Posted by: bburatti | October 7, 2011

Collaborate or Litigate?

Traditional media companies are conflicted. Should they encourage fan content to help promote and extend the brand, or do they vigorously agitate and sue to protect and limit the use of the brand? Media companies have long been worried about piracy. They lost millions from video pirates duplicating an existing work. Now they are threatened by additional issues in a digital world.

Digital technology has lowered the cost of entry to producing and distributing content. Convergence brings us fanzines, original videos based on the trademarked work, games, plus a means to distribute these works to a mass audience via the web.

Now a person can buy a high-definition video camera for under $200, a MacBook Pro for under $2,000 and editing software for $300. Add a few utilities and you’ve got full shooting and editing tools for under $4,000. A similar set-up used to cost $250,000 and resided only at television stations and production companies. Now amateurs have the ability to create original, high quality work. The common person is taking control of storytelling and discussion. We’ve moved far past the initial loving parodies of “Star Wars.” We’re in an age where compelling stories originate outside of the professional entertainment community.

Understanding the power of convergence in politics appeared in the last two presidential elections. Howard Dean was the first candidate to harness the power of the web to engage small campaign contributors. The ensuing campaigns became more sophisticated by posting key announcements on the web first, activating campaign fundraising, and harnessing the power of political action committees. All online activity is designed to engage the candidate’s loyalists at a high level. The loyalists then perpetrate the message throughout their social networks.

The old 60’s song was wrong. The revolution will be televised. Multiple eyewitnesses will shoot it on their cell phones and post it online. We’ve already seen that in the Iranian uprising.

Questions for discussion:
1. How is censorship manifested online?
2. What are the most intriguing forms of online or gaming activities that could encourage participation in political awareness and discussion?
3. How can citizens vet news and political material written or produced by a nonprofessional journalist?


  1. Great post! Another great book you may find of interest on this issue is Dan Gillmor’s, We the Media. Gillmor wrote that the future of news would be guided by two principles: “a belief in journalists values, including accuracy, fairness, and ethical standards,” and the “relentless and unstoppable” nature of technology.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion of Gilmor’s book. I will check it out. I fear that too many individuals and organizations who profess to be “fair journalists” are more interested in espousing a point of view regardless of actual facts, and technology allows those materials to be dispersed at an ever-accelerating rate. It puts a greater onus on citizens to vet the very sources that they turn to for information.

  3. I think it’s safe to say after reading the Star Wars chapter and looking at the impact of the passing of Steve Jobs last week, that collaboration is the only way to create any sort of empire in today’s competitive media world. A few powerful quotes out of the 4th chapter jumped out at me throughout the week as I went about my usual weekly mass media absortion routines that further support the argument that dynasties can only be created when participation is allowed, or even encouraged. On the second page of the chapter, Jenkins makes the statement that “Fan digital film is to cinema what the punk DIY culture was to music,” going on to explain that mainstream media is merely the roots of the tree that new media forms branch off of. I got to thinking about a 60 minutes episode I watched on Tuesday that analyzed the impact of Youtube on DIY communities and the example of a spoof of Katie Perry’s song “California Girls” had more hits than the original song. Both the original artist and the “spoofers” benefit from the creation of a new video spoof; is Katie Perry complaining because they used the lyrics of her song to boost their and more importantly her video plays?
    The second interesting statement came later in the chapter, when Jenkins said that “Efforts to shut down fan communities run in the face of what we have learned so far about the new kinds of affective relationships advertisers and entertainment companies want to form with their consumer.” After all, is the media leading the consumer? At one point in history, media and advertisers had the upper hand, but with consumer creating their own media, regulations on consumers does more harm than good.
    The reason why I mentioned Steve Jobs earlier aside from the fact that everyone has been reflecting on his life and accomplishments since his passing, was the similarities in his ability to “share” Apple with a consumer and create a culture and a relationship that took the “mass” out of communication and made buying and owning his product almost a personal relationship with the creator himself. I heard on the radio earlier this week that Iphone 4GS pre-orders had exceeded 1 million; regardless of what motivated consumers to rush out and buy the same product with a better camera and a female robot voice, it’s pretty overwhelming to try and explain the level of loyalty Jobs was able to create and maintain by simply allowing his consumers to share in the experience.
    This same relationship built George Lucas’ Star Wars creation into the empire it is today. In “The 500-Pound Wookiee,” section, we heard about how powerful it was to fans and creators that Lucas and his “cronies” might personally select winners and finalists for their fan cinema competition. Is there anything more special to a consumer than to know that they are being heard and in the case of the Star Wars competition, watched by their idol? If George Lucas enforced a ban on fan media, would we even have the second generation Star Wars films? Would Star Wars be a household name?

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