Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tolkien-Temper-Tantrums, Katsucon Catastrophe, & Funimation vs The Congressman’s Daughter: 3 kinds of "Doing it Wrong"

The Streisand Effect is something that can rarely be used as an effective marketing tool. In the times it has had demonstrable positive effects in marketing, 90% of those instances have been due to retroactive strategy changes, where the instigating party simply comes to terms with the extra attention and does what it can to take advantage of the newfound publicity, rather than continue to fight a losing PR battle. Almost never, can a marketing strategist plan and then successfully implement a Streisand Effect from the ground up. Hence;

#1 Tolkien Temper Tantrum:

Recently, there’s been an anime related blip on the Streisand Effect radar in the form of a fan-produced button with the slogan “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion” that was taken off of at the C&D behest of the Tolkien Estate. This non-infringing product had long since exhausted its life-cycle in terms of pop-culture buzzmetrics and relevancy in general. It was just another microscopic fleck of dead skin on the pile of old-meme that was the internet from 2009 that no one cared about. Suddenly, in steps the Tolkien Estate with a behavior which violates the unwritten social standards of internet pop-culture community, and boom; it’s viral in the blogosphere. The result being that now, someone like me, who never knew about this has; A) found about it, and B) based on the behavior of Tolkien Estate I am now very motivated to make something for myself with this slogan on it and proudly display it at the next convention I go to. I think you should too.

[Added Mar. 7 2011]
Since I wrote this a while back (these posts are usually written a number of days, sometimes weeks before they're posted using Bloggers ability to schedule auto-uploads), there has been a development in this issue. That development seems to be something along the lines of the Tolkien Estate coming out and stating that they have had no involvement in this situation, and leading to the conclusion that it was which pulled these things of their own accord. Something later confirmed by via BoingBoing...apparently. However, in's post containing the original emails, the words "
We have been contacted by The JRR Tolkien Estate" clearly appear in their correspondence dated Feb. 23 from "Mike" at There are only 3 possibilities as things stand:

1) Zazzle is lying. They were never contacted by the Tolkien Estate, and took it down themselves because someone over there has just learned what copyright infringement is and is taking it too far (see Katsucon Catastrophe below).
2) Tolkien Estste is lying, and backing off real fast to avoid a wrath of the internet type incident, either asking or leaving Zazzle to take the PR hit, with the message that it's Zazzle's doing and not Tolkien Estate, and Zazzle is complying since they... who fucking knows.
3) is lying and this has all been concocted as some insanely ballsy method of publicity in the hopes of...
who fucking knows.
4) My own opinion/desire is a combo of 1 & 2, being that knows exactly how this works, and was able to explain to the Tolkien Estate how they might just become the Cook's Source of 2011 in terms of internet wrath... and so they both are back-peddling the hell out of this.

Either which way, I'm done caring about it at this point, thought I still will be wearing a home-made version of this thing to the next con I go to.

#2 Katsucon Catastrophe:
Now, when it’s really “Fair Use” like the above, I am always supportive of this kind of thing and fostering all kinds of creativity. This support usually is something I often extend even when it’s technically over the line of the copyright issue. There are many examples where it’s more beneficial to allow the activity to continue rather than to force a confrontation. Case in point; the Katsucon Artist Alley disaster of 2011. Let’s get the technicalities straight; Most artist alley transactions where people buy things from the artists/vendors are in actual violation of copyright since the character rights are clearly being infringed upon. The fact that an artist drew/painted/sculpted an existing character or a combination of original character in an existing profile, by itself isn’t infringement... until that piece is sold for money. In that case the rights holder is entitled to a portion of that sale, and if there is no existing agreement in place, they can take legal action.

That doesn’t mean shutting down the artist alley is a good idea. Unless you’re selling a hundred pieces of Naruto fan art at $10 each, the small transactions of an artist alley are not something that licensees should think are worth the customer alienation that comes with wielding the bludgeon of "enforcement." But like a college undergrad who just learned something new, Katsucon blundered into this big time due to a lack of real-world knowledge. My own notion is that some staffer (who is probably a pre-law student somewhere), realizes that there’s a technical copyright violation going on, and institutes an over-kill policy, demonstrating a serious lack of knowledge of how this works. I could be wrong, but for some reason I don't think I am. Knowledge is information + experience. Guess which part of that was missing from the thought process of this Katsucon genius... Now because this mess’s Streisand Effect brings unnecessary scrutiny to artist alley activities at conventions in general, it can only lead to problems. Best case scenario is that this just goes away by the time convention season gets into full swing.

My Katsucon 1 (1995) con badge.
Katsucon, I love ya, and I was there in the beginning, but you better not fuck this up for everyone.

