Peanuts Rights Holder Shuts Down Peanutweeter, Pisses Off Fans For No Reason At All

from the how-not-to-do-things dept

You may recall, a few years back, all the attention received by a site called Garfield Minus Garfield, in which a guy, Dan Walsh, took Garfield comic strips and "removed" Garfield, creating existentially weird comic strips in their place. We wrote about it three years ago, mainly to point out how nice it was that Garfield creator Jim Davis didn't freak out about it, and noted that he enjoyed it. In fact, Davis and his publisher, Ballantine Books, were so pleased with the attention it got, that they all worked together to put out an official Garfield Minus Garfield book. As we noted, we hoped that others who saw people doing creative things with their works would react similarly.

Apparently the folks who own the rights to the famed Peanuts comic strip empire see things quite differently. Over the past few weeks, the site Peanutweeter has received a bunch of attention with various websites writing about it and showing off some of the strips. The way Peanutweeter worked is that the guy behind it, Jason Agnello, would pair up a frame from a Peanuts cartoon with a semi-random tweet he would find that would match with the scene (and put the Tweeter credit below). Here are a few examples:

Anyway, you guessed it, with all that attention, it appears that Iconix Brand Group, the owner of Peanuts Worldwide, LLC., became aware of this and... did the stupid, but easy, thing of sending a DMCA takedown to Tumblr. You can see the letter below. It's a pretty standard DMCA takedown letter. It's not clear if Tumblr automatically complied, or told Jason and he complied, but all of the comics have been taken off the site, replaced with a post about the DMCA notice.
Jason points out that he believes the use is fair use, but doesn't want to bother fighting this. ScytheNoire points us to an analysis of why Peanutweeter is likely fair use, though as we've discussed before, in many cases, it really just depends on whether or not the judge likes something. The post runs through the standard four factors and argues a strong likelihood of fair use, an analysis I think is pretty accurate. In theory, if Jason did desire to pursue it, he could push for sanctions. Issuing a DMCA takedown on fair use content is potentially a sanctionable offense, though, the law there is still a bit unsettled.

But even beyond the legal aspect here, let's discuss the basic common sense approach here. Now, obviously, Peanuts is a huge licensing business these days, but so is Garfield. In the case of Garfield, Davis and others quickly (and correctly) realized that such derivative works didn't harm or tarnish the brand in any way. Quite the contrary, it brought renewed interest in the strip, especially from an audience that might not normally care. On top of that, the friendly and encouraging approach resulted in a book from which they could all profit.

On the flipside, you have Iconix/Peanuts, who have just pissed off thousands of people online who followed Peanutweeter on Twitter and Tumblr -- and all for what? This was getting attention and getting people (who normally wouldn't) to think about Peanuts again. That's an opportunity. But it takes a special kind of lawyer to look at a great opportunity, and think that demands a legal threat letter.

Filed Under: copyright, culture, peanuts, twitter
Companies: iconix brand group, peanuts worldwide

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  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 28 Jul 2011 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: Peanuts

    What about Marmaduke?

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