Stranger Things

Two recent dispute resolution notes:

First, many of you may have heard about Netflix’s amusing cease-and-desist letter to the pop-up bar in Chicago decorated with an unauthorized “Stranger Things” theme. (For those of you who haven’t watched the show, watch it!) The text of the letter:

Danny and Doug,

My walkie talkie is busted so I had to write this note instead. I heard you launched a Stranger Things pop-up bar at your Logan Square location. Look, I don’t want you to think I’m a total wastoid, and I love how much you guys love the show. (Just wait until you see Season 2!) But unless I’m living in the Upside Down, I don’t think we did a deal with you for this pop-up. You’re obviously creative types, so I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s important to us to have a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.

We’re not going to go full Dr. Brenner on you, but we ask that you please (1) not extend the pop-up beyond its 6 week run ending in September, and (2) reach out to us for permission if you plan to do something like this again. Let me know as soon as possible that you agree to these requests.

We love our fans more than anything, but you should know the Demogorgon is not always as forgiving. So please don’t make us call your mom.

Many praised the creative and non-adversarial approach that Netflix’s lawyers used, although others pointed out that this kind of approach is not appropriate in all situations. Which is of course true, but does not refute the larger point that lawyers should have the flexibility to consider multiple approaches to addressing disputes and potential disputes — not just traditional, boilerplate, contentious ones.

In other news, early this month the New York Times interviewed Judge Posner on his abrupt retirement. From the article:

He called his approach to judging pragmatic. His critics called it lawless. “I pay very little attention to legal rules, statutes, constitutional provisions,” Judge Posner said. “A case is just a dispute. The first thing you do is ask yourself — forget about the law — what is a sensible resolution of this dispute?”

Can’t wait to hear more from Judge Posner on these and other issues (apparently before leaving the bench, he had become incensed about access to justice and support for pro se litigants as well).

8 thoughts on “Stranger Things”

  1. I think that the approach Netflix took to resolve the issue was very amusing, yet effective. The cease-and-desist letter was a playful way to tell the Chicago bar what they were doing wrong and to stop it, but it was not rude or condescending. If Netflix had sent a mean letter, the bar could have posted it to social media and started an even bigger problem for Netflix. Instead, Netflix establishes the foundation for a good relationship to form due to the respectful nature of the letter and their appreciation for the bar’s love for the show. Moving forward, the bar will be more likely to comply with Netflix’s requests and the parties will not have to get into any further legal disputes over the matter. I agree that this strategy might not work in every situation, but it was a creative solution here.

  2. This post highlights how lawyers can be effective without being adversarial. While I agree that this approach may not be effective in every situation, I believe that Netflix’s lawyers used the approach in an appropriate manner. The lawyers tailored the cease-and-desist letter to the specific audience in a humorous manner while still being able to communicate the terms of their request. This method was particularly effective in this situation because, as the letter mentioned, there is a possibility that the parties may have a relationship in the future. Netflix’s lawyers did a good job working off of a common interest that the two parties shared and setting a positive tone for a future relationship. Even if a relationship did not develop between the parties, the lawyers still communicated the importance that Netflix places on the show’s fans to avoid negative tension in the present situation.

  3. I think the Netflix attorney’s approach was brilliant. Yes, it is humorous and thus fun for us readers. Yes, it is a situation-dependent approach. However, the genius is appealing to the relationship and common ground of being “creative types.” Furthermore, it has the potential to expand the pie. This may be the only communication between the parties, culminating in the C&D. But, it leaves open the opportunity for the parties to collaborate if the pop-up bar wishes to pursue another venture in the future. I think an approach that accomplishes its task and leaves room for further benefits is an incredible method of handling a situation.

  4. This remedy to the pop-up’s creative infringement was definitely amusing. This way of dealing with the problem was also incredibly sensible. It built on the bar owner’s clear love for the show, while still achieving the show’s goal of not being compensated for creative infringement. I think Judge Posner would appreciate the show’s effort to remedy the situation in a non adversarial and sensible way.

  5. The Netflix attorney met the infringement with light-heartedness. This could have escalated quickly had there been a different approach. The attorney spoke in a language that is unusual for most of the legal field, but it was a language that the parties could easily relate. It is very clear that the attorney is walking a fine line because he or she leaves the door open to create a relationship later on. He or she sees an opportunity to create this pop-up bar, but makes it abundantly clear that the bar’s current status is not permissible. Certainly the attorney made his or her request clear to cease and desist. It was also a great way to create a relationship if the bar wishes to continue with the Stranger Things themed bar.

  6. I cannot express how well I think the Netflix attorney handled this infringement. Although Netflix had every right to either bring forth a lawsuit or just clearly force the pop-up bar immediately cease their theme, they made their encounter with Stranger Things fans fun. The media typically perceives lawyers as hard-headed and aggressive, so this is a nice change to effectively, and creatively, resolve the issue.

    Now, some may view this act as a mere ploy by Netflix to retain fans continued support however, I thought the attorneys here simply read the situation well. This could very well be a small bar that would have been unable to handle any litigation or pay any amount of damages so by sending a nice, and funny, letter, the remedy was fantastic. Additionally, allowing the bar to keep their pop-up for its 6-week run time was a generous offer.

    I truly commend the attorney’s who submitted this letter. Although not every situation may be handled this way, it is very important to learn and understand situations where we may find a light-hearted resolution. This generates effective resolutions that minimizes any adversarial tensions.

  7. As a fan of Stranger Things, I could not be prouder of Netflix’s witty approach to resolving this situation. Netflix’s lawyers took their audience in mind when drafting this clever, entertaining letter. Their audiences were two pop-up bar owners and fans. In the letter, it seemed that Netflix cared very much about how their “fans encounter the worlds [they] build.” That being said, it did not seem like Netflix had a direct problem with the bar adopting their theme but rather the fact that the bar owners did not ask for Netflix’s approval.

    This non-adversarial letter highlights Netflix’s position on the matter while at the same time keeping the door open for future collaborations; something that litigation would surely not have accomplished. The fact that the note itself was written in character serves both its primary purpose to cease-and-desist, but also as publicity for Season 2 of Stranger Things. Netflix’s lawyers knew their audiences and effectively drafted a letter that they knew would make a statement.

    One can only hope that “Danny and Doug” decide to take Netflix into consideration in the future so that fans, like myself, can have a chance to stop by their amusing bar.

  8. The approach taken by the attorneys representing “Stranger Things” shows that the old adage “you catch more flies with honey” can apply to the legal world as well. The bar owners in Chicago likely never even thought about issues like infringement – most people in the real world wouldn’t. The pop-up bar concept was surely intended to compliment the show and to draw in a crowd based on mutual interest in a show that has become a sensation. The attorneys were wise to take a balanced approach: they defined the show’s interest while still allowing the bar owners to save face and not create unnecessary drama or discord.

    Based on the comments here and overall coverage of story, the creative response by the attorneys also had a second benefit: increased public attention and positive media coverage of “Stranger Things”. By using humor and a light touch, the attorneys were able to accomplish their goal and still give people an extra reason to smile – and hopefully even watch the show.

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