When people talk about bronies being entitled, this shit is why

So Equestria Daily has a story up about an online retailer that sells user-designed merchandise removing, apparently at Hasbro’s request, merchandise tagged “brony.” The response in comments, at least at time of writing Friday evening, is typically panicky and ill-informed.

Let me explain some basic copyright law. It will be basic, because I Am Not a Lawyer and basic is all I know; on the other hand I was the primary person responsible for keeping a $300K/yr content-generating business out of IP-related trouble for four years, so I’m not talking out of my ass, either.

Here’s the basics: Hasbro (probably to some extent shared with DHX (the production study) and maybe Discovery Communications (who co-own The Hub)) owns the trademark on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. They also own the copyright.

If you slap official MLP logos all over your stuff, you’re in trademark trouble. I’m not concerned with that at the moment–it’s obvious enough that most people get it. You don’t get to pretend to be official merch if you’re not, and using official logos and such is legally considered to be such a pretense.

People get a bit less clear when it comes to copyright, mostly because fans really, really, really want to be able to basically make derivative works whenever and however they want, including selling them, and really don’t want to believe that they can’t.

Here’s the thing: If you are making derivative works of ANY kind, unless you fall into a fairly narrow band of works protected under the principle of Fair Use, Hasbro has the legal right to make you stop. As a general rule, for most stuff, they won’t, because they don’t care–your AU crossover fanfiction where Trixie is the Element of Mustard and has a torrid love affair with Deadpool doesn’t do Hasbro any harm, so why waste time (which is money), people (who are money), and money (which is also money) going after you?

On the other hand, Hasbro makes money off of shirts, and every shirt you buy from a fan rather than an officially licensed short is money not going to Hasbro. Hasbro doesn’t like it when money goes to people other than Hasbro, so yeah, they’re going to exercise their right to get rid of those shirts. This is not Hasbro asserting ownership of the word “brony,” it’s Hasbro noticing that any shirt tagged “brony” is almost certain to be a violation of their copyrights, and therefore asking a shirt-design company to start removing the shirts tagged that way.

Not only is this completely within Hasbro’s rights, this is what copyright is for. The exact same principle that gives Hasbro the right to stop you from selling MLP t-shirts (or, for that matter, if they want to, posting MLP fanart to the Internet) is the principle that prevents 20th Century Fox from turning my bestselling novel (I haven’t written it yet, but give me time) into a movie without my permission and without paying me any money.

So, bronies of the world, do please sit down, shut up, and try to understand that just because you enjoy doing something and have gotten away with it in the past does not actually mean that you have a right to keep doing it.

(And no, what I do is not the same thing. There is an explicit Fair Use exemption for works of a scholarly or educational nature, as well as reviews, and it is one of the exemptions which is allowed to be for-profit. Hasbro has the right to make me pull down my fanfic, but not to make me stop selling my books.)

“Equestranauts” Showcases Biggest Problem of Brony Community

Apologies for extreme lateness, I am once again ill. 

The recent Bob’s Burgers episode “Equestranauts” offered a very funny take on the brony subculture, as the titular burger joint owner had to pretend to be an adult fan of Equestranauts, an action- and friendship-packed show designed to market horse toys to little girls, in order to get back a toy a collector swindled out of his daughter.