#3 The Funimation vs The Congressman's Daughter
Then there are the straight up a-holes who are so steeped in gamification behavior within the fan community, that they will actually hurt the anime business to get e-peen points. While the targets of the litigation aren't the worst offenders, Funimation suing the 1337 to set a proper example of “yes, this is stealing, and this is what happens when you do it” is not surprising, and is only unfortunate in that it takes capital away from Funimation's budget that could otherwise be used to get more anime out. Anime as a commercial product has been seriously hurt by attention whores who make terrible translations and post them online before legit streaming sources make them available merely a few hours later. These lawsuits will win (if legal procedure is done properly) because the law and politics are very friendly to copyright and the billions of dollars it pumps into the economy. Here's a bit on that:

The US Government is in love with Copyright. Some relevant background (Napster case study): In 2001, Napster tried the ridiculous failure that was the “Million Fan March” on Washington DC, as a part of their platform for a complete revision of copyright law, the end goal of which was to make p2p media sharing legal under fair use, and thus clearing the way for Napster to operate on a very large scale, immune from civil actions of music labels and artists. This event, combined with the activities of the Napster D.C. lobby team of Manus Cooney and Karen Robb, was called the “Congressman’s Daughter” strategy. It was the idea that if a member of congress just had their kid show them how Napster worked, they would have some kind of awakening and Congress would make sweeping changes to Intellectual Property laws. Napaster actually put off negotiating a deal with music labels in order to further this strategy, thinking it would work, and then they wouldn't have to deal with labels at all. But the problem is, Congress had just changed I.P. laws, and not in the way Napster wanted. This was the 1998 Mickey Mouse Protection Act, extending the period between creation and entry into the public domain to well over a century in most cases. The law was further cemented into an indelible presence in American jurisprudence with the later 2002 case of Eldred v. Ashcroft. Pile on top of that the DMCA getting through the Senate unanimously in1998, and U.S.A. participation in the GATT Treaty on copyright issues, and it should have been painfully obvious to anyone that this hoped-for outcome of Napster's wasn’t going to happen. The U.S. Government has consistently realized that patents and copyrights are among the top 5 contributors to the entire U.S. economy, with the biggest players in intellectual property issues being Pharmaceutical, Agri-business, and Software entitles, along with Entertainment Media. They all have DC lobbies too... really really big ones.

"Bubble? What do you mean Bubble? Nah, this is totally gonna last forever!"

So the F-1337 don’t have the law on their side, and can only hope public opinion becomes strong enough to serve as a motivation for Funimation to back off, or see if they can sidestep on a legal technicality. And for those of us in the business, it’s very painful to see idiot fans supporting thieving activities because of some perceived entitlement - the "right" to watch anime. It’s not really 100% their fault though, there just isn’t enough information getting through to people to dissuade them that; no, your American otaku demand for HD video perfectly translated commercial-free simulcast foreign TV programs at no cost to you is actually unreasonable believe it or not. The problem is, the way we live doesn’t make that easy to realize. For example; when Verizon was advertising high-speed internet access with the tag-line “download thousands of songs,” they were really hurting things. Downloading 1,000 songs from iTunes is kind of pricey, and Verizon knows that people aren't going to be paying for all those downloads, but they are going to perpetuate the entitlement anyway. The entitlement of “well I just bought a big computer and am paying for broadband, so that’s my investment, and that’s all I should have to be out of pocket” seems to be enough to justify not actually paying for the entertainment media they consume. Again, an internet entitlement notion that only is shown to be completely absurd when applied to a real-world example; “Well I got up out of the house and paid for my subway ride here to the movie theater, so that’s enough of a reason for me to get in without a ticket.” Yes, it’s just that stupid. And no court in the land is going to have sympathy for people who buck the system that greases the wheels of politics.

In this last case, the party who’s “doing it wrong” are the fansubbers, the torrent hosts, and the people defending what they do. When you dabble in piracy, there’s a risk that they’ll nail you. The internet-rage from the ignorant otaku masses is creating a pseudo Streisand Effect in the regular channels, which is just a reminder to the rest of you to play by the rules or risk being #1338.


IKnight said...

The last I heard (from ANN) was that on 10 Feb a judge ordered Funi to drop all but one defendant from the case. Though they're welcome to start separate cases against the other 1,336 provided they pay separate filing fees for each one.

The Angry Otaku said...

Wow, I guess the court system isn't about to lose out on the money they think they're entitled to either. Add Funimation Legal to the list of people "doing it wrong." Man, it's gonna suck to be that one guy.

Still... in the end, technicalities aren't a great way to get out of this kind of thing. Not that they should when you think about it.