As Hollywood struggles to come up for breath and understand the nature of what hit them last month in the SOPA/PIPA debate, it appears they're still thinking that part of this is an "education" issue -- and if they could just tell young people how evil file sharing is that everything would be good. A whole bunch of folks have been passing on variations on the news that Paramount Pictures (owned by Viacom -- one of the major backers of SOPA/PIPA) wants to go talk to college kids. A bunch of universities received:
"an overnight fedex letter from Paramount expressing the extent to which they are ‘humbled’ and ‘surprised’ by the extent of the public reaction to SOPA/PIPA and asking to come to campus to talk to faculty and students about “content theft, its challenges, and possible ways to address it."
Paramount specifically asks to give a "formal presentation followed by an open discussion period or to participate in a class session." First of all, actually having open discussions would be a good first step, because that's been lacking in this whole debate. But, I'm not sure starting off that conversation by referring to copyright infringement as "content theft" is the best way to kick things off. I know that the industry has chosen "content theft" as its moral panic phrase of the year, after they realized that the people they'd unfairly branded as "pirates" had taken back that phrase and turned it to their own advantage.
Why not hold a truly open discussion in which everyone can participate and talk about ideas as to the true nature of the problem? That discussion is happening every day out there on the "wild west" of the internet, if only the folk at the studios actually wanted to join in. Perhaps if they did so, they wouldn't be so terrified of the internet.
People keep telling me that I might like the books of Harlan Ellison, but I won't go near them, since the man appears to be a total and complete wackjob when it comes to intellectual property. The guy likes to sue everyone, often without much understanding of the law. He famously sued AOL a decade or so ago, after he discovered some random people online had posted some of his content on Usenet. Yes, he sued AOL because of content he found posted on Usenet. But since he found it via AOL, somehow it must be AOL's fault. A judge had initially determined that, as per the DMCA, AOL had no liability, but after another court ruled that AOL lost its DMCA safe harbors for being too slow, AOL decided to simply pay Ellison to drop the suit.
In a video from a few years back that has made the rounds time and time again, and which we've posted before, Ellison discusses how "I don't take a piss without getting paid" and bitches about all those damn amateurs undercutting his rates by giving stuff away for free.
A few years ago, Ellison went legal again, suing Paramount over Star Trek. He'd written an episode of the show in 1967, and was upset that some Star Trek book included elements from that show. Oh yeah, also there was a Christmas tree ornament that was sold, and he felt he deserved a cut of the profits. As he said at the time:
It ain't about the 'principle,' friend, its (sic) about the MONEY! Pay Me! Am I doing this for other writers, for Mom (still dead), and apple pie? Hell no! I'm doing it for the 35-year-long disrespect and the money!
So it's not surprising that he's suing again. This time, he's suing 20th Century Fox and trying to stop the release of a new sci-fi movie, In Time, which he claims is a pure copy of one of his most famous works, "Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman" Of course, as we've discussed plenty of times, copyright is only supposed to cover specific expressions, and not ideas... and the "similarities" he lists certainly sound like ideas, not expressions:
Both works are said to take place in a "dystopian corporate future in which everyone is allotted a specific amount of time to live." In both works, government authorities known as a "Timekeeper" track the precise amount of time each citizen has left.
The complaint goes on to list similarities in the features of the universe as well as the plot surfaces -- the manipulation of time an individual can live, the type of death experienced by those whose time runs out, rebellion by story protagonists, and so forth.
Of course, as Julian Sanchez points out, there are lots of sci-fi stories that have a very similar storyline (perhaps even more similar), including Logan's Run and The Quantum Thief. Maybe Ellison will sue over those too.
Unfortunately, these days, courts have really blurred the line between what's an expression and what's an idea, so perhaps something comes of this. But, once again, this really is just about money... and competition. It turns out that Ellison recently sold the rights to "Repent Harlequin" and another movie is being made. So, Ellison would like to censor this competition. But, really, it's pretty ridiculous for Ellison to think that no one else could have possibly come up with similar ideas on their own. And even if they were built off that bit of an idea from his work, is it really such a problem that people created a different version of it? Does Ellison really believe that none of his work was built off ideas influenced by others?
