Fan-Editing: Hollywood 2.0?

Clator takes a look at the emerging trend of Fan Editing and applies the principals of Open Source and Compulsory Licensing to suggest a new legal structure and profit model for Hollywood.  Reprinted from my original submission on The Agile Approach blog in 2008.
There has been a sea change in Washington this year.  We’ve all felt it.  The push for openness in everything from cost reporting and accountability to, yes, Open Source Software has turned the establishment on its ear.  With this kind of massive shift in thinking from top down, one has to wonder when it will trickle to other industries.  It’s no secret that the best secrets are not kept by the government but by the patent and copyright holders in Corporate America.

Hollywood in particular.

That BIG FBI LOGO that precedes every DVD you rent stands as a draconian warning that the MPAA will do whatever it can to keep you from taking money out of the pockets of its powerful members.  Nevermind that  mass piraters are mostly overseas, out of the FBI’s reach.  Nevermind that these thieves frankly don’t care about the warnings.  They are the biggest cause of loss to Hollywood but the finger gets wagged in the legitimate consumer’s face.

But consider the fan edit.  For those who are unaware of this subculture of movie geeks, fan editors take a movie, (often a lousy one — the Star Wars prequels are common fodder) and re-edit it, removing what doesn’t work, often adding in deleted material that might improve it, all in an attempt to make the film better, fresher, or just more entertaining.  Sound like the Open Source community?  It should.  Only it hides in fear of Hollywood and the threats of MPAA while very much adhering to the spirit of not robbing from the copyright owners.  They follow a strict no-profit rule, you have to own the original to make an edit or to obtain one, and follow the pay-it-forward system when sharing the material.  This is all to keep from stealing from filmmakers like pirates do.  All that’s sacrificed is the original director and editor’s pride.

Remember when the RIAA demonized Napster, MP3s, and the Internet in general?  It wasn’t until Apple showed them how to make a buck (literally) on each song that the medium was embraced.  The MPAA has dabbled in this model, but between the poor quality of streaming hi-def video and dinky-sized screens for portable devices, it will be a long time before the firmware of DVDs and Blu-Rays disappears.

But if Hollywood were to put aside egos (especially of the creative stakeholders) and take an open-source attitude to its intellectual property, it would open the doors to the fan editing community and tap a hidden pool of talent whose best efforts would help make Big Money for some of its Biggest Turkeys.

Ironically, it’s the music industry who created the profit model for this decades before the Internet became a household name.  Back in a time when the music industry was built on ripping off, er, “covering” each others works, the Compulsory License was born, and it still thrives today.  The Compulsory License is what allows any musician to cover another person’s song, and pay for each distribution of that recording without needing to get into a restrictive copyright negotiation.  A simple formula of a certain number of cents for each minute of the re-recorded song times the number of songs downloaded or pressed results in a fair and even calculation for all copyright holders.

The same model could apply to fan editing if the MPAA were only so open and Draconian laws were removed from the books that prohibit the activity.  Fan editors could openly distribute their works and pay a royalty to the studios.  Fan Editors would be able to be compensated for the time they put in, Hollywood would be compensated for all the big work that went into originally making the film, the worst films find they have a new life and respect, and everybody wins.

Oh Hollywood, open ye Mighty Gates and thou mightst find that thine profits will roll in.