Paramount Worried It Can't Compete With A Bunch Of Amateurs

from the learning-to-let-go dept

Back at the last Techdirt Greenhouse event, one of the presenting startups was Jumpcut, makers of online tools to edit videos, as well as share clips and results so that others can benefit from it as well (the NY Times just had a nice article discussing Jumpcut and its competitors). The question Jumpcut brought up for discussion is one we talk about often here on Techdirt. Noting the rise of "amateur to amateur" content, where people could create, mix, distribute and promote their own content, the company wanted to know where the traditional content industries were going to fit into the mix. As an example of one possibility, the company showed a contest they ran with Warner Independent Pictures, where they let anyone remix the trailer for the new film A Scanner Darkly, and provided plenty of content for users to experiment with. It was a fascinating experiment, that got a lot of interest. However, what happens when people do this sort of "remix" on their own?

Take, for example, this new story about Paramount Pictures, who is suing a young, amateur filmmaker, who found the script to the new Oliver Stone movie, World Trade Center online, and decided to see if he could film his own version (condensed down to twelve minutes) using Yale student actors. The twelve minute version has actually received some good reviews, but Paramount claims that people might somehow confuse an amateur 12 minute video with their version starring Nicholas Cage and Maria Bello -- and backed up with hundreds of millions of dollars (including a $40 million marketing campaign). Considering that the movie industry has been complaining that you can't replicate $200 million films with cheaper production methods, this seems like a very odd position for them to take. However, more importantly, they're falling back on their view that they somehow control every aspect of the product these days, rather than recognizing that there's more to it than the content. Why not embrace these efforts as evidence of fan interest in the film, and use it to generate even more interest? Even if the amateur work isn't good or flattering, just the fact that people would bother to try to recreate it suggests an interest in the film. Encouraging more people to do so gets the idea out there that the original is a film worth seeing. After all, no one spends time making their own versions of films no one cares about.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Junyo, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 12:50pm

    Well yeah, but he can't just take a bootleg script and make a movie without expecting to get sued. "He's free to make any World Trade Center movie he wants to make, but not our movie with our script," said Nancy Kirkpatrick, a Paramount spokeswoman...The lawsuit compares the nearly identical dialogue from the Moukarbel and Stone films, which both document the ordeal of two Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers. C'mon. He didn't make a work derivative of the Paramont film, a parady or documentary, he didn't write his own version of these events, he just stole someone else's script. This is just an enterprising, high effort twist on sitting in the back of the theater with a camcorder. I guess an argument could be made that the photography/format/acting constitute a unique and distinctive atristic work, but that's a strech. Hope he has a good lawyer.

     

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      J.R., Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:06pm

      Re:

      If nothing else, parody law should protect him. Or a judge with half a brain. Hell, a quarter of a brain...

       

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      Scott, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:27pm

      Re:

      Unless the movie is utter crap, 12 minutes of footage can't have used that much dialogue or central theme.

      Being that I have not seen either, I can't say it isn't a derivative. However their premise that a rational person may confuse that 12 minute movie, with a 2 hour movie is at best tenuous.

       

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    anonymous coward, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:03pm

    taking a two hour movie that cost a couple hundred milion to make and paring it down to 12 minutes with a budget of zero sure sounds like parody to me.

     

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    anonymous coward, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:05pm

     

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    ekim, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:12pm

    Ok, Mike...

    I agree with you a lot, but the whole "I'm so much more intelligent and these big corporations don't have a clue" act is getting old. Paramount spent a lot of money to write that script, and no one, no matter how small, can steal that from them. As Junyo said, he can make whatever movies he wants, but he can't make their movie.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jun 21st, 2006 @ 2:05pm

      Re: Ok, Mike...

      Paramount spent a lot of money to write that script, and no one, no matter how small, can steal that from them. As Junyo said, he can make whatever movies he wants, but he can't make their movie.

      What was "stolen"? Who is missing anything? What's lost?

      How does Paramount lose *anything* in this situation?

