Which “blockhead” will produce this game once copyright disappears?

by on February 26, 2008 · 16 comments

Tom Bell–who I regarded as the the equivalent of my Jedi master in the mid-90s–suggested in a post earlier today that:

“Copyright holders thus understandably fear that their customers have begun to treat expressive works like common property, free for all to use. That, the specter of copyism, does risk upsetting copyright policy, leading to a market failure in the production of expressive works. Even as we recognize that threat, however, we should also appreciate that technological advances have greatly reduced the costs of creating and distributing new works of authorship. Thanks to that deflation, we can increasingly count on authors who care little about the lucre of copyright — blockheads, as Samuel Johnson called them — to supply us with original expressive works.”

As his once lowly Padawan learner, I know to be cautious when questioning my old master’s wisdom. But I must humbly ask: How, dear master, does a video game this frickin cool and complex get created in a world devoid of serious copyright protections? It’s a question I have asked before here and I have never received an answer that satisfied my fear of losing some of the truly great content that gets created only because of the protections afforded by existing copyright standards.

I await your enlightenment, my master. Because I can’t imagine many “blockheads” providing us with expressive works like this without some sort of guarantee that their creative efforts will not be completely expropriated.

[More videos of "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" can be found here.]

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Yes, it’s not a video game, but the graphics are way better:

    http://www.shatters.net/celestia/

    But this is a good game, and one day it’s graphics will be better:

    http://www.wesnoth.org/

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Yes, it’s not a video game, but the graphics are way better:

    http://www.shatters.net/celestia/

    But this is a good game, and one day it’s graphics will be better:

    http://www.wesnoth.org/

  • Tom W. Bell

    The Force (of argument) is strong with you, Adam. But do not create foes where none exist! My paper argues only about the *trend* towards greater blockheaded content–it does not claim we have already reached a world where no author requires copyright’s lucre. Some particularly expensive-to-produce works, such as computer games and blockbuster movies, will continue to rely on copyright, at least for sometime. If you look into the future, though, you can see a world where blockheads might produce even those.

  • Tom W. Bell

    The Force (of argument) is strong with you, Adam. But do not create foes where none exist! My paper argues only about the *trend* towards greater blockheaded content–it does not claim we have already reached a world where no author requires copyright’s lucre. Some particularly expensive-to-produce works, such as computer games and blockbuster movies, will continue to rely on copyright, at least for sometime. If you look into the future, though, you can see a world where blockheads might produce even those.

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    I can see the future Tom points to in Star Wars: Revelations, the 47 minute, $20,000 fan film that is free for the taking at

    http://www.panicstruckpro.com/revelations/

    It’s better than most of the prequels and contains special effects almost as good as Lucas’. Most important, though, the creators made it just for love of art. Here’s the Wikipedia article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_Revelat

  • http://www.jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    I can see the future Tom points to in Star Wars: Revelations, the 47 minute, $20,000 fan film that is free for the taking at

    http://www.panicstruckpro.com/revelations/

    It’s better than most of the prequels and contains special effects almost as good as Lucas’. Most important, though, the creators made it just for love of art. Here’s the Wikipedia article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_Revelations

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    A few points:

    1. The cost of creation keeps dropping. So, the cost becomes less of an issue.

    2. Alternative business models can and do exist that allow the creator to earn money. These other business models need not use copyright — and, in fact, can often benefit more by ignoring copyright.

    3. A decade ago you might have asked how, without copyright, anyone would ever produce something like the Encyclopedia Britannica, yet now we have Wikipedia, which in many ways is a lot more impressive and a lot more comprehensive — and it doesn’t rely on copyright.

    Don’t assume that copyright is the only model. There are many models for the creation of both complex and simple content.

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    A few points:

    1. The cost of creation keeps dropping. So, the cost becomes less of an issue.

    2. Alternative business models can and do exist that allow the creator to earn money. These other business models need not use copyright — and, in fact, can often benefit more by ignoring copyright.

    3. A decade ago you might have asked how, without copyright, anyone would ever produce something like the Encyclopedia Britannica, yet now we have Wikipedia, which in many ways is a lot more impressive and a lot more comprehensive — and it doesn’t rely on copyright.

    Don’t assume that copyright is the only model. There are many models for the creation of both complex and simple content.

  • Adam Thierer

    Jerry… As a Star Wars uber-geek, I am certainly well aware of “Star Wars: Revelations” and think it is quite an impressive work of visual “fan fiction.” Nonetheless, as I have argued here before, I simply cannot agree with those who would hold it out as an example of how peer production is somehow an adequate substitute for what copyright protection incentivizes:

    Two notes about “Star Wars: Revelations.” First, it’s based on a very successful and impressive media property that benefited from copyright protection. Second, while I too was impressed with the storyline in this “Star Wars: Revelations” amateur effort, it was decidedly amateurish in other important ways, too. Namely, have you ever tried to scale up the video to a big screen TV? Well, I have. It looks like shit. Moreover, it sounds like shit. In sum, when it comes to the quality of the final product, it really is amateur hour. There’s no appreciation among the anti-copyright crowd for the issue of quality control. What the hell use is a $3000 new 50″ plasma HDTV and a 7.1 surround sound audio set-up if all I have to play on it is grainy YouTube videos and stupid Burger King games?

