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.

Star Wars Geeks
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 the Empire Disney controls the franchise. Dennis S. writes in about a piece on this topic at Ars Technica, which reads less like a question about fan-made content and more like a propsective eulogy for it.

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.

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Companies: disney, lucasfilm

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Comments on “Will Disney Block Star Wars Fan-Made Content?”

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DogBreath says:

I feel a great disturbance coming in the web...

possibly as bad as the great culling that Viacom, who had just purchased Paramount, did to the Star Trek presence on the web back in the mid to late 90’s.

To be read in the voice of : Don LaFontaine

“In a world before ‘the Great and Powerful’ DMCA existed, threats of lawsuits both far and wide were spread with great abandon like manure from a pitchfork, all across the web. No one was spared, not those accused of violating copyright, or just the many lumped in without care like so many false DMCA notices of today. It was total and complete Fanageddon.”

Hopefully, Disney will learn from mistakes of the past by themselves and others. Truthfully, based on their prior actions and history, I doubt it.

TheLastCzarnian (profile) says:

What if Disney pulls a Viacom and creates a geek vaccuum? Perhaps it could be filled by totally new universe built entirely in the public domain, for all to borrow, steal, sell, add to, and profit from.

If only there were some authors who were interested in such things. You know, totally into Sci Fi, maybe silly enough to wear an enormous cranial protection device…

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, Disney will go censor-Emperor all over the Star-Wars fans. They are too stupid not to. Disney will alienate and anger fans, possibly to cases of violence against Disney. Disney’s history is proof enough, and they have made no effort to change and every effort to increase their censorship. If Disney intended to keep the fans happy, they would have released a statement saying so. Right now, I’m guessing their lawyers are figuring out the best way to sue every Star Wars fan on the planet.

Suezahn says:

I love how folks seem to think that Star Wars fandom began with the advent of the Internet. You should know that there was a very active fandom for 20 years before that–it was THOSE fans who kept the torch burning all that time. And back then Lucasfilm was not nearly so tolerant. Initially he attacked fans who dared to print fanzines containing his copyrighted characters, having his lawyers send out cease & desist letters to various fanzine editors (I happen to have a copy of one of those zines in question). Eventually they gave up on that and completely ignored fandom. Lucas only came to embrace fanfic/art after the advent of the Internet, when he realized it was way beyond his ability to stop and he began to see dollar signs.

Darkstarr says:

remember the Muppets

They’re already in the process of killing Star Wars. Mercenary Mouse has revealed that they’ll release a Star Wars film every year–that’s right, EACH AND EVERY YEAR, regardless of quality–until the fans get sick of it and go somewhere else. Yes, Mr. Lucas, you DID sell your Star Wars children to the “white slavery ring of Disney” (his own words!), and not only are they going to milk the cash cow that you created until it runs dry, but then they’ll butcher the poor thing and sell off its meat for hamburger, its internal organs for dog food, and its hide for “Genuine Lucasfilm (TM)-issue Nerf Leather” goods.

And the reason they killed off John Carter was largely because they were in the process of taking over Lucasfilm and didn’t want to compete with the Star Wars cash cow franchise.

It’s time we fans started a real-life Rebel Alliance to stick it to Mickey Mercenary every way we legally can (no violence, just lawsuits, spamming them with letters expressing our displeasure, etc.), if we want Star Wars to stay alive!

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