When it comes to passionate fan-bases, it's kind of hard to match Star Trek fans. This is a group of fans that fuel much of the cosplaying and fan-creating that goes on to this day. CBS, owners of the Star Trek copyrights, has had something of a complicated relationship with these fans, flip-flopping between allowing this community to foster a wider appreciation of the franchise while occasionally clamping down on them. In the past, it has seemed clear that CBS' chief criteria for deciding when to go legal on fan-made works boils down to two factors: is there money involved and just how professional is the fan-creation going to be?
That trend appears to be ongoing, with the news that, once again, CBS is shutting down a fan-made Star Trek work, which thought it enjoyed the network's support, after it was clear that the fan-movie was probably going to be good.
Axanar, the subject of a lawsuit filed on Friday in California federal court, is no ordinary Star Trek film. The forthcoming feature film (preceded by a short film) is the source of more than $1 million in crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The producers led by Alec Peters aim to make a studio-quality film. As the pitch to investors put it, "While some may call it a 'fan film' as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew--many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself--who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trek that all fans want to see."
By August, Peters was giving interviews expressing confidence that the project would survive any legal heat. He spoke to The Wrap that month and reported having a meeting with CBS. He says he was told the film couldn't make money — and evidently, he took that to be a good sign. "CBS has a long history of accepting fan films,” Peters told the entertainment site. “I think Axanar has become so popular that CBS realizes that we’re just making their brand that much better.”
Unfortunately, the lawyers over at CBS apparently don't see it that way. CBS is asking for an injunction on the film and damages for copyright infringement. This flies in the face of all of the amateur Star Trek films and shows that have been allowed to exist. The primary differentiation here certainly seems to be one of quality, with those working on the film touting their experience and know-how.
But why should that matter to CBS? To be clear, CBS is within its rights to shut this down, but given that it has seen value, or at least a lack of harm, in allowing other fan-made works to exist, why should a quality fan-made film suddenly be a threat? If anything, as Peters noted, allowing fans to grow the universe, to participate in its creation and foster new and deeper fandom should only benefit the Star Trek franchise. Upping the quality of that creation would, it seems, benefit the franchise even more.
Instead, this comes off as another ham-fisted smackdown of a fan-created film that, given the support it received, was something Trek fans were looking forward to.
Another day, another example of copyright being used to censor. A few weeks ago, we wrote about a sketchy crowdfunded "food scanning device" company called TellSpec, which had ridiculously threatened the online publication Pando Daily with laughably ridiculous defamation claims. The threats were ridiculous for any number of reasons, including the fact that the statute of limitations had expired and the commentary wasn't even remotely defamatory. There were also some weird (and stupid) threats about suing in the UK, despite TellSpec being based in Toronto and Pando in the US. At some point, TellSpec then denied having made the threats, but that appeared to be pure damage control.
Not surprisingly, this reaction led Pando to continue to investigate TellSpec, and it discovered some more sketchiness, including another crowdfunding campaign which has since been pulled. Basically, despite the fact that TellSpec hasn't delivered the product it promised to Indiegogo users, and despite the evidence that the product they're working on doesn't even do what they promised (not by a long shot), TellSpec tried to raise more money via a different crowdfunding site -- Crowdfunder -- which focuses on equity crowdfunding for accredited investors (though Pando shows that Crowdfunder appears to make no effort at all to verify if users are accredited investors).
From there, Pando's Paul Carr got access to TellSpec's investment documents, in which it claims many of the basic features it promised years ago won't be ready for years in the future, and suggests that it's still a long way off from delivering even a much more limited product (which it told Indiegogo backers it would start shipping by last month at the latest). Also, Carr notes that these documents never actually mention the details of the Indiegogo campaign (or mention Indiegogo at all), but rather suggest that the company has tons of "pre-orders" which they use to show how successful they are. This leaves out the frustrations from all the backers who haven't received anything, and who are doubting the company has a real product.
Carr posted those documents on Scribd as source documents to support his reporting... leading TellSpec to (1) send him angry and bizarre threatening emails and (2) issue a DMCA takedown to Scribd, leading Scribd to cave and take them down (be careful who you partner with, people).
THIS IS AN OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION THAT A USER OF SCRIBD (choose one): * has posted my copyrighted/trademarked work without my permission.
I am (choose one): * the duly authorized representative of the exclusive rights holder
for the following titles: Tellspec Executive Summary 09-30-2015 3 Tellspec_TellSpec-Investor-Deck_09-30-2015-3 Tellspec_QA-Tellspec_09-18-2015-3
I have a good faith belief that the use of this material in such a fashion is not authorized by the copyright holder, the copyright holder's agent, or the law. * I agree
Under penalty of perjury in a United States court of law, I state that the information contained in this notification is accurate, and that I am authorized to act on the behalf of the exclusive rights holder for the material in question. * I agree
I hereby request that you remove or disable access to this material as it appears on your service in as expedient a fashion as possible. Thank you.