       

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    Dosquatch, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:13pm

    I'm so confused

    So they're saying that their two-hour version only has 12 minutes worth of actual content, and the zero-budget student version covered it all?

    No, that can't be right. Surely this must fall under parody in some manner. If not, where is the balance point? How long can a fan reproduction be before it infringes? Is Titanic in 30 Seconds, as performed by bunnies under or over the threshold?

     

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      Some of you are DENSE, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:31pm

      Re: I'm so confused

      It's not a matter of parody! A parody changes things around to make them comical, etc, it DOES NOT mean taking the EXACT script and using EXACT parts of it to make your own own shortened version. And is DOESN'T mean that there is only 12 minutes of "good stuff" in the long version. If the amateur film-maker used 12 full minutes of unadulterated script, then sorry, but he's flat out in the wrong. Hate to not be for the little guy this time, but it's pretty clear this time - he was wrong.

       

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    freakengine, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:19pm

    What a joke. Is the RIAA running Paramount now? With the management probs they've had the last few years, I wouldn't be surprised.

    Oh, and for the record, there are many medium budget "fan films" that are allowed to slip under the radar of copyright holders because THEY AREN'T MAKING ANY MONEY ON THEIR WORK. The guy who made the Batman Vs. Predator "fanfilm" wasn't sued despite the fact that he used existing characters and situations, existing designs, and even existing music.

    Fear makes the weak do funny things, but sometimes those things seriously hurt the marketplace.

     

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    Junyo, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:32pm

    I'm pretty sure anything performed by bunnies is over the threshold.

    The guy who made the Batman Vs. Predator "fanfilm" wasn't sued despite the fact that he used existing characters and situations, existing designs, and even existing music.

    But Batman: Dead End, while using existing characters and themes was an original work, with an original script and plot.

    Profit motive isn't the sole arbiter of whether it's fair use. For it to qualify as parody it has to comment on the original work. To qualify as fair use it has to be evaluated against "...(1) purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercially motivated or instead is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; (3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in the newly created work in relation to the copyrighted work; and (4) effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. A court when evaluating a fair-use defense takes into consideration each of the four factors as no single factor by itself is sufficient to prove or disprove fair use."

     

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    NSMike, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:44pm

    It's obvious to me

    They want to stifle the amateur creative audience, so they're the only ones providing any creative content.

     

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    Gimme More Amatuers, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:44pm

    I like amatuer movies!

    Works for me with pr0n - why not with Oliver Stone? Hollywood *should* be scared of amatuers.

     

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    Sanguine Dream, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:52pm

    The only problem I see here is if the filmaker blatantly copied the script. Then it would be a real infringement issue. Other than that no problem.

    And as for someone being scared that moviegoers would get the names confused, get over it. With a proper name like The World Trade Center they have no right to cry about it. Now if it was something specific like, "The Day the Towers Fell." then yes maybe name confusion would be a valid argument.

    Films could be made for less than the millions it costs today cuz a big chunk of that money goes to the actor/actresses in the movie.

     

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    BillDivX, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:54pm

    quote

    I heard, a few years back, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich from metallica, during their mp3 sharing crusade, where they were asked about people bootlegging shows and distributing those versions of songs. Their comment was "we don't care about those, we care about the studio cuts, because we paid for studio time, paid the hourly fees for Audio Engineers, Mixing Engineers, Mastering Engineers, and CD reproduction." Essentially, they stated that they didn't really care about the musical equivalent of this case. Someone created a version for which metallica did not have to pay for production. Their justification for the piracy crusade is that they need to pay for the cost of producing the studio album, not for the songwriting itself, which is of course, free from the perspective of the band. This is the same thing. someone took the same writing, and produced the content themselves. So , I would guess that metallica should have been ok with this use? Since Paramount did not pay $200 million for that guy to produce his independent version, they lost no real money on it. they are still free to spend $200 mil on the real movie, and if it's really a good movie, they should be able to sell that over a condensed student version. To argue that the script itself is their property is only half correct. To steal the recording is one thing. Audio Engineering on a studio album gets expensive, and even more so producing a movie, but that's not the same as stealing a transcription of a movie script, or the musical notes for the song. Those are "written works of art" which means they fall under standard copyright law, and that protects the exact replication, and does not protect you from "similar works." otherwise, half the software on the internet is in violation, as well as most movies ever made (when was the last time you saw hollywood produce a truly original plot? most movies are the same few plots recycled with different settings and characters.) It would also disallow musicians from performing covers. All of those are fair use, and should be. think of the problems if a cover band could be sued for playing someones song live. I would say in this case the guy is in the clear, because he must have had to hack that script to pieces to fit it into 12 minutes, which puts it, IMHO under the category of Derivative Work anyway. My question is why the script was floating around on the internet. If an exact copy of the script was floating on the internet, not put there by paramount, then that exact copy is their IP, and the person who stole that should get reamed, I would equate that to leaking someones source code.

