In case you missed it, four of UQ’s student societies recently teamed up to host a ‘School Themed Pub Crawl’. Yes, that’s right. School themed. Four teams of highly-talented, creative student executives held one of the biggest events of the year, and gave it the same theme as the Royal Exchange might for any other Wednesday.
But if you missed that, you may also have missed the two previous themes planned for the event: ‘Magic School’ themed, and before that, a theme referring to a specific children’s book and film series heavily featuring a given magic school.
I have been intentionally vague here, because in light of the events that transpired last fortnight, it is now unclear to me how far the licences and trademarks for this book and film series goes.
This all started when Facebook took down the original event page for the pub crawl, less than a week out from the event date.
Faced with a major hiccup just days out from the event, and being young people raised in the digital era, the executives quickly informed their members that the event was in fact going ahead (they hadn’t cancelled it themselves, after all), and reposted the event as ‘Magic school pub crawl’, with offending imagery removed.
But, in what can only be described as a questionable use of legal threats, the rights holders issued a cease and desist letter to one of the societies, demanding that the event be cancelled.
What does the letter say?
The letter, obtained by Semper, argues that a pub crawl is “not the type of event that is consistent with the image that our client has established and wishes to maintain” for the series. Never mind the fact that a huge sequence in the sixth film is entirely premised on the fact that the main character seems drunk. It seems to us that if you’re going to cash in on the cheap joke of drunk behaviour on screen, you lose the moral high ground to judge others for getting drunk.
Additionally, the letter details that people might confuse the event for one that is “sponsored or authorised, or at least supported and permitted by” the rights holders. While this is an interesting assertion, it seems highly unlikely that someone who would genuinely confuse an event run by a student society for one run by a major movie company are likely to have made it into university.
What really seems to be the crux of this is that the societies used images without a license.
Wait, is that even legal?
Now, we admit that this generation has grown up in an age that induces a kind of copyright illiteracy. One where we push the boundaries of song-detecting algorithms by slowing down or speeding up backing tracks, and almost any picture can be quickly edited into a meme without a second thought as to who holds the rights to the original image.
We think that this is probably the same illiteracy that rights holders expect to prey on when they send scary letters that detail more grievances than they could ever tell you with a straight face in person.
Because at the point in which you insist that you also own the rights to the generic theme of a ‘magic school’, and demand that the entire event be cancelled, it seems highly unlikely that you’re actually protecting your rights.
In fact, it seems morally dubious to make such claims when you know that the event organisers would face the prospect of refunding tickets and communicating to all purchasees that there is no longer an event if they were to comply with your request with only a few days notice.
Now, of course, Semper is largely run by artists, and each of us supports intellectual property rights to the extent that it makes profitable what is historically a low-income profession. But we think it is blatantly stretching the purpose of laws like this to start policing how social clubs show their appreciation for a multi-million-dollar franchise.
Implicit in this entire witch hunt is the idea that rights holders get to determine not only how you watch films and read books, but also how you behave when you wear their merchandise. We think only the most out-of-touch lawyer would call that a fantasy world.