At this time of the year, geeks should be thinking about X-mas, the next Star Wars Movie, and most are doing just that. Unfortunately in the background “sight unseen” are a series of court cases that could change the way the biggest geek gatherings (Known as Comic and Anime Conventions) and Fan films will take place in the future.
It all started 2 years ago with the court case between CBS/Paramount(owners of Star Trek) and Axanar Productions(the company behind the fan film Prelude to Axanar). Over the course of a year in federal court in California, Star Trek fandom took sides, and digested every court filing introduced. Facebook groups both pro and con sprang up, and multiple blogs covered the trial, with great interest. It finally was settled in January 2017 with a settlement that not only reaffirmed CBS ownership of the IP, but also allowed Axanar to move forward and be allowed to be made in accordance with the CBS Fan Film Guidelines. Axanar is shooting for a release in 2018. If that had been the only case making news, this would be a very short post….but alas it is not.
This year has seen 2 more court cases winding though the state and federal system. the biggest one pits 2 of the biggest cons in a trademark battle that could change how cons are named. SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con) is suing SLCC (Salt Lake Comic-Con) over the use of the hyphenated word “Comic-Con”. SDCC trademarked the words “Comic-Con” and began this suit back in 2014, claiming SLCC use of the words Comic-Con and SLCC’s logo “were confusing to the public because of their similarity”. Of course the sides are trying to settle this case, and after the Judges ruling in October 2017, it would behoove SLCC to settle. The Judge ruled that SDCC had proven that there may be confusion because SDCC had proven that 80% of people thought “comic-con” is a specific brand name. the Judge did not grant a full summery judgement, but this ruling does pave the way for a jury trial to occur if a settlement is not reached. SDCC does have a valid trademark for the words comic con, both with and without the hyphen.
Also this past week another battle started taking place in the Northeast in Boston Mass. The New England Anime Society, the non profit that runs “Anime Boston” has filed suit against Fantastic Gatherings Inc and Interactive Meet and Greet Entertainment LLC(IMAGE) for running an event with a confusingly similar name “Boston Anime Fest”. Boston Anime Fest is a part of a bigger event called Boston SouthCoast Comic Con & Collectibles Extravaganza. NEAS contends that consumers use both Anime Boston and Boston Anime to refer to its event, and they own the registered domain WWW.BostonAnime.com to redirect to their website. NEAS sent a cease and desist letter to Image on November 6, 2017, but instead of doing so, Image maintains the words are “generic” and considers this a “bullying move” by NEAS. NEAS has stated in interviews the only “want Image to change their name, and they do hope their convention is a successful one, just not one using a similar brand”(notice the similar positions by the plaintiffs in both cases). The timing of this suit is confusing as Boston Anime Fest takes place this coming weekend in Hanover Mass.
Below this paragraph was a lengthy tale of the goings on about Starbase Studios in Oklahoma. However after speaking to persons involved(Who I consider to be friends) with trying to mediate the situation to a mutually agreeable conclusion(which I have been asked not to divulge what I know in both confidence and respect for those involved) I have removed the information about everything involving the studio. I hope to be granted the opportunity to write about the agreement at some point in the future, but as of now, I will respect the wishes of those involved and remove everything.
I wish this was a “happy post”, but unfortunately when humans are involved, emotions and greed usually rear their ugly heads. Every one of these suits has the chance of completely changing the landscape for Cons and fan films for the future. This is not a good thing in my view as the only losers will be the consumers. We will see conventions be renamed which will cause just as much confusion in the market place as allowing the names to remain. Also once the big guys are done suing each other, will the victors go after the smaller cons to solidify their “brands”.