“Star Wars: Episode VII— The Force Awakens” and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Mass amounts of advertising and marketing are preceding the highly-anticipated premiere of Star Wars: Episode VII— The Force Awakens.  In one merchandising blunder, an Iowa fan was able to purchase a “Star Wars” action figure of a brand new character from a local Walmart in advance of its official launch date and then posted a picture of it to Facebook.  The image quickly went viral as numerous fans repurposed the image on social media.  The internet was soon inundated with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices delivered by Lucasfilm and its parent company Disney.  The Force Awakens collectible should not have been on the Walmart shelves in advance of the official launch date.

The immediate response by Lucasfilm and Disney demonstrates how vigilant studios are when it comes to protecting intellectual property, especially prior to a big blockbuster release.  In all likelihood, studios are not going to pursue fans posting photos other than by having the photos removed from social media.  It would be a difficult case for Lucasfilm and Disney, and to pursue the matter any further would generate ill will among the members of the intended audience for the film.  A retailer breaking street date, however, is another story.  In this case, the issue will be whether Walmart went to the dark side and intentionally launched the collectibles early or leaked the product by mistake.

Often it seems that social media facilitates copyright infringement.  However, in a twist, social media made it easier for Lucasfilm and Disney to police the use of their intellectual property by bringing to light a violation that might otherwise have gone undetected.

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