Without Copyright Infringement, Deadpool Doesn't Get Made

from the killing-creativity,-eh? dept

Copyright infringement kills creativity. It’s killing artists and depriving future generations of a variety of works that — if they could even be made in this era of lawlessness — should rightfully be withheld from the public until long after the future generation is dead and next generation fully grown. So. They. Say.

Kids, I’m sure you’ve heard about this “Deadpool,” the fourth-wall-breaking, foul-mouthed “superhero” currently raking in $$$ at the megaplexes. For years, it was a pet project passed back and forth between interested shepherds and less-interested studios. Everyone loved the idea but no one wanted to put their money behind it.

For one thing, the licensing alone was a nightmare. While Deadpool belongs to the Marvel “universe,” the licensing for Deadpool as a movie character belongs to 20th Century Fox. Nearly everything else belongs to entertainment megagiant Disney. The licensing situation alone should have been enough to keep Deadpool from making it to the big screen. Very few entities want to tangle with Disney’s lawyers and put millions of production dollars on the line.

But the movie still made it out into the wild, even with this potentially litigious entanglement. In fact, this weird licensing fact plays into the movie’s very self-aware take on the comic book movie genre, as Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech points out:

Should you arrive at a Deadpool screening with high hopes for X-Men or X-Force character cameos or other strides toward comics continuity, you’ve got another thing coming. 20th Century Fox is behind this film, though Marvel Studios/Disney own most of Marvel’s intellectual property, and the result is a world seemingly disconnected from the greater Marvel universe.

There are even disconnects with the Deadpool comics themselves, much to the movie’s detriment. Ajax, for example, is a much more toothless supervillain than the one who brutalized the comic version of Wade Wilson, which negatively affects that entire portion of Deadpool’s origin tale by opening up gaping plot and logic holes. In fact, the entire “how Wade turned into Deadpool” portion of the movie drags in both length and pacing so much that it borders on the edge of satire in practice.

Whether or not it’s “satire in practice” or just the burden of dumping exposition on newcomers to better serve the franchise, Deadpool is still somewhat tangled up in licensing limitations. Crossover appeal is likely limited. And actual crossovers likely next to impossible. If only 20th Century Fox could have been as bold as those who somehow brought this film — one that had been pronounced DOA repeatedly over the past several years — to life.

What put this in motion is the same sort of behavior the MPAA works endlessly to prevent: the leaking of footage.

Ben Kuchera at Polygon notes that someone realized the best way to get this project underway was to show its potential audience how they (the actor, writers and director) would handle the subject matter. Fans have wanted a dark, sarcastic, fully-nihilistic Deadpool movie for a long, long time. Some test footage shot three years ago could have languished unseen on some shelf/hard drive somewhere in Hollywood and the unmade project would still be cruising from rejection to rejection. But one of these people decided to perform an action no studio would ever condone.

“I’ve been trying to get it made for 11 years, which is crazy,” star Ryan Reynolds said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon. “We developed the script six years ago, wrote this fantastic script, it leaked online, Deadpool fans went nuts for it, so the studio granted us a small amount of money to make test footage. This test footage that we shot then sat on the shelf for four years, as it does, they didn’t do anything with it, then just a little under two years ago it leaked, accidentally, onto the internet.”

We, like just about every other outlet concerned with pop culture, ran the story. Everyone loved the footage, and the film went into full production.

“Here’s the thing, the fans freaked out and overwhelmed Fox, and Fox basically had to greenlight the movie,” Reynolds said. “The problem is the footage was owned by Fox so it was kind of illegal … I know that one of us did it.”

While no one will admit to leaking the footage, everyone involved couldn’t be happier this act of copyright infringement has resulted in an actual Deadpool film.

“Oh my god, we were absolutely thrilled,” Paul Wernick, one of the film’s writers, told Variety. “If you go back and look at our emails after the test footage was made in 2012, we had said back and forth, ‘How do we leak this? How do we get the groundswell support from our fans?’ When it finally leaked in 2014 and got the reaction we hoped for, we were like, ‘Here it goes!’ This is confirmation we are not crazy to be passionate about this. There’s a whole fanbase of people clamoring for this movie.”

That leak was, in fact, crucial. It was the film’s last chance to be made.

“Had it not gotten that reaction, it would have been a disaster and the project would have been dead,” Wernick continued. “We knew it in our bones this would be the reaction. We were thrilled and still to this day don’t know who did it. There is a very short list of suspects.”

One of the entities who’s likely happy the footage was leaked is the studio behind the film. Deadpool wasn’t given much of a budget ($58 million) but it’s already well on its way to turning a good-sized profit.*

*Non-Hollywood accounting methods only.

According to industry estimates this morning, 20th Century Fox’s Marvel pic, Deadpool whipped Fifty Shades’ Friday figure by 57% with a projected daily haul of $47.5M (that includes $12.7M in Thursday previews) on its way to a mindblowing 3-day opening of $118.4M-$123M and a 4-day between $129.6M-$136M.

Sure, leaking test footage isn’t like leaking an entire film, but without that happening, nothing else does. The movie is never made and Fox doesn’t have almost three times the budget grossed within the first four days of ticket sales. But because this leak happened, the studio is likely in control of a promising franchise, provided it can keep the lightning bottled and push forward without discarding everything that makes Deadpool Deadpool. And everyone involved can thank the unnamed person they won’t rat out for shrugging off the insular “power” of copyright and mobilizing a fan base that is now making good on its promise to support the movie.

