Photograph a Star Wars Toy? LucasFilm Claims Copyright

Star Wars fans are used to LucasFilm and Disney holding their cards close to their vest. Certainly, they don’t want any of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” being seen before the movie hits theaters on Dec. 18. It’s a guarantee any act of piracy for what might become the highest-grossing movie of all time will be met with the full force of Disney’s legal team.

But what about images of a new Star Wars toy, and the violation of an individual’s rights? How far does a corporation’s copyright extend into a citizen’s private life?

Star Wars Action News posted a recent update to their Facebook page. A fan named Justin had purchased a ‘Rey’ action figure from Walmart. Rey is the protagonist played in the film by Daisy Ridley. Justin uploaded a picture of the Star Wars toy, still in the box.

Soon after, those images were removed from Facebook. Why? “Facebook notified us they deleted the photos,” Justin wrote, “after someone reported them for copyright infringement.”

It appears the action figure may have been put on Walmart’s shelves earlier than it should have been. Nonetheless, the Star Wars toy was purchased legally, and images of it were taken and shared legally.

Facebook can do what it likes. It’s a private entity, and even if the image wouldn’t fall under copyright infringement, Facebook can still remove the image without getting into murky legal territory.

What happened next was far stranger. Like many others, Jeremy Conrad at Star Wars Unity had seen the image and shared it.

Conrad wrote, “This morning I woke up to numerous DMCA takedown notices on the @starwarsunity Twitter account, the Facebook account, the Google+ Page, and my personal Twitter for posting the image of an action figure that was legally purchased at Walmart. My webhost also received a takedown email from them with a threat of a lawsuit if the image wasn’t removed.”

Conrad’s not the only one. Now, Justin is the original purchaser. He’s the copyright owner of the image he took of a Star Wars toy. Despite this, anyone who’s shared or re-tweeted the perfectly legal image has been hit with a DMCA takedown notice by anti-piracy company Irdeto. The logic seems to be there’s an image on the toy packaging that contains a spoiler from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Of course, no individual or fan site is going to have the finances to take on LucasFilm and Disney over sharing the image of a Star Wars toy, so those companies can do whatever they wish without having to answer for it. While it may not be a big deal that an image of a collectible is being stifled from the internet, it does display a dangerously effective precedent regarding other important images that might be shared – and stifled by corporations – in the future.

On a more basic level, it’s simply strange that LucasFilm and Disney would be going after some of their own biggest fans and risking negative PR over a spoiler on a toy. What is Star Wars if not a community experience? Perhaps it’s a lesson for the corporations. As the story about the Star Wars toy spreads, far more people are paying attention and clicking on the images being shared. LucasFilm and Disney may have been better off had they simply let a fan share his excitement about their franchise and his new collectible.

You can see the image here, but please be aware, we’re giving a SPOILER WARNING for it. Should you share it online, don’t be surprised if you hear from Irdeto on behalf of LucasFilm and Disney.


Does news like this make you less likely to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens?” How would you respond if LucasFilm and Disney claimed your private photos under their copyright?


 

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Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.