Your full legal name (required) * Isabel Hoffmann
Company name (if applicable) Tellspec Inc.
Physical address: * 7B Pleasant Blvd, suite 991 Toronto, ON M4T 1K2 Canada Email address: * [redacted by Pando] Phone number: [redacted by Pando]
Pando has now learned that you should not use Scribd if you're a journalism outfit. Once Pando started complaining publicly, Scribd agreed to put the documents back, but it shouldn't take public condemnation to stop copyright misuses for the sake of censorship.
But, more importantly, we get yet another example of people using the DMCA for censorship, rather than to protect against any legitimate "copyright infringement." And this is the regime some people think is worth expanding?!?
Last month, we wrote our very first "Content Creator of the Month" post all about Realm Pictures, a cool video production house in the UK. Realm had done some truly amazing things over the past few years, embracing the internet in new and unique ways, from their no-budget film Zomblies to the astounding Underwater Realm, for which they'd held a very successful Kickstarter campaign. In August, however, they had a massively viral hit when they created a "real first person shooter," while having some fun in their offices (which happened to be an old church), finding "players" via ChatRoulette (which, yes, apparently still exists). You might have seen it:
It's currently got about 8.5 million views, and is still amazing. The week after it came out, I got to interview Dave Reynolds, who runs Realm and is the "director" (and the voice) in that video. A few times in the interview I pointed out that this was an amazing new form of interactive entertainment, though it felt like he was trying to push off that claim, saying it was just something they did for fun on a weekend. I also asked him this: "Have you thought about letting people pay to play this or future such games?" And he rejected the idea outright, saying:
We feel like a lot of what made this resonate with viewers so strongly, was the fact that they were completely random players who had just stumbled upon this game online, and making people pay to play would make the experience less special somehow.
Apparently, he seems to have reconsidered on both accounts (I'm sure because plenty of others made the same point, so I don't think I can claim credit on this...). Today, Realm released Level 2 of their Real Life First Person shooter, and in many ways it's more advanced and impressive than the first:
But much more interesting than that is that the Realm team seems to now agree that this is a fascinating form of interactive entertainment, that they want to focus on. With the new level, Realm has also launched RLFPS.com along with a Kickstarter campaign, whereby you can help to fund Level 3 of the game.
And it's not just about funding. 50 of the people who back the project will get to play Level 3. Oh, and there's a lot more as well. They're going to do a prologue part, where all the backers can watch it streamed live and vote in real time how the character should act -- like the famous Twitch plays Pokemon event from a few years ago, but more fun. Plus backers get to help guide the making of the later levels as well. And all of that comes for merely £1.
It sounds like this will keep going for multiple levels. And the stuff they're working on sounds great. As Dave says: "We have the best AI in the industry, because it's not artificial."
This looks... amazing.
The only thing I'm slightly surprised about is the decision to do it on Kickstarter (you can also back them directly via Paypal for the same reward), rather than something like Patreon. When I interviewed Dave, he seemed a bit down on Kickstarter, saying that he felt the bubble was "beginning to burst." With Patreon, they could have done the same thing, but then gotten people to pay £1 each time they release a new level -- but perhaps they didn't like going that route. Either way, the whole project looks really cool, and amazingly creative. I've put in my £1, and I'm excited to see what they come up with next...
This month, the focus is on Ross Pruden, who we've written about a few times before for his Kickstarter project Dimeword, where he planned to write 100 stories of 100 words each and put them all in the public domain. Just as the campaign was succeeding, Pruden wrote a piece for us looking at what factors made the campaign successful, but it's been interesting to follow the project since then.
Even in this era when more and more content creators are willing to experiment with alternative licenses (usually Creative Commons style licenses), it's still quite rare to find someone going with public domain dedications. So I'd been curious to see what made Pruden go in that direction and how he felt about the choice. Pruden told me that while he toyed with other license options, he wanted to see what would happen if he freed the work entirely, believing that it would help spread the work further: "Was it my ultimate goal to spend time and legal resources (and perpetual anguish) squeezing every last royalty penny out of every iteration of my art? Or did I just want my stories to go far and wide around the world to bolster my own reputation as a writer… and add untold value to printed book versions of those same stories? And what of the added value to all my future works of art? The choice seemed clear."
Pruden also cited the fact that Tim Berners-Lee made sure that CERN relinquished any intellectual property interests in the World Wide Web... and look at how that turned out?
Pruden has worked in various jobs within the TV and film industry for years, so he also had some background in how that industry functions, and notes that he first truly started thinking about issues related to intellectual property when he was trying to start up his own film company. He started thinking about how piracy might impact his business plan, and decided that exploring new and unique business models was a better approach -- noting that he was inspired by the way Valve set up Steam.