    Now, it certainly may be the case, as Mike Mansick suggests, that “Alternative business models can and do exist that allow the creator to earn money,” and that “These other business models need not use copyright — and, in fact, can often benefit more by ignoring copyright.” I agree with that statement to SOME extent for SOME businesses or forms of art SOME of the time. But what I am suggesting here is that the really big, bold, impressive works of culture and art—and yes, I understand that is a terribly subjective term—will likely be under-produced in world devoid of some semblance of copyright protection. And we will certainly have lost something important if that is the case.

    Could I be wrong? Sure. And I suspect we will find out the result of this grand experiment in our lifetimes because I am convinced that the effectiveness of traditional copyright law will gradually fade away for the same reasons that efforts to control speech and expression via censorship will increasingly fail in the future, as I have discussed in great detail here. The difference, of course, is that when censorship fails because of the combination of developments I outlined in that essay, we will not have lost much as a society. When copyright fails for similar reasons, however, I believe we may lose some of the prized cultural expression and creativity that flows from the modern gaming and movie-production community. In sum, I just don’t see the Halo video game trilogy or the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy being produced in a world without some sort of copyright protection. But we just won’t know for many years until copyright law falls apart and the grand experiment plays out.

  • Adam Thierer

    Jerry… As a Star Wars uber-geek, I am certainly well aware of “Star Wars: Revelations” and think it is quite an impressive work of visual “fan fiction.” Nonetheless, as I have argued here before, I simply cannot agree with those who would hold it out as an example of how peer production is somehow an adequate substitute for what copyright protection incentivizes:

    Two notes about “Star Wars: Revelations.” First, it’s based on a very successful and impressive media property that benefited from copyright protection. Second, while I too was impressed with the storyline in this “Star Wars: Revelations” amateur effort, it was decidedly amateurish in other important ways, too. Namely, have you ever tried to scale up the video to a big screen TV? Well, I have. It looks like shit. Moreover, it sounds like shit. In sum, when it comes to the quality of the final product, it really is amateur hour. There’s no appreciation among the anti-copyright crowd for the issue of quality control. What the hell use is a $3000 new 50″ plasma HDTV and a 7.1 surround sound audio set-up if all I have to play on it is grainy YouTube videos and stupid Burger King games?

    Now, it certainly may be the case, as Mike Mansick suggests, that “Alternative business models can and do exist that allow the creator to earn money,” and that “These other business models need not use copyright — and, in fact, can often benefit more by ignoring copyright.” I agree with that statement to SOME extent for SOME businesses or forms of art SOME of the time. But what I am suggesting here is that the really big, bold, impressive works of culture and art—and yes, I understand that is a terribly subjective term—will likely be under-produced in world devoid of some semblance of copyright protection. And we will certainly have lost something important if that is the case.

    Could I be wrong? Sure. And I suspect we will find out the result of this grand experiment in our lifetimes because I am convinced that the effectiveness of traditional copyright law will gradually fade away for the same reasons that efforts to control speech and expression via censorship will increasingly fail in the future, as I have discussed in great detail here. The difference, of course, is that when censorship fails because of the combination of developments I outlined in that essay, we will not have lost much as a society. When copyright fails for similar reasons, however, I believe we may lose some of the prized cultural expression and creativity that flows from the modern gaming and movie-production community. In sum, I just don’t see the Halo video game trilogy or the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy being produced in a world without some sort of copyright protection. But we just won’t know for many years until copyright law falls apart and the grand experiment plays out.

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Adam, I agree. I was merely trying to illustrate the future Tom was alluding to in which blockheads (or in this case Chewbacca geeks) will produce amazingly complex media. And Mike Masnick’s right to point out, too, that the cost of producing information continues to drop precipitously. (Check out Chris Anderson’s article on “free” in the current issue of Wired:

    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free

    That all said, like Tom, I think we do need limited copyright to induce creation. It’s just that I’d like to see the limits of copyright kept and respected. The problem, as I see it, is that as the cost of production decreases and incumbent media producers are challenged by new “blockhead” competition, they insist on tightening copyright in order to protect their industry. Sure, Star Wars is “a media property that benefited from protection,” but it’s ridiculous that it won’t be in the public domain for a hundred years or more.

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Adam, I agree. I was merely trying to illustrate the future Tom was alluding to in which blockheads (or in this case Chewbacca geeks) will produce amazingly complex media. And Mike Masnick’s right to point out, too, that the cost of producing information continues to drop precipitously. (Check out Chris Anderson’s article on “free” in the current issue of Wired:

    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free

    That all said, like Tom, I think we do need limited copyright to induce creation. It’s just that I’d like to see the limits of copyright kept and respected. The problem, as I see it, is that as the cost of production decreases and incumbent media producers are challenged by new “blockhead” competition, they insist on tightening copyright in order to protect their industry. Sure, Star Wars is “a media property that benefited from protection,” but it’s ridiculous that it won’t be in the public domain for a hundred years or more.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Here’s a list of schemes for linking markets to production of public goods (including one from Prof. Bell). None of these have worked yet in the real world, so they don’t justify getting rid of copyright, but some of them look like they could scale to a project the size of a major game or a feature film.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Here’s a list of schemes for linking markets to production of public goods (including one from Prof. Bell). None of these have worked yet in the real world, so they don’t justify getting rid of copyright, but some of them look like they could scale to a project the size of a major game or a feature film.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    And here’s a whole bunch of FOSS games:

    http://liquidat.wordpress.com/2008/03/03/an-inc

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

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