I jumped over to Ellison's website to see if he'd put up any more colorful statements about the lawsuit (not that he'd want me to use them without paying him), but instead I find a splash page that just says:
"Why do people keep insisting that I join the 21st Century? I *LIVE* in the 21st Century! I just don't want to be bothered by the shitheads on the internet!"
It wasn't difficult to predict that this was coming. Late last year, we noted that it was only a matter of time until certain industries started to freak out about 3D printing, and how it would allow people to print physical items that others would claim "infringed" on original works. And, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that it's the entertainment industry that is the first to freak out. We had already noted that Gene Roddenberry's son was claiming that anyone who did a 3D printing of a Star Trek prop was infringing his rights (kinda ironic, given the nature of the Replicator device in the Star Trek universe...).
However, Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of Viacom, has taken this even further. The studio apparently sent a cease-and-desist to Todd Blatt, a mechanical engineer, who has been making 3D printable models of various movie props, sending them off to the popular 3D printing service Shapeways, and offering up the products. In this case, Paramount freaked out that he was offering a 3D printed version of the weird cube-like figure in the movie Super 8.
Obviously, the creator of such a product might run into trouble depending on how the technology is packaged. "Bring home a character from Transformers" might imply a false endorsement. "Look like Angelina Jolie" might constitute a violation of the actress' publicity rights. But copyright? Is a physical re-creation of an object on-screen a derivative?
It definitely seems like a stretch, but if the entertainment industry is good at anything these days, it's stretching the meaning of copyright laws. While nothing more is likely to happen in this case, you can rest assured that this issue isn't going away, and there will almost certainly be court cases in the near future.
There have been some stories about how YouTube is preparing to work with a bunch of big movie studios to sell access to movies. It's been offering up some movies for a year or so, though it hasn't really caught on. The hope is that with big Hollywood pictures, people might care more. I'm not convinced it will be that big of a deal -- especially for folks who use Netflix -- but it's an easy enough thing to do. Except... apparently two of the major studios, Fox and Paramount, are balking at the deal, because they don't like that people can find unauthorized copies of their movies via Google's search functionality. This makes no sense. Basically they're saying they'd rather that when people search on their movies, that their only options are unauthorized versions, rather than having a legitimate version at the top of the list. This is not how you "compete" with unauthorized versions.
We were pretty surprised when Redbox caved in to the Hollywood studios, and agreed to annoy its customers with a ridiculous 28-day delay. We had many commenters say that people wouldn't care and it wasn't much of a big deal. However, the company is now admitting that the 28-day delay resulted in much lower holiday rentals than it had expected. Meanwhile, the only studio that has publicly released information about how its experiments with the 28-day delay went, Paramount, has said that such delays are bad for business, as it doesn't increase sales of DVDs, and that allowing Redbox to rent movies sooner actually helped the studio (and Redbox) make more money. So why do we still have those delays?
Earlier this year, there was a reasonable bit of fuss over Paramount issuing a bogus DMCA takedown on someone who had videotaped a brief snippet of the filming of the next Transformers movie, which was going on in an alleyway right outside the guy's office. It was difficult to see what sort of "copyright" violation there was here. The guy, Ben Brown, had filmed it himself, and it wasn't like it was a private set or anything. Paramount never made any sort of statement, but the video did go back up a few days later. Apparently, the over aggressive lawyers at Paramount didn't learn their lesson. Apparently, a bunch of videos that people shot themselves of filming of the movie going on in Chicago were all taken down from YouTube under DMCA claims. Again, it's difficult to see how these claims are legit -- and this is especially troubling, seeing as it comes from Paramount, which is owned by Viacom. Viacom, of course is involved in a bit of a legal battle with YouTube -- but, more importantly, in a previous legal battle over bogus Viacom DMCA takedowns, Viacom had agreed to manually review all takedown notices to avoid bogus takedowns like this one.
A bunch of folks have sent over the various stories about how Paramount's COO, Fred Huntsberry, recently started claiming that the "new piracy threat" facing Hollywood is "digital lockers." The whole article is a bit silly in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that it's an implicit admission that Hollywood's own tactics have been a complete failure. The funny thing is that even as they're admitting it, you get the feeling they don't realize it. Let's follow the "path" which many people warned about as soon as Napster was sued:
Napster was a Silicon Valley, venture capital-funded startup that tried to bend over backwards to figure out a way for the industry to embrace it and work with it legitimately. The entertainment industry had every opportunity to work out a reasonable deal, and instead took a hardline position, suing the company effectively out of business (though the brand later lived on).