The other thing I wanted to discuss with Pruden was that, after the crowdfunding campaign was successful, he actually ran into some issues with completing the stories (he did eventually, but it took much longer than expected). Even though he completed the stories and sent them to those of us who backed the project, he still hasn't completed edits on the stories for public release or released them in book format (though he's planning to soon). I was curious as to why or how that happened. It's fairly typical with Kickstarter projects for them to be delivered late, and with hardware projects it's often about logistical issues. However, with a writing project, I was curious if there were other reasons. Pruden noted that there were a few different reasons, including that it turns out to be crazy difficult to write stories that are all 100 words -- and he struggled with whether or not to "break" that part of his project. And then there were some additional logistical issues as well -- and some "performance anxiety" in that there were lots of people waiting for these stories and that creates a different kind of pressure.
I think that's one aspect where there's still lots of room for improvement in the various services that are helping content creators. I've seen a few smaller crowdfunding providers try to add more features to help with the "follow through" part of the projects, but it's not clear if any of them have truly caught on. However, it does appear to be a big opportunity area.
Either way, my full interview with Ross is below. Go ahead and celebrate his decision to create more works and release them into the public domain!
Can you provide a little background about your career in the film/TV industry?
I worked as a model for commercial print work in Manhattan from the age of 9, which meant fashion modeling and magazine ads. That led into commercial video work (insanely fun for a kid my age), yet as I grew older, going on auditions grew tiresome, and I soon decided a career in acting was simply too brutal for my teenage self-esteem. Though that wasn't the end of it of my interest in film. My dad had taken a 9-week intensive film course at NYU and, one summer between college semesters, I took that same course and fell in love with making movies.
Being on a film set is something akin to a magical point in time. You're earning a dollar just like everyone else in a featureless cubicle, but you never know exactly where you'll be working, and it's never in the same place again. New relationships are forged quickly. You meet celebrities. You get to tell stories. In 1994, I thirsted for film work, but I was newly married and living in the London suburbs where no films were being made. Instead, I focused all my attention on screenwriting, on honing my craft.
When my feet landed in Sacramento in 2003, I found lots of film work. I even worked as an assistant director on a feature film where the director quit due to creative differences with the producer... and I ended up directing the rest of the film! The project never got released (thank the Fates), so you’ll never see that one on IMDb.
I did story consultations for shorts and feature films (still do) but my day job in the film biz was as a Script Supervisor. That was a killer job. I got to watch every frame being shot, keep track of everything to make sure no continuity errors were made, and talk with the director in-between takes. I did some feature films and shorts, but the bulk of my "scripty" work was in commercials for big corporate clients from San Francisco like Kashi, Kawasaki, etc. Sadly, when my first kid was born in 2007, I had to give up working on film sets. I went back to writing and put things in motion to start my own film company; if I couldn't be on a film set, at least I could manage film productions from home, right?
A few years back, you became very interested in how to embrace the internet for content creation, even hosting a regular online conversation about the topic. Can you discuss your interest in the internet?
It dawned on me around 2000 that something really crazy was happening for artists concerning the internet. Of course I had been in awe of the internet's power since the early 90s, but in 2000, I had one of those a-ha moments. I was working in a San Francisco ad agency and this designer -- in between the crazy rush of putting out comps and mechanicals -- was idly dabbling in downloading music illegally. Remember, this was the age of Napster, just before iTunes had launched. I remember this designer leaning close to his screen, poring over a long list of songs… basically the list was anything you could possibly want to listen to. He turned to me with this look of awe, obviously amazed at how much music he could access for 'free' and said, "This cannot last." That's when I knew the internet would profoundly change any creative industry whose work could be translated into digital data.
In 2007, as I was writing up my film company's business plan, I came face-to-face with the "problem" of piracy. As I saw it, I had a responsibility -- to my family's financial well-being, to my business partners, to my company investors, and frankly to my own sanity -- to completely understand the landscape of film production and distribution before I haphazardly started producing my own million-dollar feature films. If piracy was "killing the movie industry," as I had so often heard, then I deserved to take a closer look and think long and hard about my own approach to piracy. If I didn't have a feasible plan, then I felt I'd be walking straight into a crossfire without any armor. I needed to understand piracy inside and out. Why did people pirate movies and music and software? Could piracy ever be realistically stopped? Had other companies or artists found workarounds? Instead of fighting piracy with legislative regulation (which never seemed to stop piracy anyway), wouldn't it be more effective if you could beat it with a better business model?
At that point in time, Valve’s online game management platform Steam was only 4 years old and I knew in my heart they had the winning business model. They were competing in markets rife with piracy and doing very well. Could my own film company ever emulate that approach? I chose not to start a film company until I could offer a business model of equal caliber. Making art in the digital age requires a whole new set of tools, and I was just starting to get a grip on what they might be.
What's your impression of how the film/TV industry has reacted to the internet (in both good and bad ways)? Who do you think is doing some of the most exciting work?
Short answer: Those who are doing it well: Amanda Palmer and Steam. I constantly look to those two creators because they really understand how to connect with their fans, they understand what they sell, and they know how to sell it. I put my dollars into their wallets frequently. Those who fail: DVDs listed at $20-$35 when the youth generation can watch it for free on Popcorn Time or The Pirate Bay. Puh-lease.
