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  ‘The Movies’ and Intellectual Property  
 
 
Posted 2005-11-14 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Lionhead Studios has finally launched its awaited movie-making game The Movies, giving users the ability not just to play the game, but make their own digital films. With the launch of the game comes an official gallery of user-created films, where the best flicks become top picks. Judging by some of the top-rated user-submitted films, it seems The Movies is a promising tool for creating machinima (movies made in a game environment), but I wonder who owns the product of user creation. I don't have a copy of The Movies, so I can't review its terms of use or end-user license agreement, but I was able to find a Terms of Use document pertaining to the Lionhead web site that spells out ownership issues for user-submitted films.

The good news is that Lionhead recognizes that users might create original material with or insert original material into The Movies--this is referred to as "Additional Content." The bad news is that, by submitting your movie to the Lionhead web site, you grant Lionhead a non-exclusive but otherwise unlimited license to your Additional Content. The license, in short, permits Lionhead to exploit, sell, rent and even sub-license your Additional Content. This is, in my opinion, an excessive and greedy arrangement--far more than what would be necessary for Lionhead to display your movie on its web site. If the license agreement for the game itself is as grabby, using The Movies as a machinima tool would be pointless for any creator wishing exclusive ownership over their original content.

The web Terms for submitting movies to Lionhead are similar to agreements most game-like creation tools forge with users. In a 2002 Wired article about Neverwinter Nights, author Noah Shachtman explained that "The big advancement in the new game is that for the first time...fantasy freaks can...graphically create mythical realms... The ability to make even cosmetic changes is one of the key reasons why games like The Sims, Quake, Half-Life and Unreal were such monster hits." But publisher Infogrames and developer BioWare's end-user license gave the two companies "an 'irrevocable royalty-free right to use and distribute' player-created worlds, if those realms are offered for download." In the article, I complained that the license agreement precluded me from using original graphical and audio content created for "Gloomveil," a Neverwinter Nights-compatible project. As it turned out, I didn't make the project available for download, but did run games from a home server in order to retain sole ownership over my work. The virtual world of Second Life also offers less than satisfactory terms to its creative users. Although it's possible to use Second Life as a 3D-object creation tool, and import original multimedia assets for use with virtual-world objects, the environment's maker Linden Lab is allowed to alter and exploit user-created content. Second Life's Terms of Service allow users to retain some rights to their original creations, but Linden Lab is afforded an extensive license to exploit the content to market and/or promote Second Life--even to sublicense user content to third parties for the same purpose. With the restriction of exploitation to marketing or promotional purposes, Linden Lab's license for Second Life isn't as grabby as Lionhead's license for The Movies (which allows exploitation for any and all purposes), but neither company is looking out for the best interest of creators.

Although it's easy to argue that games and game-like environments are meant for play and not for serious or professional purposes, the biggest challenge to this sort of usage isn't technological, but legal. The fact is that end-users are increasingly finding professional applications for software originally intended exclusively as entertainment. New forms of culture, such as machinima, are viable in a professional sense, but are only as unrestricted as permitted by the tool-makers--I wonder how digital culture might evolve if software developers and publishers took a fairer, "hands off" approach to user-created content.
 
     
 
   
 
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Comment posted by Jos 'Hyakugei' Yule
November 14, 2005 @ 5:16 pm
     
 
I'd like to comment about this line "The fact is that end-users are increasingly finding professional applications for software originally intended exclusively as entertainment". Only in the realm of software is there the ability for someone to control how you use or what you use something you have bought for. When i buy a soccer ball, i can use it to play soccer. Or, i could use it as a prop in a play. Or as an object in a piece of art. Or as a cannonball. Or or or. There is no EULA or licence that i sign when i buy that ball, that limits me in how i can use it.

I have high hopes for 'the Movies' as a content creation tool, and i'll remain hopeful till i get an opportunity to read the EULA. Unfortunately, you usually have to buy the item before you can read the licence (how ridiculous is that?).

I just sent lionhead an email requesting a copy of the EULA/licence that comes with the game, so we can, maybe, determin the legal situation of those that want to use it to create original content.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 14, 2005 @ 6:33 pm
     
 
Great point, hyakugei, although I'd add that EULAs may be creeping into non-software areas as well -- there is a "box top license" for Lexmark printer cartridges, for example.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Minh
November 15, 2005 @ 7:48 am
     
 
Question. Can I create a movie without uploading it to Lionhead's server? Or do all movies created with "The Movies" fall under this EULA?
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Jos 'Hyakugei' Yule
November 15, 2005 @ 9:19 am
     
 
I'm in a discussion with Lionhead right now to clear up some of these issues. I'll post back here when i have something more definitive.

You might want to check out the page on Machinima.com[url] [url=http://www.machinima.com/films.php?engine=2]about the game. They have an interview with one of the designers and other bits and pieces of info.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Jos 'Hyakugei' Yule
November 15, 2005 @ 9:20 am
     
 
Gaaa, sorry for the malformed post. The page with the info at machinima.com is here.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
November 15, 2005 @ 9:42 am
     
 
Minh, as far as I know you can create a movie without uploading it. The Terms presented in the above article pertain only to movies uploaded to Lionhead's web site, and not the offline product. I don't yet know what the language in the EULA for the game is -- Jos is trying to get a copy of it so we can identify any issues.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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