Warner Bros. Buys Story That Was Written In The Reddit Comments; Then Tells Author To Stop Redditing

from the wb,-you're-doing-it-wrong dept

Here’s a story that starts out great… but then gets annoying towards the end.

I know we’ve got many Redditors here, but for those who don’t spend time there, they might find this story interesting. We keep hearing stories these days about how the big movie studios are afraid to try anything particularly original when it comes to greenlighting movies — preferring these days to do remakes, adaptations or sequels, knowing that they all bring in a guaranteed audience of some kind. So it’s interesting to see (as sent in by Aaron DeOliveira) that Warner Bros. “aggressively” went after and bought the rights to a story that was written in the comments of Reddit. It started when a Reddit user asked if a modern US Marine infantry battalion could wipe out the entire Roman Empire given the modern technology they would have.

Reddit user Prufrock451, who is more commonly known as James Erwin (and is apparently an author and a “two-time Jeopardy winner”) jumped at the opportunity to dash off a bit of fiction describing “day 1” of such a modern military unit being transported to the Roman Empire. And the Redditors liked it. Big time. They encouraged, nay demanded, that he write more. So he wrote some more, and an entire Subreddit was created, called Rome Sweet Rome, with plenty of people contributing additional ideas, including graphics and a hypothetical movie poster.

And late last week, the news came out that Warner Bros. had purchased the movie rights. Of course, there’s a long way from buying the rights to actually having a movie made. I know folks who have sold movie rights only to see them languish for ages with nothing ever happening. Still, whole thing from comment to movie deal? A little over a month. When I read all that, I thought about how cool a move this was, and how it was nice to see Warner Bros. apparently being progressive on such a deal and realizing the value not just of the story but the wider Reddit community.

But then I read a little more. In an interview with Erwin on ScreenRant, Erwin admits that now that a deal has been signed he has to stop participating in the subreddit because everyone’s “lawyered-up” and worried about “locked-down IP rights.”

Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend time on Reddit. This is not because I think I?m too big for my britches now. The Internet is a chaotic, give-and-take place ? and that creates nightmares for a lawyered-up industry based on locked-down IP rights. In a perfect world, I would be in that subreddit every day ? but that?s not what?s best for the project. I want this to succeed, and that unfortunately meant going dark for a while. I hope the folks in the RomeSweetRome subreddit see this little mash note. I miss em.

Ah, what a shame. What could have been a fun, collaborative process that really involved and built on the community — who would have loved it — instead becomes a lame “lawyered-up” situation with “locked-down IP rights.” Sorry, WB, but you missed the whole point.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: warner bros.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Warner Bros. Buys Story That Was Written In The Reddit Comments; Then Tells Author To Stop Redditing”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
58 Comments
sehlat (profile) says:

Companies Run By Lawyers Aren't Entreprenurial

It’s as simple as that.

As far as I can tell, lawyers have two modes of thought:

1. “Who can hit my client in the pocketbook for what the client is doing/has done?”

2. “Who can I show has hurt my client in some fashion and hit them in the pocketbook?

WB is run by lawyers, and to lawyers, any situation THEY do not pre-run damage control on is anathema.

gabriel bear (user link) says:

Re: So - wait...

Rowling knew better than to be picking up support staff by doing her writing on open fora.
The guy who asked the original question might be up for $20-30k for conceptualisation.
And if i were CAmbridge i’d be asking rowling for a $50k
a year scholarship fund for “mapping hogwarts”, and leaving the gameboy tech wonks to wonk themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry, WB, but you missed the whole point.

And,so did Prufrock451, who is more commonly known as James Erwin.

Any work created under an open source creative commons license has multiple authors.

Any work that has multiple authors that is sold by a single author without the permission of the other authors was sold illegally.

In short Mr. Prufrock451 has committed fraud on WB. by selling WB a work he did not own.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It doesn’t – however it would seem that Reddit’s own terms and conditions effectively trump the WB deal.

“you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.”

It doesn’t prevent WB from making the film – but it would seem that WB cannot exclude Reddit – or anyone else authorised by Reddit from doing the same.

Scooters (profile) says:

Hold on a second...

Why is WB being held accountable for this? If Erwin truly treasured the collaborative efforts of Reddit, shouldn’t he have told WB to shove it when it came to such ridiculous demands on IP protectionism?

Sorry, but this is just another clear-cut example of an author who exchanges his rights copyright granted them for the quick buck.

I feel no sympathy for his “plight”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why even deal with the MAFIAA ?

… and do you, personally know how to produce a movie? I’m not a fan of the MPAA, but they do have lots of money and know how to get movies made, unlike me, and probably Erwin.

I think you would jump at the chance once they started waving those dollar bills around. Did the guy have a ton of people knocking on his door offering him money?

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Umm. No. What they bought and paid for was the movie rights. They do not now own the story. Unless the story above got that wrong, all that means is that WB can prevent someone else from making a movie based on RomeSweetRome, and, I’m assuming, they get first crack at any sequels. Which they are (insanely) insuring are probably never made.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You act like they aren’t going to hire a team of writers to actually write a story. They bought this guy’s interpretation of an idea, they aren’t stopping anyone else from contriguting to the subreddit, only this guy who was paid for his interpretation of an idea.

