This Is Why We Can't Have Fun Things: The Copyright Dispute Over Lord Buckethead's UK Political Career

from the well-that's-silly dept

You might recall during the 2017 UK elections, some attention was paid to the ongoing tradition of quirky, satirical political candidates running for office. But none got more attention than one "Lord Buckethead." There are lots of videos and photos showing Lord Buckethead on stage with Theresa May on election night, but the best summary of the whole situation came from John Oliver:

Of course, this was not, in actuality, the first time "Lord Buckethead" had run for office. There was a Lord Buckethead who ran against Margaret Thatcher in 1987. And against John Major in 1992. Those were both done by Mike Lee, who was a video distributor and indie film producer, who thought it might get him some attention for some of his movies. In 2017 comedian Jon Harvey took up the cause.

But all of it was actually based on a character from a 1984 science fiction movie called Hyperspace, which was a (pre-Space Balls) Star Wars parody that you've probably never heard of, starring Chris Elliott and Paula Poundstone. Lee released the film in the UK, retitling it "Gremloids" in an attempt to capitalize on Gremlins... a totally different movie that was two years old by that point. Hyperspace/Gremloids was originally written and directed by an American filmmaker, Todd Durham.

After the 2017 return of Lord Buckethead, Durham apparently decided to exert his copyright on the character and take all the fun away:

Online interest was enormous, with offers coming in from around the world. This ultimately ended with Harvey, who once worked with Armando Iannucci on the Time Trumpet series, making contact with Todd Durham, the film-maker behind the original Gremloids. Initially friendly conversations later broke down, with the US film director asserting his control over his previously forgotten creation.

Harvey had attracted hundreds of thousands of followers to the Twitter account and felt he had some degree of moral ownership over how the character had developed. “Todd said that the Twitter account I created wasn’t legal as it stood, and that to rectify it I needed to give him the password to the account. I didn’t know then – and still don’t know now – what my rights were and I couldn’t find an affordable way to find out, so eventually I acquiesced.”

Early this year the account began tweeting again and someone else in a newly commissioned costume began appearing at People’s Vote rallies, raising £15,000 to stand in the EU elections, only for the electoral bid to be abandoned when it was pointed out that a run would be likely to take votes away from remain-supporting parties.

From there you get lots of typical copyright-speak:

Durham – who also created the successful Hotel Transylvania franchise – said the crowdfunded money had been returned. He also asserted that no one else had “any legitimate claim nor right of control to my copyright-protected character for any reason”.

“The comedic intergalactic space lord character that I created and developed was not taken in a new direction by others in 2017,” said the director, citing the historical occasions when different individuals had stood as the character against Margaret Thatcher and John Major. “Then, in subsequent decades, I continued to develop the political direction of Lord Buckethead’s character through projects of my own.”

Yeah, sure. But the only reason Lord Buckethead has any attention now in the political climate we're in is because of what Harvey did with it. And this gets at some of the many problems with copyright today, in which ownership of "the copyright" may be wholly disconnected with what makes a work popular or interesting. This keeps happening where someone takes some mostly ignored/obsolete piece of popular culture and makes it relevant again -- only to find the copyright holder suddenly demanding money for it.

You can argue, of course, that Harvey never should have used the Buckethead character in the first place, but it's a bit laughable to argue that Harvey wasn't what drove all of the new interest in the character in the past few years. But, because copyright does not recognize this possibility, and gives so much control to the holder of the copyright -- even if they're not using it -- we end up in situations like this where we lose out on some fun because people get so obsessed with owning cultural ideas and memes.

Filed Under: copyright, gremloids, hyperspace, jon harvey, lord buckethead, mike lee, politics, todd dunham, uk


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 3:41am

    Lord Buckethead is OK I guess but I'm still a die-hard Raving Loony.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 4:38am

    A nice anecdote that shows why pirates have destroyed this type of use by creating the need for strict enforcement and laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Gaben, 31 May 2019 @ 4:44am

      Re:

      Piracy is a service problem, not a legal one, you dumb fuck.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        H. Rider Square-Wheeler, 31 May 2019 @ 4:53am

        Re: Re:

        Piracy is a service problem, not a legal one, you dumb fuck.

        Riiiight... But if CAUGHT you have legal problems up to jail.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 7:23am

        Re: Re:

        Piracy is a service problem, not a legal one, you dumb fuck.

        You're very brave with that mouth when hiding behind a monitor. Like Masnick, you're a coward.

        You're also wrong: piracy is a federal crime.

