Back at the end of August, we wrote about a ridiculous situation in which the Pokemon Company decided to sue two fans in Seattle who had set up a Pokemon-themed party leading into the big PAX conference. As soon as the threats came down, these guys shut down the party entirely, but the Pokemon Company would not be stopped in its determination to totally bankrupt and destroy such a big fan who was out there promoting Pokemon and Pokemon culture. The company, represented by big copyright maximalist law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, went forward with the ridiculous lawsuit anyway. While they dismissed one guy from the lawsuit, the other, Ramar Larking Jones, didn't hire a lawyer, saying he had no money for it.
End result is that the Pokemon Company is demanding $4,000 from Jones by November or they say they'll make things even worse. Some of the reporting on this suggests that Jones has lost the case already, but that's not true. Basically, a lawyer from Davis Wright Tremaine (who should question how he sleeps at night), Stuart Dunwoody, is bullying Jones, who says he's just a broke fan of Pokemon. Dunwoody told Jones that Pokemon is willing to "settle" the case for $5,400 and sent him a "final judgment and permanent injunction" for Jones to review. This is not from the judge. This is from Dunwoody, who will submit it to the judge and hope the judge just signs off on it. And, of course, if he gets Jones to agree to this "settlement", that's what the judge will do. Apparently Dunwoody has agreed to accept a $4,000 settlement, but only if the amount is paid by mid-November. Jones has been asking if he can spread it out over a year, noting that he's basically broke and works in a cafe.
Jones, for his part, still doesn't appear to have a lawyer (note: this is a mistake), and has set up a GoFundMe page, trying to raise the $4,000 to pay off Davis Wright Tremaine and Dunwoody (who probably bills more than $4,000 per day for doing this kind of shakedown).
Yes, you can argue that perhaps Jones should not have thrown a "Pokemon-themed" party or used Pokemon characters on the poster, but, really? Does anyone honestly think there is any legitimate harm done here to the Pokemon Company? Especially compared to the reputation it will get for bankrupting someone who appears to be one of its biggest fans (or was). This whole thing is shameful, and the Pokemon Company, Davis Wright Tremaine and Stuart Dunwoody should feel bad about this. They're bankrupting one of Pokemon's biggest fans who was trying to share his love for Pokemon. How does that help anyone, other than Dunwoody's billing hours?
As Jones writes on his GoFundMe: "Trust me I will never throw another fandom party again." Congrats, Stuart Dunwoody. Another fan disillusioned. You must be so proud.
Last year, we discussed the silly defamation case brought by Andrew Rector, baseball fan(?), that ESPN's cameras showed to be sleeping(!) at a Red Sox v. Yankees game. The commentators on ESPN had some fun at Andrew's expense. Quite mild and tame fun, it should be noted. But several websites picked up where they left off, and some comments left on those websites were less than friendly to Rector. For this, Rector filed a $10 million defamation suit against ESPN and the commentators, John Kruk and Dan Shulman. It looked bad on the basis of both the law, as well as the ability of whoever filed the suit to use a spellchecker and basic logic.
While Rector’s lawsuit alleged that he was subjected to an “unending verbal crusade” by the ESPN duo, the assorted putdowns referred to in the complaint actually appeared in the comment sections of online articles about Rector nodding off during the game. Two comments cited in the lawsuit referred to Rector as a “fatty cow that needs two seats” and a “confused disgusted and socially bankrupt individual.”
In a decision issued last month, Judge Julia Rodriguez ruled that Shulman and Kruk made none of the nasty comments attributed to them in Rector’s complaint, adding that “none of the comments actually made by the announcers” was defamatory or false. Rodriguez added that, “At worst, the announcers’ comments might be considered to be loose, figurative or hyperbolic statements which are not actionable.”
Which, you know, duh. The idea that a person might snooze in a public venue where a telecast is occurring and then get upset because third parties saw footage of him sleeping is a logical bungle to begin with, but adding the money-grab feel of a multi-million dollar defamation suit against people who never said the things the suer is upset about represents such twisted brain-pretzels that it's actually hard for me to think about. Not every offense is actionable, after all, and the civil courts are not the place to rectify embarrassment in this way. The nature of the claim in Rector's original filing probably didn't help his cause, either.
