It was nice having a bear about the house. Especially when that bear inspired so much joy. A few of the more astute members of the THTC community may have noticed the very sudden and abrupt disappearance of our ‘Marmalade’ design, an original work by the very ace Flo Lipin. In short, THTC was directed by ‘The Paddington Bear Company’, a company registered with the purpose of managing all intellectual property associated with Paddington Bear, to immediately desist with the production and sale of our t-shirt.
We’re a little upset - and we feel that’s justified. THTC has built our brand, at least in part, on using parody and pastiche to deliver social commentary and agitprop slogans, just as graffiti and comic book writers have been doing since time immemorial. UK Copyright Law which, in turn is an implementation of the EU Copyright Directive, provides an exception to copyright ‘for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche’. Artists are allowed to reference artwork or literary work to produce a larger pastiche artwork - especially if that work is delivering social commentary.
Around fourteen years ago, Flo Lipin was a graffiti and stencil artist with more than a handful of great ideas. One such was her appropriation of the famous literary figure, Paddington Bear - the creation of venerated author, Michael Bond. Back then, we were scared of Romanians and Bulgarians coming over to take all our jobs, and Farage was still peddling the fear-based, tired old nonsense that he now gets paid to do on LBC and elsewhere.
‘Migration is not a crime’, Flo’s original stencil, starting popping up all over the South West. Many attributed the remarkably apt and funny spray job to Banksy - one even popped up in Dismal-land. Paddington Bear is a natural symbol for the refugee cause - an eccentric traveller with strange customs but the best of intentions. Michael Bond even called him, ‘a refugee with a label’, his genesis inspired by the evacuee children of World War Two.
Flo’s work travelled far, and was imitated by many. Her work even reached Michael Bond himself. In a written correspondence with a family friend of Flo, he remarked that he was happy to know that his creation had a life far beyond what he’d originally created, and gave his blessing to its use.
Since the influx of images of refugees drowning in the mediterranean, tortured and beaten by nazi thugs across the borders of European countries, Gav and I wanted to do something positive and sincere to help. Almost serendipitously, we received an email from Flo, introducing herself and her work. We knew we had to do something. Flo immediately set about reworking her original piece. A couple weeks later, we were ready to launch ‘Marmalade’.
We were careful in our design. We consciously chose a concept that hadn’t been referenced in Bond’s original work; we chose a colour scheme that was unfamiliar to the ‘brand’; and most importantly we created our own slogan. And a bloody funny one, at that. For all intents and purposes, our work was an original pastiche - and most importantly - one that maintained the spirit of its original subject.
At launch we decided to partner our design with Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK), giving 20% of net sales from all Marmalade designs. Every single day RCK requires over a tonne of produce to cook the 2,500 meals a day for the many vulnerable people still sheltering in Dunkirk and Calais.
As well as helping raise awareness for their work, our Marmalade design raised over £3,000 in donations.
Our design was a big hit, worn by artists and personalities across the world, from LBC’s James O’Brien, to Hollywood star (Mr. Burberry) Josh Whitehouse, to comedians Doc Brown, Tez Ilyas and many more. Whichever country we travelled to, people loved it. This, of course, was more a measure of how the emotional connection people had with the idea of Paddington the charming refugee that Bond had created, rather than the mass-produced stuffed bear sat atop every London souvenir shop.
Around the end of Summer 2017, we received a takedown notice on the THTC instagram. Our posts of Beatfox and Kyrist modelling our t-shirts had been removed, citing copyright violation. As I looked into the agent that had issued the notice, I discovered that a private investigation company called ‘Surelock’ had been monitoring our social media channels. Around this point I’ll admit I lost my cool, and angrily confronted Surelock agents on an email chain. Within hours, I had garnered the attention of the famous lawyer, Nicholas Durbridge - the man who’s personally handled all Paddington licensing since the 70s.He wrote:
“We take the protection of Paddington very seriously, not just for the obvious commercial reasons but also because we care what happens to him and how he is used. Every Paddington product goes through an approval process and we choose carefully which charitable causes to associate him with. He is used extensively by Action Medical Research for example who raise money for medical research into diseases that particularly affect children.”
It is important to note that Michael Bond never drew Paddington himself - the images were created by a long line of artists who were engaged by Durbridge and others over the years, specifically in order to create merchandising options for the brand.
Durbridge and Edwin Co LLP - the law firm (who have a charming client list of rich folk swindled from the Eclipse tax avoidance scam) then proceeded to chase us down, accusing us of attempting to pass off 'Marmalade' as an authorised product of the Paddington Bear Company - something we didn’t do. They presented a few illustrations of Paddington from titles that none of us had ever seen (let alone knew were published) as examples of our ‘copying’. Aside from our branding, Flo’s signature, the neck label and the fact we clearly indicated that this was a parody and a THTC product, we continue to assert that Edwin Co’s accusation that we have caused ‘damage to their client’s valuable reputation’ is incorrect.
Out of the thousands of trademarked images of Paddington Bear, Edwin Co. found only three examples that looked similar to our design.
Edwin Co’s letter went on to accuse us of greed and impropriety - again, hard to hold up, given that we’ve given more to charities in the past two years than either Gav or me have taken home in wages. We tried not to take their accusations personally.
The former product page clearly stating parody/homage
The more creepy parts of this, we feel, are that a literary company feels the need to spend considerable resources hunting down parody works across the globe. Perhaps they could have saved that money and donated it back to Action Medical Research?
While we in no way dispute the Paddington Company’s intellectual property, it’s important to understand that pastiche is an important part of the artist’s toolkit, especially when the entire goal of what we are trying to do is to help people. As far as Gav, Flo and myself are concerned, Marmalade features all the criteria to be considered for a parody usage: a non-negative portrayal of the original work, humour, an original illustration containing an original slogan, and the lack of commercial harm or intent of commercial harm to the Paddington Bear Company. However, what constitutes ‘fair dealing’ or ‘fair use’ of an original work is is ultimately for a court to decide. And, as anyone who’s had to deal with lawyers knows, that costs money.
We totally understand the need for copyright enforcement - after the runaway success of our #CORBYN t-shirt, hundreds of smaller brands tried to copy it. Yet none of them donated to the movement, nor printed their designs on ethically-produced, organic materials - the entire point of the project.
Faced with losing everything that we’d raised for RCK in a lengthy legal conflict, we decided that the best course of action was of course to take the product down. The remaining t-shirts that we have are being distributed to homeless people and charity shops across West London.
However, we’re not leaving the Kitchen high and dry. We’re very proud to announce that we will be partnering an established THTC design with RCK - Mau Mau’s ‘Get Rich or Try Sharing’, one of our longest-selling and most successful designs. With the blessing of Mau Mau himself, from today we will be donating 20% of sales from this design to help feed some of the most vulnerable people in society. We invite the Paddington Company to take our slogan to heart and consider joining us in match-funding our efforts to ensure that families living in awful conditions on our neighbouring shores at least get a hot meal and a space to rest, every day.
We’re eternally grateful for the hordes of supporters that believe in what we’re doing, and who keep supporting us in our efforts. We’re trying to have a positive impact on the world and, more importantly, we’re trying to change each other.
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At THTC we try and minimise the amount of plastic we use on a daily basis, whether that be choosing biodegradable packaging to send orders or the type of ink we use on our t-shirts. We all have the choice to reduce plastic consumption within our own lives and make conscious choices to switch with alternatives.
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