FOX bans Jayne’s hat

In 2002, Joss Whedon created what will most likely go down in history as his best work EVER. The Firefly TV series was a piece of brilliance that seamlessly blended the science-fiction staple of space with the traditional elements of old world Westerns. Hijinx, humour and heart were what pulled us in complemented by perfectly, complex characters and stunning writing that hooked us. Thirteen episodes was all we got before Fox (a company making a name for itself for no other reason that it has now become synonymous with the bad decision) brought our hopes to a screeching halt. The Browncoats (as fans have come to call themselves) banded together and Firefly‘s cult status grew enough for Universal Studios to step in commission the film Serenity.

10 years on, the love has never ebbed but surged upward as word of mouth brought new fans into the fold. Other than official DVD and Blu-ray releases the show has seen no merchandising of any sort, prompting followers to take things into their own hands. And so the hand-knitted hat of Jayne (which Adam Baldwin wore during Episode 12: The Message) took the World Wide Web by storm, an orange atrocity that was made with much love by avid fans to pass on to those who had similar love but no skills with which to express it. Sold mostly on sites such as CafePress, Etsy and Ebay, it remained a humble side-hobby rather than an actually profitable venture.

This peaceful progression of things has a spanner thrown into the works when ThinkGeek, an online store for pop culture, TV and movie merchandise, began selling a licensed version of the Jayne hat. The company doesn’t own the license themselves but have a partnership with Ripple Junction, a vendor who did. ThinkGeek consulted on its production “play(ing) adviser on this, giving them specs for different parts and picking the colors” in an effort to provide those without “an overabundance of knitting skills” a way to get their grubby hands on ’em.

So the motives were meant to be benevolent but the repercussions have been disastrous. Since the ‘official’ hat’s release on December 10th, 2012, Ripple Junction have had other makers of the headgear brought to their attention. These reports have then been conveyed to Fox’s legal department who have contacted the host sites with legal notification. In turn this has prompted a rash of cease and desist notices to go out to all those involved in the infraction of copyright. If these bans applied only to the Jayne hats in question one would be able to say “unfair but whatever”. The problem lies in the fact that the ban equals to a complete lock out of the seller that affects even their unrelated items of sale.

To be fair, Fox is operating completely within the realms of the law by uphold its claim over licensed merchandise. But the situation has become a sticky affair with Firefly fans feeling not a little slighted by the sudden interest on a world the company has all but ignored for over a decade. The news has been front and centre both on Facebook and Twitter, public outcry doing nothing for Fox’s already diminished popularity.

ThinkGeek’s Public Relations manager Steve Zimmerman has been the only one to speak out on the matter to Buzzfeed: “It’s unfortunate that we’re receiving negative attention, because we’re Browncoats ourselves… we work hard to retain a relationship with and work with licensors, so that what we offer fans is authentic and legitimate and real”. But beyond that there has been no word yet on what either Ripple Junction or Fox Legal feel about the matter.

What’s your say? Even with their solid rights in the matter, should Fox have clamped down on such a minimal manner of infringement? Or could they have approached the matter in a more amicable way? Give us your wise word here.

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