Rector, a used car salesman, claimed in a court affidavit filed earlier this year that the ESPN broadcast--which he termed “bullying”--caused “enormous grief and embarrassment and affected my ability to work and go about my daily activity.” He added that, “people have avoided dealing with me. Insurance companies now consider me a high risk.”
And he thought the best way to move past all of this supposed damage was to ensure his name remained in the spotlight with a lawsuit? C'mon, son.
As of late, Nintendo's relationship with YouTube and the YouTube community has been, shall we say, tumultuous. After rolling out a bad policy to share revenue with YouTubers on the basis that those personalities torpedo their reputations by promising only positive Nintendo coverage, claiming the monetization for a large number of "let's play" videos uploaded by independent YouTubers, and even going so far as to lay claim to the review of a Nintendo game created by well-known YouTuber "Angry Joe", Nintendo clearly seems to believe that YouTube is not so much an independent community as it is some kind of official public relations wing for the company. This is really dumb on many different levels, but chiefly it's dumb because it breeds ill-will amongst fans, of which Nintendo used to have many.
And the war drum beats on, apparently, as Nintendo has seen fit to issue massive takedowns of videos of fan-created Mario Bros. levels as the company releases its own Mario-level-builder, Super Mario Maker. What appears to be catching these YouTubers in Nintendo's crosshairs is if they used any emulators or hacks in order to make these levels.
Nintendo is targeting speedrunners and modders in a new round of YouTube copyright claims, issuing takedown requests to users who post footage from modified Super Mario World levels. The mass deletion coincides with the upcoming launch of Super Mario Maker, a Nintendo-licensed level creation toolkit for the Wii U console. Removed videos feature unauthorized Super Mario World levels created using freeware tools, rather than Nintendo’s official level design software.
Nintendo’s recent copyright claims impact speedrunners who have spent years crafting and documenting unsanctioned Super Mario World mods. According to a Kotaku report, YouTube user “PangaeaPanga” states that their channel was “wrecked” by copyright claims, resulting in the permanent removal of many popular videos.
In other words, modders had long beat Nintendo to the punch in creating software that allowed fans of Mario Bros. to create their own levels, upload them, and have folks like PangaeaPanga play them out and eventually master them. This was allowed to go on exactly up until Nintendo decided to jump into this arena, at which time the takedowns ensued. What you may not know is that there has been an active Mario Bros. modding community for these past few years, dedicated to building the most challenging levels for others to play and then post their runs on YouTube. In other words, these are huge Nintendo fans.
Super Mario World enthusiasts frequently create custom levels designed to challenge veteran players. Many of these levels require the use of little-known glitches and quirks within Super Mario World‘s engine, adding a degree of difficulty not present in the original game. Creative application of Super Mario World‘s hacking utilities has also produced unique autoplaying levels, including tributes that link in-game sound effects to backing music tracks.
Under the terms of YouTube’s copyright structure, users who have their videos claimed by copyright owners lose the ability to earn advertising revenue from their creations. Copyright holders have the option of claiming ad revenue from content-matched videos. As part of its most recent round of copyright claims, Nintendo instead opted to delete targeted videos entirely.
So we have Nintendo staring lovingly into the eyes of its biggest fans while pissing on their legs. And for what? Part of the reason Nintendo will likely make a killing with Super Mario Maker is that these dedicated fans had built up an interest in these modded levels and speedruns in the first place. Now, Nintendo intends on swooping in, killing off the videos of these fans, and yet cashing in on the market that the fans essentially created? How charming.
It's not that Nintendo can't do this, it's that it shouldn't. The company gains nothing except another round of fan discontent. Real smart, guys.
Bungie, creators of the hit game Destiny, is going through a bit of a rough stretch. Whereas Witcher 3 creators CD Projekt Red have been showing the gaming industry how to do everything right in regards to DRM, DLC and consumer interaction, Bungie apparently decided to give a master class over the last few weeks on how to do everything very, very wrong.