        I might start suing EVERYONE who pirates my work, come to think of it. Why not? I definitely have standing and now I have the name of a few law firms who are very good at it. Maybe I could just transfer one of my copyrights to them and let them go to town with it just to piss you off.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 7:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "You're very brave with that mouth when hiding behind a monitor"

          You make a lot of pathetically stupid arguments, but this new one of attacking people for "hiding behind a monitor" while simultaneously refusing to stop hiding yourself is a nice effort to top your previous failed arguments.

          "You're also wrong: piracy is a federal crime."

          You really need to read up on what the laws actually say at some point.

          "I might start suing EVERYONE who pirates my work, come to think of it. Why not?"

          Please do. The court documents will reveal what works people need to stop buying to avoid funding whatever lifestyle you have where you think this is a decent way to spend your time. The rest of us will thank you when we know which waste of skin we need to make sure we don't accidentally support with our purchasing budgets.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 4:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You make a lot of pathetically stupid arguments, but this new one of attacking people for "hiding behind a monitor" while simultaneously refusing to stop hiding yourself is a nice effort to top your previous failed arguments.

            It's not new, they've been making use of that pathetic brand of hypocrisy for a good while now, but yes, it is just beyond laughable.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 8:10am

          piracy is a federal crime

          Then how come the feds haven’t tossed all those grandmothers and dead people in jail after the RIAA sued them for piracy?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 8:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How's that Grindr lawsuit coming along, Herrick?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Aaaand you completely miss the message. I'm not sure if you missed it in good faith, but I'll assume so and develop his message there.

          He wasn't saying that piracy is not a crime.

          The comment was about how stricter laws never had a large nor lasting impact on piracy, while a better (ie more affordable and more convenient) service (eg launch of Spotify or Netflix in a country) did have both meaningful and lasting impact.

          Hence "a service issue rather than a legal one", meaning a problem that you can solve with a better service and not with more laws.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 7:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Aaaand you completely miss the message. I'm not sure if you missed it in good faith, but I'll assume so and develop his message there.
            He wasn't saying that piracy is not a crime.
            The comment was about how stricter laws never had a large nor lasting impact on piracy, while a better (ie more affordable and more convenient) service (eg launch of Spotify or Netflix in a country) did have both meaningful and lasting impact.
            Hence "a service issue rather than a legal one", meaning a problem that you can solve with a better service and not with more laws.

            I know what he said, I just disagree with what he said.

            A "last mile" law that holds liable any ISP or search engine that links people to pirated works would stop it in its tracks. Article 13 is as close to that as we have.

            My work gets stolen all the time so it'd be very easy for me to sue the infringers if I wanted to, and this site here is convincing me that maybe I should exercise my rights. Why people insist on denying that I have been pirated is beyond me. It seems they want to marginalize my viewpoint with ad-hominem attacks.

            If someone writes a how-to book on car repair that sells only one copy, with the remainder stolen (pirated), there's not much incentive to publish versus say opening a garage.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2019 @ 7:17pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              It's because you say you've been pirated and take absolutely no action to deal with it other than post angry comments on a website you hate.

              This is the same sort of thing that Malibu Media does: instead of watermarking their porn or having better network security they sue random suckers and hope someone is scared enough to find their next mansion.

              That, plus the fact that their porn shows up on tube and torrent sites before the files are legally available on Malibu Media's website raised a few judges' eyebrows as to the legitimacy of their claims, suggesting that Malibu Media files were very much intentionally leaked.

              You also get insulted for being so pissy at Masnick the best you can do is insult his family for kicks.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2019 @ 12:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "If someone writes a how-to book on car repair that sells only one copy"

              Then they had a really bad business model and wasn't going to make money unless it was an extraordinarily niche item.

              This is why we think you're lying when you claim to be having things of value pirated - your grasp on reality is clearly very weak.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:43pm

          Re: Cryin Lyin Jhon sobered up again

          You’re such a sad pathetic liar Jhon boi. You don’t got shit but a dock that don’t work.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:46am

      Re:

      I despise every last one of those "look at what you made me do" assholes. Own up to your fucking actions you vile twats!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 6:21am

      Re:

      Durham is a pirate?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 8:38am

      Re:

      [Asserts facts still not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    KR3456-d34d, 31 May 2019 @ 4:43am

    Next election we should elect Dark Helmet to the office

    Know any UK-based midgets that could fill the role?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      H. Rider Square-Wheeler, 31 May 2019 @ 4:57am

      Re: Next election we should elect Dark Helmet to the office

      ASTRO-TURFING!

      "Gaben" and "KR3456-d34d" have the same gravatar to my eyes.

