Follow TV Tropes

This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.


Screwed by the Lawyers

Go To
No free Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode on YouTube for you!

"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")

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.

Fans may have to Keep Circulating the Tapes if legal troubles also forbid a home release, or force the official release of an altered version. A Real Song Theme Tune might be replaced with a generic theme due to the need for both the rights to the actual song and the rights for the recording itself. TV stations have blanket licenses, but these rights have to be cleared for release on home media. Songwriters and performers might want more money, and the studio might not be willing to pay for it. Scenes might be edited out after legal objections for various reasons.

When it comes to mainstream media, this situation tends to feel more myopic on the part of the owner of the intellectual property in question, as it would make more sense to license a popular and profitable work rather than shut it down (unless they're Doing It for the Art, of course). On the other hand, New Media tends to get hit by this more often due to the universal presence of Fan Works online and their tendency to be helmed by independent creators who really can't afford any licensing deals; though even then the sheer ubiquity of it means any particular work is unlikely to be a big enough deal to be worth suing unless it's really that popular.

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. It can, however, weaken future court arguments if the defendant is able to say "Well they didn't intervene with Case X, so why are they suing me?"

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 favor.

Related to Screwed by the Network. May be why No Origin Stories Allowed happens.


    open/close all folders 


  • 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)note  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.

  • 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 trademark,note  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. note 
  • 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.
  • One of the things that keeps well off independent circuit wrestlers like La Parka from joining promotions like WWE and AAA for potentially higher pay checks is freedom to work where and how they want. Start taking that away, as TNA found out when they tried to control Matt Hardy, and several independent feds end up losing a hot draw to WWE and resent your company rather than WWE for it. AAA affiliated Lucha Underground should have known better, but ended up with Ricochet abandoning them for WWE after their seven month season delay forced him to miss a New Japan Pro-Wrestling tour. Eventually King Cuerno decided to solve the problem concerning Lucha Underground for good, drawing in Ivelisse Vélez, Joey Ryan and Kobra Moon as he went about it. Together they successfully got Lucha Underground to switch to the CMLL model of "Do what you want as long as you make your scheduled dates".
  • When the Hardy Boyz returned to the WWE, fans were excited to finally see "Broken" Matt Hardy in his home company. While Matt kept some of the mannerisms (such as the "DELETE!" taunt), he was more like his original character. The problem was rights issues, with TNA claiming ownership of the character, even though Hardy had created it himself. Eventually, we got a similar gimmick with "Woken" Matt Hardy, but it wasn't quite the same (though that could be the WWE's influence as much as anything). It seems Hardy is able to be full-blown "Broken" in AEW, though.
  • Prior to 2002, WWE was known as the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). The name change happened because of a lawsuit from the other WWF: the World Wildlife Fund. note 

  • The regular game on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue called "Pick-up Song" - where a song is played in live, a panelist starts singing along to it whilst the music is faded down, and the panelist continues singing a cappella with the aim being to be as close as possible to the original song when the sound comes back on - is the main reason why the show will never be released in full, and the game was omitted from the compilation releases until recently. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the show switched to using virtual audiences, this trope also resulted in said game being rested, since it would involve playing the songs on a live-streamed event.)

  • 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 their 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 built a new Avengers C.A.M.P.U.S. area (Stark Expo in Hong Kong) for their theme parks in the early 2020s, the Orlando and Japan parks were left out of the mix. Even in Anaheim, the word "Marvel" cannot actually be used anywhere in the parks.
  • 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).
  • With Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox on March 20, 2019, the future of The Simpsons Ride is very uncertain as unlike their contract with Marvel, Universal's rights to Simpsons theme park attractions are set to expire in 2028, 20 years after the attraction opened. Yep, you probably know where this is headed. And just like Marvel, Disney is unable to build Simpsons attractions in their US parks but could also build their own Simpsons attractions in their international parks, seeing as Universal hasn’t cloned the ride in Japan or Singapore. Universal also confirmed that the American Horror Story haunted house for Halloween Horror Nights would not be returning for 2019 and beyond because of the deal.
  • After 2006, Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure at Halloween Horror Nights became much more limited in what it can do with its parodies than in the past. For a long time, the show had absolute freedom in what it would lampoon, as the general assumption is that it falls under the "Parody" clause of Fair Use. Things changed in 2006, when Disney seemed to disagree and threatened to sue Universal over how the show that year utilized Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann. The controversy only worsened when on that same year DC Comics came down on Universal for its usage of Lex Luthor as the main villain of the show, and ultimately filed a cease-and-desist letter against them, which resulted in Lex Luthor being replaced by Dr. Evil on the final night of the show. After that, the show avoided putting certain copyrighted characters in the spotlight for too long, instead doing things like using a celebrity as the show's main villain rather than a movie villain. This also led to them completely banning videotaping and photography of the show, so as to prevent it from getting onto the internet and attracting unwanted attention. It is believed that the rising worries concerning the potential of legal backlash over the show's content was one of the many reasons why the show was brought to an end after 2017.


