I doubt there is anyone in the Web Comics community who does not already know about this, but I try to run a comics news site, so here is my report.
Last week, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, better known as Gabe and Tycho, drew a comic for their popular webcomic Penny Arcade. In this comic, they theorized what would happen if American McGee rendered their take on the 80's children's cartoon character Strawberry Shortcake. The Strawberry Shortcake character was portrayed as a Sadomasochistic Mistress. The image was not pornographic, although it was definitely pushing the limit.
Penny Arcade has done many such parodies of many assorted characters throughout video games and pop culture. This particular image didn't shock me any more then any of the previous work Krahulik and Holkins have done. It did however, catch the attention of the current owners of the Strawberry Shortcake character, American Greetings Corporation. Early Tuesday, April 22nd, eight days after the strip was run, a representative from American Greetings requested that Penny Arcade remove the strip from their site. The representative was Rinda E. Vas, Corporate Counsel for AGC.
Krahulik and Holkins are very actively researching the laws regarding parody material, but the dastardly duo has waged war in a way I'm quite sure the untouchable lawyers did not expect. They published Rinda E. Vas' e-mail address. (Which, by the way, is Rinda.Vas@amgreetings.com) The last figure I read was that Penny-Arcade gets approximately 50,000 readers a day. That's a lot of extremely loyal fans. I'm quite certain whoever reads Rinda E. Vas' e-mail is in for a rough few days.
My opinion? If the actual artist who created the character issued the complaint, I would support their irritation with Penny-Arcade's parody. This complaint, however, was issued by a corporation who bought the character. They are throwing a temper tantrum because they believe that this parody will diminish the value of their purchased property. I have no sympathy.
I have an idea though: did anyone out there who saw the cartoon happen to save it to disk? What would happen if all the little tiny geo-cities sites across the net were to put it up again in defiance? It'd be great publicity for the corporate overpowering of the copyright laws, don't you think?
In the mean time, Krahulik and Holkins are doing heavy research on how the copyright laws treat parodies, and publishing the results in the newsposts of their site (www.penny-arcade.com). I suggest staying tuned, even if you're not a fan of Penny Arcade. The result could effect a lot of artists.