On Sunday the Philadelphia Phillies unveiled changes to their iconic mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. They were somewhat underwhelming. Significant enough to make people who really care a lot about the Phanatic notice and take issue but insignificant enough to make one wonder what the dang point was.
As we’ve written, there was a greater point to it all than just Phreshining up the Phanatic: there’s money and litigation at issue.
Specifically, the original creators of the Phanatic, Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, and the Phillies have been embroiled in a legal dispute for a year or two now. The short version: the Phillies purchased rights to the Phanatic in 1984, but under the Copyright Act, artists are allowed to renegotiate rights to their work after 35 years. Two years ago Erickson and Harrison served notice to the Phillies that they wished to do so. The Phillies sued, seeking a declaration that they can retain the rights to the Phanatic without reaching an agreement with the creators. The redesign, it seems, was an effort to demonstrate that the Phillies have changed him enough to where the creators no longer have a claim.
It all seems dubious to me. The Phanatic has been the Phanatic for a long time and no one things he’s really changed that much. It seems dubious to Erickson and Harrison too. They were down in Clearwater, Florida today and issued the following statement to the press. Via NBC Sports Philly:
“The Phillies lack of good faith in negotiating for an extension of the copyright assignment for the Phillie Phanatic is disappointing. But the unveiling of the so-called ‘new’ Phanatic on Sunday is an affront to our intellectual property rights and to Phillies fans everywhere.
“For more than 40 years, we have worked closely with the Phillies, making all the Phanatic costumes, providing artwork and ideas until June of 2018. The Phanatic has performed successfully for the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia for decades. The ‘business decision’ by the Phillies to roll out this ‘new’ Phanatic is a transparent attempt to deny us our rights under of the Copyright Act. We would love to have the real Phanatic continue with the Phillies.”
To be continued, I’m sure.