by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 10th 2013 11:27am
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 7th 2013 8:45am
from the but-the-industry-is-dying dept
And, yes, the "but what about my $100 million movie" crowd will scoff and argue that this number is so "small." But, two points there: first, this number is growing very, very, very fast. And if you can't understand how trends explode, then you're going to be in trouble soon. Second -- and this is the more important point -- those funds helped create 8,000 films. For those who have been arguing about culture and how we're going to lose the ability to make movies... this suggests something amazing and important is happening which goes against all those gloom and doom predictions. By way of comparison, the UN, which keeps track of stats on film production, claimed that in 2009, 7,233 films were made. Worldwide.
Also, some will inevitably suggest that these aren't "real" films and don't "count" or aren't important. But, of course, the data shows that it's creating a nice long tail of film production, and that includes some very "real" films no matter how you measure. According to the Kickstarter post:
- At least 86 Kickstarter-funded films have been released theatrically, screening in more than 1,500 North American theaters according to Rentrak. Another 14 films have theatrical premieres slated for 2013.
- According to Rotten Tomatoes, three of the 20 best-reviewed films of 2012 are Kickstarter-funded (The Waiting Room, Brooklyn Castle, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry). Another Kickstarter-funded film, Pariah, was among the best-reviewed of 2011.
- Two films have been nominated for Oscars in the past two years: Sun Come Up and Incident in New Baghdad. A third, Barber of Birmingham, launched a project after being Oscar-nominated. Three documentary features and two documentary shorts are currently shortlisted for Oscar nominations in 2013: The Waiting Room, Detropia, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Inocente, and Kings Point.
- Kickstarter-funded films comprised 10% of Sundance’s slate in 2012 and 2013. In total, 49 Kickstarter-funded films have been official selections at the prestigious festival.
- Kickstarter-funded films comprised 10% of the 2012 slates at the SXSW Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival. In total, 57 Kickstarter-funded films have premiered at SXSW and 21 at Tribeca.
- At least 16 Kickstarter-funded films have been picked up for national broadcast through HBO, PBS, Showtime, and other networks.
- Kickstarter-funded films have won at least 21 awards at the Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes, and Berlinale festivals.
- Eight Kickstarter-funded films are nominated for Independent Spirit Awards this year.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Dec 11th 2012 12:35pm
from the with-help-from-alexis-ohanian dept
The music industry may have screwed Lester Chambers for decades, but we the internet public can right their wrong.
Thanks to the open internet (things we fought for against SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, etc.), sites like Kickstarter and other innovations that are being worked on by entrepreneurs right now, we have the opportunity to do right by artists and cut out those who'd mistreat them. We have the opportunity to create solutions that will support artists in the digital world.
In looking over this, I'm reminded that earlier this year, during a debate with Jonathan Taplin, Alexis similarly offered to help struggling career musicians launch Kickstarter campaigns, and was mocked for his offer. It raises questions, yet again, as to who is actually helping musicians out these days? The people whining about how copyright laws must be enforced... or the people actually setting up and creating new services to help musicians make money?
by Leigh Beadon
Fri, Nov 30th 2012 6:38pm
from the balancing-act dept
Kickstarter is an amazing platform that faces a lot of interesting challenges. Chief among them is a combination of quality control and expectation management — both of which revolve, in many ways, around image. As in: what is Kickstarter in the eyes of users? On the one hand, the company wants to weed out the worst projects, because it knows that a few high-profile failures could cause serious damage to its image. On the other hand, it wants users to understand that there are always risks involved in backing a project, so they should be discerning and be prepared for delays or other problems. This led to their recent changes to the rules, focused on divulging risks and challenges (which basically everyone agrees is a good thing), preventing people from treating Kickstarter like a simple store or pre-order platform (a more controversial move), and minimizing promises by banning product renderings (the source of the most debate). In the latter two areas, Kickstarter is treading a fine line.
