s a part of me. It’s made me a better artist, it’s made me a better person.

Once you’ve been in Serenity, you never leave...

... and you got your crew to travel with you...

Love and gratitude forever,

11th Hour