Machinima: Creative Anarchy vs. Institutionalization

During my brief presentation, I mentioned that machinima might soon become a contested artform. Specifically, I argued that the gradual institutionalization of machinima, i.e. its wider, cultural acceptance as a medium, will inevitably lead to legal disputes and copyright struggles akin to those experienced in contiguous media industries (e.g., music and cinema).

As Beth Noveck, director of the New York Law School's Institute for Information Law & Policy, recently told Wired News:

"Machinima for me is the hallmark of the kind of collaborative creativity that digital technologies are enabling [...] and it's precisely emblematic of the challenges that digital technologies pose for copyright law."

This is already happening. The issue at stake can be summarized in one question "Who owns machinima?". The fans? The game publishers? The 'spectators'? The introduction of The Movies has led many commentators to wonder what the future will hold for the medium itself. For instance, Tony Walsh notices that

"Contrary to what The Movies seems to have been made for, it appears that Activision (the game's publisher) maintains ownership over pretty much all user-created films. The EULA states that while users retain ownership of movies they create, Activision exclusively owns "any and all content within [users'] Game Movies that was either supplied with the Program or otherwise made available to by Activision or its licensors..." This means that any movie containing anything less than 100% user-created content (an impossible feat as far as I can tell) is under Activision's control. Even Lionhead Studios, the creator of the game, gets grabby with movies users submit to its web site" (Tony Walsh)

At least for now, Lionhead seems to be enjoying the popularity of fan-created content and it is capitalizing on the international media attention that a politically charged machinima like The French Democracy has attracted since its release on November 22, 2005. The movie, made by French designer Alex Chan, is a commentary on the social situation which led up to the recent riots in Paris and other French cities. First mentioned in The Washington Post, "The French Democracy" has since been featured on MTV.com, Business Week, 20 Minutes - a French newspaper, and innumerable blogs, including BoingBoing, Collision Detection and many more.

Peter Molyneux, Managing Director of Lionhead Studios has publicly commented via a press release that "With The Movies we wanted to make a game that allows anyone to easily express themselves by making a short film and posting them online to share with the world. Alex's film, which is absolutely terrific, really demonstrates the potential power and impact that these films can have." Chan the director of The French Democracy, added: "I did not expect such a reaction to my little 'home-made' movie, but I have spread some human values that are important to me. I'm very happy that The French Democracy has moved so many people, even if it is not always in a positive way. I'm very glad and proud that this movie may help people to think a bit more."

After just a month since the game's release, the number of movies posted on the official website shows no sign of slowing down. According to Lionhead, the game website has already attracted over one million unique users, has received 100 million hits, and currently features over 19,000 user-created movies, available online for anyone to view. In the medium-long term, however, one might wonder how Lionhead will respond to nmore daring politically and ideologically loaded films created with The Movies. What will happen when the film creators decide to tackle even more controversial issues, using The Movies as a Troy horse to disseminate ideas that other media won't even remotely touch?