Watchmen as a charity case
Gave my presentation today on Superman and CSR--basically a narrative of the case for folks who might not be familiar with it, with broad-brush thoughts that, if you know what's in my head, illustrate my larger theoretical points. More to come on that--much more--soon enough.
The news that the Watchmen settlement talks have heated up is interesting, though not wholly surprising. Nikke Finke notes inside talk that Warner Bros. finally takes the legal threat seriously enough to negotiate--as I was explaining to a law prof today, before hearing about this latest development, the judge's summary judgment order is likely not the only thing on WB lawyers' minds. The permanent injunction in the Bratz case is a powerful reminder that a judge can view (alleged) infringement of IP rights as harm substantive enough to warrant shutting down distribution.
It's a question every litigant has to consider: how much risk are you willing to bear. Even if lawyers were convinced they can prevail--and here, the WB's definition of prevail was basically lose-millions-of-dollars-to-the-point-the-movie-is-unprofitable, at some point they were going to have to say to company executives that yes, the possibly exists that the movie could be entirely shut down. Fox had nothing to lose going forward; WB could lose everything. You don't have to be a game theorist to see where the incentives lie.
Another interesting thing that jumped out at me when reading a letter by one of the film's producers--the description of the movie as a charitable social venture. Really:
Writers gave us free screenplay drafts; conceptual art was supplied by illustrators, tests were performed gratis by highly respected actors and helped along and put together by editors, designers, prop makers and vfx artists; we were the recipients of donated studio and work space, lighting and camera equipment. Another irony, given the commercial stakes implied by the pitched legal dispute between Fox and Warners, is that for years Watchmen has been a project that has survived on the fumes of whatever could be begged, borrowed and stolen - A charity case for all intents and purposes. None of that effort, none of that passion and emotional involvement, is considered in the framework of this legal dispute.
It's easy to be cynical about this sort of thing, but this account really does touch upon an important feature of comics and comics-related enterprises. In my talk today I spoke of the connection between comic art and charity, and IDW CEO Ted Adams--a fellow panelist--described how for most comics creators the work truly is a personal passion as much as, if not more than just, a job. This personal dimension is as essential to corporate production as the business elements, and we lose a lot when we ignore it.
That said, I bet Warner Bros.' lawyers are not exactly thrilled with the producer saying the project survived through "whatever could be begged, borrowed and stolen." Stuff like that is why lawyers tell clients not to say anything their case in public!
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