Long answer: I’m a cord cutter, so I'm sworn off all cable TV, though not for lack of trying: my wife and I had paid cable TV three separate times in our married life, and each time we were dissatisfied by a swath of channels we couldn't opt out of, and how we felt obliged to watch TV more frequently because we paid so much for it. That sucked. So we vowed to never get cable again. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime via our Apple TV. Sometimes we rent or buy movies with the flick of a button. I’m eager to check out HBO Go now since they've finally cut their service loose from a cable TV requirement. I could easily go back and rewatch every episode of The Wire.
In 2012 you launched a Kickstarter project for Dimeword -- a set of 100 short stories that you planned to release in the public domain. What made you decide to offer those works in the public domain? What do you think the public domain means to you?
At first, I confess I was bearish about putting the Dimeword stories into the public domain. I toyed with publishing them under a CC-BY-NC license, but any kind of legal restriction nukes the shelf life of a work of art. The more you remove legal restrictions on a piece of art, the more you increase the chances of that art spreading freely throughout the world. Was it my ultimate goal to spend time and legal resources (and perpetual anguish) squeezing every last royalty penny out of every iteration of my art? Or did I just want my stories to go far and wide around the world to bolster my own reputation as a writer… and add untold value to printed book versions of those same stories? And what of the added value to all my future works of art? The choice seemed clear.
On April 30, 1993, Tim Berners-Lee had convinced his bosses at CERN to publish a memo that relinquished all intellectual property rights to the code we know as the world wide web. No royalties. Forever. And we know how that turned out. Open source is the ultimate tool. Dimeword, with its super short stories spread across separate genres, seemed a perfect fit for a similar approach.
What made you decide to use Kickstarter?
All my filmmaker friends had their projects on there, and I really liked the all-or-nothing aspect to fundraising. If I’m really being honest, I liked Kickstarter's cleaner web design over Indiegogo's. :)
What was your overall impression of the Kickstarter process? What lessons did you take from it? Would you use it again or would you consider other platforms like Patreon or something else entirely?
I love how easy Kickstarter makes running the campaign, e.g., suggesting your offers be scarcities, letting you contact donors easily, and keeping track of whose information you’ve gathered. What I’d love to see more of is pledge fulfillment tracking. It was a huge headache after the campaign to manage who got what and where I was at with all of pledges. I think there may be some third parties that fill that role but if Kickstarter doesn’t offer it now, they’re missing out on a huge value add.
As for Patreon and other platforms, I absolutely would consider using them, but I’m a hard sell for new things. Once I’m sold on a service, I’m monogamous, but I must be convinced they’re mainstream enough to be seen as legitimate. Patreon has popped onto my radar enough that I’d consider it. But my heart remains with Kickstarter.
It appears that after the campaign completed, you struggled a bit with actually getting the stories done. Would love to get your thoughts on what happened? (to some extent I wonder how much more pressure a completed campaign puts on content creators).
First off, mea culpa. I made a campaign promise to write 100 stories only 100 words long, which I realized early on was going to be way more challenging than I thought, but for reasons I had not anticipated: the stories weren’t too long, they were too short. So it took me some time to wrestle with the idea of breaking my pledge promises to make something of far greater value than what I had originally promised. Once I made peace with that, I struggled with how the whole project was going to look once complete. Compounding all the logistical questions I was facing, I was forging a new path into public domain literature so I had some unanswered questions on how the finished book would be sold, distributed, and marketed. For example, should I incorporate? LLC vs. S Corp vs. Sole Proprietor? Should I bother with an ISBN? So I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had some performance anxiety.
What's next for you?
I’m working on a screenplay now that I’d like to direct as a low budget feature film in the next 2 years. It’s about an astrophysicist who wakes up in her own house but suspects something is seriously wrong and spends the rest of the story questioning her own perception of the world. It’s essentially an excuse to talk about brainy topics like Planck length, Dyson Spheres, and quantum entanglement. Because it’s such a talky "two-hander," the budget would likely have to be small… which makes it a good fit for a public domain feature film... with a crowdfunding campaign similar to Dimeword.
Another day, another ridiculous legal threat. This time it's from a company called "TellSpec" against the news site Pando Daily. Last year, it appears that Pando had a couple of articles about Tellspec, a crowdfunded food scanning project that raised $386,392 on IndieGoGo. Pando was reasonably skeptical of the product, which claimed it could tell you the "allergens, chemicals, nutrients, calories and ingredients" of your food just by "scanning" the food with a handheld device. Pando called it a "giant medical scam."
Physicists weighed in that the scientific claims made by Hoffman and Watson were at best dubious and at worst a blatant scam. According to TellSpec’s Indiegogo page, their food scanner would be powered by a “Raman spectrometer,” which puts out pulses of light to measure particle density and collect a detailed fingerprint of the food which is then analyzed in order to calculate nutritional information.
