Last week, we published a a piece exploring Disney/Marvel’s options for stopping (or strongly discouraging) law enforcement from appropriating the Punisher symbol. While some may see this as a non-issue, it has become one of many flash points in the ongoing national crisis of police brutality within the black community.
Also, if you can’t figure out why it’s bad for those charged with protecting the public to wear the symbol of a homicidal vigilante on their uniforms, then you’re probably the type of person who thinks that windmills cause cancer.
But I digress…
Our suggestions for Disney were fairly simple:
- Shut down the plethora of retailers selling unlicensed Punisher items.
- Distribute all retail and direct proceeds from their own sale of licensed Punisher items to organizations that support black communities and police reform.
Considering how aggressive Disney normally is about defending its intellectual property, at least the first part seemed like a no-brainer.
First, though, we wanted check in with the alleged bootleg vendors and see if maybe there actually was a trademark licensing agreement in place that we didn’t know about. Let’s take a look and see how things have played out since last week.
By far the most receptive of the companies we contacted, CopQuest was the first to take down their Punisher-themed items from their online store. I was also contacted directly by CopQuest CEO Brad Tallent, who said that he was unaware of how the Punisher logo was perceived before reading our article. While he wasn’t entirely sure of the licensing arrangement held by their wholesale provider (Thin Blue Line), he expressed a desire to be part of the solution to the unease the Punisher symbol causes when worn by law enforcement.
As of this week, only one Punisher-related patch could be found on their website from its previous selection of 15.
This was likely an oversight rather than an act of defiance.
But even if you aren’t willing to give CopQuest the benefit the doubt (or you consider what they did to be a hollow gesture), at the least the company acknowledged why the Punisher symbol’s appropriation by law enforcement is problematic and took action. As you’re about to see, this is far more than any of the other company endeavored to do.
You might remember Patriot Wear as the group whose Punisher-themed items came with a guarantee to “Melt Snowflakes.” They also weren’t terribly receptive to my questions regarding whether or not they had a license to sell items featuring the Punisher logo.
One Twitter user who read our article decided to contact them via their online store/host, Prepper Peak. The result was an even more chilly reception than I got.
Since then, however, Patriot Wear has removed all Punisher-themed items from their store. A site search for “Punisher” comes up completely empty while a search for “skull” produces items with legitimately generic (and somewhat unsettling) skull symbols.
It’s good to see that Patriot Wear’s resolve to sell unlicensed Punisher items has finally melted.
Thin Blue Line USA
As you may recall, Thin Blue Line USA preemptively took down or renamed a large portion of their Punisher-themed items after we inquired about whether or not they had a licensing agreement with Disney. At some point after last week’s article, however, they put everything back up, including the bold ‘Punisher Collection’ tag on those items.
On Friday June 12, I called Thin Blue Line’s media inquiry line. To my surprise, the person I spoke with said that they had removed or renamed most of the Punisher-themed items from their online store. While still on the line with her, I checked and discovered that she was correct.
A few of those items can be found in what is now dubbed the Skull Collection absent any mention of the Punisher. The Punisher logo, on the other hand, still remains.
When I asked how this was legal, the person on the other end of the line assured me that they were allowed to sell the items because the logo “looked different” and did not carry the ‘Punisher’ label.
Although she wasn’t at all rude or overly defensive, it quickly became clear that this person either didn’t know what they were talking about or had endeavored to politely stonewall me from learning anything further.
Meanwhile, my AIPT editor/colleague David Brooke called the Thin Blue Line USA customer service line and got a very different response. According to the person he spoke with, the company had recently been contacted by Marvel, who requested that they take down all items relating to the Punisher.
She also explained that they changed some of the items names, but went a step further, telling David:
“We’re going to put some more back up at some point, but yeah…“
So just like before, Thin Blue Line USA continues to play legal shell games to sell their unlicensed merchandise, all while promoting law enforcement and patriotism with products that are made overseas.
The following companies have not removed or changed any of their Punisher-themed inventory since our last article, nor have any of them responded to recent follow up inquiries:
So yeah…those might not be the bigger stores, but it’s still most of them — which is interesting considering that Disney just won a lawsuit a few months ago against DisGear, an online store that sold clothing featuring slightly modified Disney logos. Even if you tried to argue “fair use” for these stores selling and profiting off bootleg Punisher items (which would be extremely flimsy/tenuous at best), Disney aggressively went after another retailer for the same thing and won.
There’s also the chance that Disney simply hasn’t gotten around to shutting these vendors down yet, although that doesn’t hold much water, either. Assuming that the person at Thin Blue Line USA who spoke with David was being truthful, they were issued a direct takedown order. Fortunately for them, that order was so toothless that they had no problem simply renaming most of products to get around it — and plan to reinstate the items they did take down at a future date.
This certainly doesn’t sound like an unlicensed vendor who spoke with the same Disney legal department that brings the legal hammer down on nurseries with Disney character murals or the Spider-Man themed gravestone for a child.
It’s also worth noting that Disney has a dedicated phone number and email address for people to report suspected copyright/trademark infringement, which was passed around social media repeatedly as last week’s article spread. There’s absolutely no way they haven’t seen what these companies are doing.
