Obama, Osama, Cinderella?

Make a list of all the action films you’ve seen.  Now, delete any films that include members of the Special Forces, or the intelligence services.  You are left with a couple of Eddie Murphy movies and the Star Wars trilogy (original blend only, thanks). 

These super-fit, specially-trained and uber-tough men, and occasionally women (assuming I am not the only one who sat through GI Jane) taking on boundless enemies against insurmountable odds has provided endless ammunition (pun intended) for movie studios, keeping the pre-loved DVD bins outside your local video store full.  It seems our collective appetite for all things “delta” and “black-ops” cannot be sated.

Which brings us to 1 May, when, the US President announced the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American special forces.  Much of the world welcomed the news, and pondered the political and social significance of this event.  Yet for content producers, the moment marked the start of a race.  Recognising our aforementioned fascination with the special forces and spies, the announcement heralded the race to be the first to tell the story – whether it be in film, book or even video game.

In terms of copyright, this bus is not running out of stops any time soon.  Enough information is public about the raid and events leading up to it, creating a free for all – there is no limit to the different ways this story can be told, nor the different media or formats. 

But, there is at least one piece of IP that can be restricted. A name – with an accompanying icon –  a trademark.  “Seal Team 6”.

Seal Team 6 (actually called the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group – but this is significantly harder to fit on a lunch box) is an American Special Force group, trained specifically to deal with counter-terrorism events.  Only the best of the best are selected to apply, and now Seal Team 6 has earned itself a hallowed place in American military history for its successful operation. 

So, when you own the hottest brand in town, what do you with it?  Well, apparently, nothing.  

As the creator of the unit, it appears it’s the US Navy which would own any rights to use and exploit Seal Team 6.  But it seems they had not sought to protect the name – not only for “Seal Team 6”, but for “Navy Seals” or “Seal Team.”  

Enter Disney.  Barely two days after the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s killing, Disney filed two trademark applications for “Seal Team 6”, one for “Entertainment and education services”, and the other for “Toys, games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting articles (except clothing); hand-held units for playing electronic games other than those adapted for use with an external display screen or monitor; Christmas stockings; Christmas tree ornaments and decorations; snow globes.”

Besides contemplating how many families want a reminder of Osama bin Laden at Christmas time, (or how you would quite capture the raid in a snow globe), Disney started to receive negative press about such blatant commercialisation of the events.

Concurrently, the US Navy decided to file its own trademark application, for “Seal Team” and “Navy Seals”.

Disney has since withdrawn its applications.

So, while the battle (pun also intended) for the trademark is as good as over, writers, producers and programmers are no doubt working around the clock to get those games, books and movies to a cinema (etc) near you.  Despite having some specific experience (Platoon, and Hot Shot! 2), the smart money is currently against Charlie Sheen scoring a role in any Seal Team 6 movie.

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