What Would Happen To Fanboys Remaking Raiders Of The Lost Ark Today?

from the jail-time,-probably dept

Wired is running a fascinating story about a set of three 12-year-old friends, who became so obsessed with the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, that they spent the next seven summers refilming the movie shot for shot. It’s a great story (in fact, so great, that there’s actually a real movie being made about these three friends making this movie), but you have to wonder what would happen if the same thing were tried again today. You’d have to think that the three kids would end up in an awful lot of trouble, rather than being celebrated. Let’s run through the list…

  • Illegal taping: The friends were able to learn the entire movie by sneaking a videocamera into the theater and taping it. As you know, the industry has been passing stricter and stricter laws for anyone found video taping a movie. The latest law in NY would lead to a $5,000 fine (the boys made their entire movie for $4,500) and 6 months in jail.
  • Copyright infringement: By copying the entire film, clearly they could be accused of copyright infringement. In fact, just last year, Paramount sued an amateur filmmaker who downloaded the script for an Oliver Stone movie and tried to film his own version using acting students. Ironically (or maybe it’s just sad), it’s Paramount that’s making the film about these boys recreating Raiders.
  • Music rights: The film apparently makes use of the original score, which is obviously a no-no for the recording industry, as witnessed by the fact that the famed sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati had to dub in generic music as it couldn’t afford the rights to use the music it had licensed for the original show.
  • Public performance: Despite being infringing, this film hasn’t just been for private use. It was first shown in a Coca-Cola factory auditorium upon completion, as well as at a variety of underground film festivals since then.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that this film probably violates all sorts of intellectual property rules — though both Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas appear to be fine with it. However, a set of kids trying to do the same thing today would actually find it more difficult. While the tools to do so have become much more powerful and much cheaper — the legal regime has become much worse. And, frankly, doesn’t it seem like something is wrong with the system when a bunch of kids can’t do something like this? It wasn’t just a tremendously fun project for the trio, but apparently a great learning experience. All three of the “kids” now work in the entertainment industry. On top of that, the film has a huge cult following and has made many people extremely happy. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a way that this “cost” the original creators of the content a dime (and, if anything, probably encouraged a few more people to watch or rewatch the original). So why is it that these same kids today would potentially face time in jail, both criminal and civil lawsuits and huge fines for doing the same thing?

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Comments on “What Would Happen To Fanboys Remaking Raiders Of The Lost Ark Today?”

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Fluffy McNutter says:

New technology = good remakes

Good questions! What happened in the past ten years to make everyone so greedy and overly protective?

I, for one, would like to see more parody, more remakes. Even Weird Al seems to have toned down a bit.

There’s a lot of new technology, and tech-saavy producers, editors, that could definitely add on, and improve old ideas and stories.


But it seems more like a society issue to me!

IronChef says:

Re: Re:

The sooner pirates bring down the entire entertainment industry the better. Time to clear the slate and start over.

I think that’s missing the point. If today’s logic was applied to last decade’s “reproduction”, would it be seen as “new art” or “infringement”? If I was Spielberg/Lucas, I would be flattered. But because the studios ultimately own copyright, they would need to drum up their press releases, and today, the studios would sic the lawyers after them and kill it, along with anything remotely like what they own rights to. Which leads to the question… would copyright apply?

Damn, the marketplace has changed so much in the past decade.

ELS says:

Re: Everybody is missing the point.

See, they are making a movie about people who are doing what is now illegal in hopes that people will do the same thing, giving them more people to sue and make money from.

No one will make money on this (theoretical) suit except the lawywers. The plantiffs are essentially judgement proof.

Also, there’s a parody exception to copyright, I suspect that this would fall under that.

Skywalker says:

Hold On A Second.....

Let’s review – three middle school aged kids decide to remake a movie, and do so with rented video equipment. They spent a total of nearly $5,000 to do so. In 1981, I was 29 years old, and $5,000 was about 25% of my income. I couldn’t have afforded to rent analog video equipment back then without affecting my budget big time.

I think there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye.

Most people didn’t even know what a VCR was, let alone own one in 1981. A Betamax video camera system consisted of at least two parts – the camera, which would have been big, and the recorder. Sony introduced the first professional quality self contained camcorder in 1981, the consumer version in 1982. Camcorders didn’t become widely available until a few years later and even then, were expensive.

