Wednesday, November 1, 2017

IP Owners, Reconsider Your IP Protection Policies Regarding Fans

Yesterday I posted Razorfist's recreation of a lost episode of The Shadow radio show. In the video, he mentions that he's gotten nastygrams from the IP owner, Conde Nast. The now-infamous Axanar incident shows another IP-related fiasco that, while legal, was neither good optics nor good Public Relations. This isn't new; it's common enough that several such stories a year come up in fan communities online.

The problem is clear: the actions taken, while legal, have long-term consequences that damage the brand. Why? Because the actions attack the core audience of the brand, those who are often most enthusiastic and often (for brand with multi-generational appeal) are the cohort recruited to professional ranks to replace retiring original professionals and keep the brand a relevant concern.

In short, a different approach to such events needs to be taken that reflects a long-term perspective: Cut them in.

The smart thing to do when high-quality fan productions arise is not to shut them down. It's to give them an honorable offer that they can't refuse: authentication. In the case of Axanar, the smart move would've been to give the fan production access to Paramount's distribution network in return for a strict non-profit policy and non-canonical status. In short, an "Elseworlds" status; IP owners are wise to do something like this going forward. Curate the high-production fan works, see which ones will play ball, and sanction them by distributing them. Take away the financial risk to the fans, and keep the proceeds for distributing their work in return for giving them a pass- and an option to buy the work outright under Work For Hire terms.

If Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy had a clue, she'd push this as official policy right now- and not just for Star Wars. Hold a fan film contest at Celebration, reality-show style, and let the winner get that Too Good To Refuse offer using the festival as easy A/B testing. To sweaten the deal, using this as a means for discovering new talent for official productions in all media would make this the desired route for fans wishing to go pro- a route Lucasfilm could easily an readily control thereafter, and thus one that other studios could copy once it proves effective.

Yes, IP owners are right to protect their property. That's not disputed. What is disputed is the methods, as they are deleterious to the health of their property in the long-term. Star Wars, Star Trek, and many other popular properties suffer from incompetent or malevolent management. Others, such as The Shadow, suffers from such management as well as neglect- and yet have the same stupid-level of punitive enforcement done in the name of protection. For dormant properties, going after high-end fan productions is doubly stupid because they're marketing your property for you FOR FREE!

Embrace the fan productions that actually do right by the IP and its brand. Give them legal protection, and assume the proceeds for any sales going forward in return (because you have that right), and if that works then begin assimilating them into the franchise as they've proven capable stewards of it. That's how you satisfy legal issues with the more reasonable fans; with the unreasonable, go ahead and nuke them in court- no one will look askance at clear bad actors preying upon others.

3 comments:

  1. Bradford,
    I nominate youbto be the intellectual property negotiayor for the famous cultural works.
    Frankly your prescription is commonsensical as well as just.
    The owners get a revenue stream, the fan producers get the nod and everyone wins.
    The cultural industries reactions exposes the pretory mindset tgey have. They"ve done tnis to otbers and sae rightfully fearful the same will hapen to them.
    I'm hoping that as the sawmp is drained in Hollywood much more intelligent behaviour will emerge.

    xavier

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  2. They've been jerks to Razorfist? He's done more for the character than they have in the last decade. And he's only recreating stuff that has been lost, so it's not like he's interfering with their revenue. If anything, he's growing it.

    Grrr.

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  3. THIS!

    I sometimes had dreams of having a popular IP and actually hosting contests where the best fanfic (or 3) would be inducted into actual canon to help flesh out the world and expand things.

    Plus I noticed that when going back and looking at some of the best of TNG, often you would hear that these were built upon story ideas pitched to the show by nobodies. As best I can tell, you haven't been able to submit a pitch in YEARS. During the time Star Trek declined in quality... hmmm...

    That's another factor in why I think the transmedia efforts are failing. Things are locked down too tight and instead of inviting fans to participate, the IPs are demanding fans "play right." Or "stop having fun" as the trope goes. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StopHavingFunGuys

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