After Napster, just as many people warned, the file sharing market began to fragment and shifted to slightly more distributed operations, such as Grokster, Kazaa and Morpheus. These were a bit more difficult to work with, but all still involved company entities that had an interest in working with the entertainment industry. Once again, they were sued out of business.
After Grokster, again the market fragmented even more, and a lot of the interest shifted to BitTorrent and tracker sites. These sites were often outside of the US, and not particularly interested in working with the entertainment industry to actually set up any kind of business relationship. And, still, the industry sued to get them shut down (a process that is still ongoing), while also seeking to pass specific laws against them.
So here we are, and the market has fragmented even more and people have been driven even further underground to things like private cyberlocker sites. Hollywood is claiming that many of these sites are run by organized crime groups, though, we've yet to see any evidence to support that.
So look at the progression here. There was really one company initially, which was entirely aboveboard and open to working with the entertainment industry. At every step down the ladder -- each one pushed forward by the entertainment industry's own lawsuits and regulatory efforts -- the market becomes more fragmented and more underground, with less and less of an ability for the entertainment industry to embrace and work with them.
"Sometimes these sites look better than the legitimate sites," Huntsberry said. "That's the irony."
That's not irony, Fred, that's your company and your colleagues failing for over a decade to come up with a way to properly satisfy consumer demand.
All in all, you actually start to wonder if Hollywood has this need to make up some big scary bogeyman to keep pushing its legislative agenda of granting more and more control and taking away more and more user rights. At first it was "file sharing sites." Then those were sued out of existence. So then it was BitTorrent trackers. And now its lockers. In fact, it's amusing that as part of Huntsberry's talk he basically admitted that three strikes laws aren't enough because they don't do anything to stop these file lockers. In other words, "we fought, and are still fighting, for three strikes laws that we know are useless." It's as if the entertainment industry has to just keep pointing out some huge new threat so that the government keeps paying attention to them.
Along those lines, techflaws.org points us to a German publication's coverage of the same Huntsberry talk, and it's interesting that The Hollywood Reporter version of the story appears to have conveniently left out the part where Huntsberry blames Google for all of this (that's a Google translation of the original). In that one, he calls Google the "biggest leech." Of course, the courts recently shot down that claim, but it looks like Viacom and its subsidiaries are sticking to the claim.
What's amazing, of course, is that if the folks at Paramount and other studios and record labels stopped looking for enemies everywhere, they would have realized there were tons of opportunities to adapt and embrace these things a decade ago. But each step of the way they've made things more difficult for themselves. It's a living case study in how not to respond to a disruptive market change.
While some of the Big 6 studios have been incredibly anti-Redbox, Viacom's Paramount has always been the most reasonable towards the DVD-rental kiosk provider. So it really comes as little surprise that Paramount has announced that, after testing delayed movie releases through Redbox it sees absolutely no reason to keep delaying such releases and instead will offer new release movies on Redbox at the same time the DVD goes on sale:
"There were two conclusions we came to," said Dennis Maguire, president of Paramount Home Entertainment. "There hasn't been a cannibalization of DVD sales from Redbox, and Redbox was allowing us to expand our business and ultimately make more money" than if the studio held back its DVDs to Redbox for a period of time.
Of course, this is exactly what many people said when studios like Warner Bros., Universal and Fox demanded the 28 day release, but it's nice to at least see Paramount actually looking at the data and realizing that Redbox isn't the evil destroyer of Hollywood that some of its competitors have made it out to be.
Ben Brown and Micki Krimmel stumbled upon the filming of Transformers 3, and from their office window, watched as cars were thrown across the air for one of the scenes. That's not something you see every day, so they broke out their cameras and filmed what they were watching. Not surprisingly, they posted their videos to YouTube to share what they had seen. Brown's blog post about witnessing the filming was filled with exuberant excitement, including the YouTube video. Except, now if you click play on that video, you get this:
Yes, it appears Paramount promptly filed a DMCA takedown -- which seems like a fantastic way to kill excitement for the movie. According to the takedown, Brown's video "matched third party content," which, of course, is impossible since Transformers 3 has yet to be finished (let alone released) and obviously Brown took the video himself. The filming took place in a public alley, so anyone around is totally free to take pictures or video and share them.
