Powershop Australia has been forced to pull a billboard campaign, featuring a power socket as Darth Vader, due to a complaint from LucasFilm.
The studio, which owns all the rights associated with the George Lucas Star Wars franchise, asserts that the online energy retailer had not licensed the space villain's likeness, and should desist from using it.
This is the second time Powershop has used the Dark Lord's image in vain - in 2011 they also pulled an ad in New Zealand that referenced Darth Vader after disturbing the force.
The billboards, created by New Zealand agency Doublefish, compared Powershop’s competitors to the evil masked villain, illustrating a power socket in the guise of Darth Vadar.
The copy read: ‘Rebel against your evil power company.’
Ken Double from Doublefish says there was never a question in taking down the offending image, but he does question how offensive it really is.
“It’s not Darth Vader, it’s a socket, so you have to think to what degree can you reference pop culture in advertising without implying that the creators have offered an official endorsement?
“But we thought it better to be safe than sorry, and if someone says, ‘Cease and desist,’ we say, ‘Okay’.”
The billboards remained in place for about two months before the dark lords of intellectual property law got wind of it.
In 2011, DoubleFish created a similar campaign for Powershop New Zealand. Coined ‘Same Power, Different Attitude’ the company used prominent villains, dictators and controversial leaders in uncharacteristic situations to demonstrate the company's fresh service.
Double says it was never their assumption they would be breaching copyright in this situation, either.
In fact he says the complaint back in 2011 didn't appear to be an official complaint from LucasFilm at all, but again it was better not to test the waters.
“It’s not worth going to court over these things.
“We had a letter from a local lawyer, I’m not sure what the legitimacy of that letter was so I’m not entirely sure what that was about, but caution says it's better to be safe than sorry.”
He says Powershop is used to being a little bit edgy as a brand, but have absolutely no intention of doing anything illegal.
In the Powershop Australia case, LucasFilm issued a complaint to the online electricity retailer and the billboards were promptly pulled.
Powershop Australia issued a statement saying:
“Powershop Australia Pty Limited (Powershop) acknowledges that some of the images and text previously appearing on our website and on Powershop’s advertising and promotional material could be similar to copyrighted artistic works owned by Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC and its affiliated companies.
“Some members of the public may have believed that Powershop was authorised to use Lucasfilm’s intellectual property. In light of this, Powershop has removed the material from the market and apologises for any inconvenience caused.”
The company had also created an evil power ballad playlist on Youtube and Spotify, and used the famous Star Wars opening space-text scene as a basis for its own ‘Power Wars’ clip. These still exist.
Meanwhile, the company continues to play dress up with the common power socket in its design, just with lesser-protected characters like robbers and coal miners.