Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Selling a Jayne Cobb hat? Keep selling!

The short-lived Fox series "Firefly" has developed a cult following that has given life to any number of t-shirts, character statues, and other fan tributes.  Among them are a certain silly knit cap worn by the character Jayne Cobb (supposedly knit for him by his mother).  Fans have been able to buy "Jayne Cobb" hats from Etsy sellers and others for years.


(This is an official "Jayne Cobb" hat, available via ThinkGeek.  Attractive, no?) 

Until now. Apparently, Fox has been threatening these independent producers of lookalike hats with all manner of perdition.  But here's the problem - unless the sellers are calling them "Jayne Cobb" or "Firefly" or "Serenity" (the name of the ship and a follow-on feature film) hats, Fox really has little legal basis to stop third parties from making and selling these hats.

That's because hats are "useful articles" under US Copyright Law - and so can't be protected by copyright.  This peculiarity of copyright law has bedeviled fashion designers for years, and while there has been some chipping away of the concept (costumes, for example, can be protected), in general an article of clothing can't be.

So if you've received a cease-and-desist letter because you are selling "Jayne Cobb" hats, give me a call.  I'm a big "Firefly" fan and will be happy to review your situation and give you some idea of where you stand.   Browncoats do need to stick together, after all.  Especially when the Alliance comes a calling.  

(Update: The folks at ThinkGeek have decided to donate profits from the sales of officially-licensed Jayne Cobb hats to the Firefly-inspired "Can't Stop the Serenity" charity.  Well-played, Geeks, well-played!)

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