  • The Bratz doll line was stopped in its tracks by a 2005 court case that found that the concept was created while its creator was still at Mattel, before making a comeback in 2010, although by that time, their popularity had waned (plus, the new dolls are a bit more conservative). This also had a more permanent knock-on effect for the Animated Shows.
  • LEGO BIONICLE took certain character names and concepts from various Polynesian cultures, mainly Maori. However, contrary to a widespread belief they did not try to trademark them. The closest they got to that was with the Game Boy Advance game Tales of the Tohunga — unknown to LEGO at the time, the word Tohunga (usually defined as "expert" or "craftsman") carried a very culturally sensitive historical meaning (ostracized traditional healers and medical practitioners). Due to threats of legal action from Maori tribal groups, LEGO changed tack, replaced Tohunga with the made-up word Matoran, changed the game's title to Quest for the Toa and altered the spelling of many other names. With this they managed to avoid a lawsuit, but going forward, LEGO would instate their own legal procedure for creating BIONICLE names: each name was given an elaborate legal check that reportedly cost a whopping $10,000 per word. This ensured that they would not accidentally use words that had inconvenient double meanings in other languages. As well, nearly all Polynesian-influenced concepts like the deities Papu and Rangi (based on Papatūānuku and Ranginui) or the ritualistic Haka dances were wiped from canon before they were even introduced in media, and the entire BIONICLE franchise was reorganized behind the scenes to remove its spiritual or mystical elements.
  • It's largely thought that Epoch renamed the Sylvanian Families into Calico Critters when selling the toys in the US due to a lawsuit brought on by electronics company Sylvania (or to keep from being confused as being related to them). Wikipedia says the reason for the name change was because Tomy lost the right to sell them under that 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.
  • In The '50s and The '60s, the Airfix model company pioneered merchandising tie-in rights to then-popular TV shows, releasing figure sets based on shows like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Tarzan and The High Chaparral. Scroll forward thirty years and even though the original TV shows were long gone hazy memories, French company Heller Models (who had bought the rights to Airfix figure sets after the parent company's demise) were forced to market these sets with generic names like Mediaeval Archers and Jungle Adventures, because they had only bought the molds - copyright in the TV show names remained with the TV producers who had only licensed the rights to Airfix.
  • Wacky Packages:
    • A variety of parodies were vetoed from the get-go, mainly due to reasoning from the original creators. Of note are a variety of Disney and Star Wars parody ideas, which never saw the light of day officially. What makes the case with the Star Wars stickers weirder is that it was going to be an official series of the cards, made with Lucasfilm's blessing, only to be cancelled after announcement by another executive of the same company.
    • During the punch-out days of the franchise, companies had a touch more leeway, and were able to request pulls for parodies. Some of these would be replaced with other cards, while some cards were simply pulled with no replacement planned.

    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. According to some sources, Mattel sent the Brothers Chaps a cease-and-desist order over the game, resulting in the change. Even the Homestar Runner Wiki was requested to scrub all references to the original version. Prior to Adobe ending support for Flash, the original See 'n Say game could be accessed as a secret page. Playthroughs have since been uploaded to YouTube.
    • 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 lyrics to the original song, "Happy Birthday to You!", were considered copyrighted. The cartoon was also re-edited in 2004 to change the phone number at the end after a limousine company in New York complained to the Brothers Chaps that they were receiving calls from people wanting to order the album.
    • The Strong Bad Email "duck pond" had two versions of a duck pond simulator. After completing the one on Strong Bad's Tandy 400, a version based on the Atari 2600 can be accessed. Likely as a result of Atari threatening legal action, the latter version was scrubbed in 2005.
  • SMG4: The Lawsuit Arc is basically an In-Universe example of this trope, which also a serves as Defied Trope in Real Life, where Nintendo, spearheaded by Lawyer Kong, is out to remove all non-Nintendo characters from the Mushroom Kingdom and revert it to back its pre-SMG4 state, eventually leading to a firewall being erected that keeps all Original Characters out and a DMCA being signed that (temporarily) kills off such characters. Ultimately, Shigeru Miyamoto decides to let SMG4's channel remain the way it is, but SMG4, SMG3, Fishy Boopkins, and Bob are all redesigned to look less like Nintendo characters.
  • The Trainsformers shorts, which were a blend of Thomas & Friends 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.


Alternative Title(s): Cease And Desist, Other