Official: Iconic Pokémon Canceled, Discontinues All Projects

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Ash, Pikachu, Brock, and Misty looking backwards during a sunset

Credit: The Pokemon Company

After nearly three decades, the Pokémon franchise has remained relevant and popular among fans.

Pokémon, short for “Pocket Monsters,” is a global phenomenon that began as a pair of video games for the original Game Boy in 1996. Created by Satoshi Tajiri and developed by Game Freak, the franchise has since grown into a multi-billion dollar empire encompassing video games, trading card games, an animated television series, movies, merchandise, and more.

Shocked Pikachu
Credit: Pokemon

The core of the Pokémon franchise centers around the collection and training of fictional creatures called “Pokémon,” which players, known as “Trainers,” catch and train to battle each other. The initial games, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green (released as Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue internationally), laid the groundwork for an ever-expanding universe that includes over 800 unique Pokémon species.

The animated series, launched in 1997, follows the adventures of Ash Ketchum and his quest to become a Pokémon Master. This show has not only helped solidify Pokémon’s place in popular culture but also introduced new generations to the franchise. Over the years, the series has expanded into numerous seasons and movies, further embedding Pokémon into the fabric of global entertainment.

Pokemon leaping in Paldean Winds
Credit: Pokemon

Given the immense popularity of Pokémon, it is no surprise that fans around the world have taken it upon themselves to create their own projects inspired by the franchise. These fan projects range from games and animations to artwork and stories. However, The Pokémon Company, which oversees the Pokémon franchise, is known for its stringent enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights, often leading to the cancellation of fan-made projects.

Don McGowan, a lawyer and former general legal counsel for The Pokémon Company, shed light on how these projects are discovered and subsequently shut down and made to cease operations during an interview with Aftermath. Contrary to what some might believe, The Pokémon Company does not maintain a dedicated team scouring the internet for fan projects. Instead, the discovery often comes via the press and media coverage.

“Short answer, thanks to you,” McGowan explained. “I’d be sitting in my office dealing with my own business when someone from the company would send me a link to a news article, or I’d stumble upon it myself. I teach Entertainment Law at the University of Washington and I tell my students that the worst thing in the world is when your project gets into the press, because now I know about you.”

Ash and Pikachu looking happy while holding a trophy
Credit: The Pokemon Company

The Process of Cancellation from Pokémon

Once The Pokémon Company becomes aware of a fan project, typically through media exposure, they act swiftly. The legal team assesses whether the project infringes on any of their IP rights. This process involves determining if the project uses Pokémon characters, names, or other trademarks without permission. If an infringement is found, the company issues a cease and desist letter to the creators.

These letters are not merely warnings; they are legally binding documents that demand the cessation of all activities related to the unauthorized use of Pokémon IP. Failure to comply can result in further legal action, including lawsuits, which can be financially and emotionally draining for the fan creators.

team rocket in pokemon
Credit: Warner Bros.

While The Pokémon Company’s strict enforcement of IP rights is understandable from a business perspective, it often leaves the fan community disheartened. Many fans create these projects out of love and passion for the franchise, not for profit. These projects can range from fangames that introduce new Pokémon and regions to fan art that celebrates favorite characters and moments from the series.

The cancellation of these projects can stifle creativity and dissuade fans from engaging with the franchise in meaningful ways. However, the reality is that Pokémon is a valuable brand, and The Pokémon Company has a legal obligation to protect its intellectual property. Allowing unauthorized use, even if well-intentioned, can weaken their legal standing and lead to potential misuse by less scrupulous entities.

Broader Implications for Pokémon and other franchises

The issue of fan projects and IP rights is not unique to Pokémon. Many other franchises, from Star Wars to Harry Potter, face similar challenges. Companies must balance the protection of their IP with the desire to foster a vibrant fan community. This balance is delicate and often controversial, as seen with The Pokémon Company’s approach.

Ash smiling at a sleeping Pikachu
Credit: The Pokemon Company

In some cases, companies have found ways to embrace fan projects. For example, Valve Corporation, the creators of Half-Life and Portal, have a more lenient approach, sometimes even hiring fan developers. However, this approach is not without its risks and complications.

The Pokémon Company’s stance on fan projects is unlikely to change significantly. The franchise’s immense value necessitates a stringent approach to IP protection. However, fans continue to hope for a middle ground where their creative efforts can coexist with official content without fear of legal repercussions.

In the meantime, fans should remain cautious. As McGowan advises, “the worst thing in the world is when your project gets into the press.” Staying under the radar might be the only way for these passionate creators to share their love for Pokémon without attracting the ire of The Pokémon Company.

What do you think of the stronghold from The Pokémon Company? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments!

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