Will Disney Block Star Wars Fan-Made Content?
from the there's-a-mouse-in-the-house dept
We discussed recently how George Lucas relinquished control of the Star Wars franchise, selling it to Disney. As Leigh noted in that piece, critics have long chastised Lucas for the control he exerted over his films, as well as the meddling he did on the classics so many hold dear. While that criticism is certainly valid, one area where Lucas seemed to be open — in many ways bucking the Hollywood trend — was with fan-made content, such as fan films and fan fiction. In fact, Lucasfilm to a great extent embraced fan fiction, even going so far as to hold contests for such content. The fact that Lucasfilm gained rights ownership of those fan-made films led to some criticism, but at least the company wasn't suing the jedi tunics off of its own fans.
These aren’t the defendants you’re looking for.
Image source: CC BY 2.0
But now some folks are wondering about the fate of all this fan-made content, and how future fan content will be received, now that
In 2007, Lucasfilm even released tools that would more easily enable remixing of Star Wars content. A top Lucasfilm lawyer, Jeffrey Ulin, began speaking at conferences and to the media about the value of fan mash-ups and remixes. Those works were “part of keeping the love of Star Wars and the franchise alive… We're really trying to position ourselves for the next 30 years,” Ulin told the Wall Street Journal in 2007.
Certainly, Disney fans who make their own movie featuring Mickey Mouse are more likely to get a cease-and-desist letter from a Disney lawyer than an award. After all, it was Disney who famously lobbied Congress to extend copyright terms in 1998, so much so that some dubbed the new law the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Perhaps no single company more than Disney bears more responsibility for the sorry state of the US public domain, which hasn't seen any significant works added to it in decades. For the most part, culture after 1923 has been frozen in a state of private ownership—mostly owned by the large media corporations that began rising at about that time.
It's very difficult to argue with the precedent that the article lays out. Star Wars enjoys what may well be the biggest franchise fanbase ever. Part of that fanbase is so fanatical that they want to take part in the fun, sharing with one another their own creations and extensions of the Star Wars story. Many believe it's this same enthusiasm that has built up the Star Wars brand to such an amazing degree, but Disney's history suggests these contributions may no longer be welcome.
Frankly, that may pose a bigger problem than one would imagine. Obviously the Star Wars brand is big enough at this point that whatever content Disney releases is likely to be a hit…but will it grow as fast as it could if Mickey Mouse goes all emperor over the people? There's a serious risk in alienating folks over this kind of thing. Star Wars fans aren't stupid. There's a reason there's been a fair amount of hand-wringing over the sale of the franchise to Disney, seemingly much moreso than other sales like Marvel. This is a community that likes to contribute their own work to the story. I would say that such contributions are integral to the fanbase. If Disney acts to block that kind of thing, as they have in the past, the fans may well rebel against
the Empire Disney and its Senate boardroom.