Sadly, Disney doesn’t appear very motivated to stop unlicensed vendors from profiting off their IP — especially when said IP involves police officers appropriating the symbol of a homicidal vigilante during a major public outcry over police brutality against black communities.
Kind of makes their statement of support for Black Lives Matter ring a bit hollow, doesn’t it?
So What Does it All Mean?
There’s still a chance Disney could do the right thing.
Despite my previously stated skepticism over Disney not having gotten around to it yet, we are in the middle of a pandemic. There’s a chance they may truly not have the available personnel and resources to fight this like they normally would. I’m not a big fan of eating crow, but I’ll happily do so this in this instance if it comes to pass.
But in addition to the businesses that have already taken down their unlicensed Punisher inventory, there is another big positive coming out of all this: Gerry Conway’s Skulls for Justice campaign is virtually guaranteed to be shielded from any legal challenges.
The project, which was started by the writer/co-creator of The Punisher, is intended as a way to reclaim the character’s iconic symbol from law enforcement while also raising money for black communities. Conway recruited various artists to create t-shirts featuring the Punisher skull along with a message of support for Black Lives Matter, which is where 100% of all proceeds will go.
As of this weekend, the campaign has raised over $50,000 across 14 different t-shirts, all of which look pretty dang cool.
Disney might be able to ignore law enforcement-focused vendors selling unlicensed items, but there’d be no escaping the catastrophic backlash they’d get for shutting down Conway’s campaign while allowing stores to continue selling bootleg Punisher apparel geared toward law enforcement.
And before we go, there’s one more very big example of Punisher logo appropriation that has been shut down since last week…
For months now, Fox News commentator Sean Hannity has proudly sported bootleg Punisher pins on his lapel during the broadcast of his popular Hannity television program. At first it was exclusively the the police/Blue Lives Matter version, but lately Sean’s been more partial to the Punisher skull adorned with the stars & stripes.
Hang on, is orange Sean Hannity now wearing a Punisher + American flag pin? How far away from The Purge are we? pic.twitter.com/y2PrGUPaDN
— Jason Karsh (@jkarsh) May 8, 2020
Also, I was surprised to learn recently that Sean is not only aware of who the Punisher comic character is, but can even recall the issue of Amazing Spider-Man that featured his first appearance!
The person who uploaded the video below thinks this all has something to do with the absurd/ever-shifting QAnon Conspiracy Theory, but it’s much more likely that Sean actually did some research for once so he could give a cheeky answer to Laura Ingraham’s clearly staged question.
Or maybe he’s actually a fan of the character, although that would make his wearing of the pin in either of his preferred formats even more ridiculous.
Whatever the case, Sean’s Punisher paraphernalia made its final appearance on June 5, which is also when we began making phone calls and email inquiries to vendors selling bootleg Punisher pins. By Monday, June 8, the pin was gone — and boy did his fans notice.
— Sword of Justice (@SwrdofJustice) June 10, 2020
Has Sean Hannity caved in?? Tonight his “punisher” pin is gone!!
— RobinMKeel (@RobinMKeel1) June 9, 2020
Sean put your punisher pin back on!!! Your selling out my friend!!! When I would see that pin I felt your on the GOOD side!!! pic.twitter.com/ftLCYe99t9
— Valsmith59 (@valsmith59) June 12, 2020
What happened to your punisher pen??? Watching your show and you are not wearing it. Are you giving in to the persure? Come on man come on
— Vickie Thompson (@ThompsonVickie) June 10, 2020
Mr Hannity what happened to your Punisher pin , I noticed you are not wearing it anymore, please tell me they didn’t get to ya. Doug https://t.co/4dkZ4FOx3K
— doug vaughn (@dougvaughn8) June 13, 2020
What's happened to Hannity's punisher pin. Is he selling out to these dirt bag F___er's. Wish we had someone in the media we could trust for a change.
— Matt (@Matt74121694) June 13, 2020
Sean Please explain to us The people who have been with you for 20 years. Why did you take off your Punisher Lapel Pin? We know it is supportive of The Thin Blue Line? #WWG1WGA #QAnons #MAGA pic.twitter.com/FBqcDhkJkO
— VariableB20 (@B20Variable) June 13, 2020
@seanhannity hannity WHERE IS YOUR PUNISHER PIN?????
— DCSwamp Stench (@DcswampS) June 14, 2020
Obviously we can’t know for sure if our reporting had anything to do with Mr. Hannity removing his pin, although we can safely assume it’s something he was ordered do. There’s no way Sean would willingly remove his law enforcement support flair right when calls to defund police departments are nationally escalating — especially when he continues to present himself as one of the police’s biggest supporters.
Perhaps it finally dawned on him that he wasn’t actually supporting law enforcement, but had instead shown inadvertent solidarity with the sort of dirty cops who are currently making the entire profession look awful. Or maybe the Bleeding Cool article about this subject from a couple weeks ago just took some time to make an impact here in the states.
Whatever the case, someone looks like a very sad boy without his pin these days.