Sony & NBC Interfere With Fan-Funded Web Series, Accomplish Nothing

from the except-making-the-lawyers-richer dept

ChurchHatesTucker points us to yet another example of how the strictures of the legacy entertainment industry are at odds with modern attitudes towards culture and creativity, and the hypocrisy of those who rely on fair use but seek to limit it for others. First, a bit of background:

The NBC series Community (which is awesome, by the way) recently introduced a show-within-the-show: a parody of Dr. Who entitled Inspector Spacetime and shown only in a few short clips. Travis Richey, the actor who portrays the titular character for his few seconds on screen, and who is also an experienced web series producer, immediately saw the potential to extend the fake show into a series of real shorts. He approached the Community creators with a script, only to discover that, as he puts it, "Hollywood doesn't work quite that way." He then had his agent pitch it through official studio channels, but never heard back—so he took the idea to Kickstarter, planning to produce the series himself.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the lawyers made short work of that plan—but Richey isn't stopping, he's just changing the title:

Lawyers from Sony and NBC have contacted me demanding that I cease production on an Inspector Spacetime web series.

Though I firmly believe the law would be on my side in producing this parody, I have no wish or ability to fight a show that I love as much as "Community." I had hoped that they would embrace what is essentially a fan film and appreciate the value it adds to the character, and the audience that we would bring who are finding "Community" for the first time through this character, but alas, that's not the case. So, I will be removing all references to Inspector Spacetime from this series (it only happened in the title anyway), and altering the appearance of the Inspector so that he does not look like Inspector Spacetime. What remains is 100% the creation of myself, my writing partner, and you, the fans.

The title card on the video now reads "Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time", and the project is already more than half-funded, with the rest of the month still to go. Richey says the money is for equipment only: everyone involved is a volunteer, and the finished series won't be monetized at all. This is a case of someone who just loves to create, for its own sake, being blocked by problematic, hypocritical legal claims. Problematic because a name and a simple character concept, barely established with a handful of brief clips, should really fall on the idea side of the idea/expression dichotomy; hypocritical because that character is himself a direct parody of a much bigger cultural icon, and relies on that very same dichotomy for his existence.

Some will say that it's no big deal: he changed the title, and now he can make the series. Luckily, this time, that does appear to be the case—but there is no reason even that should have been necessary. As Richey says, he still thinks he is in the right, but has no intention of going to court: not just because of the expense, but because he doesn't want to. He wants to create, not have creator-fights with his peers. But somehow the industry that claims its every move is about protecting creators always manages to get in the way of people like that.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:39pm

    I don't think you've thought this all the way through. What'll happen if a studio says that it doesn't want something to be made, and that thing gets made anyway? It'll be anarchy! People will make cool things left and right, with absolutely no regard for the professionals whose job it is to decide what is made! Is that the kind of world you want, Masnick? One where anyone can just make anything just because they feel like it?

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:40pm

    Maybe the trolls just don't know how to use the web

    If I were a troll on this blog, it just seems to make sense that for every one of these articles that details how the industry is not looking out for the creators, the trolls would simply post a story about the content creators talking about how wonderful SOPA and copyright are.

    Why don't those stories ever make headlines? Are there any ?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:43pm

      Re: Maybe the trolls just don't know how to use the web

      Well there was that one about how killing SOPA would mean putting an end to Spongebob. I know I'm sad that new episodes will never be made after the death of that bill.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    If he gets extra funding beyond his target goal...

    I would make an another film about the process of trying to make the short and being hassled by the industry.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:45pm

      Re: If he gets extra funding beyond his target goal...

      Or advocate fans produce a series of takes on the concept and give a little push to Streisand the whole thing.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

      Re: If he gets extra funding beyond his target goal...

      Or he could advocate that others create a series of fan film shorts based on the same concept and give the idea a little push to Streisand the whole thing.

