May 20, 2013

On Monetization and Fan Works Like LPs

Posted in life tagged , at 9:47 am by riulyn

Obviously this topic is not a new topic, but the whole Internet blowup on Nintendo’s policy to redirect LP (Let’s Play video) ad revenue from the YouTube channel owners to themselves has given rise to a new debate. How much monetization should be allowed on a work that is derived from someone else’s IP and who should the money go to?

Of course, argument #1 is the fact that the IP owner created the work and the inspiration that all the fan works take off on. For LPs, all of the game footage is created by the game developer. For music covers, the song idea comes from the original song writer. For fanart, the characters or setting or world are created by the original artist or author. For fanfiction, the characters and/or settings are based off of the original author’s work. Basically if the original idea didn’t exist, the fan idea/inspiration wouldn’t exist.

Argument #2 is the fact that there’s no possible way and really no legal way to completely control one’s work and things derived from it. I’m not as familiar with the laws as maybe I should be, considering that I make lots of fan work (aka all that sheet music), but I believe that, at least in the U.S., we have the right to reference other people’s works/ideas/etc. if it’s not for profit. When it comes to the money part it’s rather unclear, and it appears to have different rules for different people.

Let’s start with one of the more clear-cut and work towards the murky. I believe fanfiction seems to have the clearest rules right now. Pretty much if you are writing fanfiction, you can’t make money off it unless you have a contract/license/whatever from the original author/owner. The only grey portion is when someone makes money on an “original” work that appears to be a fanfic with the names changed around.

I think the second easiest case is music covers/sheet music. Sheet music arrangements, in my opinion, fits right along with the fanfiction category. There is really no ethical way to make money off of sheet music arrangements without having permission from the music’s owner. I don’t think any of my sheet music is worthy of money (not because I don’t try to make good sheets but that I really can’t guarantee the quality of them – both a self-confidence and time issue), but if I were to charge any money I’d try to get permission. More likely I’d try to give the money back to the composer some way, though most likely it’d be given to the company that owns the music or whatever the split is for something like soundtracks.

In the case of music covers, I think there is a pretty obvious divide between music covers made as videos online or mp3s to download versus music covers done live for an event. The former should earn the person doing the cover no money unless they have permission from the original music’s owner and the latter appears to be accepted as a legal way to make money even if technically they are doing the same thing. I think the reason that’s true is because many bands have done covers at their own concerts or started off as cover bands at small venues. Of course if you are a big name doing a cover you should probably get permission just in case, but musicians are sympathetic enough to each other not to go after live cover bands. Of course some music is considered free for all to use, like pretty much anything from the early 1900’s and earlier.

The third case I’ll tackle is fanart. Making money off of fanart has been around forever and I think the artist community is generally accepting of it. However, I am pretty far away from the art community so I may be wrong on that. I think the elitists may look down on people doing fanart of “lesser things” like TV show, comic, or video game characters, but the bigger issue is with direct copying versus inspiration. I think almost every artist would be upset if someone could make money by creating art that is almost identical to their own. Otherwise some artists may also not want people to draw their original characters a certain way, but like authors they don’t really have a way to prevent that.

The last case I’ll tackle is LPs. Like all other types of fanworks, LPs of course come in all kinds of varieties. Some just show gameplay footage. Some include commentary. Some are just gameplay footage plus random talking. The problem with the monetization scheme for LPs right now is that they make money based on the number of views and there is no difference given to those with lots of new content overlayed on top of gameplay footage and those that only show gameplay footage.

It also gets complicated because, yes, every playthrough is different. However, isn’t a huge part of the content from someone else’s IP? Does the fact that a person could experience it differently by having a controller in his or her hand really mean the original IP owner no longer has any claim to the content of the video?

I tried to think of something that would be most related to the LP issue and I think Abridged Series/parodies seems to be the closest thing. I have no idea what the monetization issue is with Abridged series but I think they are usually free. I guess the big difference is both the original work and the derived work are videos, usually, or at least meant to be consumed in a watching/reading manner.

The other thing I thought about is videos showing people playing board games. I have no idea how big of a thing that may be, but unlike for video games, board games don’t rely on videos as a component of the gameplay. There is a lot more direct control of what’s on the board of a board game compared to the TV screen when playing a video game, and surely no one buys a board game because the board looks so gorgeous, or do they?

As for monetization of LPs, the best case would be if the LPers got permission from the original IP owners to make money off their LPs. Really, the whole monetization of LPs is mostly due to YouTube wanting to find more places to run ads on, I think. YouTube started a policy without consulting the video game makers and started this mess. Now that it appears YouTube is letting each game company dictate its own policy, it just makes everything seem unbalanced and unfair. Of course YouTube has a right to have whatever policy it has, but it certainly doesn’t help the situation or help the game companies and the LPers to figure out the best solution for everyone.