The Rick and Morty pop-up bar in Washington, D.C. was forced to close its doors after a legal warning from Turner Broadcasting, which owns Adult Swim, the network that the beloved animated series calls home. According to a February report by The Chicago Tribune, the bar did initially receive permission "in an unofficial capacity" six months beforehand.
Organized and executed by the D.C.-based Drink Company, the "Wubba Lubba Dub PUB" was meant to open to the public this week and run until Oct. 6 with art, recreations, and drinks inspired by the show.
After the Rick and Morty bar's forced closure, Drink Company President Derek Brown released a statement on Twitter, stating:
"We love the show & thought they’d appreciate the PUB. We begged Turner to see it & keep it open. We were willing to donate profits, but Turner shut down communications. Please share this so at least everyone knows that we’re closed and why. Thank you for all your support!"
Talking to The Washington Post, Brown shared a snippet of the cease-and-desist letter he received from Turner, which used the Season 3 premiere episode, "The Rickshank Redemption," as a framing device.
It starts off with:
“Lawyer Morty was preoccupied with his pog collection, so Turner Broadcasting System and The Cartoon Network (“Turner”) asked me to reach out to you about your Rick and Morty-themed drinking destination."
The body of the letter follows:
“We discovered the Wubba Lubba Dub Pub on interdimensional cable and from recent press attention, where folks seem genuinely confused about your association with Turner and their sponsorship of your activities. Unfortunately, while we love your enthusiasm for the show, none of this activity was cleared by the Council of Ricks. In fact, we’ve checked all versions of the legal code across the multiverse and what you’re doing isn’t legit in any of them. Here in particular, you’re in danger of violating Turner’s rights on a number of levels, including copyright infringement, trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.”
The company's official Twitter account also posted a message of its own, which said that it would now be forced to lay off its employees and take a substantial financial loss, "because Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network are unwilling to figure out a way to let a great fan tribute happen."
“Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network .... demanded we shut down," reads part of the statement. "We then reached an agreement, and thus delayed for a week, but they changed their minds, threatened us with exorbitant fees and then took everything off the table today and refused to talk any further. The whole time we were operating in good faith and willing to make concessions to bring this wonderful work of fan art to life ... We are so sorry to all the fans, but we also have learned a valuable lesson when it comes to free speech and fair use, Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network believes that should only be on the show.”
The end of the statement includes Turner's social media handles on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, should fans want to reach out to them about the entire affair.
Adult Swim responded to the shutdown with a response of its own, which was obtained by SYFY WIRE:
"Adult Swim was not approached in advance of Drink Company building out and announcing their Rick and Morty themed bar. That bothered us, not only because it wasn’t polite and aimed at profiting off of Rick and Morty fans, but because we couldn’t be sure that the experience was going to be up to our standards for those fans, whom we never want to disappoint. Also, it’s illegal, which we’re pretty sure still counts for something."
In the past, Drink Company has achieved a lot of success with bars inspired by other well-established properties like Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. and HBO's Game of Thrones. These were allowed to operate with what The Washington Post describes as "behind-the-scenes agreements" with these parent corporations that allow them to turn the other cheek.
Like these other cases, Drink Company tried to reach a similar accord with Turner, offering to donate the pub's proceeds to charity, put up a large number of disclaimers, and absolve the media company from any blame if any patron ended up hurt on the premises. They even invited Turner's lawyers to come check the place the out beforehand. This process forced a weeklong delay in the bar's opening, but an arrangement was reportedly reached on Aug. 8. Sadly, they received a letter not long after in which Turner asked for a $100,000 licensing fee.
Even after such a dissapointing fiasco, Brown affirmed that Drink Company will not be deterred from creating more themed bars that are based on trademark and copyrighted pop culture properties.
“In the long run, we want to go out there and make great art and have fun concepts, and we’re going to try to do it in a respectful way, in a loving way. Obviously, as you can imagine there will be some more tiptoeing, but it’s not going to be to the detriment of creating something really excellent," he said.