      And since the latter touts "Dark Helmet", I think it's clear WHO made both comments. -- Of course, could be some other netwit, but to bring up the "Dark Helmet" with no obvious linkage, that's ODD.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 7:55pm

        Re: Re: Next election we should elect Dark Helmet to the office

        Me thinks you are an idiot. Either that, or you just don't know much about movies. Dark Helmet is the main bad guy from Space Balls... which just happens to be mentioned in the story because it is in the same vein as Sir Buckethead.

        And yes, I do believe Tim is an admitted Mel Brooks fan, but that doesn't matter here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    H. Rider Square-Wheeler, 31 May 2019 @ 4:51am

    You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a link?

    Or at ME commenting on "your" blog to turn it to my own ends? (Your obvious self-contradiction on this point is one of my greatest sources of delight.)

    And you claim that the fanboys too have ZERO proprietary feeling for Techdirt, happy to have all views seen on "their" site?

    BALONEY! You're only calm when someone else's work is expropriated!

    You have the attitude of dullards who know they'll never create anything someone would want to steal, so it's big net plus for you to suggest such generosity by others.

    But that complex of human OWNERSHIP must not be disregarded. It's the actual motive of most human creation, without which we'd be poor indeed. (Just imagine if everyone was so DULL and practical as ME. Even I shudder.)

    Not one of you can honestly state that if came up with some good idea that'd likely bring money you'd just "share" it with no conditions.

    Take Linux for example. (Take that crap FAR away! It's become complete waste of time!) Anyway, Linnaeus didn't just give up all control of HIS work, now did he? -- Okay, BAD example 'cause it's turned to CRAP, so maybe he should have. -- Point stands.

    You haven't come up with a new idea in 20 years, Masnick. You're not fit to advise those who more than re-write.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ben (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 5:04am

      Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a li

      What an idiotic rant.

      Mike has regularly said he doesn't care if Techdirt content is copied to other sites, though attribution would be preferred.

      Ownership is bollocks, especially when it comes to creation. Every single creator is 'building on the shoulders of giants' - they're all derivative, whether consciously or otherwise. And in a digital era, copying is not theft, as the creator still has their creation, it's just that other people can see/hear/sense it too.

      Linus Torvalds does not control Linux and hasn't done ever since he released the source code to version 0.1 back in the 1990s. And it's not crap, it underlies a tremendous number of the services you're using to connect to Techdirt for a start. And the broadband router you use to get your grubby little digital paw-prints out of your mother's basement more than likely runs Linux.

      And if you want to talk about original ideas... what have you come up with recently that we should care about?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:29am

      Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a li

      Linnaeus didn't just give up all control of HIS work, now did he?

      Considering he formalized binomial nomenclature, and his work is also long out of copyright, and it is still the basis of biological naming. I would say it was highly successful.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:50am

        Re: Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put

        Man that is one successful tricentarian, Carleus Linneas. Although he had quite the gap of over two centuries between his taxonomy and Linux.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 31 May 2019 @ 6:35am

      Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a li

      Take Linux for example. (Take that crap FAR away! It's become complete waste of time!)

      Steve Ballmer, is that you???

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 6:49am

      Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a li

      "Take Linux for example. (Take that crap FAR away!"

      You do know that you're using it right now, and every time you visit this site, right? Please feel free to stop using it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 7:26am

      Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put a li

      You have the attitude of dullards who know they'll never create anything someone would want to steal, so it's big net plus for you to suggest such generosity by others.

      That's the main thing. People whose work has actually been pirated see that clearly.

      I think, to "honor" Techdirt, I'm going to become a copyright maximalist and sue literally everyone who pirates my work. That number is in the many thousands.

      It would probably make me rich, which people outside the little pro-priacy clusterfuck, admire.

      I would be doing this because I have legal standing, but knowing it pisses off Masnick would just be gravy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 8:12am

        I'm going to become a copyright maximalist and sue literally everyone who pirates my work. […] It would probably make me rich

        Bold of you to assume everyone you sue could pay whatever financial penalty you want to wring from them, but go off, I guess.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          BernardoVerda (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 2:59pm

          Re:

          He's assuming that anyone wants his work enough to pay a nickel (accounting for inflation) for it.

          If his work was so wonderful -- and judging by the quality of his output here, that seems extremely unlikely -- he wouldn't be wasting his valuable time here, on a site he claims to be distinctly on the "fringe" of real world concerns and interest.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 8:29am

        Re: Re:

        pirates my work

        What work?