Bungie's first misstep came when it unveiled the latest Destiny expansion pack, The Taken King. To access all of the content in this new expansion, gamers need to buy the new $80 Collector's Editon, forcing fans to shell out some notable cash to buy a slew of content they already owned (the base game and previous DLC), just to nab some new DLC doo dads. Destiny's creative director, Luke Smith, then did an epically shitty job of not-really-trying to quell fan outrage over at Eurogamer, where he repeatedly dodged the question of why consumers should pay for content they already own:
"Eurogamer: Can you see that some fans are confused that you're asking them to buy stuff they already own?
Luke Smith: Yeah, I can totally empathise with those people. But the Collector's Edition is a pretty cool package for people who want to pursue that stuff. Otherwise, surely what you're saying is that you would want to buy them separately, right?
Eurogamer: Well, yeah. I would rather do that - pay a few pounds or dollars or whatever - than spend money on things I already own.
Luke Smith: [Laughs] Well, we have nothing more to talk about regarding your opportunity to spend extra money in Destiny, other than The Taken King and the three versions we've announced"
Talk about non-answers. Smith essentially laughs off concerns about Bungie double dipping, arguing that users just haven't seen the full awesome scope of what Bungie has planned. When pressed by Eurogamer, Smith would only elaborate that the company is "really comfortable with the value" they're offering consumers. That of course completely ignored the fact that most Destiny fans were making it very clear they were not seeing said value whatsoever. Not too surprisingly, based on Smith's seemingly-flippant tone in the article, many Destiny fans felt they were at best being ignored, and at worst being laughed at.
The Eurogamer interview was published Monday, and by yesterday Bungie had been forced to do a complete 180, not only announcing they'd let fans buy the new DLC piecemeal, but also having Smith apologize for being an "asshat":
"Reading my interview with Eurogamer and imagining it came from some random developer of a game I love - that random developer looks like an Asshat. But that Asshat was me - and those words rightfully anger you. I'm sorry.
My words made it sound as if Bungie doesn't care about their most loyal fans. We do care. We are listening. And we will make it right."
Of course, Bungie wouldn't have to "make it right" if it hadn't tried to aggressively nickel-and-dime its loyal fans in the first place. And Bungie, like many companies, wouldn't be trying to aggressively nickel-and-dime loyal fans if gamers didn't perpetually reward this kind of behavior by lapping up garbage pricing and content whenever it's shoveled in their general direction. At the end of the day, the way to stop this kind of pricing isn't to raise hell after the fact (though obviously that helps), it's to avoid paying companies that exhibit this kind of behavior in the first place.
The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we're still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They're supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place.
"The Music industry" has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century.
Even the creative process will have to change.
Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you're simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer:
Music was participative
Music was mostly a social experience
Music was more intimate
Music sounded a little bit different every time
Music belonged to everyone
I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn't consume high margin products while you create.
The KLF's Bill Drummond about Recorded Music
The KLF's Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below.
"As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion."
"Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. […] I think it's possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?""
The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium.
Most people call performed music "live music" —
some people call recorded music "dead music"
The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that's going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous.
Why is Music still static by default?
Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music?
Look at the gaming industry. It's a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a 'special ability' than it is to sell them a piece of content.
Intimacy and Immediacy
The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It's hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry's model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator.
Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly's theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators.
The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands.
One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator's wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you're working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc.
An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist's success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music's future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion.
More on Games
The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions.
Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it's the former that provide value for the latter.
Music needs a new format that's feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators' incomes.
There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let's start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry.
"The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense."
Imagine applying that to music… Some companies are already closing in on that.
Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj
Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of last.fm, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project:
"There's a thing I've been searching for and I've been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond 'you just download a piece of music and it's just always the same'."
The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you're being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie.
They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you've just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones.
I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say.
"I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really... no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear... that's why we sync it to real life."
"I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it.
As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way.
Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities - what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different - its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun - you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment."
Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player's absolute and relative position (it's called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that.
Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or 'game') was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There's nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can't die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase 'soundscape'. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music.
I asked David Kanaga, the game's sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music:
"Yes, anyone could do it. It's maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what's successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i've been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary."
Example: Biophilia, by Björk
In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Björk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa’s collection.
Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with.
Example: Don't Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim
Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an 'immersive album', which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music.
Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN
Then there's Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York's Central Park. In a way it's similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual.
Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav's aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify's new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav's platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don't just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen:
"We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav."
If you're waiting for disruption in the music industry, don't look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording.
Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music.
Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things.
Music may be static, but it doesn't have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn't be.
Peruse the history of fan-film posts we've done in the past and you'll be met with depressing results. Too often the makers of movies and video games prefer a restrictive approach to fans using any form of their content. The approach tends to be of the blanket variety, where a default to protectionism often ties up fan-work that is either usefully creative in and of itself, or else beneficial to the original content producers if only it would be allowed to breathe. Nintendo has become famous for this kind of restrictive practice in YouTube recently, but it is hardly alone.
Rockstar, as it has so often before, breaks the mold on this kind of thing. Back when Grand Theft Auto 4 was the latest iteration in the GTA series, some enterprising fans had used video editing equipment, along with the game itself, to create their own brand of fan-film, using game footage as the vehicle for an admittedly simple but impressive story line. The whole thing was 2 hours long and has been viewed on YouTube over half a million times. Rockstar, for its part, not only didn't take the video down, but it went so far as to provide its own video editing software for fans in the latest PC version of the series, Grand Theft Auto 5.
When Grand Theft Auto V launches tomorrow, it will come complete with a video editing suite that will allow you to make movies from Story Mode and GTA Online footage you capture. The software, the Rockstar Editor, lets you do a number of things [like] record and edit footage and share them with the community. The editor features special camera modes, filters, depth of field and audio customization options, and a Director Mode feature that allows you to create movie-making sequences from a cast of characters from Story Mode.
This, quite simply, is how it's done. Rockstar/GTA fans expressed an interest organically in something they wanted to do with Rockstar's product, an emergent use that Rockstar may never have even considered, and, rather than getting butthurt over the use of the content and sending out the threat-letters, the company enabled its fans' behavior instead.
And why wouldn't they? After all, far from harm, it would be an absolute boon to Rockstar to see YouTube pages filled with fan-creations in the form of short or monstrously-long creative works, all done within GTA itself. It's just one more way to have fun within the game, one more way to be expressive with fellow fans of the game, and one more way for the GTA name to be etched into gaming history. This is pure CwF+RtB calculus at its finest.
In the world of pop starlets, apparently Taylor Swift and Katie Perry hate each other. And, now, it appears that both of them are trying to one-up each other in having their lawyers issue legal threats to fans for no good reason. We've already written about Katy Perry's lawyers' threatening letter over a 3D-printable plan for "the left shark" from her Super Bowl routine (an argument that is legally dubious).
We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over.
When we got the e-mail that the trademark infringement occurred, we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire. We were shocked. And we were scared. We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.
The Buzzfeed article also notes that it appears that Swift has hired MarkMonitor, the big player in sending takedown threat letters over copyright and trademark issues, to send such takedown letters.
Depending on the specific products, there may be some legitimate trademark or copyright claims here, but it's hard to see how any of these actually create any real benefit for Swift, other than pissing off her fans, and angering people who actually wanted to celebrate their fandom of Swift and her music. Yes, these days popstars like Swift are "big businesses" who want to capture every possible penny that they can get from fans, but these kinds of products aren't doing any real damage to Swift or her brand. The takedowns, however, might be the opposite -- creating a real distaste among some fans for daring to try to display their fandom in a unique and creative way.
I've never hidden my perhaps strange fascination with video game music. Everything from soundtracks to fan-made remixes, it's something that I love. But, for some reason, video game music for many people isn't so much a lark as a point of major industry contention. Recently we discussed how one composer's union turned into his enemy when he was simply working on a video game. The latest example, however, details how apparently professional musicians and/or their representatives got a game developer to shut down a fan-music contest out of what seems to be pure spite.
