It’s a common thread in IP stories that fans — those passionate, dedicated individuals that make up the core constituency of any successful product, particularly in entertainment — don’t know and often don’t care all that much about trademarks and copyrights when it comes to their fandom. The law surrounding IP isn’t something that most people are all that familiar with in the first place, and in the heat of their passion they’re not about to go digging about on the USCO or USPTO websites to see what they can and can’t do. And passions can run high particularly in sports, where there are wins to celebrate and results to measure, and as wins mount the fervor grows.
We’ve lived that experience here in Phoenix for the past few weeks, as the Valley has rallied around the Phoenix Suns, now in their first NBA Finals since 1993. Shirts and jerseys are donned, signs and marquees are indicating their support, and windows and walls are painted in the familiar purple and orange. Given this frenzy, it’s not shocking that the local ABC affiliate has put together an article warning against the pitfalls of copyright infringement.
It’s not a new thing that some enterprising locals might create their own merchandise that runs afoul of copyrights owned by the Suns, or that fans might see that merchandise and buy it; so long as it isn’t stolen, most aren’t concerned about the provenance. But it’s far more likely to happen in the current moment — Suns shirts are in short supply, unless you reside at either far end of the size spectrum, and the urgency and need to get a shirt or three and support the team hasn’t been greater since the Seven Seconds or Less era that ended over a decade ago.
With all of that said, infringement is going to happen regardless, and is probably ongoing as I write this in a pop-up tent posted not far from Phoenix Suns Arena. It’s also probably true that the organization as a whole isn’t too concerned about that infringement at the moment, what with a championship to try and win. There’s also the fact that actual licensed merchandise is selling out in many locations, so whatever knockoffs exist aren’t taking all that much money out of the pockets of the team.
That’s not to condone such practices; I’m sure Robert Sarver and co. would sooner have fans shelling out $35 for official merch rather than counterfeit articles at a discounted price. But it’s nice to think that, for the first time in twenty-eight years, there are more pressing basketball concerns to worry about.