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The Lawbringer: Blizzard and machinima

The relationship Blizzard has cultivated and presented to the machinima community is, in a word, rare. Not unexpected, but rare. Companies such as Blizzard that hold such a hot property like the Warcraft series usually are tight with licensing. Blizzard is also ridiculous-smart -- you don't get the amount of success it has without being something ridiculous. At an early stage, the company realized that giving a fair amount of leniency to machinima would reap some awesome benefits. That theory has paid off, not only for Blizzard but for the community as well, in spades.

This week, Lawbringer delves into the fairly broad Blizzard-machinima artist relationship. The seeds of this quick look at the rules of machinima came from Myndflame's own look at Blizzard's policies back in 2009. Like I said before, this relationship is unique in its openness. In fact, Blizzard openly courts machinima artists in sponsored contests as well as through its official policies on the art form.

A few weeks back, I started with a very basic discussion of the interesting aspects and ramifications of fan fiction, player- and user-created stories that uses the characters of fiction and non-fiction in their own original fiction, and, in most cases, expands the universes that those characters occupy from their original boundaries. My aim was to come to the conclusion that while the concept of fan fiction has its enemies and opponents in all walks of literary life, the act itself has its own murky legal questions that are exacerbated based on money, intent and possibly confusing the public as to whose version of the characters is "correct."

A letter to machinimists

Blizzard is very outspoken about its machinima policies. Being up front with policies such as these allow creators that peace of mind needed in order to make great things without the fear of retribution. Frankly, after reading over the rules that Blizzard has set forth for creating original machinima with its game and assets, I became very impressed with Blizzard's community outreach in this avenue.

Blizzard values its relationship with machinimists greatly. How do we know this? Simply, Blizzard is being up front about the license that it gives to creators. A license is basically a limited set of rules or conditions under which someone can use your stuff -- in this case, intellectual property.

Licenses are powerful things. Major league spots in the United States all have licensed gear, hats, sweatshirts and everything under the sun. No one else can legally make a Yankees hat other than the official licensed manufacturers decided on by Major League Baseball, for instance. Blizzard can choose to do whatever it wants with its property, and allowing machinimists to use the aforementioned stuff in such a broad way as it does shows the value it places on that community.

There are limitations to this agreement, however. The biggest points that stood out to me were as follows:
  • Don't sell it.
  • No porn.
  • Ten seconds or less of advertisements/sponsorships.
Shall we go down the list?

Don't sell it, redux

When I talked about fan fiction, I went to great lengths to say that making money off of other people's stuff is bad and wrong and will probably get you sued. That's true here as well. Blizzard is totally fine with machinimists using its art and game as settings for projects, but once you go beyond that into the realm of making cash off of that particular movie, it's another thing entirely.

But there are exceptions, as there are in all things in life. Blizzard gives creators an out by allowing creators to ask Blizzard for individual permission to sell or license their original creations. Even just having that option in there is a huge boon to machinimists, giving them the potential outlet for making money off of these items with Blizzard's permission.

The premium pay wall model is a powerful force on the internet -- give them something for free, but more on the other side of the for-pay wall. Blizzard expressly prohibits putting machinima made using Blizzard's assets behind a pay wall. It must be free. Your site can have a pay wall or premium wall, but the WoW content cannot be behind it. Seems reasonable to me, especially for us consumers of media, as Blizzard lets us have the good stuff for free and doesn't let people make us pay for it.

No porn

What does "keep it T-rated" really mean? We all know, right? No porn. No sex. No Broxigar-on-Sargeras action, and I don't mean with a wooden axe ... (Or maybe I do?) T for Teen translates as PG-13 in most cases. Suggestive, mouthy, probably a little vulgar, but never crossing invisible lines. Interestingly enough, Blizzard has basically given the power here over to the ESRB's rating system, saying that movies made with WoW need to conform to the rating WoW was given. Interesting.

Limited sponsor screen time

The 10 seconds of sponsors language is Blizzard's way of letting you know that this production has minimal ties to anyone but Blizzard. Sure, other sites hosted the movie or even paid for its creation -- but at the end of the day, it's 10 seconds of advertisement and sponsorship notification. By policing these logos in such a way, Blizzard keeps certain issues out of its hands. Keeping that distance is smart, in case some sort of shady people start claiming relationships to Blizzard that were, rightfully, never there. It happens more than you think, and it's a pain in the butt.

Extrapolating the machinimist's code illustrates how happy and, really, proud Blizzard is of the machinima community. Do you get such simple and broad terms of use like this all the time? No. Blizzard doesn't want to make it hard for the aspiring machinimist, which is respect-worthy. Of course, you're still subject to a nebulous "T for Teen" ambiguity, but really, it seems like a small price to pay for such a broad license. Good on you, Blizz.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wow.com.

Filed under: The Lawbringer

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