By Jacqueline Monahan
International Licensing Expo at Mandalay Bay: Image is Everything.
From June 8-10, The International Licensing Expo filled Mandalay Bay Convention Center with legends, icons, cartoon character and film personality images. The effect was like walking into a great, big colorful store full of movie studio merchandise and toys, except there was nothing for sale. Well, nothing tangible or immediate, anyway.
Celebrating its 30th Year
Actually, everything was for sale, whether it was a likeness, a logo, a character or even a signature. If you recognize it, chances are you’ll need a license to use it.
Licensing is the process of leasing a trademarked or copyrighted entity (known as a "property") for use in conjunction with a product, service or promotion. This could be a name, likeness, logo, graphic, saying, signature, character or a combination of several of these elements. You’ll need one if you want to manufacture Bruce Lee graphic T-shirts, for example.
Licensed by both Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox
Here’s how it works: Disney owns the rights to all of its stories and characters, but may sell or license the images to other companies. For example, their Toy Story franchise had to purchase rights from Mattel for the use of the iconic Ken and Barbie dolls; the Fisher-Price toy telephone rights were granted by Hasbro. Disney owns the Toy Story images of these iconic toys, so that rights are a multi-layered endeavor for each of the three companies.
The owner of the property, also known as the licensor (who “rents” the rights), and the prospective licensee - a manufacturer or service provider who uses the property as a marketing tool believing it can sell more of the product by virtue of the “emotion” generated by the property, enter into a contractual agreement. That means money is paid for the right to put Marilyn Monroe’s face on the latest issue of Christmas cards.
Property-generated emotions range from pride (sports) to humor (film or animated character) to self-image (apparel or brand name accessory). This is what can drives sales for Air Jordans, Met Life (which licenses Peanuts Characters such as Lucy), or Rolex watches. There’s nothing like a nice Lamborghini to choke you up.
Lucy is Licensed
There may be a novelty business that wants to make Tinkerbell purses, and they’d have to purchase the rights, or license, from Disney. All of the particulars are spelled out in tightly controlled contracts and clauses (no, you can’t EVER portray Tink in a compromising position) and time limits that specify usage. The integrity of the product must be upheld and is fiercely protected and regulated. Even the Disney signature needs to be licensed.
Contractual permission to use the owner's property is subject to terms and conditions, such as a specific purpose, a defined geographic area, and a limited time period. Yes, you can rent the rights to John Wayne’s image, but not forever, and only in the southwest region of the United States, for example.
In exchange for granting the rights, the licensor charges a fee, or royalty (money, once again). Licensees lease the rights to a certain property for incorporation into their merchandise, but do not share ownership in it. They are always going to be the tenant in the relationship, and the owner will always be the landlord, or leaselord in this case. You can rent Mickey Mouse, but he’ll always belong to Disney.
It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Licensing revenues for character (entertainment, TV, movie) rights alone came close to three billion in 2007. Fashion and Sports revenues topped 800 million dollars each.
The convention floor reflected this lucrative industry with lavish construction to the point of movie studios reproducing their famous facades and logos; the 20th Century Fox spotlight, the Warner Bros. shield and the Paramount Pictures arch al fashioned a mini-Hollywood of entertainment images.
Home of Star Wars & Avatar
Felix the Cat walked the aisles complete with his bag of tricks. An Iron Man statue looked on from his Marvel Comics location, and an Avatar battle suit (a soldier stands inside to direct its movements) tall and menacing, waited for someone to inhabit it. Down the aisle, Darth Vadar stood, fiercely majestic in his black cape and curved helmet.
Marvel -ous Iron Man
The Expo is international indeed. A quick walk around the convention center yielded overheard conversations in French, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Japanese. This is a global industry, with copyrights crossing oceans and landing on every inhabited continent. Even the moon can’t escape when Expo guest, licensor, and oh, yes, lunar landing astronaut Buzz Aldrin makes an appearance.
Home to Godfather, Gump, & Grease
For sale were images (Elvis Presley, Mohammad Ali) and brand names (Scholastic, Lego) and movie characters (Transformer’s Bumblebee, Harry Potter) showcased in oversized displays of recognizable faces and characters. These loomed over the business-like set-up of tables and chairs that could be found at every turn. Although some negotiations were private, taking place in carefully constructed inner sanctums, many more were out in the open.
Licensed to Thrill
Of course, entertainment powerhouse (and handy licensing example) Disney was a great big magical presence, showcasing its cast of globally recognized animated characters on large banners. If you missed Tinkerbell, the Toy Story gang would surely catch your eye, or maybe the Disney Princesses, or those perpetual motor heads known simply as Cars.
Some entertainment studios and their famous “offspring.”
• MGM – Pink Panther, Stargate, Rocky franchise
• Warner Bros. – Superman, Batman, Harry Potter, Looney Tunes
• Universal – Curious George, Woody Woodpecker, Animal House
• CBS – Twilight Zone, Mighty Mouse, Happy Days
• Twentieth Century Fox – Star Wars, Avatar, Ice Age
• Dreamworks – Shrek, How to Train your Dragon, Madagascar
• Paramount, Godfather franchise, Grease, Forrest Gump
• Sony – Pirates, Smurfs, Ghostbusters
Shrek helps keep them in the $Green$
Licensing the rights of usage for these famous images can be compared to a global game of Mother, May I? Yes you may, but for a price. The Licensing Expo is where you get permission.
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