Does The Amazon Studios Offer Even Make Sense?

Last week there was a suitable amount of buzz around the internet as Amazon, erstwhile behemoth retailing company, began soliciting ideas for original programming for its fledgling Amazon Studios enterprise. However, as Brown Bag head Cathal Gaffney was quick to tweet, the offer doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not for a studio like his. But do they make sense for anybody?

From a creator’s standpoint, the deal could be quite good. An immediate $55K for your effort and a cut of merchandise sales thereafter. That’s not too shabby in the grand scheme of things and will probably placate the majority of independent creators.

However, the fact that there are a number of unknowns about the deal is concerning for a number of reasons. For example, who will produce the content? Animation is animation, but all studios are not created equal. At least with the major networks, you know that they will likely use their own studio for the production, or use a high-quality sub-contractor if need be. With the Amazon deal, nothing is mentioned. Assuming they want to keep costs down, that has the potential to mean the bottom of the barrel could be producing things.

Secondly, there is, as Cathal points out, not much incentive for traditional, established studios to submit. Outside of having a great idea, there is nothing else in the deal for them. Most studios want someone to pick up there idea, but they also want the opportunity to produce that idea and generate revenue for themselves. The Amazon deal doesn’t do that, which is a tough sell when your business needs a recurring revenue stream, not just a shot in the arm.

In fairness though, Amazon are quite upfront about the deal and have a comprehensive Q&A page that lays out a lot of the details in clear language. There seems to be a lot less chance that people will get swindled if their good faith is to be believed.

Overall, the Amazon initiative is a positive direction in terms of the new era of content creation that is currently dawning on us. Much remains to be seen, and its likely that most of the content will be from individuals and small independents, but I’m decidedly curious to see what ideas Amazon chooses to pick up. Will they be similar to the current offerings or will we see a bold internet company take a step in a different direction. Only time will tell.

“Visual Creator” Sues the BBC for £2m for Copyright Infringement

Images (with apologies) via the UK Daily Mail

Here we go again. This time from the UK, where Michael Mitchell is suing the BBC for copyright infringement over a show called Kerwhizz, which he claims is based on his idea, Bounce Bunch. From the Guardian article:

 Michael Mitchell told the high court on Thursday that he was shocked in 2009 when his daughter noticed that three characters in the CBeebies show Kerwhizz bore “striking similarities” to his own cartoons.

Mitchell suggested that the BBC copied the characters – known in the show as Ninka, Twist and Kit – after they were uploaded to his own personal website in 2004…….

……Mitchell claims the Kerwhizz character “Ninki” was derived from a combination of his two characters Simrita and Jomo, that “Twist” was copied from his character Charlie and that “Kit” is a version of his character Yana. Outside court he told journalists that he had sent the characters to the BBC directly as a proposal package in October 2007, but had been rejected.

So, judging from the two pictures at the top, is there a case for infringement, bearing in mind that it focuses only on the three human characters in Kerwhizz?

The similarities are obvious:

  • they’re human
  • they’re kids
  • wearing brightly coloured spacesuits of some kind
  • wearing headband microphone
  • of multiple ethnicity

The only problem is that these traits can’t be considered under infringement. Why? They’re too ubiquitous and easily conceivable. The closest thing would be the brightly coloured suits but even then giving characters their own coloured clothing is nothing new.

Presuming that the similarities are generic enough to be precluded from the case, the next avenue open to Mitchell is to prove that the BBC used his show as a direct influence for creating Kerwhizz.

Now this is where it gets interesting, because Mitchell sent an unsolicited package that was rejected. As most studios will tell you, they send any unsolicited idea back unopened to eliminate precisely this scenario. The BBC should have been smart enough to do this, so this route can probably be rejected.

That leaves only the fact that Mitchell posted the Bounce Bunch online at some point prior to the launch of Kerwhizz. What form this took is not specified. Was it development art or full animation? Does it make a difference? Probably not. There seems to be enough difference between the shows themselves that Mitchell focuses only on the characters.

The really tricky aspect to this development is whether or not Mitchell can prove conclusively that someone from the BBC in the same department that created Kerwhizz saw or had access to the Bounce Bunch page.

