from the takedowns-are-coming dept
It's well-known at this point that HBO guards its intellectual property on the Game of Thrones franchise more jealously than a direwolf with a freshly harvested bone. To that end, the company often times treats some of its biggest fans with disdain, such as when it killed off viewing parties that would otherwise generate more interest in the show, or the times it abused the DMCA process as a way to keep spoilers from the show from permeating. These actions are indeed annoying, but they lack a certain something in the pure evil department.
Unlike, say, HBO issuing a takedown on some art produced by a thirteen-year-old autistic child just because that art included a trademarked catchphrase from the show.
"My daughter, who happens to be autistic, was doing an art challenge called Huevember which consisted of doing a piece of art based on a different colour as you worked your way round a colour wheel," Jonathan Wilcox, of Edwinstowe in the UK, told The Register on Thursday.
"She was uploading her pictures to a variety of sites and sharing them on Facebook. For this particular piece, she decided to title it 'Winter is Coming.' I do not believe she uploaded the picture to RedBubble to make any particular financial gain, she just thought it a sensible place to put it."
So a child makes some art and puts it on the internet, because that's what you do these days. It should be noted that the artwork was not being sold on the site, only displayed. HBO's lawyers come across it and take it down, with nary a conversation. And, lest you think that the artwork itself had something to do with the show, thus ameliorating HBO's actions, here is the artwork in question.
As someone who watches the show regularly, the image doesn't appear to me to be in any way connected to the show. Nor, likely, is the text itself. It's far more likely that a child that created some art at a certain time of year came up with the phrase independently. But, because that phrase is trademarked by HBO, the takedown was issued.
The takedown notice forwarded by Redbubble to Wilcox doesn't specifically cite trademark as the law being applied, but it's the only one that makes sense. That means that the test in question is whether or not anyone is going to confuse this artwork as being created by or endorsed by HBO. And if you believe the answer to that question is "yes," then I'm surprised you're able to put your pants on in the morning. The whole thing seems to be confusing, because even though the DMCA doesn't apply to trademark law, Redbubble is clearly treating it as a DMCA takedown -- where it just replaced the normal "copyright" terms with "IP/Publicity Rights" -- and even uses its DMCA email address for any "counternotice." And the "counternotice" process is identical to a DMCA counternotice process, which requires the family to accept jurisdiction in California (remember, they're in the UK) if they counter the claim.
This is ridiculous on many levels, but once again highlights how the power of copyright to be a tool for censorship grows and expands and swallows other legal doctrines in the same neighborhood.
You can sense Wilcox's frustration in his comments.
"My first reaction to the letter was 'FFS.' HBO should get a life or stick something where the sun doesn't shine," Wilcox said.
"On further investigation, it appears HBO are doing this all over the place regarding this phrase. It seems to have upset a lot of people on Etsy and elsewhere who have had the same or similar letter."
This is the problem when large entities and their legal departments use the DMCA (or a quasi-DMCA-like) process like a shotgun, spraying censorious buckshot at many targets, only some of which might be truly infringing. This lack of legal nuance manages to catch innocent content producers in the crossfire -- in this case an autistic teenager who painted a picture. One wonders how the more virtuous heroes from the show would react.