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Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
By Ted Hope
Let’s say you are one of the biggest corporations in the universe, and you own the most successful company in a particular sector, and they in turn own one of the most popular purveyors of a particular type of product; and, well, in some ways there is no denying that each of you are revolutionary. Between the three of you, you have provided an unprecedented structure that allows anyone to reach virtually everyone at what appears — on first blush — to be no cost, or at least very little. On top of that, you give people a way to actually make a few cents on what they love doing anyway (pennies for your passion, pennies for your passion — we don’t even need a rallying cry in this world of win win). Does this alleviate the need to work ethically or even just the need to do the right thing?
Not sure what I am writing about? Well…. If you haven’t yet read or heard about the contracts that Machinima, Maker Studios, and other YouTube partners have evidently demanded their makers sign, you might want to.
But be warned this knowledge may cause harmful flashbacks to the nineteen thirties when The Studios signed their actors up to seven year unseverable contracts that they solely had the option to renew. It’s your life thought after all, and why shouldn’t you be able to sign yourself into slavery any way? Right?
I mean, once you voluntarily accept slavery as your right, you won’t blink when you recognize that the cost of tuition requires you to pursue a career in financial services (or does that go the other way around?). We will all be finally happy once we stop all those pesky artists — or at least the kind that need to earn living (as the wealthy ones will be too timid to dissent anyways…) — can’t afford to create dissident stuff anymore. Heck, then we can be just like China and run our country like one big corporate enterprise. The bullet trains will run on time (or maybe fly off the tracks)! But I digress…
Fortunately, people are strong. And they don’t like injustice. And frequently we actually support one another. Or go mano y mano to a tank. We know we can build it better together, or I hope so.
“If I’m locked down to Machinima for the rest of my life and I’ve got no freedom, then I don’t want to make videos anymore,” posted Ben Vacas, aka Braindeadly, the creator of popular Machinima vids, when confronted with this issue. Awesome. Now let’s all start to demand an entire entertainment economy where the creators — and their supporters — are the actual beneficiaries of what they create.
If you squint your eyes a little, Vacas may look a bit like Rosa Parks or other great heroes of ours. Someone has to sit on the bus or at the lunch counter. And then society has to wake the fuck up. You can’t have one field or enterprise where you demand that the creators of the IP are the ones that should prosper from the use of the IP, but then preach to a generation that hardware should be expensive but content should be free. It’s akin to saying you want a civil society, but killing is justified when we say so. Or rather when it looks like a video game. But wait, I digress again… Or is that twice? Three times? Whatever.
Vacas’ action has sparked other fires, with YouTube celebs starting to leave (that is when they are allowed to) the comfy confines of their contracted channel. If we have had the green and jasmine revolutions (or the prospects there of), what color are the inter webs? What color are the passion industries when they start to demand what is rightfully theirs?
It’s a start, but where does it go from here?
Maybe they should just rename all the major media corporations:
“in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in all forms of media now known or hereafter devised.”
Names after all should say what they mean or really do, right? It’s got a ring to it, but it’s not quite danceable yet. We need the thump thump thump of repeated success.
Once, way back in yesterdayland, we looked to license our rights in the most profitable manner. Now we MUST determine how to retain our rights in the most profitable manner possible. Time & time again ownership (or is that a 15-30 year license) looks a lot like a form of slavery — or at least abuse of the creator. It is not a reasonable response to say that if you don’t like the terms that you don’t have to participate. We have built an outlet and it is ours. Our content gave it life. Our content made it a community.
Media is a public good. Media is a public utility. Participation, literacy, & benefit flow from that spigot — or at least should. We need to protect our culture and those that create it. We need to govern in a manner that our corporations partake in the principles we hold dear and even sacred. We, the people…
Are these recent contract battles with the YouTube Channels, the start of a true Artist/Entrepreneur culture? Or are they just contract squabbles, the sort that has always infected the passion industries? In her fascinating article in LA Weekly on this, Tessa Stuart writes:
“It’s tempting to write off each contract dispute as just that — an individual incident. But taken together, these fights constitute a bigger issue, one not unlike those that developed when the film industry was first finding its feet.
Like Maker Studios and Machinima, the film studios of the ’30s and ’40s didn’t just produce content, they distributed it, says Tino Balio, professor emeritus of communication arts at theUniversity of Wisconsin at Madison and an expert on the history of the American film industry.
At the time, studios produced shorter, lower-budget films on a tight schedule because theatrical runs were much shorter — only about a week. Studios churned out one major movie every week, plus a few B films, to meet the demand.
“The studios were run on a factory basis. They had to have total control of their talent in order to assign them to projects, in order to make all of these films to keep their theaters filled,” Balio says.”
Stuart’s article goes on to tell about how the unfair contracts at Machinima & Maker Studios have given rise to the Union For Gamers, a recent start-up that does not bind its creators to such restrictive contracts, allowing them to be free to leave when they so desire.
I am incredibly inspired by the prospects of not-for-profit organizations getting involved in distribution and audience aggregation. If we want a diverse and ambitious culture, risking to tell all kinds of tales in all kinds of ways, we must establish an infrastructure that is free, open, and just — dedicated to making sure that the creators and their supporters benefit directly from the work they create.
The canaries have sung their song. People are taking their seats. I hear a rumble of change coming up from these hills. People are starting to dance. This was the first beat I put down (almost five years ago) and I am looking forward to mix tape. What should be the cover art?