By now, if you’re a Firefly fan, you’ve probably heard the outrage heard across the ‘verse. The story goes something like this. The Firefly character Jayne Cobb’s silly orange hat, lovingly knitted by his mother, has become an iconic symbol of the cancelled-too-soon series. People have knitted their own hats for years. You see them on college campuses. You see them at comic conventions. People love their Jayne hats, and when you see one, you give a nod to your fellow Browncoat. Occasionally people put their hand-knit caps up on Etsy or other sites to sell them to other fans. No mass production. Just a few fans making pizza money.
ThinkGeek, one of my very favoritest sites of all time, decided that since there was a lot of demand and very little actual product, maybe they should do something about that. They worked with an officially licensed producer to get an officially licensed Jayne’s Hat in their store. It’s not an exclusive item to ThinkGeek, but ThinkGeek had a hand in designing the perfect silly orange hat for fans. It’s suitable for both head warmth and finding all the cool people who recognize it. Shiny!
One problem. Now that it’s an instant money-making item, Fox has started issuing cease and desist letters to those little Etsy shops that have been selling the product for years. Etsy chose the path of most butt coverage and has been reportedly shutting down stores, not just issuing warnings or delisting the offending items. Stores that sold non-hat related Firefly fan merchandise have also been reportedly shuttered – just in case.
Yes, it completely sucks to have your Etsy store shut down for an activity you thought was fine for years and years, but the truth is that those stores were making money off of someone else’s intellectual property, no matter how rich they weren’t getting in the process.
It was always a legally gray area, and as soon as you call it “Jayne’s Hat” or mention the series from whence it came, you’re riding on the coattails of a show you didn’t make. Sure, Fox makes everyone mad for having cancelled the show in the first place, but it was their show to cancel, and it’s their show to license even after it was cancelled. Yes, the optics of closing down mom and pop stores is bad, but if they don’t defend their license, even against the small stores, they could lose the ability to defend it against the big ones. Update: an actual IP lawyer explains how a lowly hat can become a trademarked item.
The way I see it, this whole Jayne’s Hat issue actually has a silver lining for Firefly fans. How, you say? You know what you get when you take a cancelled science fiction show with a loyal fan base that likes to spend a lot of money on licensed products? Maybe you get Star Trek the Motion Picture. Maybe you get the eventual resurrection and re-imagining of your universe into a vast series of books, comic books, cartoons, TV shows, games, rides, products, and movies. Yes, it could happen. Some of it already has. Spend your money on licensed products, kiddies. It’s a story that is too pretty to die.
Furthermore, ThinkGeek has taken a lot of unfair flak over something that totally wasn’t their fault. They had nothing to do with Etsy stores being shut down. They just wanted a cool hat, and they played by the rules to get one legitimately — just like they did when they made the coolest Tauntaun sleeping bag, ever after overwhelming fan demand. I want to see them bring more super cool, super creative fan products to the market. It would be the best targeted weight loss plan ever (if the target of all that weight loss was my wallet.)
After all the kerfluffle over the hats, ThinkGeek has issued the following statement:
Browncoats, we hear your concerns about the cease and desist on Etsy Jayne Hat sellers!
We weren’t involved in that process, but we have reached out to FOX and we’ve heard what you’ve had to say. As a result, we’ve decided to donate the profits from all Jayne Hat sales on our site to Can’t Stop the Serenity, a Browncoat charity dear to ThinkGeek’s heart that raises funds and awareness in support of Equality Now. We’ll continue making that donation until we run out of stock.
We hope the Hero of Canton himself would approve.
Honestly, they didn’t have to do this, but it does make them big damn heroes. Speaking of ThinkGeek charity and big damn heroes, be sure to pick up a Neurodiversity shirt from ThinkGeek to go with your hat. It’s not Firefly, but the profits from the shirts sold in April will go to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.