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Can I resell Blizzard promotional ampm cups?

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, and esoteroic topics that slip through the cracks.

Regional advertising campaigns are both the scourge of the collector's market and a financial boon to the lucky residents of said region targeted. The most recent ad campaign for World of Warcraft features four collector's cups from ampm stores as well as the ampm sweepstakes, promising some pretty cool prizes for those lucky few. Here's the thought that's the most fun to think about: Which of these is more ad-worthy -- someone seeing a World of Warcraft cup and being convinced to play, or the mass scramble to create a nationwide cup network for collectors and WoW fans, fueling more ad presence?

It's a fun game, advertising. At some point in our lives, we were convinced that fandom and collectors could be the same consumer as the guy who bought stuff because the cup looked cool. At some point, we became complacent with advertisement as collectable, and that's fine. In fact, if anyone wants to send me a Kil'jaeden cup, let's talk.

The emails poured in almost instantly. There was one in particular that summed up all of the emails faily well, so I have chosen to start off our discussion about reselling those ampm cups with this very question:
Mat,

I was reading the comments on the blue post about the cups and it seems many people are nowhere near an AMPM. Ebay will no doubt be flooded with them, as real life AHers will take the opportunity to make a few bucks. Is it legal? Could Blizzard go after someone for the resale? Would they?

Thanks!

Dan
Thanks for the email, Dan, and for summing up the biggest issue pretty well. People want to know if reselling the collectible ampm cups is legal and whether Blizzard could go after someone for reselling said promotional advertising items. The short answer is yes, it is perfectly legal to resell promotional cups that you purchase at ampm to other people. You purchased the cup and now have rights to do what you wish with the cup, within reason. Obviously, you can't say that you drew the images on the cup. You didn't. That's fraud.

Is this legal?

Again, yeah, it's legal. Go on eBay at any point in the day and look for promotional materials that are on sale as collectibles. Movie theater popcorn buckets, McDonald's collector's cups, posters, and much, much more. There is no end, in fact, to the collector's market, and people keep up the trade fairly fluidly.

You bought the cup, you own the cup. You don't own the artwork on the cup, but you own the cup on which the artwork is displayed. You are allowed to resell the cup as you would be able to resell anything else you own in the same fashion because the rights dealing with the artwork never transferred to you. This is something that is usually referred to as the first sale doctrine (in the United States, at least; there are other doctrines in Europe that sometimes contrast), but you've probably heard it in reference to software and whether or not you should be able to sell downloadable copies of things that you purchase.

No, really, please sell these cups. People across the country want them. If they are anything like the old promotional, thick plastic collector's cups, they will last through nuclear winter and you will pass them down to children as heirlooms. Now I want some cups.

The art on the cup

Rights are a tricky subject, as we usually find out the hard way. Let's take a look at who is involved in the cup advertising transaction. Blizzard created World of Warcraft and most likely has an ad agency that it works through planning WoW promotions. ampm is a regional U.S. chain of stores and gas stations that has contracted with Blizzard and its ad agency to put promotional WoW images on cups for sale. Between Blizzard and ampm is an agreement that licenses out the WoW characters and artwork as well as stipulating agreements and costs and payments and all of that.

Blizzard wants this because placing WoW images in the public is good advertising, and die-hards will flock to purchase cups to show the world. ampm wants this because WoW is a recognizable brand that will bring people into the store. Win-win. You are not a party to the contract that deals with the rights associated with who has the right to print Blizzard copyrighted content.

When you purchase that cup from the ampm store, you are not purchasing with it all of the rights, obligations, and provisions of the contract that originally made the artwork on the cup available. You don't take over any license or commitment. You're just buying a cup with artwork on it. If you make counterfeit art cups, then sure, Blizzard and ampm will come after you, because you are attempting to resell fake cups that have a direct dig into Blizzard and ampm's sales of cups. If you're reselling a legitimate copy of the artwork on the cup, you're fine.

A market for cups

There should be a market for these cups. I mean, I don't expect anyone to make a fortune reselling ampm World of Warcraft cups, but if you're savvy, you can make a couple of bucks. Each cup costs $1.99 and comes with, presumably, the beverage of your choice. You get to enjoy a tasty beverage before hitting up eBay. Just remember to say it's slightly used.

This whole market for cups business got me thinking about which cup from the whole ampm promotion was going to be the most popular, because based on the number of players who were playing WoW at the time of the expansion that each cupersona (cup + persona) was featured in, you could make a pretty good guesstimate about which cups to buy more stock of.

So let's make a prediction. The four cups feature Kil'jaeden, Arthas as the Lich King, Illidan, and Deathwing. While Deathwing is arguably the most classically understood creature (he is a dragon -- everyone knows what dragons are), I feel like he could be in the running for top spot. If we go on WoW players alone, the Lich King and his expansion was the height of the WoW subscriber base, bringing with it the most brand recognition. The Kil'jaeden art is just awesome and still remains to be my favorite piece of WoW art to this day. Illidan is Illidan. You either love him or you hate him.

I think that the Arthas cup will take the top spot, at the end of the day. Expect Arthas cups to either pull more profit or less, depending on supply. And remember, even history needs a straw.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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