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Rethinking Rights in a Transmedia World

Runes of Gallidon

By Daniel Kalder

As President of Brain Candy LLC, Scott Walker is one of the individuals behind the project Runes of Gallidon, an online fantasy world in which a community of fans are invited to contribute characters, concepts and stories to the central concept. It’s what Walker bills as “a guided collaborative enterprise breaking down the barrier between creator and consumer.”

When a publisher develops an open platform that involves hundreds or thousands of creators, the question of who owns what and who gets paid becomes very complex.

“Brain Candy was founded three years ago,” says Scott Walker, speaking with passion, “with the intention of constructing models of participatory entertainment. These models are multimedia — they can be video/audio/text or RPG games, anything –- but they all come together and live under one brand.

“Our first project is Runes of Gallidon, which was launched in July 2009. We established the premise, supplied the outline of a fantasy world, and then invited others to come and play in our toy box. Using a Creative Commons license, we wanted to encourage as many people as possible to come and share in the project . . . to encourage them to bring their own toys, to invent characters, to tell stories, to remix the concept, all with the intention of demonstrating alternative models to the standard entertainment industry paradigm — to move from passive consumption to participation.”

Walker pauses for breath and I ask a question:

Scott Walker

“That’s certainly an interesting concept, but it could be incredibly complex. I mean, you could potentially have multiple creators, so who would own the rights to what?”

“That’s exactly what we’re hoping for! We’d like to have thousands of creators! Our system is that if you create a brand new idea, introduced within a work, and it is approved for inclusion in the Runes of Gallidon world (it is not a complete free for all — there is editorial supervision of what is accepted into Gallidon and what is not), then it goes into the portfolio of concepts shared across the community. You own the rights to your work — your novel, your words — but not the character. Ideas and concepts are shared across the community.

“For example, you might create a character in a novel, and the novel does meh. Someone else however might take a minor character from inside your story and then write another novel that could take off, and we could secure film rights for it. The creator of the character would get nothing — revenue is shared at the work level. On the other hand he might get some collateral benefit. For instance people might go back and look at that original book. There are lots of ways to do this, however, it’s not a one size fits all model.

“Really, it’s an opportunity and a challenge. For us, the goal is to slice the legal licensing in way that achieves our goals. We want to maximize the remix potential, to maximize revshare while being as artist-friendly as possible.

“I believe that the desire for participation from fans is only going to grow. Creatives can create using different media at a very low cost; different media platforms enable the audience to participate also. It’s a perfect storm, really, everything is coming together. We want to encourage the audience to join us in building the world in a guided, collaborative, fashion while we create a viable commercial structure to monetize the project.”

***

Brain Candy has already collaborated with independent film makers and game designers interested in using and elaborating upon concepts found in the Gallidon world. As a result Walker has done a lot of thinking about the issue of rights in a transmedia world.

“Transmedia is not new; it’s been around for a long time. But it’s only recently been given a name. However if you’re working in participatory projects then it only makes sense to roll out the transmedia approach. For example, if you’re a publisher, then working with fan fiction is a good place to start, in the traditional area of print media you are familiar with. But it’s not the end. It’s not even sufficient.

“The problem of course is that negotiating rights for collaborative entertainment is incredibly complex. It’s hard even for the major players, rolling out a transmedia project. Look at Sony or Disney — they have crazy rights management spread out across all aspects of their properties and projects. They’re trying to navigate ahead of time, so they are not limited up front and then attacked downstream. Even for them it’s difficult. I think at the start of any project you have to ask these questions:

  1. What does publisher need?
  2. Who’s funding the project?
  3. What rights can the publisher get?

And then at that point you start navigating . . .

“From the publishing standpoint, you can continue to do work for hire, or try to do it in house and retain control of the rights that way. But regardless, at the end of the day transmedia, rights and creative management go hand in hand. You see, a publisher is not just publishing a novel, but creating a whole world for an audience to jump into. We need to realize that we have made the jump from work to world.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out. People are experimenting. Brand new contracts, language, models are being played with. There are new distribution channels. There are far more choices for the consumer. We are not seeing the total replacement of the traditional system, but rather the addition of new models.

“Legacy publishers tend to fight to defend the system. Newcomers however, such as Brain Candy or Inkhouse are starting from scratch. These are interesting times, a little chaotic, perhaps, but things are developing. My view is that whoever can demonstrate the ability to extract the maximum value of IP through transmedia application of concept will be granted the right to do so. They will have earned the right to do so. Here’s a quick example: a novel comes in, and usually the agent withholds as many rights as possible. If however as a publisher I demonstrate that I can do more than just sell book, but manage an entire world, and not just the work, then I naturally will get more control of the rights.”

***

Ultimately however Walker argues that the world is changing much too quickly to draw any definitive conclusions:

“There’s so much potential with transmedia storytelling it’s difficult to say where we’ll be even 12 months from now. We are experimenting at all levels, trying to discover how much content will work across how many platforms. But there isn’t enough data yet. However there are opportunities across the spectrum, lots of possibilities for innovation and experimentation.

“We created Brain Candy was to show people that there is an untapped market that exists between fandom and commercial entertainment, to be created with different models of revshare, and rights control. It’s just a huge spectrum that lies between the two. We started the company after a year of research. We were looking for someone using this model, to create an intellectual property using Creative Commons, and then develop it across multiple platforms with revshare. As yet nobody has done this — it’s only been done on a single-medium basis, or on a work-for-hire basis, or a ‘we will take the content but you will have no rights’ basis. Nobody is doing it on the same scale as us, but people are taking chances. I’m out here, waving the flag, saying: “Please come join me. Help me explore this territory.” There is so much potential to build.

“Fans have always co-created value. They want to revisit the entertainment worlds they like, and won’t wait for canonical material to drop from heavens . . . The question for creatives is: what are you going to do about it? The traditional path is: ‘we’re not going to monetize, but will send cease and desist orders.’ Sometimes that’s appropriate, but sometimes it’s a form of denial -– fans can be adding value to the property. At Brain Candy, we want to tap into this. We want to legitimize fandom, to build a bridge between creatives and their audience, to create a filter and a set of rules. We reject stuff that breaks coherence and continuity, but keep things that add to it. It’s a matter of constructing a rule set that doesn’t take away rights from creatives, and which allows audiences to co-create value in a transmedia world.

DISCUSS: Could Monetizing Fan Fiction Become a Virtuous Circle?

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