Physicists called bull.Raman spectrometers are weak, big and expensive. To do this scan accurately you would need to be sending out a high density of wavelengths from the spectrometer, fueled by a high-powered source, not a tiny rechargeable battery as TellSpec claimed. It would be impossible, many people said, to miniaturize this so dramatically and to do so for a $250 price tag. That’s without taking into account that most experts suspected the technology would be useless in assessing the finer details of food texture and detecting small trace ingredients in low concentrations, like the food allergens it swore it could find.
Pando noted that after public criticism, TellSpec added a disclaimer (not originally in its pitch video) that the video was not of a real device, but was "solely for the purposes of demonstration." Since the campaign was funded, the story from TellSpec has changed over time. Here's more from that Pando article from last year:
On November 18, TellSpec posted a “Live demonstration of technology” on its YouTube page. Unlike the small, less than palm sized device promised on Indiegogo, the scanner used in the four-minute video is much larger, doesn’t operate wirelessly and has a secondary part crudely taped onto it.
Also, some video trickery:
Once again TellSpec displays its knack for misleading videos. When the camera focuses in on the phone to show off its analysis of the food being scanned, the phone’s clock is clearly on display. The first result is from 1:30 p.m., but in the next shot it’s 1:21 p.m., 1:22 p.m. and 1:23 p.m, before jumping back in time again to 1:15 p.m., 1:18 p.m. and 1:19 p.m. What we’re clearly seeing is not a live demo, but a series of cut together clips which cast doubt on whether what’s shown on screen has any connection to what was scanned by the device.
And then there's this:
Then surprise, surprise, in mid-March, TellSpec updated their Indiegogo page to say that they were ditching the technology that they claimed in the video to have spent nine months working on. The TellSpec scanner wouldn’t have a Raman spectrometer in it, but would instead feature Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, essentially a series of micro-mirrors that switch on and off at high speed.
Last year, Tellspec was victim of a persistent and consistent defamation attacks, with three articles written by James Robinson and published by Pando Daily. We have sent requests to the editor as well as the past writer to retract the defamation done both on Tellsepc [sic] and my person.
Social media and in particular RedIt [sic] has several explanations that are not very ethical for this sudden attack on Tellspec, I encourage you to read them. After several failed attempts to contact the editor I have engaged a lawyer to start an action against Pando Daily.
I understand that you are now the chairman for Pando Daily and I wonder if you are aware of this. I would appreciate a call or an email so this can be resolved amicable [sic] and without further delay. Tellspec has suffered financial losses due to these articles that claim we are a scam. Please advice [sic] if we can talk before my lawyer contacts you and the editor.
All typos in the original. This is a joke. As Ken "Popehat" White often points out, a hallmark of censorious trademark attacks is a failure to actually show what statements the person or company believes to be defamatory. Also, generally speaking, the statute of limitations on defamation claims is one year. The article that Isabel Hoffman/TellSpec is complaining about is from April of 2014. They kinda missed their window to sue, if they truly believed it to be defamatory. Of course, there would actually need to be defamation in the original article as well. And I'll say this as someone who generally is not a fan of Pando's reporting, I can't find a single thing in the original articles that would even border on defamation.
In the Pando article about the threatened lawsuit, Pando editor Paul Carr notes that Hoffman called Pando's lawyer and is now threatening to sue the site in the UK (famous for somewhat more ridiculous defamation laws) despite the fact that Tellspec appears to be based in Canada and the US, not the UK. After a bout of "libel tourism" the UK finally updated its defamation laws a few years back to make it much harder for non-UK individuals and companies to sue there. And Pando is based in the US as well. Even assuming there was some legitimate way to get a case going in the UK, the SPEECH Act in the US would certainly protect Pando. In short, the whole threat appears to be your standard ridiculous bullying, which will only serves to draw more public scrutiny to Tellspec's silly project and the original claims it made that it has failed to live up to. Or, as Carr notes:
Hopefully it goes without saying that Tellspec is very welcome to sue us in San Francisco, London, Timbuktu or on Mars. We stand firmly behind our coverage of Tellspec and, as is our policy in these situations, will aggressively defend -- in any court that actually has lawful jurisdiction over Pando -- against any attempt to silence our reporting.
Of course, finding a lawyer actually willing to file a lawsuit in any of those places may prove to be a challenge. Someone accurately calling you out for a sketchy product with a misleading pitch is not defamation. Sending threats past most reasonable statute of limitations is not a good idea. Sending a threat to sue in a random third party country is not a good idea. And, of course, doing all of that in an attempt to stifle some bad press coverage of your sketchy product is... well... not generally a sign of good judgment.
Content Creator of the Month is a new project from the Copia Institute that we'll also be highlighting here. Each month, we'll profile a new content creator who is doing interesting and compelling things, often using the internet in innovative and powerful ways. Here is the very first installment...
