Kickstarter becomes battleground for publishing dispute


An online fundraising effort to create a sequel to a popular children’s book has been temporarily abandoned amid copyright infringement claims.

London-based writer Geoffrey Todd and illustrator Rich Berner had planned to raise £25,000 ($37,200) online to create a sequel to US picture-book story Where the Wild Things Are.

They had planned to use the Kickstarter website, an online fundraising tool that allows users to pitch their ideas and try to raise money from donators.

However, the campaign has been halted by US publishing house Harper Collins, which claims the proposed sequel “clearly violates” copyright.

According to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice sent by Harper Collins to Kickstarter, the infringing material is “using the characters, scenes and copyrightable elements of the original work”.

It adds: “Any such unauthorised ‘sequel’ would clearly violate the estate's right to create derivative works.”

The original fundraising page now directs to a notice that says the campaign is subject to an intellectual property dispute.

Todd, the co-creator of the proposal, told WIPR that he and Berner were “very disappointed” with the development and were reviewing their position.

He said: “We submitted Back to the Wild to Kickstarter from within the UK, where we had taken specific legal advice and confirmed that we are not infringing copyright.”

“We are reviewing our position with respect to the US and will decide our next steps shortly. In essence, we are advised that though conceivably we could proceed in the UK, I want to stress that we are fans of Mr Sendak, to whom Back to the Wild is dedicated, and our work is affectionately inspired by Where The Wild Things Are, so we hope we can find an acceptable way forward,” he added.

Paul Fakler, partner at Arent Fox LLP in New York, said it would be difficult to come up with a sequel that did not infringe the original.

He said: “US copyright law recognises that the copyright holder exclusive rights to prepare derivative work based on a pre-existing work so it’s hard to see how anyone without a licence from the original holder would be able to do this.

“When analysing sequels for infringement liability the courts do tend to focus on the copying of characters; Max [the novel’s main character] and presumably the Wild Things themselves will be included. They are very fanciful characters so it’s going to be really hard to conjure up anything from the original without infringing on copyright.”

However Fakler said he was “surprised” that the DMCA was successful in getting the campaign pulled from the Kickstarter website.

“Usually these types of notices are reserved for informing Internet Service Providers or web pages that something online has already infringed. It seems hard to believe that the fundraiser page itself was infringing. It seems Kickstarter has decided it’s better to be safe than sorry and to take it down anyway,” he said.

Written in 1963 by Maurice Sendak, the picture book tells the story of a young boy Max, who, after getting angry at his home, is transported to a magical land where characters called the Wild Things live; he later becomes king.

It was made into a film in 2009.

Where the Wild Things Are, copyright, Kickstarter, DMCA, Harper Collins