     

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    BillDivX, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 1:57pm

    oops....heh, sorry for the lack of formatting!

     

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    Junyo, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 2:13pm

    What's lost?... How does Paramount lose *anything* in this situation?
    How about the $6 bucks for everyone who, having seen the Cliff's Notes version, decides to skip it?

     

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      Louis., Jun 21st, 2006 @ 2:23pm

      Re:

      What's lost?... How does Paramount lose *anything* in this situation?
      How about the $6 bucks for everyone who, having seen the Cliff's Notes version, decides to skip it?


      And this is different from a critic writing a review on a screener how?

      If your movie is crap, and nobody wants to see it, its because its crap. Not because somebody warned you.

      Your argument is officially the dumbest ever. Nazi.

       

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        LiLWiP, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 2:52pm

        Re: Re:

        Intellectual Property theft is still theft in the eyes of the law. The script, the idea... That is what was stolen. The critic writes a review of the movie, he does not replicate in his review 12 minutes of footage and dialogue from the movie. Sorry, there is a HUGE difference between critics reviews and someone snaking the script and replicating it in their own film. That is pure unadulterated plagarism...

         

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      Mike (profile), Jun 21st, 2006 @ 4:02pm

      Re:

      How about the $6 bucks for everyone who, having seen the Cliff's Notes version, decides to skip it?

      Um. No. Sorry.

      First off, how many people are actually going to skip the actual, professional version because of some amateur production of it?

      Second, how many more people will then go see the movie, because of the publicity generated by this copied version?

      Next, "potential for lost revenue" is a bogus number. It's impossible to calculate. However, if it were a true "loss" then I could sue you for visiting any other website than this one because you chose to visit them instead of me. That's ridiculous of course, but gives you the extreme case of why "potential for lost revenue" is a meaningless number.

      So, sorry, nothing was lost here.

       

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    BillDivX, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 2:41pm

    If your content is worth the money, then people WILL still pay for the high quality production. how many people here have got a book in digital format, but still prefer to read the hard copy? Same deal...

     

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    Pmac, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 3:09pm

    Paramount will make this guy famous and hurt their

    This guy did nothing wrong. In fact he should be praised by paramount maybe even offer him a job or something. If they would have complemented on his efforts rather then go on a "witch hunt" this would have been "under the radar" and cause no bad recussions for the movie. Now (myself and I'm sure tons of other people) will do whatever we can to find this movie and not go see paramount’s version.

    With that said, pretty sad how paramount wants to cash in on the tragedy of others. If they were so concerned about rights, they would give every cent to victims of the WTC tragedy. They won't. They will get fat off of this and probably hope for another tragedy so they can make a movie about it for profits. If you ask me, it's sick and they are the criminals.

     

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    Dale, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 3:57pm

    Sampling without Compensation is the issue

    How is this any different from a rapper sampling a snippet (or more) of a song and not compensating the original creator? Will Smith has paid lots of money for songwriters in order to use their hooks, beats, samples, melodies, etc. to write most of his hits over the last few years. It's a standard practice (and should be) that if you sample someone else's work and use it in or as your own you need permission at the very least and likely compensation. Of COURSE he used this commercially, he's getting a lot of recognition that he will use to his benefit his career, and it is based largely on the work of someone else.

