Phillies and a Design Firm Engage in Legal Slugfest Over the Phanatic
The Phanatic is one of the most recognizable mascots in not only baseball but all of professional sports. Fans can easily spot the Phanatic's distinctive nose, and his presence at the stadium is a surefire way for fans to know they are at a Philadelphia Phillies game. Now, the Phillies are embroiled in litigation over the rights to the popular mascot. Specifically, whether or not the Phillies can continue to use the Phanatic as its mascot and how much, if anything, the team must pay to use it are at issue in a court case that has been going on since August 2019.
The Phillies Are in a Dispute Over Licensing
You may be surprised to know that the Philly Phanatic was actually not created by the Phillies. The Phanatic was created by a design firm called Harrison/Erickson 42 years ago and was licensed by the team not knowing how enduringly popular the mascot would prove. In 1984, the Phillies entered into an agreement for the rights to the Phanatic that allowed the team to use the rights to the mascot "forever." In exchange for these rights, the Phillies paid the design firm $215,000.
Even though the contract gave the Phillies the rights to the mascot "forever," the Copyright Act has other ideas when it comes to licensing agreements. The law allows those who have created copyrighted works and licensed them the right to renegotiate the terms of the deal after 35 years. Since the Phanatic is now an institution on his own that is potentially worth millions of dollars, the design firm is seeking to get more money from the Phillies for the use of the Phanatic. Harrison/Erickson is accusing the Phillies of negotiating a renewal agreement with them in bad faith.
Not to be outdone, the Phillies are claiming that they did not receive the benefit of the bargain for which they paid in the first place. They argue that "forever" means "forever" notwithstanding the provisions of the Copyright Act. Since they are not receiving the permanent rights to the Phanatic, they are seeking a portion of the original $215,000 that they paid to be returned to them notwithstanding the fact that the Phillies franchise itself is valued at close to $2 billion.
The Phillies Have Redesigned the Phanatic
The Phillies claim that the design firm threatened to terminate the license unless the Phillies renegotiated the deal and would allow someone else to use the Phanatic is the Phillies did not pay an appropriate amount to the design firm. According to the Phillies, since the team did not receive what the original agreement promised them, the design firm was unjustly enriched and must return some of the money that they received. While it seems petty for such a valuable business to be seeking a small amount of money for a deal that has paid off so handsomely, the Phillies have decided to play hardball.
Now, the beloved Phanatic is stuck in the middle between two warring parties as if it is bad enough that there is no baseball in Philadelphia until at least May. The design firm that created the Phanatic is already upset with the team for changing the mascot's design recently from their original blueprint for the Phanatic. Harrison/Erickson is seeking to bring this issue into the lawsuit, seeking more discovery about the Phillies' decision to redesign the mascot even though the Copyright Act allows those who have licensed the agreement to use derivatives of the thing that they have licensed. Of course, the Phillies are claiming that they have the right to use the redesigned version without payment to Harrison/Erickson since it is not the same thing as the originally licensed. For their part, Harrison/Erickson argues that the Phillies only redesigned the mascot in order to avoid renegotiating the agreement.
The legal imbroglio between the two parties shows no signs of abating given how valuable the Phanatic is. Since the mascot has become inextricably linked with the Phillies, the design firm has every incentive to try to get top dollar from the Phillies for its use, and the team realizes that it could need to pay more to keep using the Phanatic. In the meantime, the Phanatic goes about his business, waiting for the time that baseball fans will hear the magic words "Play Ball" so he can keep doing what he does best.
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