The Internet economy is changing the legal terrain so much, Boalt Hall professor Peter Menell says, that until a couple of years ago law students weren’t even learning about the kind of jousting that occupies today’s copyright lawyers. (As co-founder of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, he should know.) But there was plenty to learn about today, when the American Bar Association kicked off its annual meeting in San Francisco, at a panel of lawyers from the likes of Facebook, YouTube and the Interscope-Geffen-A&M record label group.
|The ABA in SF |
Legal Pad is roaming the floor of the annual meeting of the American Bar Association. Check back over the next few days for fresh reports.
One of the most interesting aspects Legal Pad picked up there was the lengths to which some copyright holders, like Lucasfilm, go to embrace certain piggybacking on the Internet, even while shunning others with take-down letters.
And thankfully for those of us trying to stay alert during the morning session, the topic — “The Whole World Is Watching!” Privacy, Copyright and Parental Control in the Age of YouTube, MySpace and Beyond — provided ample room for amusing video clips among all that case law and policy discussion. (Watch our faves after the jump.)
Lucasfilm’s David Anderman noted the many ways that user-generated content posted on the Internet has helped generate buzz for George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. Progress in home computers, he said, has made it cheaper and easier for the films’ loyalists to create “fan films” that mock or build on the actual Star Wars movies. [We particularly liked the modern example of “Vader Sessions,” below, which replaced original Darth Vader dialogue with voiceovers from other James Earl Jones movies.]
They started back in 1977, when the rudimentary but relatively successful short “Hardware Wars” — which featured appliances like an iron and a toaster that flew through space shooting weapons like, yes, toast — cost $8,000 to make and got distributed through theaters.
As fan films proliferated and became more sophisticated, sprouting up on hundreds of fan sites, Lucasfilms teamed up with AtomFilms to create an official destination for sharing them on the Web. They offer fans who post there a slice of ad revenues plus exposure before George Lucas himself, who hands out awards to favorites, Anderman said.
Then there was the time that a Seth Green animation — featuring a cuss-laden telephone conversation between a contrite Darth Vader and a verbally abusive Emperor Palpatine — prompted a call from Lucasfilm’s marketers: Anderman said Green is slated to make a half-hour special to air with the Super Bowl next year. And, Anderman said, when Stephen Colbert invited viewers of his Comedy Central show to play around with video of him standing in front of a green screen and waving a light saber around, word came down to Lucasfilm employees that “the bearded one would like to create an entry and put it up on YouTube.” The company did, and Colbert had the bearded Lucas on his show to view it.
That's not to say that Lucasfilm never mounts infringement arguments. It just first considers the promotional opportunities and some unwritten guidelines, Anderman said. “Is it commercial activity or not? Is someone trying to capitalize [on our franchise], or not?”
Electronic Frontier Foundation senior IP attorney Fred Von Lohmann, whose nonprofit organization represents the consumer’s point of view, offered up a couple of his own examples: a Barack Obama fan’s high-profile, anti-Hillary Clinton take on an old Apple commercial, and a “trailer mash-up” that cleverly combines scenes from “The Ten Commandments” of 1956 with the vibe of more modern teenage flicks like “Ten Things I Hate About You.”
“How do you protect this exciting new kind of activity while you’re policing your copyrights?” Von Lohmann said. He’s been pleased, he added, to see how many copyright owners have focused on piracy rather than going after every bit of infringement they might be entitled to claim.
At that point, Tanya Greig of the Interscope-Geffen-A&M group interjected. Though she’d said earlier that her company “loves” user-generated content as a viral means of getting exposure for its artists, she noted that mixing and “mashing” represent a profit-sucking threat to the music industry.
“I think mash-ups don’t undermine your markets at all,” said EFF’s Von Lohmann, adding that that may be a difference of opinion the courts will have to resolve. There is probably more room for compromise in the video arena, he added. “Music is harder. … I think there’s going to be more loggerheads there.”
— Pam Smith