Firstly, there's the "Kickstarter is not a store" aspect (which was the name of their initial blog post about the rules). The core change here was prohibiting projects in the Product Design and Technology sections from offering multiple-item reward tiers (e.g. get three widgets, get five widgets, etc.) which had previously been a pretty popular strategy for launching new consumer products on Kickstarter. They felt that offering multiple items would lead to a lot of disappointment when some projects inevitably go wrong, since it gives the impression that the product is "shrink-wrapped and ready to ship" — and if it is, then it shouldn't be on Kickstarter, a platform geared at helping products to completion, not selling finished ones. That makes sense, but it comes with a few problems:
- Kickstarter acknowledges that in some cases it makes sense to sell products as a set — but that in such cases, you won't be allowed to sell them individually. This ignores the wide variety of versatile products that might make sense individually or in sets. For example, take the Ubi computer (a sort of stationary Siri) which finished its funding just two days before the rule change. It's a device designed to be useful as a standalone unit or a network of units throughout a large home — so it offered one, two, three, five and ten packs (and got backers at all those tiers). Now, for comparison, look at the still-funding Light by Moore'sCloud, which is similarly designed to be useful as a single unit or a house-wide solution, but is unable to offer multi-unit package tiers. It's not a perfect comparison because the Light also has an extremely ambitious funding goal and its entry-level price is a bit lower, but it's interesting to note that despite having 1,398 backers to the Ubi's 1,190, it has raised only $157k to the Ubi's $229k. Though both projects are precisely what the Kickstarter rules are supposed to favor — new devices in the advanced prototype stage that needed resources to finalize the development — the Light seems to be held back by the new restrictions.
- Of course, it's not quite that simple, because there's a weird loophole in the rules. Though projects aren't allowed to offer multiple items at specific reward tiers, they are allowed to offer them as add-ons. For those unfamiliar with the Kickstarter add-on process, well, it's not really a process at all: creators tell backers how much money to add to their pledge for various things, then it's up to them to survey the backers after the project ends to find out which add-ons they want, and square that up with the pledge amount. If anyone made a mistake like failing to cover shipping, they have to deal with it themselves using something like Paypal, absorb the loss, or piss off the backer. Thus, many products actually are available in bigger quantities, but many Kickstarter users are unaware of this process, or confused by it, and project comment pages are filled with repeated back-and-forths about how to order. Rather than preventing Kickstarter from being a store, the change has just made it a store with a worse customer experience.
- Then there's a second weird loophole. The rules only apply to the Product Design and Technology categories — projects under Publishing, Graphic Design and Tabletop Games, for example, can still offer multiple copies at various tiers in a very store-like way. In a way this makes sense, since books, posters, board games and decks of cards all have much clearer, simpler supply chains and paths to completion than a new tech gadget or a unique manufactured product. But that's not universally true: some of the best product innovations are the simplest — easy to create, and destined to become ubiquitous. If they fall under the product design category, though, they are forced to pre-sell them one at a time. And then you get some real anomalies, like the still-funding (and highly successful) Dice Rings. They are a manufactured product design in every sense, but because they were accepted to the Tabletop Games category, they can offer reward tiers with rings in several different quantities — and a huge portion of their backers have pledged for those higher tiers. And, once again, they are exactly what Kickstarter is looking for: a neat idea in a late-prototyping stage that needed a final push to enter production. But they would have faced massive restrictions were it not for some lucky category overlap.
As these loopholes and anomalies show, there are plenty of products that have a perfectly good reason to offer multiple-item tiers without going against Kickstarter principles, and such projects seem to benefit highly from doing so. When you look at this, you realize that the rule change has a built-in negative effect: it optimizes against the best-planned and most reliable projects. It's basically saying "if you don't have a significant risk of failure, you shouldn't be here." But while it's important for entrepreneurs to be aware of risks and challenges, they also pretty universally have a lot of faith in their idea — so telling them they aren't allowed to promise people five widgets, when that may have been a key part of their widget sales strategy, just drives the most confident creators elsewhere.