This could be next to impossible to prove and the details are still sealed in court documents so we won’t know for sure until judgement, but I would hazard a guess that Mitchell doesn’t have the substantial proof he needs.

It’s always disheartening when you feel that someone else has copied your design (not idea, remember you can’t copyright those), especially a corporation as large as the BBC, but that does not preclude them from coming up with similar designs, although I would argue that even then, substantial differences exist.

In this particular case, if there really was any chance that the BBC ripped Mitchell off, then a settlement would have been reached by now.

It’s unfortunately just another example of why animators and developers need to be aware of the nature of copyright and what it does and does not cover.

Remember, It’s Not Your Idea, It’s Your Interpretation of It

Yesterday, over on the  Cartoon Brew Biz section, I read an announcement that the Disney Channel has ordered a pilot for broadcast in 2012 tentatively called Zombies and Cheerleaders.  Now I’m not so sure about yourself, but when I read that title, the first thing that popped into my head was this:

Yes, it’s the Zombies Vs Cheerleaders comic by Stephen Frank et al at Moonstone Books. Similar topic, very similar title.

On the surface they look much the same, however each composition is/will be hugely different. The TV show is described as follows:

The story follows Zed Necrodopolis, a typical high school student with one small caveat; he happens to be a zombie. Despite a high-tech wristwatch designed to curb any appetite he may have for his classmates, he and his zombie friends remain unpopular with the school’s most influential group, the pom-pom wielding cheerleaders. Never one to back down from a challenge, Zed sets out to improve zombie student body relations and win the attention of Addison, the cheerleading squad’s newest member.

In contrast, the comic is described as:

Morbid or funny, and sometimes morbidly funny, top talent bring eclectic tales of Zombies vs Cheerleaders in this best-selling anthology series. Based on the hit sketch card series from 5FINITY Productions, read the exciting stories of the two things everyone loves: zombies and cheerleaders!

So while they appear similar on the surface, featuring zombies and cheerleaders, they differ greatly when it comes down to actual content.

This is something to be very aware of if you are writing or creating your own material. You can’t copyright ideas, only exceedingly similar interpretations. This is why we continue to see new versions of Alice in Wonderland despite the fact that the Disney version is the de facto story as far as the masses are concerned.

So don’t be afraid to use someone else’s idea for something personal you’re working on, just so long as it’s different or heads in another direction. 🙂

You Know You’re Successful When Someone Copies Your Idea

Here’s an old one for you.

No, it’s certainly not Mickey Mouse and if you watch the whole thing, you’ll see ‘Minnie’ engaging in some things that Walt would never have allowed get off the animator’s table!

From what I can tell (thanks to this post over on Classic Cartoons), it’s by the Van Beuren Studios and features the characters of Milton and Rita Mouse.

Released in 1930 at just about the time that Mickey was gaining traction with audiences, Circus Capers makes it seem pretty clear as to how Milton came about.

What’s interesting though is that someone was copying Walt at all. I’m willing to bet he found it amusing on some level, that as someone who was derided Hollywood for making animated films and who ran up against con-men everywhere he went, was actually being copied from by someone else!

Copying has pervaded the Hollywood ecosystem pretty much since its inception. It goes for other forms of creation too, books, paintings, songs, you name it, if you become a success, people will attempt to emulate you. Of course, the real money can’t be found in copying someone, only in creating something new that people like.

Is copying all bad though? Nah, I don’t think so. I’m willing to wager that the blatant knock-offs only served to increase the popularity of Mickey and Minnie. Walt was right to sue in this case though as Milton and Rita are blatant carbon copies. He won the case, most likely as a violation of trademark no copyright.You can be sure though, that whenever a major studio decides to copy an idea, they’ll have an army of lawyers pour over it to make sure it can stand up in court as an original idea.

In the end, I think Milton and Rita did Mickey and Minnie no harm at all. By that stage, Disney had enough experience as a studio to out-create others and Walt’s eye for quality ensured that their films would resonate most with audiences around the world.

I, on the other hand, continue to await the day when someone copies me. 🙂