Thursday, November 20, 2014

Would you actually give a tip to the Joker? Or Cookie Monster?

If you live in or visited New York City, particularly in Times Square, you've probably seen them. Men & women dressed as familiar cartoon or television characters, such as Sesame Street's Elmo, or Minnie & Mickey Mouse, or Batman, or even one of the Dark Knight's nemeses, The Penguin or the Joker, offering to pose for pictures with tourists, and sometimes asking for, or, according to reports, demanding, tips.

Over the summer, some of these costumed, self-employed business-persons ended up in the news when some more aggressive types among their brethren got in trouble with the law. On Wednesday, one man dressed as the Batman, real name Jose Escalona Martinez, 41, testified before the NYC City Council that attempts to have these street performers register with the city is some kind of violation of their first amendment rights.

Now, I'm not exactly sure if what they do falls under free speech, but there is one question that I do have. Why doesn't the city see if they have licenses to appear in these costumes? After all, DC Comics, home to Joker, Batman, & Penguin, and Marvel, home to Spider-Man, are based in New York, and like anyone else, I would venture to guess that a street performer who is asking, or as the term goes, busking, for money, may require having a license to use the images of copyrighted characters. This particular issue has, to this point, not been raised, and maybe it should.

Unsurprisingly, the New York Post saw fit to have Martinez, in full Bat-regalia, circa 2005 ("Batman Begins"), appear on their front page in today's editions to give them a respite from the legal squabbles involving another cherished, now tarnished, icon, Bill Cosby. Can't blame them there, but if Martinez had any sense at all, he'd have left the costume at home. Some of his fellows opted to appear in civvies to plead their cases. Surely, DC/Time Warner and Marvel/Disney would have their lawyers contacting these folks already if things were worse than they are, wouldn't they? Of course they would.

Sure, these folks have to eat, too, but it'd be better for all concerned if they actually produced licenses and proper documentation before city officials. Otherwise, this could get ugly, and quickly.

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