A Phillie Phanatic Legal Battle Update

Iverson Phanatic Phillies
photo credit: Phillies

Tuesday night, a United States magistrate judge presented her ruling on the legal battle between the Phillies and the creators of the Phanatic, Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison. The short version is that the Phillies think they have license to use the mascot perpetually, while Erickson and Harrison claim a legal right to take back their copyrighted work after 35 years, based on some technicality. It’s a really funky and complicated legal thing.

But anyway, the ruling is 91 pages, and would take forever to read. Luckily Eriq Gardner at Hollywood Reporter translated it into language we can understand:

Now comes U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn’s recommendation in the case.

She wants to let Harrison/Erickson reclaim rights to the original Phanatic and preclude the team from challenging the validity of the copyright.

In another part of the report, Netburn looks at the recent alterations that the team made to the mascot and examines something called the Copyright Act’s “Derivative Works Exception,” which basically allows the copyright holder to continue to use amended versions even past termination.

Harrison/Erickson argued that the changes were trivial and not original enough to be considered distinguishable, which leads Netburn into a visual assessment whether the newer Phanatic is a “slavish copy.”

“To be sure, the changes to the structural shape of the Phanatic are no great strokes of brilliance, but as the Supreme Court has already noted, a compilation of minimally creative elements, ‘no matter how crude, humble or obvious,’ can render a work a derivative,” she continues.

Ultimately, she accepts the newer version falls within the Derivative Works Exception, which if now accepted by the District Court, would mean that the Phillies won’t lose their mascot.

Okay, so that last part is all we need to hear. If the next level of the court system is cool this judge’s ruling, then the Phanatic ain’t going nowhere. He/she/it is here to stay.

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