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February 25, 2020

Phillie Phanatic creators issue statement blasting team's 'new' mascot

Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who created the Phanatic in the 1970s, say the changes are 'transparent' and 'an afront to our intellectual property rights'

During Sunday's spring training home opener, the Phillies debuted a slightly different Phillie Phanatic than fans had become accustomed to as the team is in the middle of an ongoing legal battle with the mascot's creators, Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, over the copyright ownership of the fuzzy green guy. 

Publicly, all the Phillies will say is that the Phanatic has "evolved," and that's why he's looking slightly different this Spring.  

But the real reason is a lot more complex and, when you think about it, disheartening. The Phillies currently believe they have full ownership rights of the Phanatic's likeness in perpetuity, while Harrison and Erickson believe they still have the rights to cancel the current agreement in June of this year. 

Here's a little more on the backstory from our own Pat Ralph:

The Phillies received a notice of termination in 2018 from Harrison/Erickson Inc., the New York-based creative company that the organization hired to design the Phanatic in the mid-1970s. Harrison/Erickson claimed that they created the copyrighted character of the Phanatic and retained the right to terminate the contract if the Phillies and the company didn't reach a new agreement by June 15, 2020.

The Phillies responded last June by filing a lawsuit against Harrison/Erickson and argued that a 1984 renegotiation with the company transferred these rights "forever." The team has also pointed to its role in creating the character and personality of the Phanatic, not just the costume.

Artists are allowed by federal law to renegotiate their rights after 35 years, but the Phillies believe some minor changes to the costume will put an end to Harrison/Erickson's legal argument.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, the "new" Phanatic had the exact opposite effect as they were intending.

On Tuesday, the creators, who are represented by Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, released a statement expressing their dismay at what the Phillies considered to be sufficient changes. 

“The Phillies lack of good faith in negotiating for an extension of the copyright assignment for the Phillie Phanatic is disappointing,” said Wayde Harrison. “But the unveiling of the so-called ‘new’ Phanatic on Sunday is an affront to our intellectual property rights and to Phillies fans everywhere.”

Judging by the reactions from the fans, he's got a point.

“For more than 40 years, we have worked closely with the Phillies, making all the Phanatic costumes, providing artwork and ideas until June of 2018,” added Bonnie Erickson. “The Phanatic has performed successfully for the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia for decades. The ‘business decision’ by the Phillies to roll out this ‘new’ Phanatic is a transparent attempt to deny us our rights under of the Copyright Act. We would love to have the real Phanatic continue with the Phillies.”

Clearly, the creators don't believe the changes were enough. And while some fans were quick to pick up on the new look, if you weren't paying very close attention, many of the differences were hard to spot — especially if you weren't looking at him next to a picture of his former glory.

What it comes down to is simple: money.

The Phillies don't want to spend any more to renew their agreement with Harrison/Erickson because they feel they own the rights to the Phanatic. Instead, they opted to change his appearance to try to skirt any legal ramifications, which also costs money and, more importantly, is a weird thing to do if you believe you're in the right and are the legal owners of the original copyright. On the other hand, it seems like the creators are fine with the Phillies keeping the Phanatic just the way he was, they just want to be correctly compensated for the use of their creation. 

After the latest comments from the creators, it doesn't seem like this legal battle is going away any time soon.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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