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Screwed by the Lawyers

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"Hey, hey, kids! Your old pal Krusty is going to teach you five new words: unlicensed use of my image!"
Krusty the Clown, The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror XIX")
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Copyright and Trademark law have gotten in the way of or forced cancellation for many works. No matter how promising, popular or profitable a show is, it's still apt to get canceled if it would be illegal to keep broadcasting. This can be prone to What an Idiot! moments on the part of the owner of the intellectual property in question, since if it's that profitable, it makes sense to license the work rather than shut it down, unless of course the artist is Doing It for the Art.

Fans may have to Keep Circulating the Tapes if legal troubles also forbid a home release.

Sometimes, the reason why a trademark is so zealously protected is because the holder wants to prevent it from entering common use as a generic term, which would cause them to lose it. This has happened with Aspirin (once a Bayer trademark, they lost it in many countries after World War I), Cellophane, and other "genericized" trademarks. It's also why most productions bend over backwards to make sure that Real Life product names are not mentioned at all (unless as Product Placement), and certainly never as generics. But note that this only applies to trademarks, not to copyrights. Additionally, note that (contrary to the common misunderstanding of this law) a company is never legally required to protect a trademark in order to keep it — they don't lose it simply for failing to protect it; they only lose it if it enters common use as a generic term to the point where it is no longer trademarkable.

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The Other Wiki refers to this as the tragedy of the anticommons, where the existence of competing rights holders — not just in copyright, but also in patent law,note  land ownership,note  leasing rights and other areas — frustrates achieving a socially desirable outcome. To further complicate matters, organizations of all kinds try as hard as possible to blur the lines between copyrights, patents, and trademarks in their favour.

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Related to Screwed by the Network.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Networks 
  • The phrase "Customer Notice: *Insert name of company*, the owner of this channel has forced *insert name of cable or satellite provider* to suspend it despite our repeated requests to keep it available to you" often pops up on certain television systems in the event of a contractual negotiation dispute between the channel owners and television providers providing the systems in question. Notable disputes that led to these kinds of messages include the December 2009 blackout of Fox-owned channels from Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) and the July 2012 blackout of Viacom-owned networks from DirecTV.
  • Local station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group managed to do this to themselves when attempting to acquire rival Tribune Media. When the deal was first announced, many expected the merger to sail through easily if Sinclair complied with all the necessary divestments they had to make to get FCC and DOJ approval. But Sinclair's ego got the better of them and attempted to divest most of the stations to people who had significant ties to Sinclair so that the broadcaster could still operate the stations without actually violating the laws on paper. The FCC, who under a business-friendly administration was relaxing media ownership rules to benefit companies like Sinclair, wasn't pleased with Sinclair's proposal and refused to sign off on it, and Tribune, who was getting fed up with Sinclair's aggressive tactics, as well as the prolonged regulatory review, decided to break up the deal and sue Sinclair for breach of contract.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Garfield had a short run of Believe it, or don't gags until PAWS Inc. got a cease-and-desist letter from the Robert Ripley estate.

    Pinball 
  • Unlike other games in the series, Zen Studios' Spider-Man pinball is not available as downloadable content on some platforms' versions of Pinball FX or Zen Pinball. Instead, licensing disputes between Marvel Comics and Sony require the player to purchase a separate game, "Marvel Pinball", and get it there instead.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • ECW used popular rock, metal, punk, and hip-hop tracks for everything, from wrestler themes to show themes to video packages, to further their image as a hip, rebellious, underground promotion. Unfortunately, it was also a very cash-strapped promotion, which meant that said music had to be edited out of home video releases to avoid legal entanglements. Part of the reason the promotion commissioned and published the ECW Extreme Music and ECW Anarchy Rocks CDs was so that they could have less expensive cover versions by less well-known bands at their disposal instead.
  • The wrestling vampire Gangrel was used much less in WWE after White Wolf threatened to sue for infringement, as Gangrel was the name of one of the vampire clans in its Vampire: The Masquerade RPGnote . They settled for a 5-year agreement which White Wolf would be credited in any material in which Gangrel was used. White Wolf would eventually sue the WWE in 2008 after they used Gangrel in the Raw 15 Year Anniversary Battle Royal without credit. It would turn out that White Wolf failed to protect the trademarknote , giving the wrestler the full rights to the name.
  • After the American Wrestling Association went under, former employees started Super Stars Of Wrestling to keep some of their income flowing. They also decided to keep the AWA name going but didn't have as strong a claim to it as they thought. A lawsuit by WWE ended up putting an end to the brand in North America.
  • Fittingly, it was lawyers who ended up putting an end to "The Beat Down Clan" when Hernandez joined the group only for TNA (who had not checked beforehand to see if they could legally put him on their program) to find itself unable to use any footage of him on their program due to an existing contract Hernandez had with Lucha Underground.
  • WWE Network was forced to pull all Stampede Wrestling footage from the service after only a few days when Bret Hart claimed he had the rights to all Stampede footage featuring him, though they are free to continue circulating footage of him from the other promotions he has signed with, WWE included.

    Rides 
  • Due to Universal's exclusive licensing contract with Marvel Comics a decade before Disney's acquisition of Marvel, Disney is severely limited in the Marvel-themed attractions they can build at Disney parks in Orlando and Japan, as Universal's theme parks in both areas have built Marvel theming first. Disney is only able to use the characters Universal didn't use such as Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is why when Disney announced a new "Marvel Land" for their theme parks to open in 2020, the Orlando and Japan parks were left out of the mix.
  • Universal themselves got into a similar situation after acquiring DreamWorks Animation in April 2016. While they are free to use DreamWorks' main franchises in all three of their American resorts, as well as their Japan and Singapore parks, Universal can't use them in countries where DreamWorks had licensed them to other park operators prior to the acquisition, including Australia, Russia, Dubai and China, where other companies have the licensesnote . Similarly, the 1964 Rankin/Bass likeness of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, whose special is now owned by Universal through DreamWorks, was licensed out to SeaWorld by DreamWorks in November 2015, a few months before Universal purchased the studio, so don't expect him to appear in Universal's American parks anytime soon (though he might be allowed in the Japan and Singapore parks, if Universal is willing to pay royalties to The Rudolph Company).

    Theatre 

    Toys 
  • It's largely thought that Epoch renamed the Sylvanian Families into Calico Critters when selling the toys in the US is due to a lawsuit brought on by electronics company Sylvania (or to keep from being confused as being related). Wikipedia says the reasons for the name change was because Tomy lost the right to sell them under name in '93, while the website doesn't acknowledge either. However, the animated series was allowed to be released on DVD under the original title.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • The site had a game based on the See 'n Say toy where a main character would speak if the pointer landed on the corresponding picture. The game was revamped in 2007 to a generic toy with buttons making the characters say the same lines. The legal implications associated with the change are apparently so extreme that the site's wiki bars ANY mention of the See 'n Say version. In spite of this, the original game still can be accessed as a secret page.
    • When "Strong Bad Sings" was released to DVD, the song The Cheat played for Strong Mad had to be changed to "Hot Cross Buns". At the time of its release, the original song, "Happy Birthday to You!", was not in the public domain.
  • The Trainsformers shorts, which were a blend of Thomas the Tank Engine and The Transformers, gleefully poked fun at being unauthorized use of copyrighted material and a violation of it. It shouldn't be a surprise that a copyright protest brought down the four videos made. However, the creator lampshaded this in two non-copyright-infringing follow-up videos, and other YouTube users re-posted the videos, anyway.

    Web Comics 

Alternative Title(s): Cease And Desist

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