The other controversial rule change is the ban on product renderings and simulations. This was an attempt to avoid situations like when Felix Salmon pointed out that the prototype of the hugely popular Lifx Lightbulb was a long, long way away from the snazzy mockup plastered all over the Kickstarter page, and made a pretty compelling argument that the whole thing was vaporware. Again, this makes partial sense — but it seems like there are a lot of situations in which product renderings, responsibly used and properly labelled, would be vital to educating potential backers about a project. In a recent submission to Techdirt, Tom McWilliams, creator of the Tiger Cam 3D video microscope, provides an example from his own experience in attempting to launch the project on Kickstarter:
3D imagery is hard to demonstrate when you aren't physically immersed in the actual experience. Most of the time we see 3D advertised using pictures of objects flying out of the screen at us or funny block letters emerging from a picture. We did some (not all) of the same type of effects in our Kickstarter project video to try to emphasize that the really cool part of our product was the 3D experience it offered.
The week we were set to launch our project on Kickstarter, the press release was issued about Kickstarter's new guidelines for technology projects. After a bit of concern, and a lot of review, we presumed that we had complied with these new guidelines, including those prohibiting product simulations. After all, we weren't simulating what our project might do in the future, we were illustrating what our 3D microscope does right now, using the medium we had available to us. After submitting our project, it was declined by Kickstarter because it was deemed that simulations of any kind in our project video were prohibited. We then went back to re-think the video. After removing our 3D-like graphics in the video our project was accepted, but it seems that the message might have been lost in translation.
It's easy to understand the rationale behind the new technology guidelines from Kickstarter. Kickstarter projects are about concrete projects looking to fund their next steps, not about what someone thinks they might be able to create if given the backing. But when simulated images convey the essence of a project in a way that a thousand words cannot, even if disclaimer were to be boldly displayed, there is room, one hopes, for conversation.
McWilliams also raises an excellent question about what exactly a "simulation" is:
Some technology projects are easy to demonstrate by showing a user's interaction with them. But often isn't this simulated? Did that alarm clock really wake up the actor in the video, or was it a simulation? Other projects might be more difficult to demonstrate and ask for a stretch of the imagination in order for the viewer to understand the true user experience. Our 3D microscope product certainly garners this challenge, and we feel that in the end maybe we weren't able to convey this experience to potential project backers.
It seems like Kickstarter realized that managing backer expectations, and controlling the quality and the honesty of projects, was a complicated challenge, so they decided to make a bold move that they hoped would initiate wide-scale change for the better, even if it did a little collateral damage. Unfortunately, such strict broad strokes seem to be creating more problems than they are solving, and unfairly disadvantaging projects with perfectly legitimate interests that run counter to the rules.
Luckily, Kickstarter is still an evolving platform, and none of this is set in stone. It's only been a couple of months since the change, and the company can likely be convinced to revisit the rules once it has a little bit more data to see what effect they had. But, ultimately, they have to listen to their users, both creators and backers. They may not want to be a mere store, but they can't be a haven for creators who hedge every bet while scaring away those with ambitious goals. In striving to manage expectations, Kickstarter can't forget that the best entrepreneurs have high expectations of themselves.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 21st 2012 7:39pm
from the that-is-ridiculous dept
3D Systems claims that Formlabs "took deliberate acts to avoid learning" about 3D Systems' live patents. The lawsuit claims that Formlabs looked only for expired patents -- which seems like a very odd claim. Why would they only seek expired patents? Either way, the lawsuit claims that all of the articles that highlighted how the expiration of patents made Formlabs' printer possible meant that Formlabs must have known about its patents. Again, not quite sure the reasoning makes much sense here.
But what's really crazy is that 3D Systems isn't just going after Formlabs... but Kickstarter as well. You can read the whole filing here. 3D Systems is claiming that because Kickstarter takes a cut, it's equally liable.
