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Netflix's Space Force May Cause Legal Problems For The U.S. Government

A new Netflix series might actually cause some legal issues with a very real branch of the U.S. government.

Space Force, the latest collaboration from The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell, premiered on Netflix with a ten-episode debut season on May 29, 2020. Fans of the new comedy — which stars Carell as General Mark Naird, who ends up running the troubled Space Force — probably didn't expect that it would pose potential legal troubles. 

In March 2018, President Donald Trump urged the United States to implement an arm of the military located in space (dubbed the Space Force), especially as countries like Russia and China continue their space explorations. The minds behind Space Force took that name and ran with it. According to Carell (as reported by Deadline), the show came about from the title alone: "Netflix had this premise that they thought might make a funny show — the idea made everybody laugh in a meeting, an idea of a show about the origins of a fictitious Space Force. I heard about the idea through my agent, and Netflix pitched the show to me, and then I pitched the show to Greg, and we all had the same reaction to it. There was no show, there was no idea aside from the title. Netflix asked, 'Do you want to do a show called Space Force?' And I pretty much immediately said, 'Well yeah, sure. That sounds great.'"

However, the existence of the Space Force series may result in legal issues when both Netflix and the U.S. government need to start trademarking the name itself. Due to the First Amendment, the U.S. government and the Trump administration couldn't legally stop Netflix, Carell, and Daniels from choosing the same name for the show. Now, according to an analysis published in The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix has secured trademarks for Space Force around the globe — and that has the potential to create a ton of confusion and chaos, and even lead to massive legal battles.

Why Netflix and the U.S. government might fight over Space Force

As THR notes, if a shopper finds a Space Force-branded shirt, it might be entirely unclear whether Netflix or the military is selling the item in the first place. Amazingly, this isn't the first time this particular problem has surfaced. From 1995 to 2005, Paramount Pictures repeatedly trademarked the term "JAG," referring to the legal branch of the military, for its TV series of the same name ... with no opposition from the government. In 2007, the situation changed when the Defense Department began trademarking the name. In 2011, when Disney tried to trademark the term "Seal Team 6" in preparation for an ABC series of the same name (a CBS show entitled SEAL Team exists now), the company faced such strong government opposition that it simply gave up its fight.

With records proving that Netflix was working on Space Force-related trademarks back in January 2019, the U.S. government might have a tough time reclaiming its newest branch. However, as THR points out, Netflix is facing down Trump, who tends to be quite litigious. There's no telling how all this will end, but for now, it seems like the two are coexisting peacefully. On May 29, 2020, the real military branch even tweeted out a congratulatory note to its television counterpart, wishing the Space Force series crew a "happy launch day." 

We'll keep track of this situation if it develops. Space Force's first season is streaming on Netflix now.