Law in the Internet Society


In the first class, professor Moglen posed that intellectual property rights and the underlying legal compensation mechanisms were unnecessary for the encouragement of artistic production. As I understand his position, creators would endeavor to create regardless of the incentive structure and monetary reward. This essay proposes that creative content lies on a spectrum of motivations, and that professor Moglen’s position applies only to one side of this spectrum (especially in the investment heavy business of filmmaking). This essay then explains how “economic potential” motivation provides non-artistic yet still valuable content, and that “economically motivated” projects can help develop the art of filmmaking.

1. The Spectrum of Motivations

The spectrum of motivations has on one side “Artistic Endeavor”, and on the other side “Economic Potential”.

Works motivated by artistic endeavor are the product of innate desire to create—the independent musician traveling to the woods in Wisconsin to produce a CD as a catharsis for his heartbreak, or a single mother writing a story about a boy wizard without any hope of becoming one of England’s wealthiest woman. These artists simply produce, with success an afterthought to their internal impulse to create.

Works motivated by economic potential are usually based on a producer behind the artist, who seeks to exploit the potential of the artist’s appeal to the broader market. For example, when Bob and Chris Hebert put together an all female pop music group to compete with the “boy band” craze, they ended up creating arguably the most successful music group of the 1990’s, the Spice Girls. While the quality of the Spice Girl’s work is another essay entirely, the motivation was specifically the business appeal, not artistic desire.

This paper will focus exclusively on how motivations apply to the film industry, where a low predictability of success and high up front costs make it a much riskier production. Films require the coordination of large numbers of people and money, making the effects of a failure that much more spectacular (see Heaven’s Gate, a movie that failed so dramatically it bankrupted United Artists).

2. Economic Potential Motivation provides a greater variety of films for audiences

Based on the two ends of the spectrum, there are two types of products: Hollywood and independent. Hollywood based films are financed and owned by major studios, independents by outside investors. Typically an independent will sell distribution rights to a major studio after screening at a film festival, but modern distribution potential has made that less necessary. However, most independent films still rely on studio support for worldwide distribution.

Film production entails high upfront marginal costs without a reliable predictor of success—great movies can randomly flop at the theaters (Fight Club) and expose studios to financial ruin. In response to the inherent financial risks, Hollywood devolved into a hit driven industry, with the successes accounting for the bulk of the revenue and covering the costs of the box office failures. In order to insulate their studios from financial exposure, Hollywood producers must take into account the economic potential of a film when deciding whether or not to greenlight.

If creators relied on their own resources, there would be no Hollywood flicks to satiate the American people’s demand for the silver screen. When the MPAA stopped tracking the number in 2006, the major studio film budget stood around $65 million. Without economic compensation as encouragement for studio funding, there would be no incentive for RomComs? , action-packed Blockbusters, Animated children’s films or Comic Book-based productions. No more spectacular special effects or child-mollifying fairytales. In other words, different motivations produce different end products that serve different purposes, with quality a subjective trait based on a consumer’s intentions. A change in the legal compensation mechanisms would have a profound effect on the business model and result in less variety for the consumer.

While some may point out that these types of films are less “valuable”, the value of a created piece is subjective and based on its power among consumers. Titanic, the most expensive film of all time at the time of its production, resonated with audiences worldwide despite its simplistic storyline, trite dialogue and less than stellar actors. Quality is not ascertainable from one perspective—films are judged on group consensus, and what one person deems trash may go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

3. The “Economic Potential” allows for the development of filmmakers

The Hollywood studio system allows filmmakers with a proven track record to produce riskier yet more ambitious projects than without a corporate funding source. For example, Quentin Tarantino would never have been able to secure the $55 million to produce Kill Bill (1 and 2) or the $70 million for Inglorious Basterds without first having proven to the studios that he could put people in the seats with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. With the backing of a major studio, Tarantino was granted more creative freedom and ultimately the audience benefitted. The development of filmmakers within the studio business model provide more diverse and artistically inspired films, even though the motivation of production is often the financial potential of the film.

-- MikeAbend - 06 Jan 2012



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r2 - 07 Sep 2012 - 16:49:14 - IanSullivan
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