Upon information and belief, Formlabs and it sales agent Kickstarter knew or should have known about, or were willfully blind to, 3D Systems' extensive patent rights in the area of three-dimensional printing and stereolithography, including but not limited to 3D Systems' U.S. Patent No. 5,597,520 covering improved methods of stereolithographically forming a three-dimensional object by forming cross-sectional layers of an object from a material capable of physical transformation upon exposure to synergistic stimulation, by virtue of their sales of machines touted by Formlabs as using "stereolithography (SL) technology," which is a technology invented and extensively patented by 3D Systems and its founder Charles Hull.The accusations against Kickstarter are really ridiculous -- suggesting that it encouraged infringement:
Upon information and belief, Kickstarter contributes to the infringement of the '520 Patent by offering to sell and selling within the United States the Form 1 3D printer which is an apparatus for use in practicing patented processes of the '520 Patent, constituting a material part of the invention, knowing the same to be especially made or especially adapted for use in an infringement of the '520 Patent, and the Form 1 3D Printer is not a staple article or commodity of commerce suitable for substantial noninfringing use.Most bizarre of all? 3D Systems claims that because Kickstarter encourages "hacker and maker" projects, it's knowingly encouraging infringement -- as if "hackers and makers" are only about infringement. This is a really cynical attempt to tie those words to a negative connotation where clearly none is meant.
Upon information and belief, Kickstarter knowingly or with willful blindness induced and continues to induce infringement and possessed specific intent to encourage another's infringement by, or was willfully blind as to the '520 Patent and with respect to, its activities and Formlabs' activities described above.
Upon information and belief, Kickstarter had specific intent to infringe the '520 Patent by virtue of its agency, business and sales arrangement with Formlabs, which had actual knowledge of the '520 Patent and/or was willfully blind to the existence of the '520 Patent as set forth in the allegations above.I've read those paragraphs over a few times and I still can't see what the issue is there. How is supporting hackers and makers somehow evidence of "intent to infringe"?
Indeed, in Kickstarter's own Guidelines as to "Project must fit Kickstarter's categories" at http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines?ref=footer, under section 02, under "View Design and Technology requirements," Kickstarter is actively encouraging "hacker and maker" companies to make 3D printers for Kickstarter to sell, stating: "Not everything that involves design or technology is permitted on Kickstarter. While there is some subjectivity in these rules, we’ve adopted them to maintain our focus on creative projects: D.I.Y. We love projects from the hacker and maker communities (weekend experiments, 3D printers, CNC machines) and projects that are open source. Software projects should be run by the developers themselves."
Either way, 3D Systems has now permanently placed itself into the category of companies not worth ever doing business with. Suing Kickstarter just because a competitor was selling a better, cheaper 3D printer and you got jealous? Shameful.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 26th 2012 8:56am
from the pointless-articles dept
...this revolution has a few mitigating circumstances. First, Kickstarter might produce many new documentaries, but the odds are that those documentaries will be of a very particular kind (this critique also applies to other sites in this field like indiegogo.com, sponsume.com, crowdfunder.co.uk, pledgie.com). They are likely to be campaign and issue-driven films in the tradition of Super Size Me or An Inconvenient Truth. Their directors seek social change and tap into an online public that shares the documentary's activist agenda. A documentary exploring the causes of World War I probably stands to receive less—if any—online funding than a documentary exploring the causes of climate change.I see. And does the "old" system of Hollywood regularly make documentaries exploring the causes of World War I? I'm really not sure I understand how this is a criticism at all. Unless a platform can fund any and all types of movies, it's not really that big of a deal? Under those conditions, nothing is particularly good. Basically, what this paragraph seems to argue is that, "gee, Kickstarter is good at funding projects that lots of people want to see, but not so good at funding projects that people aren't as interested in." I'm not sure that's a critique. It seems to be the purpose of the site itself.
Second, some films require significant startup costs (think drama-documentaries or history movies) or involve considerable legal risks that may be hard to price and account for. Say you are making a film that includes an undercover investigation of the oil industry. When you have the BBC's lawyers backing you up, you'll probably take many more risks than when you are relying on crowdfunding. But if Kickstarter is your platform of choice, you'll probably forgo venturing into the thorny legal issues altogether.I'm curious to know if there's any actual evidence to support this argument. One could just as easily claim that when your project has the backing of a big corporation with liability-averse lawyers, you're a lot less likely to be allowed to take risks, than when you rely on crowdfunding. I don't know which is true (though having spent too much time around movie industry lawyers, I'm pretty sure my statement is a hell of a lot more accurate than Morozov's), but where is the actual data to support this bizarre claim?