I have zero sympathy for this man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“What they bought and paid for was the movie rights. “

Apparently they bought it from someone who was in no position to sell them. Just like my neighbor can’t sell my car, how is this person able to sell the movie rights to an idea that was collectively constructed by a community under terms and conditions that don’t give this single person the permissions necessary to sell those rights (ie: under Reddit’s TOS). IOW, WB bought those rights from someone with no standing to sell them.

NullOp says:

NOT Original

The Reddit story is not really original. There is a scifi story from the 60’s, I believe, were a platoon of then-modern soldiers is transported back to the Civil War. They, of course, don’t know what’s going on but end up fighting in a battle where, according to history, the amount of gunfire was impossible given the number of men involved in the battle. I suggest Warner Brothers to do some serious research on this one before committing millions!

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Seeing as you just sold me a car to which you had already granted a “royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so” to someone else already I think you have some more serious explaining to do…

Jon Lawrence (profile) says:

Fundamental Problem

THIS is THE fundamental problem with legacy media today.

I’m a Producers Guild member – and time and time again, the network and studio execs all know their business model is broken, but can’t figure out how to fix it.

It all boils down to a business that requires 100% lockdown on every bit of IP and creativity; they *will not relinquish or share any lick of control* with content creators.

This is the #1 reason they will eventually fail.

Adapting means giving up some level of control, because they no longer hold *all the keys* to the kingdom of content distribution. And they are not (yet) willing to cede any level of control, even when doing so could be a big net benefit for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fundamental Problem

THIS is THE fundamental problem with legacy media today.

I’m a Producers Guild member – and time and time again, the network and studio execs all know their business model is broken, but can’t figure out how to fix it.

It all boils down to a business that requires 100% lockdown on every bit of IP and creativity; they *will not relinquish or share any lick of control* with content creators.

This is the #1 reason they will eventually fail.

Adapting means giving up some level of control, because they no longer hold *all the keys* to the kingdom of content distribution. And they are not (yet) willing to cede any level of control, even when doing so could be a big net benefit for them.

Maybe if the Producers Guild was an actual guild with any bargaining strength you’d have a measure of control. Interesting a reality tv producer on the margins of the industry presumes such insights into how studio and networks execs think of their business models.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fundamental Problem

“Interesting a reality tv producer on the margins of the industry presumes such insights into how studio and networks execs think of their business models.”

Interesting thing you said there. In that case, would you happen to be a lawyer, technology expert, studio/network exec, etc. I only ask, and this is hard to say because it’s difficult to point down just which Anonymous Coward you are exactly, so many comments from Anonymous Cowards discount pretty much everything actual experts say on this site based on what is essentially nothing more than opinion. Without presenting any facts or evidence to support their claims/allegations/etc.

I’m just curious as to what you do for a living. That way we can determine if your opinion matters more or less than the guy’s in the Producer Guild.

Jon Lawrence (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fundamental Problem

Oh, and I’ll adjust my argument. Obviously not ALL network and studio execs think/know their business models are in trouble.

Some prefer life with their heads in their sand – most have 10, 20 years max until they’re out, retired with lots of money or dead; so the longer they can keep their legacy gravy train rolling and then jump off and let the new guys figure it out, the better for them.

All good for them; but probably not so good for the long term sustainability of the companies they “lead.”

Rekrul says:

Of course, there’s a long way from buying the rights to actually having a movie made.

Of course by the time a movie does get made, it will be called Timeclash and will be about a team of special forces commandos being sent back to the Roman era to catch a criminal who has gone into the past to re-write history. They befriend Caesar and have to help defend Rome from invasion by an army that the bad guy has equipped with super-advanced weapons.

Avatar28 (profile) says:

What really happened

Since I was in the subreddit when this started happening, I can shed a bit of light on it. Prufrock happened to be in the right place at the just the right time with his bit of flash fiction. Redditors ate it up and it got quickly bounced to the front page.

Someone on Reddit had contacts in the industry and brought it to the attention of some folks in a position of power. They saw the idea and the response and flew Prufrock out to LA for a meeting.

They didn’t just buy the idea. They set him up with one of their development companies to develop the idea further. They helped him get it registered with WGA and are keeping him on as the head writer while developing his skills to turn it into a proper screenplay. One of the reasons that this is moving along so fast is that they don’t have to go through all the focus group group. This idea effectively originated FROM a focus group.

His not being on Reddit is the same as any writer. They simply can’t accept outside ideas and pitches. It sucks but anyone who reads TechDirt can see why. Look at all stupid “U stoled my idea so give me all your monehs” lawsuits Mike reports on. If people wouldn’t constantly file crap like that we might see more open collaboration on stuff.

As far as the rights go, it has been discussed on Reddit. The license doesn’t give Reddit ownership of the idea. It grants them a non-exclusive license to basically use it how they see fit. Reddit could go make their own movie based on what is already out there but Prufrock still owns what he wrote. Reddit has no say or rights to over any derivative content. My guess is that he will start over with the same basic concept but rewrite it with all new characters and details since I doubt any studio would be keen to share the rights to it.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...