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Companies: 20th century fox, disney, marvel

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Comments on “Without Copyright Infringement, Deadpool Doesn't Get Made”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I am still waiting for Whatever to answer my question.

IP should be about the public and not the artists.

Whatever and the shills sometimes claim that it’s about the artists. If so then the question is should IP law give distributors (IP holders) more protections than artists? Because, currently, that’s what it does.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hahaha, not going to happen.

Whatever belongs to the group of elitist snobs that believe the bulk of the Internet is populated and characterized by millennials with an entitlement complex and terabytes ofpirated content. To him, any consumer or fan involvement is shit. The stuff that isn’t shit is an anomaly, so it doesn’t count to him.

He’s not going to admit to it, or even post. He’s too busy inventing IP addresses to downvote everyone that doesn’t agree with him, and scream about PaulT.

SirWired (profile) says:

The licensing was not a "nightmare"

I agree with most of this article but not the first few paragraphs.

I do not see how the licensing was a “nightmare”. There were no conflicting claims of ownership to the character; everybody involved (Disney/Marvel included) knew Fox owned the rights to Deadpool. As long as Fox didn’t toss in an appearance by an Avenger (or Spider-Man, risking Sony’s wrath), there’s no conflict.

Also, there was nothing stopping Fox from including X-Men, since they own most of those rights too. Whatever the reasons we don’t see some X-Men in the Deadpool movie, licensing rights aren’t on the list.

And cross-overs from other companies are certainly NOT impossible; Spider-Man is totally being incorporated into the MCU, due to an agreement struck with Sony. I’m sure this was not easy, but neither is it some sort of far-fetched dream.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The licensing was not a "nightmare"

“There were no conflicting claims of ownership to the character… Also, there was nothing stopping Fox from including X-Men, since they own most of those rights too.”

I wish I could be as confident, but given the history of the products plus the previous attempt at the character, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a lot more complicated than it seems on the outside. IIRC, Reynolds was originally signed up to more than one X-Men Origins movie. If so, that alone could have caused a lot of problems, ditto any discussions around other characters who have been licensed to X, Y or Z but never made it to screen.

“I’m sure this was not easy, but neither is it some sort of far-fetched dream.”

Yes, but that’s likely a very different situation since that dealt with a very well-known character being included into another very well known set of films. That’s likely a very different argument to taking a character that’s already thought of as a risk, applying that to an even riskier R-rated movie and expecting the same sort of co-operation.

SirWired (profile) says:

Re: Re: Another X-Men: Origins, would not have been an issue

Since Fox would have been the one ALREADY holding Reynolds’s contract for another X-Men: Origins, tearing it up so Reynolds could do the Deadpool movie instead presented no difficulty at all, unless, of course, Reynolds didn’t want to do the Deadpool movie.

Yes, Fox had difficulty before, but Fox has held the rights The Whole Time. That means that whatever the issues were in a good portrayal of the character, who owned the rights simply wasn’t one of them.

And I agree that the idea of Deadpool in particular getting stuffed into the MCU is unlikely, but that has to do with how he’s been portrayed in this movie (and the comics), and has nothing to do with licensing rights. Even if Marvel (or Fox) owned the whole shebang, anything beyond a cameo in an MCU movie would have been pretty far-fetched. (Thought it’d be appropriate if he showed up in maybe the next season of Jessica Jones or something!)

Copyright introduces all sorts of fascinating (and often unreasonable) impediments to movie production, but it is not the cause of all ills, despite TechDirt’s predilection to blaming so many different things on IP law.

any moose cow word says:

Re: Re:

Agreed! Copyright in the commercial sphere is more like a straight jacket for creators. The publishers, who are the primary beneficiaries of copyright nowadays, have convinced many creators that donning the straight jacket is not only necessary to “protect” them, their works would never see the light of day without it. And to make sure its nice and snug, they bound all means of accessing the public with restrictive licensing.

However, within walled garden of the publisher system, people freely swap and share copyrighted material all the time. They only become cognizant of the harsh realities of the publisher imposed copyright regime is when they’re defied by their masters’ piety whims.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you’re wanting articles to link to about Deadpool’s financial success, you’d probably be better off using Box Office Mojo:


That Polygon link doesn’t seem to have that quote about the profits in it, and Box Office Mojo talks about the various records it broke as well.

Haywood (profile) says:

Henry Ford quote;

“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.”

AC720 (profile) says:

Was it not clear Reynolds himself leaked the footage? He’s been championing this project for years. It’s not a mere ROLE for him. It IS him. This is his dream, his baby, his nightmare, and his passion, in a way I have never seen before with any actor. He also happens to have NAILED the role solid. And oh yeah, brought home $150M in box office in four days.

Reynolds can be forgiven any rules he broke. He broke enough records to make up for it several dozen times over. Hell, he deserves some kind of Oscar for this.

Props also to the director and editor for making it all work. This movie could have trainwrecked a dozen different places but it didn’t, and mostly all works well. Cast and crew all did a great job.

Kronomex (profile) says:

What it all comes down is that Disney can’t stand the idea of any of their property not being under their total control. “It’s our precious and we wants it back!”

On a side note; I stopped buying Marvel Comics completely about 12 months ago and I don’t regret it one little bit. “The Totally Awesome Hulk” for fucks sake. The interminable cover variations is beyond ridiculous (although DC Comics topped Marvel with 53 covers for the first issue of Dark Knight III: The Master Race). Disney will suck Marvel dry like they with every other company they to their portfolio.

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