Copyright, Trademark, and Why Fighting Isn’t Always Magic

Waves of surprise, and even shock, surged throughout the Brony community yesterday when it was announced Hasbro sent a Cease & Desist letter to Mane6, the development team behind Fighting is Magic, a free side scrolling 2D platform fighting game based on the main characters from My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic, a game that had been undergoing work for over two years by that point. Shortly thereafter, a number of fans immediately started up a petition campaign to convince Hasbro to find a way to let Mane6 continue development, especially since they were nearly finished with development of the game.

Yeah, as much as I agree with the spirit of petitioning, it will have no effect on a company like Hasbro. To be honest, I see Bronies like us more as guests in their home, not family. They’re pretty nice to us, and I’m sure they like us to a point, but we’re not at home, and we shouldn’t get too comfortable. Don’t put your feet up on the coffee table, as it were.

That’s not to say that Hasbro is a bad company, they’re not. They were more than fair for the longest time, very lenient, very permissive, letting us keep most of the episodes on Youtube, allowing for tons of fanfiction, music, art, and so on, but there does come a point when they have to enforce their IP, otherwise they lose the ability to profit from it. At some point they have to put their foot down or they get steamrolled by any company out there ready to jump on board. My theory on why the C&D happened to Mane6 is this: What got Fighting is Magic in trouble was the attempted EVO entry. Up until then, I think Hasbro tried to look the other way, but suddenly there was Mane6, in the spotlight, in several gaming magazines, and in the public eye to where Hasbro could no longer pretend they didn’t exist. They had to defend their property at that point. As much as it pains me to say, the mistake was on Mane6‘s part by capturing the public eye. The best thing would have been to continue keeping it low profile, finishing the vast bulk of it, and then releasing it, making occasional patch updates if necessary. Instead, we got a full on view of everything right out in the open.

I believe things will calm down, eventually. The thing is, Hasbro is being rather generous, and I know many of you might disagree, but look at it like this: I don’t know how much many of you remember, but back in the 1990s (I was a teenager), Viacom/Paramount came along and obliterated everything that had any kind of their intellectual property, especially Star Trek properties. I saw thousands of websites, piles of fanfictions, fan made movies, and artwork crushed under Viacom’s weight. If you had so much as a Star Trek insignia on your website, and they found out about it, your website was shut down, and sometimes you had to pay huge fines. They expressed their hold over their property so strongly, it nearly destroyed Star Trek’s creative community.

It took years for it to rebuild itself. Fortunately, the internet was young, and so the community bounced back, but for a while, it was downright oppressive. Hasbro has done nothing anywhere near that level of severity, but according to U.S. copyright and trademark law, where Hasbro is based, they have the full right to do so. See, the problem is this: the creations of the fan community are technically infringing upon their property. We’re all breaking copyright law by writing fanfictions, making drawings, and so on. Fighting is Magic broke trademark law, and they stepped over the line far enough when they tried to get into EVO. From the timing of the C&D, and how long it takes to issue one through legal channels, that looks about right. Granted, I’m no lawyer, but I do pay attention to IP laws.

The fact is, Hasbro has been lenient with us. The worst thing we can do, though, is to mouth off at them. I believe that they like the Brony community, but if we start trashing their house out of anger, they’ll kick us out, and they’ll be fully within their legal rights to do so. Now, that’s not saying to be silent, but make certain that when you disagree with them, approach it in a calm and reasonable manner. “May I ask what brought you to your decision, please?” goes a lot farther than “I demand you bring this back!”. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Be polite, be respectful, and most importantly, be mindful that they owe us, as a fan base, nothing. Yet they have shared quite openly with us, and I’d like it to stay that way.

Until next time,

-.Lotus

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