Ash Ketchum must be in dire financial straits. A broke fan must pay the Pokémon Company International $5,400 for copyright infringement after attempting to throw a Pokémon-themed party earlier this summer.
Ramar Larkin Jones is a Pokémon fanatic and a cafe manager in Seattle. For the past five years, he's hosted the Unofficial Pokémon PAX Kickoff Party, a free party featuring Pokémon giveaways, music, and a Super Smash Brothers tournament. To advertise the party this year, he used images of Pikachu and Snivy on a promotional poster.
Jones was hit with a lawsuit from the Pokémon Company, which claimed his use of Pikachu and Snivy infringed on the company's copyright. He canceled the party.
"Once I canceled the event, I thought it would be over, thought it'd be dropped," Jones told me. "I talked to a lawyer the Monday after PAX and thought everything was good. I thought the lawsuit was a scare tactic—people were making jokes about it at PAX."
"The Pokémon Company International is willing to settle this lawsuit on the terms set forth in the enclosed Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction"
Normally, that's how these things go. A copyright holder sends a cease and desist letter or even files a lawsuit, the infringer cancels their event or takes down the infringing material, and everyone moves on. That's not what happened this time.
The Pokémon Company went through the entire legal process. Jones consulted with but did not hire a lawyer, because he was told that fighting the case would probably cost just as much as paying the lawsuit's damages. Rather than go through an entire trial, the Pokémon Company's lawyers sent Jones a letter asking him to pay $5,400 for copyright infringement. The settlement would prohibit him from ever using the company's copyrighted material again.
"I can't pay it," he said. "I manage a cafe, and cost of living is super expensive in Seattle. I am hoping I can try to pay it over the course of a year, because I simply want to be done with it."
"It's a part of my childhood, and you know that if you're in the culture you can't really get away from it"
He is currently negotiating a settlement with the company's lawyers, who wrote in a September 18 letter to him that they are willing to negotiate on a timeline but not on the amount he must pay. Jones has set up a GoFundMe to help him pay for the damages.
"The Pokémon Company International is willing to settle this lawsuit on the terms set forth in the enclosed Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction … [which] includes a judgment in the amount of $5,400 for costs and attorney's fees," Stuart Dunwoody, a lawyer with the David Wright Tremaine law firm wrote. "These fees will increase if additional lawyer time is required to finalize this settlement."
Jones said he has since had conversations with the law firm about bringing the total fees down to around $4,000.
A Pokémon Company spokesperson said the company could not discuss specifics of the case."The case is not settled and we are not in a position to comment further," the spokesperson told Motherboard.
It goes somewhat without saying that Pokémon has lost a super fan as a result of this whole ordeal.
"It's a part of my childhood, and you know that if you're in the culture you can't really get away from it," Jones said. "But as far as them as a business, I'm done, yeah. For them, this money doesn't matter at all."
The final judgment and letters sent to Jones have been embedded below. Jones's address and personal email address have been redacted.
Update: This post has been updated with comment from The Pokémon Company. We have also emphasized that a settlement has not yet been reached, but Jones says he will not fight the case in court because the cost of a lawyer would exceed the settlement terms.