Intellectual Property Attorney

HarperCollins Publishers Forces Kickstarter To Take Down Project Aimed At Creating An Unauthorized Sequel To Maurice Sendak’s Classic ‘Where The Wild Things Are’

There is no doubt that “crowdfunding” websites continue to revolutionize and change how funds are raised for various projects and concepts — indeed, earlier this year actress Kristen Bell and creator Rob Thomas raised a whopping $5 million on Kickstarter to fund production of a
Veronica Mars movie. Crowdfunding, however, raises serious legal concerns, especially with respect to intellectual property. We have
blogged previously about some of these intellectual property issues and concerns from the perspective of someone seeking funding. However, recently, a dispute over a sequel to Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” demonstrates that crowdfunding also raises serious legal concerns for intellectual property owners seeking to guard against infringement.

According to media reports, writer Geoffrey Todd and illustrator Rich Berner posted a project to Kickstarter to raise funding for a creative sequel to Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”. In the proposed sequel, Todd and Berner sought to move forward in time approximately 30 years. The main character, Max (the “king” of the Wild Things), now in his 30s would presumably treat his daughter, Sophie, to stories about the “Wild Things”. Interestingly, Todd and Berner seemed to have anticipated that their proposed sequel might raise complex legal issues. In their project landing page on Kickstarter, Todd and Berner wrote that they “have also been very careful not to impinge on Mr. Sendak’s copyright and have taken necessary legal advice around this whole project.”

The last statement did not satisfy Mr. Sendak’s estate (and rightly so). On July 3, 2013, HarperCollins sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down notice to Kickstarter. In the notice, HarperCollins described the copyright protected material as “the original text and artwork for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak” and described the infringing material as “a proposal to create a ‘sequel’ to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, entitled ‘Back to the Wild’, using characters, scenes and copyrightable elements of the original work.” According to HarperCollins, “[a]ny such unauthorized ‘sequel’ would clearly violate the Estate’s right to create derivative works.” In response, Kickstarter removed the project.

One of the central themes of our blog posts (and an issue we highlighted in our recent presentation on “Licensing Law For Beginners” at Licensing Expo 2013) is that intellectual property owners must take an aggressive, vigilant approach to identifying and addressing infringers and infringements of intellectual property rights. A thorough review of crowdfunding platforms and websites is yet another critical component of a successful strategy to combat infringement.

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