A few weeks ago, a couple of friends friends were tweeting about an incredible new YouTube video in which some people created a "real life first-person shooter" and hooked it up to Chatroulette, Skype and Omegle. Random people on the services were transported into this game, which they controlled with their voice. If you haven't watched it, find ten minutes to check it out (or just 5 if you speed up YouTube to 2x speed). It is incredibly detailed, and awesome beyond words:
My first reaction was to marvel at how much effort must have gone into setting all of this up. I had initially assumed the "game" couldn't go very far beyond the tiny room where it started — but it goes much, much further. My second thought was about how hard it must have been to coordinate all the sounds, effects and movements (even while recognizing that the final version is cut together from the takes that "worked"). Thankfully, the people behind it — Realm Pictures — also put together a behind the scenes video that reveals the inner workings (and doesn't make the original any less magical):
I started looking into the team, and realized I actually knew a bit about them, as this is hardly the first time that Realm Pictures has done cool stuff online. Years back, while based out of their home in Devon in the UK, these guys filmed their very own zombie flick called Zomblies, which they posted for free on YouTube. For a bunch of "amateurs" (at the time), the production value is amazing -- they even got someone to donate time in a helicopter, allowing them to film aerial shots. But there's another important piece of the story: while they were making the film, Realm Pictures was also using the internet to build up a community of people who were interested in the process, with their daily blog about the work acquiring a big following.
David Reynolds, the founder and creative director of Realm Pictures (and the voice in the first person shooter above), told me that "building a community has always been instrumental to both our process and our success with projects thus far." The community has followed them from project to project, such as the team's next giant undertaking The Underwater Realm, a series of five short films with large segments taking place underwater — an incredible challenge for any filmmaker, let alone relatively inexperienced independents. The team originally tried to use wires and a green screen, but realized it just wasn't realistic enough. Eventually someone donated a special casing for a camera, allowing them to actually film underwater (mostly in a local public swimming pool). Here's the first of those films (and they also have a behind the scenes video):
In order to make that movie, they also embraced another useful online tool, Kickstarter, to cover some of the production costs, eventually raising over $100,000 (they had sought $60,000). While Reynolds is supportive of crowdfunding, he does worry that it may be peaking, and that "the bubble is beginning to burst, as now it seems that everybody and his dog has a Kickstarter campaign."
One of the things that struck me personally about Realm Pictures is their ability to create visually amazing narrative film projects on relatively small budgets. For many years we've been debating the question of "the $200 million movie," in which traditional Hollywood studios keep asking how they can continue to make movies that require such huge budgets if people are unwilling to pay to watch them. And yet, as we've seen over and over again, technology and basic creativity are enabling the creation of incredible movies for a lot less. Much of Realm Pictures' work shows how that's possible. Still, Reynolds has talked in the past (notably in an interview with Kevin Smith) about being interested in doing a much bigger, Hollywood studio-funded version of Underwater Realm, which he estimates will cost somewhere in that $200 million range. So far, studios haven't been willing to pony up — but Reynolds insists there are lots of fun projects the company will be working on, even as they hope they'll one day be able to create that underwater epic.
Throughout these projects there's a strong thread: building a community and bringing it along for the ride. Reynolds tells me this is very important to how they've been able to succeed and, at the same time, give back to those who have supported them:
It is a practice we hope will always continue through our career, and at the same time give back to the community which has supported us by giving back in the form of a transparent insight into our work and things like the free tutorials we have released on our YouTube channel.
Reynolds points out that, in the end, none of this matters if the content isn't great, and that's always been the key: create great content for your community. Without that, the community won't last either. This is the combination that we've seen work for so many successful creators today. Creating great content is always at the core, and building up a loyal community around it helps spread that content and open new doors.
In terms of this latest video, which went viral super fast (I first saw it when it had about 3,000 views, but now it has over 7 million), Reynolds says it was just a fun project that they did in a weekend, with "one practice run, with a member of our team on a Skype call... to check that the system was working, and then straight into finding strangers on the internet." They ended up doing about 50 runs, with the few players who completed the whole "level" taking about 20 minutes. This is one of the first really "interactive" film experiences I've seen where the interactivity fits right in and doesn't feel forced (though of course now everyone is just watching instead of playing — but watching how others interact still feels kind of interactive). Reynolds points out that they're really just taking what makes video games so engaging, and moving it to video.
Oh, and Reynolds also notes that they're now working on level two of the game, so stay tuned (and maybe start using Chatroulette, if you want to play!)
You can read below for my whole interview with Dave Reynolds of Realm Pictures, our very first Content Creator of the Month.
from the hobbit-you-try-being-nice-for-a-change? dept
Anyone who has been reading here for any appreciable amount of time is likely already aware that the Tolkien Estate, representing the family of JRR Tolkien, watches over the world to seek out even the barest possibilities for intellectual property issues concerning the dead author, and then pounces on them with its horde of legal armies. The estate has even gone so far as to suggest that simply mentioning the author's name on a button constitutes infringement. The Tolkien Estate doesn't produce anything of public value, mind you. Nor does JRR Tolkien, who is a dead person. Instead, the estate simply nixes out any unauthorized references to the author or his famous Lord of the Rings works, for reasons I can't really comprehend.