There are further complaints that seem equally silly. For example, Morozov points out that someone raised money on Kickstarter to help get his film on physical screens in movie theaters -- and that's somehow proof that Kickstarter isn't that special, since the "old" way of showing a movie is still involved. I'm at a loss as to how any of this is mutually exclusive. There is nothing inherent to Kickstarter that says if you use it, you can only do things online. What's wrong with using it to show a film in theaters?
All in all, this seems a lot like Morozov set up what he thinks Kickstarter should be about -- and then knocked that down. In the logical fallacy world, that's known as a strawman.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Sep 24th 2012 12:40pm
from the could-be-handled-much-better dept
While the story mentions that Kickstarter has disappeared at least 5 projects due to DMCA takedowns, the one it focuses on is a very recent one -- a project by a new design company called Vinted Bags, makers of interesting vintage-style leather goods (the same business my grandfather was in -- though, when he did it, the products weren't "vintage"). Vinted had put up a Kickstarter project that blew past its target, and seemed to get plenty of attention. And then, just hours before it was funded, it disappeared, replaced with a page that says: "Sorry, this project is no longer available."
This is the same Kickstarter who also claims:
Projects are not closed or taken down, they remain on site for reference and transparency.Except, apparently, if someone files a hugely questionable DMCA takedown... The Vinted team provides some troubling background info on its own site. First, it notes that two Vinted designers did an unpaid internship with a bag company, where they worked and learned for a few months, considering the founder of that company to be a mentor. Months later, after that internship had ended, they founded Vinted. They worked on that for a while, and it was only once the Kickstarter project took off and got attention that suddenly the legal threat showed up:
For the same reasons, projects cannot be deleted, even if they were canceled or unsuccessful.
Then we received a letter from a law firm; a cease and desist letter from the mentor with threats to sue. We were very surprised. It consisted accusations of infringement from the mentor. He laid claims to a number of our designs such as our website utilizing a top navigation bar, our photo of the designer operating a sewing machine, etc.Note that there are no accusations concerning the products themselves. While Vinted doesn't name the guy, the Wired article names Spencer Nikosey, who runs Killspencer. Looking over their products, there doesn't seem to be any copying there. While there are a few similar bags, they are pretty standard and Vinted's are distinguished by their use of leather patches. In terms of website design, there are some similarities, but nothing that should come close to meeting the qualifications to be copyrighted (remember, copyright covers the actual expression, not the idea). Ditto a photo of the designer operating a sewing machine, which is obviously not infringing. Even if the ideas are similar, that's not infringement.
And yet... Kickstarter took the project down. Again, I'm having trouble understanding why it would do so. You might be able to make an argument that if Spencer Nikosey had claimed that the products themselves were infringing, Kickstarter should take it down -- but even then, there should be a clear notification from Kickstarter to its users about what happened, as well as a notice on the site (a la YouTube) highlighting why the project no longer existed.
But, in this case, even that doesn't apply, because there is no infringement in the product. Instead, the concerns appear to be about web design and how the company is presenting itself. But Kickstarter doesn't host Vinted's website. And if there was concern about certain images, at most, Kickstarter should just remove the image in question, rather than the entire project. The whole thing seems quite crazy and a case where Kickstarter both could have and should have stood up for itself, for Vinted and for its users, and told Nikosey "too bad." Instead it pulled the project.
Vinted has filed a counternotice, and Kickstarter passed it on to Nikosey. If Kickstarter is following the DMCA counternotice process, it should put Vinted's project back online on September 27th -- unless Nikosey goes to court and files a lawsuit against Vinted, seeking an injunction barring the return of the campaign. Of course, Kickstarter could also realize that the original takedown appeared questionable and put the campaign back. What's not clear, however, is how that would work. There were just a few hours left in the campaign before the plug was pulled. Would they put it back with a few more hours? A few extra days? Or would they just charge those who bid? Hopefully they can put it back, and didn't just delete the whole thing.
