[iDC] remixing menace
seawell at MIT.EDU
Tue Jul 31 16:09:35 UTC 2007
Lucasfilm's Phantom Menace
By Lawrence Lessig
Thursday, July 12, 2007; A23
In May, Lucasfilm announced plans to enable fans of the "Star Wars"
series to "remix" "Star Wars" video clips with their own creative
work. Using an innovative Internet platform called Eyespot, these
(re)creators can select video clips or other content and then add
images or upload new content, whether images, video or music.
Eyespot is one of many new technologies inviting "users" to do more
than use the creativity they are consuming. Likewise, Lucasfilm is
one of many companies recognizing that the more "users" use their
creativity, the thicker the bonds are between consumers and the work
consumed. (Put differently, the more money Lucasfilm can make.)
Turning consumers into creators is the latest fad among companies
scrambling for new profits in the digital age. How better to revive a
30-year-old series than by enlisting armies of kids to make the
content interesting again? These traditionally protective commercial
entities are creating "hybrids" -- leveraging free labor to make
their commercial properties more valuable.
Among companies enabling this remix creativity, Eyespot is one of the
more enlightened. Remixers using Eyespot's technology typically own
what they produce. Eyespot allows them to share their work on or off
its platform. No one's getting paid (yet) for the creativity that
Eyespot enables. (Other companies, such as Revver, are experimenting
with ways to get creators paid.) And Eyespot at least explicitly
grants to creators the right to their own creativity.
A dark force, however, has influenced Lucasfilm's adoption of
show that in exchange for the right to remix Lucasfilm's creativity,
the remixer has to give up all rights to what he produces. In
particular, the remixer grants to Lucasfilm the "exclusive right" to
the remix -- including any commercial rights -- for free. To any
content the remixer uploads to the site, he grants to Lucasfilm a
perpetual non-exclusive right, again including commercial rights and
again for free.
Upload a remix and George Lucas, and only Lucas, is free to include
it on his Web site or in his next movie, with no compensation to the
creator. You are not even permitted to post it on YouTube. Upload a
particularly good image as part of your remix, and Lucas is free to
use it commercially with no compensation to the creator. The remixer
is allowed to work, but the product of his work is not his. Put in
terms appropriately (for Hollywood) over the top: The remixer becomes
the sharecropper of the digital age.
Lucas is of course free, subject to "fair use," to do whatever he
wants with his creative work. The law of copyright grants him an
exclusive right to "derivatives"; a remix is plainly a derivative.
And it's true that no one is forcing anyone to make a remix for free.
Yet as anyone watching this industry knows, there is a deep divide
between those who believe that obsessive control is the hybrid's path
to profit and those who believe that freer access will build
stronger, more profitable ties. Predictably, on the Vader-side of
control is often a gaggle of lawyers who continue to act as though
nothing interesting has changed in copyright law since the time of
John Philip Sousa. These lawyers counsel their clients that control
is always better. They ridicule efforts to strike a different balance
with the army of creators being called into the service of their
clients. It is for the privilege of getting to remix a 30-year-old
series that these new creators are told they must waive any rights of
their own. They should be happy with whatever they get (especially as
most of them are probably "pirates" anyway).
Lawyers never face an opening weekend. Like law professors, their
advice lives largely protected from the market. They justify what
they do in terms of "right and wrong," while everyone else has to
justify their work in terms of profit. They move slowly, and
deliberately. If you listen carefully, sometimes you can even hear
A decade from now, this Vaderesque advice will look as silly as the
advice lawyers gave the recording industry a decade ago. New
entrants, not as obsessed with total control, will generate radically
more successful remix markets. The people who spend hundreds of hours
creating this new work will flock to places and companies where their
integrity as creators is respected. As every revolution in
democratizing technologies since the beginning of time has
demonstrated, victory goes to those who embrace with respect the new creators.
Hybrids are an important future of Internet growth. Businesses will
have to think carefully about which terms will excite the masses to
work for them for free. Competition will help define these terms. But
if one more lawyer protected from the market may be permitted a
prediction, I suggest sharecropping will not survive long as a
successful strategy for the remixer.
Feel the force, counselors.
Brad Seawell, Program Coordinator
MIT Communications Forum
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139
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