Can I host a themed event for a Netflix TV show?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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pnance89
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Can I host a themed event for a Netflix TV show?

Post by pnance89 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:32 pm

Dear all,

I am new to this forum and have read several threads but get the jist that each topic involves varying circumstances.

I want to host a one-off Halloween party this year, to coincide with the launch on Netflix of the second season of the popular Sci-Fi series "Stranger Things."

I am in the North West of England and the event will therefore be only occurring at a single venue in my hometown for one night only.

Although I am not aiming to profit from the event, I intend to ask a small surcharge for guests to cover the cost of the venue (a licensed premises).

The theme of the whole night will be the TV show (decoration, music and signage). There will be no actual use of the video imagery itself, but of course all the names of characters, locations and events will be used.

In regards to the music, the venue is covered by the appropriate PRS / PPL licence, allowing a live band to cover popular songs from the show. For the rest of the theme, do I require permission from the copyright owners (Netflix Studios?) before advertising the event, even if it becomes a private party for invited guests only?

Many thanks for your contributions to this question. I am a newcomer to any of this and am at this time just a confused fan who doesn't want to be sued by the show he likes!

Pete

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Sat Aug 26, 2017 6:15 pm

Hi Pete,

I think there are possibly two answers here: one based on what the law actually says, and another based on what Netflix or their legal department might do regardless.

So legally Netflix have registered the words 'Stranger Things' in a number of classes as European trade marks, the most significant from your point of view being Class 41 which covers entertainment services. Although they have sought to use a fairly narrow ambit within class 41, it would be enough to preclude you from using the words in connection with your planned event, unless you wished to run the risk of infringing their trade mark. As you will be charging even a nominal entry fee that makes your proposed use 'in the course of trade' and so liable for a claim.

However if you can avoid using those two particular words, I don't thing there is anything infringing about using the theme or decoration style from the show. Clearly if this was a purely private party there would be no real issues, And if the individual guests decide to turn up in costume then that's not something for which you would be liable, even if they wore costumes which directly copied any of the costumes from the show. This is because judging by what I have seen on Google, the main characters wear exceedingly ordinary everyday clothing.

So to summarise where I think you stand legally, there should be little to worry about with a Stranger Things themed party, as long as you don't call it a Stranger Things night or use the words in advertising in a way which might imply that this was an event promoted, authorised or licensed by Netflix.

Here's the bad news. Film companies generally take a robust approach when it comes to protecting their intellectual property and if Netflix become aware of your event beforehand, there is a very real chance of you receiving a cease and desist letter backed up by a real threat of legal action if you do not comply. Even though they may know they would have little chance of success in getting an infringement claim upheld, they have deep pockets and could no doubt make it too costly for you to defend yourself. I can't give you a figure for how likely it is that Netflix would take this attitude, but since it costs them relatively little to use their retained lawyers, I fear it is something they would do just in order to send a strong message to others who might pose a more realistic threat to their business. I suspect they would not be overly concerned about upsetting a few genuine fans who meant no harm.

If you do decide to ask for permission from Netflix, be prepared to be asked for a fairly hefty licence fee which might make the venture un-economic.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

pnance89
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Post by pnance89 » Sun Aug 27, 2017 12:56 pm

Dear AndyJ,

Thank you very much for your swift and informative reply.

This has certainly given me hope that it can be done with some careful avoidance of association with the show in any advertising I do.

As you say:
as long as you don't call it a Stranger Things night or use the words in advertising in a way which might imply that this was an event promoted, authorised or licensed by Netflix.
I am glad now that I have not sent an email to Netflix's authorised representative in Europe following your point about the licence cost implication.

Two followups: As this will be held in Liverpool, do you think I could get away with a title such as "Scouser Things" or could this be seen as 'passing off'?

Furthermore, could it be that using the same typeface (ITC Benguiat) a font available publicly, could also be seen as passing off if, say, it was coloured red against a dark background?

Secondly, is it generally wise to openly state or provide some sort of declaration in public material that mentions that I hold no ownership over the original material and that all rights belong to Netflix, with no affiliation intended?

If I was to announce for example, this is simply a Halloween party of particular interest to fans of the show, would that sort of thing be sufficient?

Many thanks again,

Pete[/quote]

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Post by AndyJ » Sun Aug 27, 2017 2:54 pm

Hi Pete,

Yes, I think you should be fine with a title like Scouser Things. And also with using the font because the Netflix trade mark registrations do not specify a particular font.

Passing off is always tricky to predict but there needs to be an element of misrepresentation (amongst other factors) for a claim to succeed, and I don't think your proposal falls into that category. But adding a disclaimer would certainly reinforce the idea that you are not seeking to cash in on the reputation of the show, rather that the event is a tribute to it, where the fans of the show have an opportunity to share their interest.
If I was to announce for example, this is simply a Halloween party of particular interest to fans of the show, would that sort of thing be sufficient?
Yes, that would be sensible.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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