What's frustratingly interesting about these stories is the bone-breaking stretching the estate goes to just to claim some kind of infringement. The latest example of this is the Tolkien Estate and Warner Bros. forcing a couple to eighty-six their Kickstarter campaign to build a "Hobbit House" on their campsite.
Last month Jan and Ed Lengyel decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the Hobbit house they’re building at their Suffolk countryside campsite. The married couple are running a successful holiday ‘glamping‘ (glamorous camping) business and thought the idyllic location would be very suitable for small house inspired by the popular movie.
Following a complaint from Warner Bros. the Kickstarter campaign was pulled offline without warning. The movie studio didn’t want the couple to use Hobbit references arguing that they infringe on their copyrights and trademarks. Faced with the sudden removal the Suffolk couple saw no other option than to give in to the demands and started editing the page.
Those edits revised the project to be called "Poddit Hole" instead of "Hobbit House," and altered the setting for the house as existing in "Centre-Earth" instead of "Middle Earth." Those seem like changes that are somewhat significant while still paying homage to the Tolkien works. And that's when the Tolkien Estate stepped in, claiming that the changes were still too close to "Hobbit" and "Middle Earth" and would have to be changed further. In a bit of poetry, lawyers from the Tolkien Estate insisted that the couple refrain from using names or words that rhyme with "Hobbit."
“The Tolkien Estate has asked us not to use ‘Poddit Hole’, which is absolutely ridiculous. We have got to call the project something, what would they like us to call it?” Ed Lengyel tells Daily Mail. “Even though we have bent over backwards to meet their demands they are still wanting more,” she adds.
I'll say a couple of things about this. To start, I'm not entirely clear on what copyright claim either Warner Bros. or the Tolkien Estate has grounds to make. My understanding is that the house isn't constructed to be identical to any dwelling in the films, so that isn't it. Instead, the claim appears to rest on the copyright Tolkien's estate claims on the word "Hobbit," while the trademark does the same for both that word and "Middle Earth." For the trademarks, I'm not clear on exactly when Warner Bros. or the Tolkien Estate got into the recreational camping business. If they haven't, I'm not exactly sure where the customer confusion or competition is supposed to come in to play. As for the copyright claim on the race known as "Hobbits," it's not exactly a secret that the word existed prior to Tolkien's use of it (although with an entirely different meaning), nor is it obscure knowledge that Tolkien himself based his race of Hobbits off of other fictional work. A copyright claim needs to follow specific characters or expression. Simply mentioning the fictional race as inspiration for a camp dwelling would require stretching to meet the level of copyright infringement.
And the final point, of course, is that damn it all of this should be in the public domain by now. Were it not for the extensions to copyright that occurred decades after Tolkien put pen to paper, we wouldn't even have to be discussing any of this. Of course, nothing goes into the public domain any more.
Back in 2011, we wrote about Kickstarter going to court to ask for a declaratory judgment that a patent held by ArtistShare (7,885,887) was invalid, and thus, that Kickstarter was not infringing. As we explained at the time, ArtistShare and its CEO Brian Camelio had been going around to various crowdfunding platforms asking them to pay up over the patent. Camelio, never one to hold back his opinions, explained that he was going after Kickstarter because he really just didn't like the company:
"As an artist myself, I feel that KickStarter may be hurting artists by focusing on 'donating money' rather than celebrating the artist for what they do. Their model does not build fan relationships but just continually asks for hand outs."
Even if you agree with that statement, that's completely unrelated to the question of whether the patent is valid or if Kickstarter infringed. And, indeed, the court has now ruled that the patent is, indeed, invalid. Thankfully, between the time of Kickstarter filing for declaratory judgment and this ruling, the Supreme Court's useful Alice ruling came out, making it clear that you cannot patent "generic" computer functions. The ruling in this case relies heavily on that ruling and rejects the patent as nothing more than an "abstract idea" around "patronage" which is not patentable:
The ‘887 Patent’s claims are directed to the concept of crowd-funding or fan-funding, i.e., raising funds for a project from interested individuals in exchange for incentives. Whether the abstract idea in play here is defined as “crowd-funding,” “crowd-based funding,” “fan-funding,” “incentive-based patronage,” “incentivized crowd-funding,” or some other combination of these words is of no moment: the abstract concept at play in the Patent remains the same. Claim 1 broadly recites a “system for marketing and funding one or more projects of an artist” ... and the specification describes the invention as “methods and systems for obtaining financing from interested individuals to produce a creative work in exchange for an entitlement from the author of the work” .... These claims are squarely about patronage — a concept that is “beyond question of ancient lineage.” ...
Moreover, this concept of incentive-based funding is incontestably similar to other “fundamental economic concepts,” and to other types of “organizing human activity,” both of which have been found to be abstract ideas by the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit.
