There's a long tradition of pop culture fans banding together to raise money for or take action on good causes, whether it's the Browncoats, fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly series raising money for charity, or the Harry Potter Alliance, which has done everything from send medical aid to Haiti to campaigning for marriage equality in Maine.
And fans of Suzanne Collins dystopian young adult series The Hunger Games are no different. Pegged to the opening of the film adaptation of the first book in the series, a movie that could be the most profitable film release of 2012, Imagine Better, an umbrella group of multiple fan franchises spearheaded by the Harry Potter Alliance, partnered with Oxfam to launch a campaign called "Hunger Is Not a Game." It's a multi-pronged effort, but the main thrust is in support of Oxfam's GROW campaign, which aims to make food aid more efficient by encouraging local cultivation to reduce shipping costs and waste from spoilage.
These are noble goals, and you'd think Lionsgate would welcome the good publicity that stems from them. It should be a gift to the studio that The Hunger Games isn't just poised to be a massive blockbuster, but that it's getting young people to think and act critically, so much so that they're getting written up in the New York Times for it. And a month ago, that appeared to be the case: a Lionsgate representative emailed Andrew Slack, the executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance which is the organizing force behind Imagine Better, in February to say that while Lionsgate couldn't join Imagine Better as a partner, they wished Imagine Better "the best of luck."
Apparently no longer. Lionsgate's senior vice president for business affairs and litigation, Liat Cohen (who's been rather vigorous in defense of the project in the past), has issued a takedown notice to the campaign through Oxfam, accusing them of "piggy backing off of our motion picture" and "causing damage to Lionsgate and our marketing efforts." The full text of the email is here:
This morning I left 2 phone messages for your CEO Mr. Jim Daniell regarding your campaign "Hunger is not a Game" piggy backing off of our motion picture "The Hunger Games" and using Lionsgate's fans and fan internet sites to promote your cause.
As I mentioned in my phone message, Lionsgate has formed a partnership with two large organizations fighting hunger, the UN's World Food Program and Feeding America. We are encouraging fans to support this effort by going to www.wfp.org/hungergames.
What is not a part of the Lionsgate plan is the distortion of our Motion Picture title. That is what Oxfam has done with your "Hunger is not a Game" logo. And with the many website you have incorporated into your campaign. This is causing damage to Lionsgate and our marketing efforts.
We understand and support your cause and mission. We are on the same side. We are looking for an amicable resolution. For a start we request that you immediately remove any mention of "Hunger is not a Game" from all of your websites and its affiliates and stop using the slogan in your interviews and publicity or press releases. Additionally, please contact the undersigned so we can work out a mutually acceptable plan to go forward where we do not infringe on each other's rights.
We are truly making an effort to work with you on this. We have the ability to take down your sites as a violation of our trademark and other intellectual property laws. We hope that will not be necessary as this is too serious a subject.
All rights reserved. Thank you.
Liat Cohen, Esquire
Senior Vice President Business Affairs & Litigation
It's not clear that the takedown notice would hold up, but it's still an aggressive move against advocates who are passionate fans of the franchise and have no desire to damage it.
"Fans have been changed by this story and have expressed a wish to change the world based on the message of this story," Slack emailed me. "I would hope that Lionsgate would celebrate fans, not pick on them, for taking the message of their own movie seriously. It's amazing that they're working with two great partners already to fight hunger. But why get in the way of fans who are working with a third one?"