       

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    He then had is agent pitch it through official studio channels, but never heard back—so he took the idea to Kickstarter, planning to produce the series himself.

    He then had his agent

    FTFY

     

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    PRMan, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    I know...

    He should change the name to something that shows the character to be intelligent and mysterious...

    I know:

    Dr. Who


    What do you think?

     

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    Isaac Kotlicky (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:11pm

    Even Better

    Title it: Professor Where, the 4th dimensional extraterrestrial!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:11pm

    "and the project is already more than half-funded"

    That's what you think ... wait till the lawyers ask for 'their' cut after filing all sorts of frivolous lawsuits. Win or lose, litigation costs will ensure the lawyers get paid either way.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:14pm

    doesn't make it right that just because a company has plenty of money, it should be allowed to use that money to stop what was a 'fun thing'. there was no threat to either of these companies but they have to step in. innovation fails again

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:15pm

    Detering creativity

    It is a sad fact that the legalistic IP intensive culture of Hollywood prevents many good script ideas from ever being seen by those who might be able to make something of them. Sadly this kind of negative pressure on culture and creativity is only being expanded with the emphasis on "global IP culture"

     

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    Colin, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:17pm

    So glad this is getting some press. I've already pledged and am doing a write up about it for my blog...if it's half as fantastic as Community is, it'll be money well spent.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    Oh Marcus, you got a full time job with Techdirt. So all that brown nosing paid off!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    You know, I just realized something. The problem with Hollywood is that none of the people running things there watch their own products.
    If they were fans of their own shows, they wouldn't send lawyers after other fans for making fanart, right?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:26pm

    I like the series Community although I stopped watching it after just a few episodes because it was the end of 2009 and I promised myself I would not download anything illegally anymore and so I did.

    After 2010 never watched a single episode of that TV series and didn't remembered until now.

    Should I start pirating again?
    Nah, I will just let it go.
    Don't want me to pirate online that is ok, I will not go out of my way to find it elsewhere either.

    Another one I was watching was that one with a mon(car saleswoman), dad and 3 kids of a small town, can't remember the name, where the little one repeated words in a weird way, and the 2 teenages where dumb, that one was funny too, but can't watch.

    Fine out of sight out of mind.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    Stop being a shill for the content theives. NBC established the character and fake show title, when a video came out bearing the name "Inspector Space Time" people would assume it was produced by NBC/Sony. All the guy had to do was rename it and now the association is gone - problem fixed. If NBC hadn't raised the issue it could have opened up the door to lawsuits later if someone took offense to the contents of the video they didn't even produce. Now because of the name change there is little chance that someone would mistakenly assume that the video was produced by NBC/Sony.

     

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      Michael, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 1:51pm

      Re:

      That's true in a legal sense; it was likely a 'work for hire' case. Nevertheless NBC could've given the creator, Travis, their blessings but refused to. Why? Who knows. Probably because they didn't stand to make a profit. IOW, it's A-OK whenever a major conglomerate like NBC utilizes someone else's created content for inclusion via their media outlets, bringing in advertising revenue/ratings from it, yet they'll break out their lawyers as soon as the tables are turned.

       

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        Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

        Re: Re:

        That's true in a legal sense; it was likely a 'work for hire' case. Nevertheless NBC could've given the creator, Travis, their blessings but refused to. Why? Who knows. Probably because they didn't stand to make a profit. IOW, it's A-OK whenever a major conglomerate like NBC utilizes someone else's created content for inclusion via their media outlets, bringing in advertising revenue/ratings from it, yet they'll break out their lawyers as soon as the tables are turned.

        Perhaps the most ridiculous part is that Community's future is uncertain (it only narrowly avoided cancellation this season) and they could really, really use any new fans that a project like this brings in.

         

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          Michael, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Perhaps the most ridiculous part is that Community's future is uncertain (it only narrowly avoided cancellation this season) and they could really, really use any new fans that a project like this brings in."