Some background is in order. Several years ago, developer Red Thread Games produced two insanely good point-and-click adventure games, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. For the third installment, the team decided to turn to Kickstarter for funding, asking for $850k to produce the game and instead getting over one and a half million dollars in funding from fans. It's everything you want out of a Kickstarter story, with a great team organizing their rabid fan-base to both make money and produce another awesome game. And, while Red Thread Games already had a music composer on staff to create the larger soundtrack composition, the team wanted to give a nod to their dedicated fans and set up a contest by which fans could compose background/ambient music for small sections of the game, with the winners of the contest having their compositions included in the eventual release.
Supposedly professionals within the music arena felt as if the contest was designed to exploit fans and get a hold of royalty-free music for the game, a similar argument that originally caused The Fine Young Capitalists campaign to get shutdown.An update on the official Kickstarter page for Dreamfall: Chapters The Longest Journey details that the contest had been cancelled due to the conflict surrounding the event. As noted on the update, the decision is final and the contest won't be returning.
“We do understand the different points of view and the reasons behind some of the backlash, even though we also feel our intentions were perhaps misrepresented and misunderstood. This was not an attempt on our part to commission free music for the game — we already have a fantastic score, a professional composer and some diegetic music — but rather a response to the community asking for a chance to get their music into the game. We felt this competition could benefit both the game and our fans.”
And so concludes the attempt by Red Thread Games to connect with their fans in possibly the most meaningful way: inclusion within the project. A fan contest for small amounts of music was done in by industry musicians with no skin in the game. The backlash in the comments on the project, as well as on Twitter and other social media, made the developers out to be greedy robber barons looking to avoid paying a professional musician, which is an interesting theory considering the game already has a professional composer on staff. This was all about letting the fans have some fun, but the industry shouted it down until the project was shut down.
The sad reality here is that someone who could have been thoroughly talented, and just needed an opportunity to get their music out there, had a potential avenue to a career in music cut short. This isn't to say that anyone who submitted music to the contest could have become the next Jesper Kyd or Marty O'Donnell, but killing these kind of opportunities to bridge the connection between developers and gamers only hurts game culture. Could you imagine if the same thing extended to the games arena and game jam contests came under the same fire? It's like killing off the potentiality of future artists before they even have a chance to shine.
That last bit is of extreme importance, because it's the correct rebuttal to anyone involved in blasting this contest who also says they were doing so to protect the music industry. No, you weren't. You were just being dicks. As a result, a great game is a little less fun and none of you are any more hired for the project today than you were yesterday. Bang up job all around.
Kevin Carson points us to a fascinating story in The Atlantic about fans trying to recreate the "original" version of Star Wars ("Episode IV -- A New Hope for the folks who feel like being pedantic) from 1977. As various fans have pointed out repeatedly (mainly each time Lucas went back and "edited" Star Wars again), back in 1988 Lucas spoke to Congress about the importance of preserving original versions of movies, and avoiding the constant attempts to update and modernize them in ways that might erase the original versions. Key quote:
Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces," or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.
In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
This was part of his attempt to create so-called moral rights for content creators, but the wording seems kind of strange considering how Lucas himself later did pretty much everything he described above as being heinous and troubling. The Atlantic article highlights just a few of the more famous changes (though there are many, many more):
In the original versions of the films, for example, it’s clear that Han Solo pulled out his gun and shot the bounty hunter Greedo. In the 1997 version, Greedo shoots first. In the 2004 version, they shoot at the same time. With the release of the later films, later versions of the original trilogy were edited to add in appearances from Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen. Lucas even replaced the voice of Jason Wingreen—the original Boba Fett—with the voice of Temuera Morrison who played Jango Fett in Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Even worse, Lucas has actively resisted attempts to make the original copy available. When pressed about it a decade ago Lucas claimed that the original was "half completed" and he wants people to see the "finished" product instead:
The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. ... I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.
That's all well and good, but it's yet another example of the sense of entitlement some creators have in which they believe they not only hold the copyright on the original work (which they may), but also ownership over the experience of fans who watched/heard/experienced the content. And that's where things get tricky. When the artists start to muck with that experience.
And that's what led to the result here, whereby fans are painstakingly recreating the 1977 version of the film.