    Do you not think Paramount had to pay the people whose likeness they used in this movie?

     

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    jake buck, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 4:13pm

    Movie companies are the sign of a decadent civilization

     

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    SB, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 5:02pm

    what if it was the reverse?

    I don't understand how using someone else's script, abbreviated or not, is not copyright infringement. If the "amateur" had produced a film piece called World Trade Center in whatever length, posted it on his website and Paramount used the name, plot, and dialogue verbatim everyone would be in an uproar.

    Everyone gets the same protection, little guy or big company. However I will concede that the big guy has better lawyers.....

     

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      Mike (profile), Jun 21st, 2006 @ 6:26pm

      Re: what if it was the reverse?

      I don't understand how using someone else's script, abbreviated or not, is not copyright infringement.

      Here's the important question, though. Even if it is copyright infringement, which it most likely is, who is harmed? If it's copyright infringement, but actually helps Paramount, what good does it do to sue?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 5:39pm

    what's sad about all of this...

    ... is that oliver stone is making a movie about "Two Port Authority police officers that become trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center. "

    instead of something more interesting

     

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    Chief Elf, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 5:59pm

    The same, only different?

    Original script --> "condensed" --> 12 minutes that are derivative.

    They didn't shoot twelve pages of the script. They rewrote 120 pages down to 12 pages. You condense that much, it's extremely condensed, it's derivative, and shot on a $0 budget makes it a parody, whether they intended a parody or not.

     

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    Woody Volcano Viagra, Jun 21st, 2006 @ 7:28pm

    Paramount sues amateur filmmaker

    What Paramount is doing by filing this lawsuit is only generating free publicity for its movie, 'World Trade Center' and for the college film student, who, unfortunately, unless he can afford a lawyer or the use of 'legal services' will have to 'cease and desist'. The fact his film has been pulled from his website is proof Paramount has scared the bejesus out of him and is sure to pursue just how he acquired a copy of the script, albeit, 'bootlegged'. Regardless, although it _is_ an ameteur's 'expression', the fact remains he lifted and used for his own purposes, copyrighted material held by Paramount and director Oliver Stone.

    Good Lord, the very 1st thing an aspiring filmmaker should learn is the fairness doctrine to using someone else's intellectual property for their own purposes.

    Sorry, but I gotta go with Paramount on this one.

    Woody Volcano Viagra (a legitimate, legally changed name)

     

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    yitz, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 6:08am

    wait a minute..

    you're telling me, that even though the filmed result is entirely original, the fact that it is based on the same text means that it violates copyright?

    let's get this straight, the end product, that which they created, was created entirely by them.. let's take a parallel:

    for arguments sake let's say neiman marcus did have chocolate chip cookies. If you sold the chocolate-chip cookies you made with their copyrighted recipe, that's a violation of copyright? you're selling cookies, not the recipe?!? Even if this student was selling his 12 minute short, all the footage is entirely his, this is illegal???
    Maybe using the original movie's name could be illegal, which makes sense (at least in a trade-mark kind of way) .. but if the movie had a different name and original footage, the fact that the script is the same means it's liable via copyright? the audience never sees the script...

     

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    Wanna slap all of you, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 7:40am

    You people are morons!

    College Boy took their script. Keyword THEIR. Without Permission. No matter if he condensed it or not, HE TOOK THEIR SCRIPT. No matter if the big corporate a-holes are just that or not. Nomatter what parallel you draw, no matter what his intent, he did it the wrong way. PERIOD.
    And to say it is parody? You must be completely stupid. Here is the definition of parody. He didn't do this as a comedy or to make fun of the original. NOT A PARODY.
    Now get educated and quit sounding like a bunch of left wing whiney cry-babies, for God's sake!

    par·o·dy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (pr-d)
    n. pl. par·o·dies

    A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule. See Synonyms at caricature.
    The genre of literature comprising such works.
    Something so bad as to be equivalent to intentional mockery; a travesty: The trial was a parody of justice.

