By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
The Script Publishing Suit
Not a whole lot to add to the facts. (Here is the court document.)
My sense of why this is happening now is that MPAA realizes that they need to secure all borders in the Copyright Wars. And screenplays, whether the internet community likes it or not, are copyrighted material that someone is paying a lot of money to produce. Those owners have rights. They just haven’t been much asserted.
AICN has realized that copyright is real for a lot of (web) years already and stopped publishing materials pretty early on. (Moriarty would say that they never published anything that would be classified as “illegal,” but it’s a semantic argument and it is true that the site got off that bus pretty early on.)
Once again, Fox is in the crosshairs for geeks because they are exercising legal rights. Some have claimed that I am pro-Fox because I have agreed with them in cases like the Watchmen suit or the idiot who got himself fired for reviewing Fantastic Four 2 from the projection booth. Wrong. It’s simply a matter of the studio being aggressive about this stuff… and being right, as any studio asserting its legal right to protect its product (or ownership status, in the case of Watchmen) is.
I still feel – as I always have – that while having read or seen copyrighted material and talking about it (or writing about it) is not illegal, it is, in many ways, immoral. In retrospect, discussing work product might well be fascinating. I engage talent in that discussion every week in DP/30 interviews. But that is a give and take. The subject of my interviews has the right to speak to whatever he or she chooses and not to address other things. Likewise, I have the right to ask certain questions or to not ask certain questions. Equally as important, however, is that we discuss The Film as it exists. I don’t think many (sane) filmmakers want you or I or anyone going through their outtakes and analyzing what they didn’t put in the movie. Some will offer things on the DVD. But with a few legendary exceptions, the movie is the movie is the movie.
Paraphrasing Aaron Sorkin’s “Mark Zuckerberg,”If the filmmaker wanted to engage your opinion about what he or she should have done, you would have been engaged by the filmmaker to offer an opinion.”
The assertion of copyright will be the media story of the next decade. Google has been a big dumb target, but really, they continue to make themselves a bigger target with projects like Google TV. This speaks to my Netflix coverage as well, as Netflix has been the frontrunner in creating a new window for the studios to exploit and Netflix, trying to still be in business in 2025, has been creating a higher value for streaming than was considered realistic just a couple of years ago. Studios should be wary, as this is the high bar for this window… forever.
Look to Major League Baseball, which offers cheaper, more expansive access to its thousands of games a season than DirecTV or other premium baseball packages. Anyone who has wired or wireless access for their TV via PS3 or other platforms and who still pays more for baseball this year with their cable or satellite provider is a fool. MLB.TV is a better product for less money… if you’re plugged in. When will MLB competing against its own sold rights become a problem with the cable/satellite industry? Could be this year. Maybe next. But it’s coming. And then, there will be a new set of rules, set by MLB, that maximizes its revenues. Eventually, something will become The Standard. The NFL will face the same issues – especially now that MLB has proven it can all be handled effectively “in-house” – when their deal with DirecTV comes up for renewal again.
Getting back to screenplays… even if Fox and every other studio decides not to exploit their screenplays for direct financial gain, they have a right to do what they wish with their rights. Some studios publish their screenplays themselves during awards season, seeking eyeballs and votes. Studios could put together an official studio script vault that people could access and, theoretically, pay a small amount for downloads. And if some filmmakers felt that multiple drafts of the screenplay would be a valuable learning tool or add insight into the process, they could let those be published as well.
But the era in which we, on the web, can assume ownership of things just because we can get our hands on them, is coming to an end. And it seems to me that some boundaries might be a good thing for everyone. Journalism might require some serious reporting again, respect for ownership encourages more spending on ownership, and even breaking the rules becomes more attractive when everyone isn’t competing to be a rule breaker all day every day.
What do you think?