          But NBC's corporate pride will not allow for somebody else to do that work for them. They MUST maintain absolute control of all their content, even at the expense of the creator's willingness to further promote/enhance a preexisting work.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 4:59pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's why it's clear you aren't in the media world for real.

          Basically, if one show fails, another will take it's place. They will try some other combination of X and Y and Z and come up with something else more palatable to people's tastes. Poor or marginal ratings show that something isn't right. It's not an online community or a fan anything that will save very many shows. It happens rarely enough (think Family Guy) that people tend to remember it.

          In the end, it's cheaper, easier, and much more productive to come up with a replacement or show changes that will make the product appeal to more people, rather than narrowly appealing MORE to the smaller existing fan base alone.

           

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            Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 5:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Heh. I think you're the one who is making it clear how little you know.

            Community is one of those fan-saved shows. It was the uproar from fans and critics that brought it back from "indefinite hiatus" (usually a death sentence)

            But yeah - god forbid that Hollywood would every try anything new to promote a show, or consider making a show that isn't "some other combination of X and Y and Z". I know I know - that's not their style.

             

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              Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 10:11pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              It's not about trying something new to promote the show. Rather, it's a question of return on effort. Why jump through all of the hoops, only to discover that replacing the show with a series of home made cat videos drives twice as many viewers?

              Oh and, no "indefinite hiatus" is not a death sentence. That is actually a much better status than an outright cancellation, that means they were waiting for something else to suck even worse and get cancelled, and then bring this show back.

              I wouldn't call it "fan saved" as much as "saved by the numbers".

               

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      MrWilson, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 3:18pm

      Re:

      "Stop being a shill for the content theives."

      You're confusing yourself again. We're talking about a content creator here. You know, the kind that the MPAA supposedly, selflessly looks out for?

      "when a video came out bearing the name "Inspector Space Time" people would assume it was produced by NBC/Sony."

      It would just SUCK for NPC/Sony to have people think that they were cool and supported fan projects. Fans of NBC shows might think the studios care what they think, and we can't have that!

       

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    Anon, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 3:23pm

    15 Seconds of fame

    Inspector Spacetime is a character created by Community and they own it.

    What happens if this Travis guy creates an extremely unfunny web series that is not representative of Community? How would that help the show?

    He looks like an opportunist that is getting a bunch of geeks to buy him $20,000 worth of camera equipment. I also saw that he continues to bash NBC. Way to go, genius. It looks like Community will be back for another season. Hmmm...wonder if they are going to replace the Inspector....wonder if they would ever have this guy on any of their network shows again. Congrats. You just crapped on your 15 seconds of fame.

     

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      Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 3:39pm

      Re: 15 Seconds of fame

      Inspector Spacetime is a character created by Community and they own it.

      And yet every aspect of him is directly lifted from Dr. Who. How does that work, exactly?

       

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        TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 7:25pm

        Re: Re: 15 Seconds of fame

        Just an aside here, isn't it funny that the BBC isn't suing NBC, the Community and anyone else they can find even loosely connected to the program for airing Inspector SpaceTime to begin with as it's so clearly a rip-off (whoops parody) of Dr. Who?

        Or does the Beeb know something about the value of (a) free publicity and (b) keeping the fans of the good Doctor happy than NBC is failing to understand with their screwing around with Community?

        Incidentally Dr Who was finally brought back after a hiatus by it's fans and the Beeb's peek at it's account books which made them realize what a money maker Dr Who is in syndication, particularly the Tom Baker years.

        So best leave well enough alone and let NBC do publicity for Dr Who for free. :)

         

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      Torg (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 4:01pm

      Re: 15 Seconds of fame

      "What happens if this Travis guy creates an extremely unfunny web series that is not representative of Community?"

      People wouldn't watch his web series for very long.

      "How would that help the show?"

      How would it hurt the show? How many shows have you stopped watching because a fan made something for it that turned out to not be very good?