Later in the ruling, the judge notes that everything in the patent is "well-understood, routine conventional activities." That is, the very opposite of what is patentable.
Nothing about the ‘887 Patent transforms the concept of crowd-funding into patent-eligible subject matter. Beyond the abstract idea of patronage, the claims merely recite “well-understood, routine conventional activities,” by requiring either conventional computer activities or routine data-gathering steps.
It's good to see a nice clean ruling, though it's too bad this had to sit in court for more than three years, wasting tons of resources that could have been focused on more innovations for creators and innovators. And, of course, it might not be over yet, as Camelio has suggested that he may appeal the ruling.
When it comes to old notions that are used to stave off the need to embrace new business models in the digital age, nothing is more annoying than the whole "the masses just want everything for free" myth. That belief is snappy, punchy, and as simple to understand as it is completely and demonstrably wrong. But for a certain segment of the population, typically older generations of the kind that pine for the good old days when America was all apple pie and tasteful cartoons, the myth persists. Now, however, the myth is old. Old enough that it's begun to lose its flavor, like a piece of gum that you've been chewing on since Metallica shut down Napster. The new flavor is every digital success story that proves the myth wrong. Kickstarter happens to be my favorite example of this. What's remarkable about Kickstarter is that it's over half a decade old and, despite some still embracing the old myths, it's somehow stillsetting records in raising money for content producers.
Shenmue 3 isn’t only the fastest game to raise a million dollars on Kickstarter, it’s also the fastest game to raise two million dollars. The project was announced last night at Sony’s E3 press conference. It’s the follow-up the Shenmue 2, which was released fourteen years ago.
Were you to believe the legacy content producers, who insist the public are free-loading internet anarchists hell-bent on ruining everything and everyone, this shouldn't even be possible. The fact that records for raising money are being broken now is perfect in debunking every part of the myth. The money rolls in over a decade after the myth's creation, despite the expectation that every day would see an increase in younger generations just wanting "everything for free." The money rolls in six years into Kickstarter's existence, meaning nobody can claim that all this money is currently pouring in due to the embrace of some new platform, the popularity of which will quickly die away. The money rolls in for a video game, the exact kind of product that those who believe the myth would expect to be the most pirated.
What does this all mean? Kickstarter is on the verge of becoming the establishment now, if it isn't already. It's no longer the upstart experiment. It's firmly entrenched as a success story in the modern digital economy, taking its place alongside iTunes, Steam, and Netflix as snap-rebuttals to the old mythos. The truth is that there are conversations to be had about how to best operate within the digital economy, but those proselytizing the old gods against a greed that doesn't exist are no more useful in that discussion than flat-worlders might be in a conversation about astronomy. The myth is dead, gone the way of Zeus and relegated to a time before the counterexamples had borne fruit. The new question isn't whether content producers can get the public to pay for their goods; it's whether the now-established platforms can scale to keep up with the wider adoption of the platform.
Site performance is back up to speed. We're still monitoring everything. We've never seen anything like this. Thanks for your patience! #E3
This was in response to the insane amount of interest and traffic generated by Shenmue 3. People flocking to Kickstarter so fast that the site couldn't keep up. People who others will tell you just want everything for free. The myth is dead. Long live the new business models.
As you may have heard, Leonard Nimoy's son Adam Nimoy is working on what sounds like an incredible and touching documentary called "For the Love of Spock" -- about both the Star Trek character of Spock and about Leonard Nimoy's career (for the none of you who don't already know this, Nimoy played the iconic Mr. Spock in the TV show and movies). It had begun as a documentary just about the character of Spock, but after Leonard Nimoy passed away earlier this year, the focus has expanded to cover his life as well. It sounds really great, but Adam is trying to raise $600,000 on Kickstarter to make it happen. There are a lot of reasonable expenses included in that $600k, but one stood out to me: the need to license images and footage of Nimoy:
It will also enable us to license the hundreds of film clips and still photographs of Mr. Spock as he has appeared on television and in feature films over the last fifty years.
It's worth noting that part of the thinking behind this was to get the documentary out in time for the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek. In other words, if anything, this documentary is only going to help draw a lot more attention to the whole Star Trek franchise which can only be good for the rightsholders. In other words, the fact that the rightsholders haven't stepped up and just granted a free license to Adam Nimoy is ridiculous and short-sighted.
Admittedly, the rights behind Star Trek are a little muddled due to the CBS/Viacom corporate split a decade ago, with each company still owning pieces. But, either way, it seems that both CBS and Viacom/Paramount Pictures should recognize that they stand to benefit greatly from having this documentary. The idea that they can't sort this out themselves and give Nimoy the photos and clips he needs seems ridiculous.
Supporting this documentary seems like a great idea -- and it sounds like much of the money will go towards all of the other important work in putting together an excellent end product. It just seems ridiculous that at least a decent chunk of the money has to be used to pay off CBS and/or Paramount to convince them to let Nimoy make a movie that will only help their own bottom line.