     

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    Junyo, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 9:19am

    And this is different from a critic writing a review on a screener how?
    Because the critic is creating an original work (the critique itself) that comments on the orginal work. So in other words, it's completely different. Not even vaguely similiar. Original work versus wholesale copy. Get it?
    Your argument is officially the dumbest ever. Nazi.
    Yeah, I'm guessing nuance and reading comprehension are going to allude you.

    First off, how many people are actually going to skip the actual, professional version because of some amateur production of it?

    Second, how many more people will then go see the movie, because of the publicity generated by this copied version?
    Well, I'm sure his lawyer is going to argue that point. Unfortunately, for your point to be valid he'd need to demonstrate with hard numbers that more business was driven to the movie than was lost by his actions. If, as you say in the latter part of your comment, real revenue projections are impossible, there's no real way to do that, is there? Even then, that still doesn't prove fair use, it would merely take one of the 4 tests off the table.
    Next, "potential for lost revenue" is a bogus number. It's impossible to calculate. However, if it were a true "loss" then I could sue you for visiting any other website than this one because you chose to visit them instead of me. That's ridiculous of course, but gives you the extreme case of why "potential for lost revenue" is a meaningless number. Your example doesn't really make sense. You've got no builtin right to have people visit your website over any other. If however I diverted traffic from yours by copying the design and content of your website, then yes, you could sue me for the IP violation, and allege that you lost potential customers/revenue by misappropriating your work. And you'd be right. That's what Paramount is doing.

    All of the so called reasoning here is wishful fanboy thinking. You can't simply take someone else's script (copywritten dialog) appropriate it for your own ends and not expect the owner to be pissed. You can argue the wisdom of such tight control of one's property, but end the end it's their property, to treat as they please. And someone shouldn't be able to deprive them of their property just because the mob disagrees with how they chose to use it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 12:16pm

      Re:

      Yeah, I'm guessing nuance and reading comprehension are going to allude you.

      I guess it's going to elude you, too.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 12:05pm

    If you can't reduce a movie from 2 hours to 12 minutes without getting sued, does that mean anyone who summarizes a book should be sued, also?

     

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    Newob, Jun 22nd, 2006 @ 1:36pm

    A parody need not be comical

    From the OED:

    "Parody, n.
    1. a. A literary composition modelled on and imitating another work, esp. a composition in which the characteristic style and themes of a particular author or genre are satirized by being applied to inappropriate or unlikely subjects, or are otherwise exaggerated for comic effect. In later use extended to similar imitations in other artistic fields, as music, painting, film, etc. "

    So, humorous intent is not critical. Parody covers satire, and satire can be quite serious, if only for ironic purposes. However, I do not know if humor is part of the legal definition of parody. But then, what is the legal definition of humor?

    If a 12-minute low-budget condensed version of their movie is seen as threatening Paramount's big-budget Nicholas Cage movie, then that is ironic and qualifies as satire IMHO.

    In any case, how do you argue copyright infringement by a 12-minute script derived from a 2-hour script? The script cannot be exactly the same. Perhaps it is composed entirely of excerpts from the original script. Then that would make the film a commentary on the film in production. Commentary is protected by the first amendment.

     

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    CNR, Jul 19th, 2006 @ 6:14am

    2 wrongs make an argument

    The college kid copied. Wrong 1. The studio is wasting time and money as there are no proceeds to draw out of this particular effort. Wrong 2. The studio would be better off making peace by sending the kid a licence to use the script for educational purposes, instead of generating bad press and feelings in the creative community.

     

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    mike3, Sep 19th, 2008 @ 11:59am

    They don't even need to change the law.

    "Why not embrace these efforts as evidence of fan interest in the film, and use it to generate even more interest? Even if the amateur work isn't good or flattering, just the fact that people would bother to try to recreate it suggests an interest in the film. Encouraging more people to do so gets the idea out there that the original is a film worth seeing. After all, no one spends time making their own versions of films no one cares about."

    They could do that right now, without even changing the law. Just grant explicit, written permission to the fans to do so (make a noncommercial net film or something) if they ask for it. This obviously requires a good change in the psychology of the people running studios.

     

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