Now, not only is it ridiculous to claim that these videos are covered under Paramount's copyright, it's hard to fathom why Paramount would want to bother quashing these videos at all. After Brown and Krimmel posted their videos, entertainment blogs picked the story up and started to build buzz about the movie. Isn't that a good thing? Personally, I really disliked the last Transformers movie, and this latest round of DMCA shenanigans isn't doing a very good job of convincing me to give the next installment another look.
On top of that, this is Paramount we're talking about -- which is a subsidiary of Viacom. Viacom, of course, is in the middle of a big lawsuit with YouTube, where one of the things Viacom has been claiming is that Google should just know what content is infringing and which is not -- and yet, here, again, Viacom is falsely claiming that videos infringe. This was actually a big problem in the lawsuit, where Viacom had to withdraw clips from the lawsuit, after it was determined that Viacom had uploaded them on purpose. Also, after being sued for bogus takedowns earlier, Viacom came to an agreement with the EFF that it would carefully review content before issuing takedowns. So, with all of that combined, you would think that Viacom would be a bit more careful than to take down videos taken by others of something happening in public.
In the meantime, to make things even more confusing, while Paramount issued a takedown on Brown's video, it apparently left Krimmel's up... for now, despite being basically the same thing. You can see that one (while it lasts) here:
A few weeks back, I noted that the low-budget (but highly-profitable) Paranormal Activity movie might teach Paramount a thing or two about how the business of making movies could succeed without spending millions on big stars and overly-expensive sets. However, it doesn't look like that was the lesson learned here. Paramount's CEO Philippe Dauman was recently interviewed about the success of the movie and talked about plans to make a sequel that he said would require the right marketing to ensure a benefit to Paramount. There's also the following insight into Dauman's strategy:
Asked by an analyst if the "Paranormal" model of a low-cost, high-box office film could be easily replicated with other releases, he said no, pointing to how much time passed between similar surprise hit "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal."
So apparently, the decade that passed between Blair Witch and Paranormal makes for some kind of justification that low-budget movies can't be made profitably at will. Um. But couldn't that decade also be interpreted to mean that a studio should want to try more low-budget productions, more frequently? I can certainly understand that Paramount might not want to adopt a "throw everything at the wall to see what sticks" kind of business model for its movies. However, the existence of two huge box office hits that were produced for a pittance sounds more like proof that such a business model could work -- not a "lightning sometimes strikes twice" argument against making low-cost movies. But on the other hand, looking at the returns from the $15 million sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, that release grossed almost $48 million worldwide... and there's talk of another sequel for Blair Witch on the way. The scary ending to this story appears to be an endless cycle of horror movie sequels.
silverscarcat: To make a legendary hero interesting, take one of the more well known ones, flip their gender and fill in what you can't remember about their legend with disaster and you'll have an interesting story right there. XP BTW, why is it that Hercules is presented as a 10 foot tall giant anyway? Every rendition, well, besides live-action like Kevin Sorbo, has him as 10 feet tall that I've seen. Most people barely get up to his chest. dennis deems: he is? Christopher Best: I liked the Marvel Portrayal of Herc from about 4-5 years ago... I also don't know why I capitalized Portrayal there dennis deems: i've only ever seen him portrayed normal stature silverscarcat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLv8Wj_M10g - Case in point about Hercules being a giant. (voiced by Kevin Sorbo) Christopher Best: Too much coding... new MarvelPortrayal("Hercules").... dennis deems: LOL you should pass in an enum instead of a String. bad Christopher Best: Actually it's C++ so I shouldn't be calling new to begin with. :P Leigh Beadon: plus the MarvelPortrayal constructor doesn't take any arguments, it just randomly polls a public domain fiction api dennis deems: nice!! Christopher Best: lol well played Ah, interesting to see the Steve Jackson Games vs. the FBI case coming up in connection to this Silva story. That case pretty much led to the creation of the EFF I hate to think in terms of anything positive involving police beating someone to death, but one could only hope that these sort of cases lead to a similarly long-lasting legacy as creating an organization that fights against seizure of video evidence Jay: Gah, that bottom ad is annoying on my cellphone!