Looking over the details, it's difficult to see this as anything other than yet another in a long line of unfortunate examples of companies or individuals using the DMCA to stifle competition, rather than for any sort of legitimate purpose. That Kickstarter is complicit in this process is unfortunate, because it need not be. There are better ways to handle such situations and it's a shame Kickstarter has chosen not to do so.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Sep 21st 2012 2:31pm
from the some-good,-some-bad dept
New projects will be required to detail what the risks and challenges of the project are, and how they intend to overcome them. It should be pretty interesting to see how those sections turn out. To be honest, I could actually see that being really useful for people behind these projects, as it's not uncommon for enthusiastic creators to not even want to confront the risks and challenges they're facing. Forcing them to do so will hopefully lead to more realistic assessments of what can be done.
The other rule changes seem a bit strange to me, and I'm not sure they'll be as effective. The first is to ban renderings or simulations of products:
I can certainly understand why they're doing this, as it will clearly give a much more realistic picture of where things are at the moment. But it seems like requiring renderings and simulations to be clearly marked as such might be a more effective solution -- along with showing what the actual current state of the technology is. Since many of these projects need money to finalize development, it seems fair to show what they intend the final product to look like.
Product simulations are prohibited. Projects cannot simulate events to demonstrate what a product might do in the future. Products can only be shown performing actions that they’re able to perform in their current state of development. Product renderings are prohibited. Product images must be photos of the prototype as it currently exists.
The other ban is on offering multiple quantities of a reward, unless it really only makes sense that way (like where you need a pair of devices to make something work). That's to reinforce the idea that this isn't a "store" for pre-buying things, but to really get people to invest in the project itself. While it does often feel that projects got a bit lazy with upper tiers that were little more than "5 of x," I'm also not sure that this one really makes that much sense. Kickstarter defends the decision this way:
The development of new products can be especially complex for creators and offering multiple quantities feels premature, and can imply that products are shrink-wrapped and ready to ship.I understand the line of thinking... but I could see that taking away value from potential buyers who are willing to take the risk and buy in on a product early, where they'd like multiple quantities.
Either way, it's fascinating to watch how Kickstarter continues to evolve -- and to note that the company (as it has for a long time) seems very keen on listening to what people are saying, and figuring out reasonable ways to avoid any problems.
Fri, Sep 21st 2012 8:23am
from the it's-not-that-hard dept
Some companies are making at least a half-hearted, if not completely misguided, attempt at trying to be hip. However, it seems to have been about as successful as a 60 year-old trying to use modern slang in order to connect with kids. Take for instance this recent comment by Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart in which he describes an exchange he had with a publisher about Kickstarter.
We were actually contacted by some publishers over the last few months that wanted to use us to do a Kickstarter.If you can't see the huge glaring flaw in the unnamed publisher's approach, let me elaborate. This publisher wanted to use Kickstarter as the funding source for an as yet unidentified project, while still keeping every other aspect of the traditional publisher/developer relationship intact. This means that the publisher would pay no money upfront, limiting almost all risk for the success of the project, while reaping all the rewards. Seriously.
I said to them ‘So, you want us to do a Kickstarter for, using our name, we then get the Kickstarter money to make the game, you then publish the game, but we then don't get to keep the brand we make and we only get a portion of the profits’ They said, ‘Yes’.
While it is great that this publisher had become aware of Kickstarter and its potential for success, the fact remains that those in charge do not understand it in the slightest. The draw of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding services is to help creators fund their works and bring them to market. Few potential backers will be willing to support a project in which the creator loses all rights and control of the work after creation. These services are about empowering creators. A deal, such as the one above, in no way empowers the creator.
Hopefully, this is just a simple misstep as the publisher learns to walk the unfamiliar path of a new business model. We can hope that this publisher learns from this mistake and will take the time to better understand the culture behind crowdfunding and can find success by adapting itself to this culture rather than trying to shoehorn crowdfunding into its current business strategy. Because if it isn't willing to adapt, it might as well give up now.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Sep 10th 2012 8:05pm