Studios have no guarantees when planning the next hit film, but entertainment execs wield some reliable tools. Stars bring productions an instantly recognizable name, past positive experience and a built-in fan base. Actors playing popular literary characters (think Harry Potter) bring additional audiences and further increase the odds of film and merchandising success. And in the case of several superhero series, executives gild the lily further, combining stars and beloved characters with prefab story lines and established merchandising partnerships. Sounds like a good business model, right? Not always.
It's a languid, late-summer Wednesday afternoon at the offices of online handmade-goods marketplace Etsy, and Chief Technology Officer Chad Dickerson is sitting at a table in a conference room decorated to look like a cartoonish version of the interior of a Mercury-era space capsule. Surrounded by fake panic-button consoles, plush jet packs, and quilts depicting outer-space views of moons and planets, Dickerson is peering at his laptop screen to report a particularly important number that he's just been asked to look up: "We've got 263 search results for 'Justin Bieber.'"
When the Walt Disney Company agreed in August to pay $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the comic book publisher and movie studio, it snared a company with a library that includes some of the world’s best-known superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. The heirs of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who co-created numerous Marvel mainstays, were also intrigued by the deal. Mr. Kirby’s children had long harbored resentments about Marvel, believing they had been denied a share of the lush profits rolling out of the company’s superheroes franchises. They spent years preparing for a lawsuit by enlisting a Los Angeles copyright lawyer, Marc Toberoff, to represent them. When the Marvel deal was struck, Mr. Toberoff — who helped win a court ruling last year returning a share of Superman profits to heirs of one of that character’s creators — sprang into action. Pow! Wham! Another high-profile copyright fight broke out in Hollywood, and this one could be the broadest the industry has yet seen.
In his deliberately provocative — and deeply nihilistic — new book, “Reality Hunger,” the onetime novelist David Shields asserts that fiction “has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself.” He says he’s “bored by out-and-out fabrication, by myself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters” and much more interested in confession and “reality-based art.” His own book can be taken as Exhibit A in what he calls “recombinant” or appropriation art.
Documentary films could have been created the way books were, with writers using clips the way historians use quotations (that is, with no permission at all). And likewise, books could have been created differently: with each quotation licensed by the original author, with the promise to use the quote only according to the terms of a license. All books could thus be today as documentary films are today--inaccessible. Or all documentary films today could be as almost all books are today--accessible. But it is the accident of our cultural history, created by lawyers not thinking about, as Duke law professor Jamie Boyle puts it, the “cultural environmental consequences” of their contracts, that we can always legally read, even if we cannot legally watch. In this contrast between books and documentaries, there is a warning about our future. What are the rules that will govern culture for the next hundred years? Are we building an ecology of access that demands a lawyer at every turn of the page? Or have we learned something from the mess of the documentary-film past, and will we create instead an ecology of access that assures copyright owners the incentive they need, while also guaranteeing culture a future?
Stories from US newspapers are being copied without permission on the internet on average 4.4 times, rising to as much as 15 times for the largest national publishers, according to a study that forms the basis of an industry push to get paid more for online content. A month-long study of how 101,000 articles published by 157 newspapers proliferated around the internet found that more than 75,000 sites reused 112,000 almost exact copies without authorisation. A further 520,000 articles were reprinted in part.
If this were a column about religious affairs, I would undoubtedly focus this week on the shocking news that Beelzebub himself has joined a coalition opposing child abuse in the Catholic church. But this isn’t a column about religious affairs, so I’m not going to discuss that. Instead, as this is a column (broadly) about technology, I’ll confine myself to the entirely unrelated news that Microsoft is joining a coalition to oppose Google’s settlement with the US publishing industry over Book Search. I’ll also touch on the totally unanalogous fact that they’re funding a New York Law School investigation into their biggest rival’s anti-competitive behaviour.
By now, we’re all pretty familiar with how digital music works: People get sued, content gets deleted, and start-ups go bankrupt. YouTube’s ContentID marks a welcome change from that routine by freeing people to infringe copyright while generally keeping copyright holders happy. In an area known for bitter lawsuits and hastily issued “take down” notices, this is that rarest of birds: a feel-good digital music story.
Mike Masnick on techdirt points us to some dangerous and incomplete thinking from Judge Richard Posner on his blog. Posner is not just trying to mold the new world to old laws – which is issue enough – but is trying to change the law to protect the old world and its incumbents from the new world and its innovators. He is willing to throw out fair comment and free speech for them. That is dangerous.
The Internet multiplies arguments as swiftly as it multiplies pornographic images, to a similarly addictive effect. And it multiplies cautionary tales as well — feuds better left unfeuded, and rabbit holes that have swallowed writers whole. Tellingly, it’s often older scriveners, unaccustomed to having their sallies met by waves of insta-disputation, who flail their way into embarrassment. The novelist Mark Helprin is the latest distinguished writer to come undone this way.
In the SXSW 2009 session "How to Protect Your Brand Without Being a Jerk," panelists cautioned brands to police trademark violation while still protecting PR by practicing flexibility and communication when it comes to new media law.
If Palm ends up in court over the Pre's multitouch, it'll join a prestigious line of firms that have tussled with Apple, which loves a good legal battle almost as much as sexy aluminum. In Apple's legal trail are, for the most part, corpses. Save for one little skiffle with you-know-who that haunts them to this day. And along their bloody way, they've managed to be involved in several landmark decisions that continue to shape technology IP law to this day. Behold, Apple's most important legal disputes.