There has lately been a rash of porn parodies featuring superhero characters stripped from the pages of comic books, television, and the multiplex. Now, it is safe to say that most of these characters have grown up and appeal to a much more mature audience than the 9-12 year old demographic that they were originally intended for. They reflect a darker, grittier motivation for their deeds and are far more fallible in their actions and judgement. They are no longer the Dudley Do-Rights of a bygone era when their exploits were performed with a scout’s honor and a righteous smile. Despite the graying tenant of fighting for “truth justice and the American way,” superheroes still represent a moral fiber that justifies them as heroic to audiences of all ages. So why are the owners of these characters allowing their trademarks to be tarnished under the guise of parody by pornographers?
Nothing against porn, but it is what it is, and for every person that enjoys it there is another that finds it offensive. Porn is entertainment that comes in the form of videos and magazines the same vehicles as comic characters and they currently share a similar demographic of sexually active young adults. Superheroes have run around in skin tight costumes since their inception and have always been accused of arousing some form of sexual fantasy of the reader. As the target age of comic readers has matured, sex has become a more significant theme in mainstream comics with major characters fornicating on rooftops and defining themselves with a variety of sexual orientations. Pornography featuring these characters may be less of the parody that they are described as being and more of a logical extension of the fantasies of the, now, more mature fan base of superheroes.
In the past few years, Porn Parodies of Superheroes has practically established an industry in and of itself. So why are porn companies able to produce video after video featuring “parodies” of these trademarks that are so accurately detailed to match feature films, television shows and comic books with no contention from the trademark owners?
Superheroes are extremely valuable trademarks, each representing a character franchise for some of the biggest corporations in the world. These trademarks are worth billions of dollars and are licensed to endorse products sold to everyone from toddlers to adults. They are trademarks that generally avoid being offensive in any way, like the omission of Nazi Swastikas in the Captain America movie, in an effort to broaden their appeal. Marvel and DC even jointly own trademark of the word Superhero and variations of it in an effort to protect it.
Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communications are all pit bulls when it comes to protecting their valued trademarks most recently unleashing the dogs on a California birthday party company rented out characters wearing unauthorized, counterfeit costumes depicting their well known characters despite a disclaimer on the company’s site that read, “Look-a-like Characters are not officially licensed. We DO NOT USE OR HAVE COPYRIGHTED OR LICENSED MATERIAL, COSTUMES, OR NAMES. We also aren’t affiliated with any companies that hold copyrights so don’t ask for characters relating to copyrighted names.”
This disclaimer resembles the similar disclaimers used on the porn parodies that read, “This movie is not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with any entity owning the rights to the characters parodied therein or the work being parodied. Specifically, this movie is not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with DC Comics, Warner Communications Inc., E.C. Publications, Inc. or Marvel Characters, Inc.”
The key word here seems to be Parody which protects the potential copyright or trademark infringer under the veil of “Fair Use” in copyright law. Does the claim of parody hand over the keys of a valued copyright or trademark to any Tom, Dick or Harry? No. Though the line that constitutes what is acceptable as parody is very shady, each case should be judged uniquely to determine if any harm is being caused to the trademark. Issues that weigh heavily on the court concern how much commercial value the trademark adds to the work of parody and does content that is sexual or distasteful potentially harm the trademark. Hmmm….you think someone might have a case?
Ben & Jerry’s did just last month when they tackled the “Ben & Cherry’s” series of exploitive porn films using parodied names of their famous ice cream flavors. The porn company chose to pull the series from the shelves and destroy them.
DC itself battled pornographers way back in the seventies when a company tried to produce a porn parody of Superwoman. Their challenge forced the pornographer to change the costume and the name of the character to Ms. Magnificent.
Also in the seventies Disney legally crushed the Air Pirates, a group of underground cartoonists that published comic book parodies of famous Disney characters exploiting sex and drugs.
Why the sudden hands-off position regarding these porn parodies now? Some say the big companies don’t want to create publicity that might promote the porn. One would think that their lack of action would appear to be tacit endorsement of the product, despite what the disclaimer on the films might state.
I have not seen these films but a quick look at the safe for work trailers shows impressive attention to detail, great costumes and props and decent enough production quality to make these films, at least momentarily, easily mistaken for the regular film or TV productions of the originals. Now there are even animated porn parodies to mimic the cartoons of superheroes.
Its hard to imagine that these films with all their special effects, production quality and hardcore sex don’t present a greater threat to the public image of the superhero trademarks than the unauthorized costumes of a party company who sends costumed performers to a five-year-old’s birthday.
Some might say, “Who cares? It’s parody, get over it! Don’t be a stick in the mud! Freedom of speech! Boo!”
I’m sorry, but I’m offended. Not by the pornographers, but by Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communication because they have proven that they are willing to relentlessly pursue anyone else who would infringe on their trademarks to the point of ridiculousness as shown by this very brief rundown of challenges:
DC’s assault on Fawcett Publications claiming that Captain Marvel infringed on Superman.
Disney going after Marvel arguing that Howard the Duck infringed on Donald Duck forcing Howard to have to wear pants forever more.
Marvel going after WWF for the use of Hulk Hogan.
Not to mention the millions of dollars that Marvel and DC spend on legal fees to guarantee that they will never have to pay royalties to writers and artists that created characters that have made billions for both companies.
If they do not go after the pornographers These trademark owners make a mockery of everyone else they ever targeted and they imply that they either condone the treatment of their characters or are somehow invested in the production of these pornographic films. I think they owe it to all the little guys that they have trounced over the years because they infringed by hand painting a bat on their shingle or Mickey Mouse on a daycare wall. They owe it to all the creators they have robbed of fruitful twilight years. They owe it to all the fans who have emotionally invested in wholesome entertainment. They owe it to every little kid that went to bed in superhero pajamas to at least pretend to protect their IP from infringement from pornographers so that we can believe that they at least tried to preserve the integrity of characters that have idealized heroism for three quarters of a century.
If Ben & Jerry’s, ice cream manufacturers, can stand their ground, why can’t Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communications, the stewards of iconic superheroes, grow a pair and at least TRY to defend their precious property?
Making Comics Because We Want to,