Category Archives: Licensing

Grass Roots Licensing Of Youtube Fare

My kids turned me on to “Charlie The Unicorn” shortly after it made its debut on youtube several years ago. Like most user generated content, Charlie, a flash animated 2D short, was made on a shoestring and the production values reflect that. Still, the work is smart, funny and quotable in the vein of Caddyshack and The Simpsons.

Charlie has been viewed over 35 million times worldwide and spawned a sequel.

Still, I wasn’t really intrigued until I visited Hot Topic, a teen-oriented store in my local mall, and spotted Charlie merchandise.

Plenty of talented (and not so talented) folks make shorts and distribute them on youtube. Far fewer generate millions of views or eyeballs; and only a handful of those successfully make the jump to ancillary exploitation.

Whether Charlie’s creator is making meaningful revenues isn’t really the point (nor is the aesthetic value of such a work).

Charlie’s transition from youtube short to retail merchandise represents nothing less than a sea change in the ability of a single content creator to leverage the internet and its potential access to millions to build a following and potentially profit from ancillary and derivative exploitation of content without the need or prohibitive expense of traditional distribution channels.

It means that self-distribution is now a meaningful and sustainable distribution alternative and will become even more so as internet based distribution (e.g., faster downloads) matures.

It means that traditional distributors better figure out how to stay relevant (hint: content marketing not content distribution) or get out of the way.

Just ask the people who (used to) work in the music business.

Lennon Reloaded

The “One Laptop per Child” Foundation released a television commercial on Christmas Day of John Lennon – almost 30 years after his assassination – pitching viewers to buy laptops for poor children.

The Foundation produced the spot using digital technology; creating an ersatz version of Lennon saying “I tried to do it through my music, but now you can do it in a very different way. You can give a child a laptop and more than imagine, you can change the world.”

Variations on the technology have been around for years. Michael Crichton predicted the advent of the technology in “Looker” in 1981. In 1995, I cited Crichton’s work when I wrote about the use of digital technology to reanimate deceased celebrities in new works – and the possible legal complications – here.

Although the ethical and business dilemmas of using digital automatons instead of real actors are still in flux, the legal issues remain the same. The commercial exploitation of dead celebrities requires the consent of the celebrity’s estate. In this case, Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow approved the spot.

When I wrote my article in 1995, the infinite possibility of the internet was largely unknown to the public. Our understanding of its potential now combined with advances in digital reanimation technology will only bring these issues to the forefront.

You can find out more about One Laptop Per Child’s donation program here.

Required Reading


As part of my daily online read, I culled the following from the past week or so. Usually I post these links and any editorial to facebook. I am going to start posting the most significant ones – those that I think are required reading for reps (and our respective clients) – on a regular basis to dealfatigue. Please let me know what you think.

Scrabulous Facing Copyright Infringement Charges

Change in the Business Model at EA Games

In Tentative Deal, Directors Send Message To Screenwriters

Arts Council in England Taketh (and Giveth), Leaving Anger in Its Wake

Netflix lifts limits on seeing online movies Read this if you read anything today. This is where video (and TV…) are headed. Wondering if it’s possible to do a deal with Netflix and Apple directly as you can with music.

Which comes on the heels of . . .
Apple Bets on Online Movie Rentals

Oprah Winfrey getting her own TV network

TV studios cut more overall deals
Companies cite WGA strike as main cause

Steroids beyond sports
Celebrities now among those linked to drug shipments

American Library Association announces literary award winners

Internet Delivery Now Streeting With Traditional Home Video


Jonathan Handel’s blog alerted me to the pending “day and date” release of the “The Bourne Ultimatum” on both DVD and via Internet delivery on December 18th. As Handel and the LA Times report, this will be the first day and date release of a motion picture on video in both Internet/electronic media and physical media. Usually (if there is such a thing given the pace of things now), electronic delivery of a motion picture streets with the pay-per-view or pay-TV windows.

Simultaneous Internet/Home Video release dates are consistent with current deal terms and those of older vintage that producers and distributors routinely negotiate for home video rights on motion pictures. The difference now is the form of delivery; physical media vs. electronic media. Although the revenue splits on existing deals might get tricky depending on the terms negotiated, the business is already acclimated to evolving home video revenue structures having moved from the traditional royalty formula to revenue sharing. While Handel correctly raises the prospect of brick and mortar retailer resistance, I suspect the issue of greater impact will come from producers, actors, financiers and other profit participants on motion pictures. Once they become aware of the more favorable cost differential between video tape manufacturing costs and broadband delivery they will expect a payment structure that accounts for the savings much as the WGA is demanding now.