       

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        engelen, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 1:32am

        Re: Re: 15 Seconds of fame

        "How many shows have you stopped watching because a fan made something for it that turned out to not be very good?"

        Have you ever been in a fandom in your life? Fans ruin shows for fans ALL THE TIME. Fans have stopped watching a show because of bad fan fiction (I'm not one of them, but I know it's happened).

         

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          Torg (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 6:45am

          Re: Re: Re: 15 Seconds of fame

          I've been a part of a number of fandoms in my life, which is how I know that making bad things is just something that fans will do. Anyone who's ever been in a fandom has likely seen some very bad things and knows how to cope. If something ends up being boring, then the people that were excited about it will shake their heads, lament the loss of a good opportunity, and move on (I've seen it happen). If it's worse than boring they'll just say "this sucks" and move on (I've seen that happen too), and if it's really, truly terrible it could end up beside the likes of My Immortal and Quarter-Life in the minds of fans (which, again, I've seen happen). Rule 34 can turn some people off of a show just through association, as can a detailed depiction of the dismemberment and disembowelment of one character by another, but I don't get the impression that that's what this is. Something without those things would have to be very precisely calibrated in order to destroy a fan's enthusiasm for the related show.

           

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          Torg (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 7:00am

          Re: Re: Re: 15 Seconds of fame

          I've been a part of a number of fandoms in my life, which is how I know that making bad things is just something that fans will do. The things that ruin shows for fans are stuff like Rule 34 and Cupcakes, not just generically bad things. If something ends up being boring, then the people that were excited about it will shake their heads, lament the loss of a good opportunity, and move on (I've seen it happen). If it's worse than boring they'll just say "this sucks" and move on (I've seen that happen too), and if it's really, truly terrible it could end up beside the likes of My Immortal and Quarter-Life in the minds of fans (which, again, I've seen happen). Something without porn or gorn would have to be very precisely calibrated in order to destroy a fan's enthusiasm for the related show (I've never seen it happen, at least). For a show about a show within the show I don't think it would even be theoretically possible.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 12:00am

      Re: 15 Seconds of fame

      How exactly is he bashing NBC? From what I've read, he seems to be going to great pains to make sure everybody knows this was only a lawyer issue, and that none of the people from Community were behind the legal threats.

      I've watched a lot of the stuff on his Youtube Channel, and he seems like a really creative talent, whose biggest problem seems to be a lack of quality equipment. I was happy to donate.

       

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    Chargone (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 7:15pm

    i wouldn't be at all surprised if somewhere in the process once he started doing this independently someone at the studios had the thought "hold on, once he's got this all established, he'll have a much stronger claim to the whole thing and could sue us over the bit in our show and win." only worded better.

    still shouldn't have got any further than that thought being shot down due to the timing, but it wouldn't surprise me.

    it still baffles me why studios, presented with these sorts of things, first turn it down, then sue... why not just give the guy a liscence in the first place and collect a percentage of any profits he might make? that way your ownership is established and you potentially get income you wouldn't be getting otherwise... not to mention any works based on That have to come back to you too...

    i mean, come on, you already HAVE this stupid system, at least Use It Right...

     

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      Torg (profile), Mar 5th, 2012 @ 7:47pm

      Re:

      Not greenlighting it makes some sense. Limited resources, can't take every spinoff series a fan proposes, and if the original show was about to be canceled that means the network isn't going to be very enthusiastic about giving its offspring airtime. Even so, actively fighting it is just idiotic. Everyone except apparently NBC's lawyers knows that fans make things about their shows, and no one is going to get confused and think that NBC is raising money on Kickstarter.

       

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    Doctor Ian Malcom, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 10:10am

    Chaos Theory: It just happened!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2012 @ 7:59am

    again, if he wants to create so bad, let him create his own show, not take someone else idea, that they put into the show and use it, so much for him being a creator

     

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