After being in operation for only one day, the Wubba Lubba Dub Pub, a Rick and Morty-themed pop-up bar in Washington, D.C., was shuttered by the owners after being threatened by Cartoon Network (home of Adult Swim, on which Rick and Morty airs) and Turner Broadcasting (the media conglomerate that owns the network) with “exorbitant fees.”
The following was posted on the pop-up bar’s website:
Wubba Lubba Dub PUB was designed by fans for fans, though we think everyone would have enjoyed it. It was a labor of love and included hand sewn Meeseeks from our CEO Angie’s mother; graffiti work by an incredible artist; a 25-foot Ruben cut out by our Special Projects Director, hockey-referee-turned-craftsman Matt Fox; and deep references to a show that has made us all laugh out loud and confront the deeper meaning behind the gags. In a word, we are fans geeking out.
Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network wasn’t willing to let us do that and demanded we shut down. We then reached an agreement, and thus delayed for a week, but they changed their minds, threatened us with exorbitant fees and then took everything off the table today and refused to talk any further. The whole time we were operating in good faith and willing to make concessions to bring this wonderful work of fan art to life.
Cartoon Network owns the copyright to the show, making the use of characters and other elements of the show without the network’s permission a violation of their copyright. Adult Swim issued the following statement:
Adult Swim was not approached in advance of Drink Company building out and announcing their Rick and Morty themed bar. That bothered us, not only because it wasn’t polite and aimed at profiting off of Rick and Morty fans, but because we couldn’t be sure that the experience was going to be up to our standards for those fans, whom we never want to disappoint. Also, it’s illegal, which we’re pretty sure still counts for something.
Yes, operating the bar without permission of Cartoon Network would be illegal. And yes, the Wubba Lubba Dub Pub would, technically speaking, be “profiting” off of the show’s fans. But the creators of the bar described their work as a “labor of love,” a tribute to the show that many fans (myself included) were looking forward to patronizing.
The bar, much like the countless meme groups, subreddits, and other online fan pages created by fans of the show, is an example of how creative works proliferate and become more popular without the benefit of intellectual property. Unfortunately, the move by Cartoon Network serves as a different example: one of copyright law suppressing further creativity.