Quite a bit of the episode is a simple, fairly gentle lampooning of convention culture in general and bronies in particular. The usual exaggerations for fictional depictions of conventions are in play, of course, most notably that cosplay is depicted as de rigeur rather than an expensive and time-devouring hobby pursued by a few. Notably, however, there does seem to be some awareness of the quirks of bronies. Admittedly, both Tina and Bob (especially Bob) are subjected to gatekeeping by defensive fans, more commonly a phenomenon of the science fiction, comics, and gaming fandoms, but here said gatekeeping is actually possible to pass, after which they are basically accepted into the community.
That community itself is depicted as, in large part, harmless silliness; unusual, perhaps imperfectly socialized, men hanging about and being faintly ridiculous. Most are welcoming and friendly and just looking to have some innocent fun feeling out over their favorite cartoon; only Bronconius is portrayed negatively. 
Where the episode is most interesting, however, is in its climax, where the Equesticles are called out for allowing Bronconius free reign as he swindled little girls, pushed people around, and generally acted like a selfish, domineering jerk. And there, perhaps accidentally, the episode accurately depicts the bronies’ biggest problem, the paradox of tolerance. 
This old philosophical problem is simply summarized: some people are, for whatever reason, frequently aggressive, controlling, and intolerant. Perhaps more importantly, most people are occasionally aggressive, controlling, and intolerant, and the more they get away with the behavior, the likelier they are to believe it is acceptable. There are few constraints on individual behavior more powerful than this aggressive intolerance; thus, a community which tolerates all behavior by its members is necessarily one which is experienced as intolerant by most members–put another way, in the absence of an asshole control mechanism, assholes run rampant. 
Bronies, as a group, are extremely reluctant to police other bronies. A combination of factors, including the show’s themes of friendship and harmony, and statistical tendencies for bronies to be likelier than the general populace to be poorly socialized, victims of bullying, and neurotic, combine to create a subculture where most people are unwilling to rock the boat, even to deal with someone walking the boat. An embattled mentality, mostly originating with extremely negative mainstream media coverage early in the fandom and attempts by 4chan to expunge Friendship Is Magic-related discussion, has created a culture of defensiveness, where criticism of bad behavior by individual members is treated as an attack on the community (which, to be fair, it sometimes is, because there is a natural tendency for said individuals become the most visible face of the community to outsiders).

For example, there is a frequent implication in mainstream media coverage that the majority of bronies have a deviant sexual interest in children (sometimes more than an implication, as in Amanda Marcotte’s characteristically knee-jerk Slate piece on Equestria Girls), which is hardly the case. (My own surveys and interviews suggest that very few bronies actually consume clop, for instance.) However, there are sufficient numbers of bronies that it is statistically certain that there at least a few members of the community who are sexual predators, and it falls on the community to identify and out them. Unfortunately, reports of such behavior at brony conventions are frequently rejected outright as “trolling” or outsiders trying to make trouble; a wagon-circling effect occurs which denies that such individuals exist within the brony community at all.

Derpygate is another good example of this phenomenon; fans expressing legitimate concerns regarding the use of an ableist slur in the show and conflation of physical and mental disabilities were met with accusations of trying to “censor” the show or “erase” the disabled, fan campaigns treated it as a personal attack on the character in question, and in some cases the concerned fans were subject to vicious harassment, to the point that some of the people involved in the show had to issue calls for it to stop. And yet, two years later, it is by and large the individuals who had those concerns who are remembered as the villains, for daring to question whether the show and its fandom are the perfect paragons of politeness, harmony, and equality bronies like to paint themselves as.

The instinct to circle around and protect a member of the community is not in itself problematic, but it must be tempered by a willingness to recognize that some members don’t deserve protection, and that sometimes the community itself is to blame. If we do not call out the Bronconiuses in our ranks, others will–and they will assume they represent who bronies are.

Some good news on Michael Morones

New readers coming from the Michael Morones site: Welcome! You may be interested in my analysis of “One Bad Apple,” which also discusses bullying and Michael’s situation.

Michael Morones–the bullied Brony who attempted suicide–is showing signs of neurological activity and has been moved into a wheelchair. The full extent of the damage is still unknown, but from what I understand (which is not much, so take this with a grain of salt) this development means he will probably have at least some degree of cognitive and motor function.


Sexism and Bronies

Sorry about the lack of post yesterday and snippiness in comments, I’ve been sick.

A not-at-all-bad essay has been floating around on the topic of sexism in the brony community. It’s actually got some of the same points I made in the book (indeed, one of the author’s correspondents seems to have used almost the exact same words to describe her experiences as when I interviewed her), but with a stronger focus on the downside to being a woman in the brony community. Slightly off-putting that the author keeps referring to “males” and “females” and at one point equates “having a vagina” with being a woman, but it appears to be out of pure cisnormative ignorance rather than actual transphobia. It’s obnoxious but adaptable to, is basically what I’m saying, and worth putting up with for the meat of the essay. Certainly it’s given me some interesting avenues to look into for Book 2.