Tag Archives: copyright

May The 4th Be With Your Brand: A Legal Guide To Making Star Wars Tributes

©iStock.com/Brendan Hunter

By: Brian J. Meli

Once every year, the inner sci-fi geek in all of us gets a chance to reclaim a sliver of that wide-eyed wonder of youth, and unite with like-minded souls in a nostalgic embrace of the pop-culture phenomenon that imbued an entire generation with the solemn precept, “may the force be with you.” Thirty-seven years after the original Star Wars movie hit the big screen, May the 4th has become a force all its own—a day fans across the world come together to pay their respects to the galaxy’s most culturally significant space drama (apologies to Star Trek fans) and to celebrate its enduring legacy. The amplifying effect of social media has only intensified the day’s popularity, raising awareness among casual fans, while inspiring new generations of Star Wars disciples.

But May the 4th has become more than just a commemoration for the young at heart. It’s also a time when marketing managers begin thinking up innovative ways to honor the Star Wars legacy. Increasingly the day has become an opportunity for Fortune 500 companies—eager to connect with the movies’ legions of adoring fans—to link their brands to the Star Wars mystique; a fact that’s becoming more apparent with each passing year. Here’s just a small sampling of what some companies have done to mark the day on social media.

Paying homage to the Star Wars universe is nothing new. The franchise is famous for inspiring fan-created content from all corners of the universe; everything from street art to homemade short films. And the vast majority of it is unauthorized. The practice is so widespread that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was forced to embrace it officially rather than risk alienating the loyal fan base that helped turn his obscure space opera into a cultural movement.

However, as Jedi Master Yoda was keen on saying, “always in motion the future is.” Changing the times are, and circumstances are very different now than when the original Star Wars trilogy was in its heyday. For starters, the Star Wars properties are no longer owned by Lucasfilm, Lucas’ eponymous production company, but by The Walt Disney Company, who purchased Lucasfilm in late 2012 and has since assumed the ambitious task of evolving the franchise for a new audience by investing heavily in its future success. For another, the power of the Internet and social media have taken the production and distribution of fan content to levels that not even the most force-sensitive Jedi could have foreseen in the early 1980s. Long gone are the days when only the kid down the block with the Boba Fett jet pack could share in your Star Wars obsession. Nowadays fan sites can generate huge cult followings, and fan films, fan art and remixes and mash-ups can rival the quality of the genuine articles. While this has unleashed a new wave of amateur creativity that in many ways has been good for the movie business—generating buzz and expanding interest among the general public—it’s also precipitated the need for rights holders to increase their vigilance.

So this year, as May the 4th approaches, it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider the legal implications of paying corporate homage to Star Wars. Contrary to the mantra of the brash, no-nonsense space smuggler Han Solo—whose catch phrase “never tell me the odds” endeared him to audiences—some risks are worth measuring before making the jump to light-speed. So here are a few things to consider before your company channels the force this May the 4th:

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When A Picture is Worth a Thousand Pictures: The Curious Case of Copyright Overlap

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By: Brian J. Meli

At a party over the holidays, a photographer friend of mine asked me a copyright question that seemed straightforward enough. Being an intellectual property attorney, I’m no stranger to these questions, and aside from the festive stylings of Andy Williams and Bing Crosby playing in the background, there wasn’t much different about this particular occasion. But as the question evolved into one of the more absorbing, thought-provoking discussions I’ve had in a while, I realized I’d been too quick to judge.

The topic on my friend’s mind that night concerned the rights photographers have in photographs they take of other artists’ copyrighted works. My friend, you see, is frequently commissioned to photograph famous works of art for various publicity purposes.

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Getty Has An Image Problem: The Portrait of a Modern Copyright Dilemma

 

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By: Brian J. Meli

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them?

~Prince Hamlet

Google ‘Getty Images’ and ‘demand letter’ and you’ll have your pick of vitriol-laced horror stories to choose from. The storylines vary case-by-case, but the narrative is usually the same: Getty Images is a predatory company that’s made an unscrupulous art form out of extorting millions of dollars from unsuspecting Internet-goers. Most of the accounts you’ll read go something like this: someone unwittingly uses an image from the company’s library without permission on his/her website, social media page or blog, triggering a pernicious demand letter containing sweeping allegations of copyright infringement. The demand letter then seeks compensation in an amount significantly above what most consider reasonable—but below what’s usually worth hiring a lawyer to mount a defense over—in exchange for the matter being dropped; leading ultimately to the response de rigueur of “just pay the bastards.”

It’s this perceived extortion as a business model that invokes such public hostility, has given rise to entire online gripe communities, and why, I suspect, if you’re conducting an opinion poll among Internet users asking what word best describes the Seattle-based company, you’ll get responses like “unreasonable,” “bully” and maybe even “criminal.” The negative sentiment runs deep, and was on full display recently when a particularly able-bodied recipient of one such demand letter (an intellectual property law firm), responded with a lawsuit of its own. The public’s jubilant response to the prospect of Getty getting some comeuppance sent a loud and clear message: Getty Images is the company everyone loves to hate.

But is Getty really the villain people make it out to be? Or is it merely a misunderstood company doing what it can to protect its interests and guard its digital property in this age of point, click and copy?

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The Wisdom of Crowds: The Risks and Rewards of Crowdsourcing and the User-Generated Content Movement

long people queue silhouette set 1

By: Brian J. Meli

Nowhere is the Internet’s ability to lay waste to established but out-moded industries on fuller display than in the realm of crowdsourcing. Everywhere you turn there’s a new crowdsourced-based start-up boldly proclaiming the dawn of a new era and the end of the way you’re currently (and have always been) doing something. Whether that something is locating sources for investment capital or booking a second honeymoon, there’s a host of new companies promising to do it more efficiently and less expensively than ever before by unleashing the power of the masses.

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Italian Government Goes Ballistic, Claims U.S. Gun Ad Infringes Its Copyright

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By: Brian J. Meli

Say what you will about copyright law, it can lead to some seriously entertaining (and absurd) disputes.

Take this week’s news story about American gun manufacturer ArmaLite Inc.’s use of an altered image of Michelangelo’s David in an ad promoting its .50 caliber AR-50 assault rifle. In the ad (reproduced above) the famous renaissance statue is depicted cradling the high powered rifle instead of its signature slingshot; a weapon which, had David had actually wielded it, would’ve allowed him to fell most of the Philistine army before lunch.

The image has drawn harsh rebukes from the Italian government, and led to the Italian Culture Minister to call for the ad to be pulled, claiming: “an image of David, armed, offends and infringes the [Italian] law.” (loosely translated).

Really?

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Diller vs. Moonves – Media Right Meets Media Might

2007 Consumer Electronics Show Showcases Latest Tech Products

USA Networks CEO Barry Diller

By: Brian J. Meli

You’d be hard pressed to find two savvier media moguls than Barry Diller and Les Moonves. Diller, the charismatic, long-time industry heavyweight and brainchild behind the Fox Broadcasting Company has held executive posts at ABC, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures over the course his illustrious 50-year career. Among the many credits to his name: pioneering the made-for-television movie format, popularizing the QVC home shopping network and, most recently, founding IAC/InterActiveCorp, an Internet company whose properties include Vimeo and Match.com.

Leslie Moonves, meanwhile, the President and CEO of CBS, is well-credentialed in his own right, having served in executive-level roles at Warner Bros. Television, 20th Century Fox Television and Viacom.

The two men have been long-time competitors in the ratings wars, but now their rivalry has shifted from the small-screen to the courtroom.

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