I realize the recreation took place over seven years, and analog video technology grew quickly during that time. The fact that no one complained about the recreation only goes to show that the movie industry was clueless about video, and in some instances, openly hostile to it even being around studios where film was king.

With the advent of digital video, it’s now possible to copy and redistribute a film far easier than it was with analog. The rise of the MPAA and RIAA, while detesteed by many, is a reflection of the fear and loathing the Hollywood community had towards the digital age.

I think the story as presented leaves out some pertinent details. In fact, it almost sounds totally phony, once you take a hard look at the people and technologies involved.

ChurchHatesTucker (user link) says:

Re: Hold On A Second.....

$5000/7 years/3 kids = $238 per kid per year.

The intersting part of the Wired article to me was that “…Hollywood lawyers haven’t seemed to mind, perhaps in part because the filmmakers donate all proceeds to charity.”

I know that Star Trek: New Voyages, which operates under the benign neglect of Paramount, had to take down a Katrina aid link that was on their home page, because (and it’s the type of objection that only a lawyer could make) somebody could appear to be profiting from the project, which is prohibited by their unofficial agreement with the studio.

Skywalker says:

Re: Re: Hold On A Second.....

$5000/7 years/3 kids = $238 per kid per year.

It’s not that simple. Rental of equipment had to be by an adult, and they would have to be willing to leave a substantial deposit on the rental. Look it up – video equipment rentals today want up to $5000 or more. Sure, it can be on a credit card, but what 14 year old had a credit card in 1981?

Sorry, this story doesn’t quite pass the smell test. There’s too much left out to be credible.

ChurchHatesTucker (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hold On A Second.....

Rental of equipment had to be by an adult, and they would have to be willing to leave a substantial deposit on the rental.

I’m sure they had parents, or possibly older siblings. Your objections seem strained.

For those who object that they did a shot-for-shot recreation, remember that there is a long-standing tradition in the arts of copying the masters to learn techniques. It’s a lot easier to spot your mistakes if you have a “done right” version to compare it to.

Finally, to Mike, this is actually a better time to do that kind of a project than when they actually did make it. At the time, song-vidders and amateur productions were seriously underground efforts for fear of legal action from the studios. There was a Star Trek fan production called “Voyages of the USS Angeles” that was only distributed to the cast and crew for fear of legal action. The environment has relaxed a bit and such efforts are tolerated as long as they don’t make any money. (“Angeles” spun off “Star Trek: Hidden Frontier” which has some seven seasons online.) Not an ideal situation, but a better one. It’s robably just as well that the “Lost Ark” project was shelved for so long.

Kulkillian says:

Re: Re: Re: Hold On A Second.....

It’s probable that the kids borrowed some of their equipment from the local cable company. Cable companies were required by law to provide public access, and I knew a lot of people that were doing public access “shows” in the early and mid 80s, and once you took a “course” the cable company would allow you to use a studio and even take equipment offsite. There’s also the possiblity that they borrowed equipment from friends or educational institutions. My roommate worked at the campus TV station and it wasn’t unusual for him to bring equipment home for the weekend.

Pat says:

Re: Hold On A Second.....

I just saw the movie tonight in Minneapolis in a huge fully packed theater (I’d guess well over 1,000 people…this theater was REALLY huge).

I can assure you, it is completely genuine…and absolutley flabbergasting what these teenagers accomplished, especially given the technology of the time.

(It’s even more flabbergasting that no one was killed, given the kinds of stunts they recreated, including massive indoor fires, and a car chase scene that looked totally insane…and really really good!)

DontpileonMe says:

What to tell your Kids


You ask the question “What Would Happen To Fanboys Remaking Raiders Of The Lost Ark Today?”

Anyone in their right mind would encourage them to create an “original” from scratch. The technology is dirt cheap. That’s what I tell my kids to do. But I know that you are convinced that somehow or other that these kids (and new art creation) is being restricted because they can’t just copy the current art. They are absolutely 100% not harmed by this stance and as I indicated above they would actual benefit by learning to be “original”.

Oh and also, wouldn’t society as a whole benefit more from the creation of new original work also.