There's an incredible video highlighting how one of the main people involved in this project, a 25-year-old in the Czech Republic who goes by the name Harmy, goes about fixing things. It's fascinating:
The "new" version is amusingly called the "despecialized" version, and uses bits and pieces from the many, many releases to reconstruct the original. While some point out that there was a DVD release of "the original" film, the video notes that the techniques used to transfer the film to DVD were very problematic, leading to a variety of problems, including "motion smearing," faded colors and aliasing.
The lengths these fans go to in order to recreate the original is quite incredible, going through all the different versions, picking up pieces from one and inserting them in the other, doing careful color corrections, "upscaling" low res versions to make them HD. It's really quite incredible, and it appears Lucas would rather they disappear entirely. He even rejected a request from the National Film Registry when it requested a copy of the original to preserve.
Curators at the National Film Registry picked the 1977 version of Star Wars to preserve for history’s sake, but they still don’t have a copy in the registry. When they asked for a copy, Lucas refused, saying that he would no longer authorize the release of the original version.
While Lucas' changes and updates to his film bother some, I've never been that concerned about those attempts to re-imagine his own work, but it does seem particularly silly to try to block people from even having the choice to view the original. It's great that fans are putting in so much effort to reconstruct it by themselves, but it seems like Lucas could just speed that whole process along by making the original available.
Eventually, video game companies are going to have to come to terms with the fact that their biggest fans can also be immensely creative and that they often want to channel that creativity towards adding to the game franchises they love. Thus far, the vast majority of fan-driven projects having anything to do with video game franchises are met with stonewall takedowns and cease and desist letters. The most frustrating of these are when mixed signals are sent to the fans engaged in these projects, where the people doing the work are under the impression that their efforts have been cleared for takeoff only to be grounded late in development. To treat creative folks who can be amongst a company's greatest fans that way is to bite the hand that feeds them in a very real way.
And now it's happened again. A group of dedicated Metal Gear fans endeavoring to remake the original 1987 NES title in Valve's Source engine and had been in contact with a Konami rep the entire time. After month's of work, Konami apparently just informed them that they no longer had permission and forced them to shut it all down.
"The project has been shut down by Konami," an email sent to the site read. "Seems that they all couldn't agree on the project going ahead."
The mod team also revealed that David Hayter was on board to voice Snake, and had even recorded some lines for it. It posted a work-in-progress trailer showing a rough cut of scenes yet to be animated, complete with Hayter's dialogue.
In correspondence elsewhere, remake organizer Ian Ratcliffe indicated that he had been in regular contact with a Konami representative in the UK about the project and that he'd been given the all clear, with the stipulation that the game not be sold commercially. The carpet was then pulled out from underneath the team by Konami's legal department in Japan. Ratcliffe was far more understanding than many people might have been.
The agreement was made verbally, we first got approval a couple of months back after being told to take the moddb page down. Following that Jay Boor from Konami UK, told me that the agreement was getting written up by Japans legal team. (We were contacted by a couple of guys from Japan initially but since it's all been through Jay.) We were told to keep the page down as they wanted to make the announcement once E3 was out of the way. I'm not really sure what happened to be honest, we had a lot of back and forth with Jay and he was in full support of the project. It seems that the whole of Konami was divided on whether we should go ahead or not but I think ultimately it was Japans decision.
I totally understand their reason in doing so, not matter how disheartened the team is, we thank them from the bottom of our hearts for all that they've done, Jay especially. Not to forget the huge amount of support we got from the fans, to which we're more than grateful for. We got to work alongside industry professionals, it's been really inspiring and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. We aren't gonna be sour about the whole thing it's the experience that counts.
We're now in the planning stages of making our own IP, in the words of Liquid Snake - "It's not over yet!"
It's an amazingly gracious and politic reaction to what was essentially the dicking over of the effort of a dedicated group of fans by Konami's legal team. To spend months working on a title, organizing labor, getting some impressive voice talent on board, all in good faith under the notion that a Konami rep had given the green light, and to then have all that work torn away by the very company whose work you love so much must be a hell of a feeling. Sure, Ratcliffe's team should have gotten the correspondence and the 'okay' in writing, but there's still no reason for Konami to dump on their fans like this. There was no commercial interest here, just the love of the game, so to speak. All in the name of copyright.