        I didn't know you worked for Malibu Media!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 5:45pm

        Re: Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put

        Keep lyin crybaby Jhon. You gonna threaten to beat up and or rape anyone today bro?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2019 @ 5:54pm

        Re: Re: You've no slight twinge at Ayyadurai forcing you to put

        I'm going to become a copyright maximalist

        ...Weren't you already one?

        sue literally everyone who pirates my work. That number is in the many thousands

        Which would require your name on a subpoena, or at the very least, the name of said work even if you passed the copyright onto a Prenda Law. Given that you can't stand the idea of any insight into your actual identity I'm going to call this yet another toothless threat.

        It would probably make me rich, which people outside the little pro-priacy clusterfuck, admire.

        If this happened before the scourge of copyright trolling was discovered by judges... you may have well been right.

        I would be doing this because I have legal standing, but knowing it pisses off Masnick would just be gravy.

        Let's recap. Your mailing list, I mean work, was stolen by pirates who republished it using different names so you would never be paid. You refused to sue them claiming it was impossible, or the guy behind them because he was too powerful to be touched by the courts.

        Now you're suddenly able to because Masnick would be annoyed? The fuck?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 6:08am

    "Those were both done by Mike Lee, who was a video distributor and indie film producer"

    Mike's something of a hero of mine, as even though the VIPCO label wasn't always great with sourcing the best prints, he certainly released some gems. I owe my love and affection for cult and horror movies to the man, at least in part.

    But, I had no idea that it was him in the old bucket! You learn something new every day.

    "1984 science fiction movie called Hyperspace, which was a (pre-Space Balls) Star Wars parody that you've probably never heard of"

    I do remember watching it under the title Gremloids, but that was probably on the first VHS release and I don't really remember much about the actual film. Although the Star Wars-styled UK video cover certainly shows Lord Buckethead - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0141270/mediaviewer/rm1568662528

    But, you know what? Now that I'm reminded of it, I would go back and revisit it now that I know the connection... or at least I would, I might not bother now that I know who's likely to get my money. Thanks for the list of new movies to avoid too, Todd!

    "Durham – who also created the successful Hotel Transylvania franchise"

    The franchise that's completely based on riffing on characters created by other people? Funny how these guys have no problem co-opting the public domain but then get all shitty when someone might think to use something they want to claim...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 9:51am

      Re:

      Funny how these guys have no problem co-opting the public domain

      Not just the public domain; they're pretty clearly riffing on the Universal versions of the characters, who are still under copyright. If Universal had been feeling litigious...well, Sony probably would have ultimately won in court, but it would have been damned inconvenient for them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 6:25am

    Do politicians ever give these things a second thought?
    When the populace is laughing at you and actively clowning around does this cause any retrospective thinking in the politics addled brains of our fearless leaders?
    Most likely, our fearless leaders become offended and try to silence their critics by any means possible, including copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 6:29am

    It seems funny at first but as time passes it becomes old.

    That is the constant lying by everybody gets old.

    They call it satire but all satire is is lying that everybody knows is true but in reality is a lie.

    Is it true, a lie, or satire? No one knows as the lying has reached such a level that nothing has meaning.

    Words posted in the morning are changed a hundred times before lunch render at least ninety nine lies to the original article or is that at least a hundred and ninety nine lies to the same article.

    Pictures which once were proof of truth are now photo shopped into nothing more than another lye.

    Combine the continuous, insidious lying with the constant surveillance and 24 times 7 by every half backed idiot with a computer or a camera and the photo shopping of everybody into every conceivable negative situation and the results becomes everything is a lie and nothing is true.

    You can believe nothing because there is nothing there to believe.

    It is simply all one big lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 6:40am

      Part 2

      Went away to read what is alleged to be news.

      Immediately redirected to the Washington Times where you are locked out if you run add blocker.

      Now one can go straight and have dancing intrusive commercials or one can run add blocker and not view the article. If one does view the article that is license for the website to rifle one computer piping all content to only the computer god know where for what ever fraud that man can dream up.

      It is all lies and more damn lies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 8:15am

    You truly sound like a lunatic with these pointless rants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 9:50am

    The solution is simple and has always been right there in our faces: Require registration of copyright and limit it to 7 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2019 @ 10:35pm

      Re:

      Limiting copyright to seven years is one thing... but if anything makes John Herrick Smith shit in his spaghetti, it's having to have a valid registration. Which is why when the judge ruled that Malibu Media had to actually own a valid registration on the porn they were suing for, Jhon boi lost his shit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AC720 (profile), 1 Jun 2019 @ 10:27am

    That sucks. Really

    Home Depot markets a vacuum cleaner called Buckethead. It's literally a vacuum head that fits over a plastic 5-gallon bucket and turns said bucket into a utility vacuum. I'd call it a shop vac but that's also a trademark.

    The point is, HD has sold this Buckethead product for years without challenge. IANAL but that would seem to dilute the trademark of the movie character.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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