Once again, Mike, you have is completely backwards. Culturally, I issue a challenge to the parents out there- tell your kids to create “original” from scratch art using todays tools. Your kids and our culture will be stronger.

PhysicsGuy says:

What to tell your Kids

trying to duplicate something that is already out there is an excellent way to learn a new skill set. in art classes i’ve taken, one of the things we occasionally did was to try and replicate an already existing piece. it’s a great way to develop (and get a measure of yourself on) specific techniques. when your kids are learning math do you tell them to develop their own conjectures and notations or do you teach them what’s already been done and then once they’ve mastered what’s available have them produce their own work?

Paul says:


Unfortunately I think all too many people learned a “lesson” from these kids. In the past 10 years there have been TONS of HORRIBLE REMAKES of movies. Often these movies have younger actors in them than the originals did. It looks to me like plenty of people have been copying these kids idea’s, except they got permission for it and were likely able to turn a few bucks from the production for their utter crap.

As stated above, I would much rather see some kids make something original than copy a movie scene for scene, we have enough remakes in Hollywood right now.

Please continue this series of posts, I would love to continue reading about old news being compared to new laws.

Perhaps you could write one up about how cars from 1935 would break all sorts of safety and emissions laws in 2007?

Buzz (profile) says:

WTF @ Paul?

Perhaps you could write one up about how cars from 1935 would break all sorts of safety and emissions laws in 2007?

That is hardly comparable. People actually want the new cars. I’m pretty sure everyone is OK with old car models dying off. However, independent film creation is becoming more popular, so it is a very big deal how the laws have changed. Techdirt does an excellent job of pointing out how companies no longer appreciate art; they simply see a profitable opportunity to sue and fear their own art will somehow suffer ‘damage’ from some parody.

haywood says:

Re: WTF @ Paul?

“People actually want the new cars”
Maybe, but the new laws are continually forcing the issue. It is easier to upgrade you ride than buck the system. Personally I prefer pre1984 cars and trucks as the yearly inspection (non-emission)is less than half the $ and they mostly can still be worked on by humans. Todays cars are throwaways, most have components, sure to fail as it ages, which will cost considerably more than it is worth. This not to mention the constant replacement of metal with plastic.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Recording Equipment

I was 14 in 1982, and convinced my parents to buy a $1,200 Hitachi two-part VCR. It looked like a regular old-school VCR split in half. One side was the AC adapter, TV tuner, Timer mechanism and Input/outputs, while the other side was the VHS tape player/recorder. A huge, expensive camera could be plugged into the tape recorder side and taken “portably”. The cumbersone camera+recorder rig probably weighed a total of 20 pounds, and ran out of battery in about 30 minutes.

I convinced my parents to pay about twice the going rate for a standard VCR with the argument that we could rent a camera for $25/day and make home movies on $12 VHS blank tapes. Turns out, we did just that, and 25 years later it’s certain that it was one of our families best investments. We captured many memories that super8 just wasn’t economically suitable to catch – and we had audio!!

I taped family gatherings, the zoo, sports, and lots of parodies, jokes, skits, “airband” music videos and such with kin and friends. At first, it was just exciting to see oneself on TV. A few years later, the video was embarrassing to us as older teens, but now it’s priceless.

I’ve been able to share that video with many family and friends lately (thanks to the digital age) and it’s created a lot of joy and memories with some old friends.

Anyway, that’s just my happy story. And yes, the technology was affordable and within reach of middle-class kids.

It sure is fun to think, though, that today I’m paying the RIAA a tithe for every blank disk onto which I copy my original content to send to friends. I guess I should be happy – they could sue me for using their songs in our lip-synching vids. But seriously, they wouldn’t sue kids, would they?

Frank Delle (user link) says:

Beer Drinkers in Space

We did something that closely parallels the Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film and subsequent documentary. In 1983 a group of us who worked at Disney made a low budget camp sci-fi movie called Beer Drinkers in Space. Then, two years ago, we made a documentary about the movie with all the original cast and crew. The documentary, Keep Drinking, Men! The Story of Beer Drinkers in Space, screened at film festivals voer the past year. The whole package comes out on DVD July 17. You can find out more about the project at http://www.beerdrinkersinspace.com.

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