Anti-establishment mask adds to corporation's coffers

  • Article by: NICK BILTON , New York Times
  • Updated: August 28, 2011 - 6:51 PM

Time Warner paid a fee for each Guy Fawkes mask sold.

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The Guy Fawkes mask, worn by an anarchist in “V for Vendetta,” has resonated with protesters, including these at a Tea Party rally.

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

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Anonymous, the hacker group, has jostled with the Iranian government and the Church of Scientology and has briefly shut down the websites of Visa, MasterCard and other global corporations.

When they appear in public to protest censorship and what they view as corruption, they don a plastic mask of Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century Englishman who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Stark white with blushed pink cheeks and a wide grin, the mask resonates with the hackers because it was worn by a rogue anarchist challenging an authoritarian government in "V for Vendetta," the movie produced in 2006 by Warner Brothers.

What few people seem to know, though, is that Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world and parent of Warner Brothers, owns the rights to the image and is paid a licensing fee with the sale of each mask.

"It's a symbol of what Anonymous stands for, of fighting evil governments," said one mask-wearer. "You can get a mask and join the fight, too! But I heard the costume store is sold out until Friday."

Indeed, with the help of Anonymous, the $6 mask has become one of the most popular disguises and -- in a small way -- has added to the $28 billion in revenue Time Warner accumulated last year. It is the top-selling mask on Amazon.com, beating out masks of Batman, Harry Potter and Darth Vader.

"We sell over 100,000 of these masks a year, and it's by far the best-selling mask that we sell," said Howard Beige, executive vice president of Rubie's Costume, a New York costume company that produces the mask. "In comparison, we usually only sell 5,000 or so of our other masks."

Anonymous embraced the mask in 2008 to publicly protest the Church of Scientology while concealing their identity, said Gabriella Coleman, an assistant professor at New York University's department of media, culture and communication. "It had a chilling effect. There were literally thousands of people standing silently in front of the Church of Scientology wearing the same Guy Fawkes mask. The photos and videos that appeared in the news from the protests cemented the mask as the symbol of Anonymous."

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