user-generated content

As I mentioned last week, Apple’s present iPhone Xs billboard advertising campaign is ubiquitous at the moment, especially this image, totally flooding the Minneapolis skyway system, and beyond:

Putting aside whether the unique lighting and reflective nature of the indoor billboards do justice to the art of the iPhone Xs ad, I’m also questioning whether the Xs repetition might be, excessive?

See what I mean? Above and especially below, with stretches of hundreds of feet — in the frozen tundra of our Minneapolis skyway,  nothing in sight, but the same, glaring and reflective Xs ad:

A few questions come to mind. Repetition in branding, yes it’s important, but are there no limits?

In other words, we know Apple can afford to dominate our skyway billboard space, but should it?

And, if so, with what? Apple’s user-generated content campaign was welcome, brilliant and unique.

But, what is the end goal of covering the Minneapolis skyway, with a train of identical Xs boxcars?

Isn’t the art of the ad lost when it is the only thing in front of you, or should I say Outfront of you?

A boring train of Xs boxcar ads builds no momentum to a destination, like Wall Drug ads on I-90.

Where is this train of repetitive ads supposed to take us, online to drive more holiday unit sales?

That seems doubtful, the ad doesn’t explain why one should replace an earlier version with the Xs.

Ironically, Apple’s current struggle is distancing itself from the stock market’s focus on unit sales.

Billboard advertising is said to be effective for brand awareness, but Apple hardly struggles there.

I’m not seeing the point of this ad, and repetition won’t solve the problem of a saturated market.

I’m just left feeling like I paid too much for my Xs, because Apple wasted too much on these ads.

The Star Wars series is truly an exceptional franchise, having broken box office records, creating legions of fans, and bringing the idea of collateral merchandise licensing to an unprecedented level. Also, how many other films are top hits at the box office in three different decades, even when all you’ve done is add a few minutes of extra scenes and made the explosions better?

Star Wars also made headlines in 2012 after the franchise was acquired by Disney, who promptly announced that they would begin work on the third and final trilogy of the nine episode story.

Although Episode 7 is not slated for release until December of 2015, there is new Star Wars content out for mass consumption. Just yesterday, LucasFilms released a trailer for Empire Strikes Back: Uncut through the website The full film will be released today.

In case you didn’t know, 2 years ago director Casey Pugh sent out an internet call to action to Star Wars fans: film your own version of any scene from Star Wars: A New Hope, and I’ll use it to make a fan-made version. The result is a full length feature film that is at times intentionally hilarious, actually impressive, or other times, so terrible it is hilarious. The full movie can be viewed on this officially sanctioned and licensed YouTube page.

Below is the official trailer for the new Empire Strikes Back: Uncut film

There are so many levels of derivative work and licensing issues involved that I think any release would require a flowchart and possibly a power point presentation. This isn’t the first time companies have embraced user-generated content, but it is certainly one of the more ambitious uses. But it is wonderful to see a major player in the entertainment industry embrace new technologies and fan participation. The underlying copyright issues may be difficult, but they’re not insurmountable and, for me, the result is worth it.

But Star Wars hasn’t been focused solely on copyright law, they’ve been making strides in trademark law too. Although there has been an increasing interest in the registration of sound marks, LucasFilms was a pioneer in the field, having obtained a trademark registration for the sound of Darth Vader breathing. The registration was issued in 2009 and covers “Halloween and masquerade costumes incorporating masks” and “costume masks, voice altering toys, toy computers, action figures, electronic games” and similar toys and figurines. You can listen to the sound mark here.

Although Darth Vader’s breathing is perhaps the most distinctive sound to emerge from the Star Wars series, it isn’t the only one that might be worthwhile protecting. R2-D2 has some distinctive noises as well as Chewbacca’s roar. It might be a bit harder to obtain, but the sound of a light saber might have a chance, too. And who knows what else may come out of the final three episodes?

While the last year has been relatively quiet on the Star Wars front, I think these new stories are just the beginning of what will surely be a 2015 filled with “sneak peeks,” fan complaints and, yes, legal issues surrounding the Star Wars franchise as we gear up for the first Disney-produced installment of the saga. Here’s hoping that the majority of these are fun stories like Star Wars Uncut in the coming year.

Last Sunday was “Music’s Biggest Night,” at least according to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). I haven’t watched many Grammy Award shows, but the possibility of seeing Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr performing together was enough for me to tune in, at least for a few minutes. I wasn’t paying particularly close attention, but my ears perked up at the following segment:

(slightly better quality – and official version – available here)

If the video isn’t working for you, one of the presenters introduced the nominees for Best Pop Solo Performance as follows:

This year the Grammy’s wanted to reflect the way music lovers are making music videos of their own today so look closely because you just might see yourself in some of our nominee packages….

And then, instead of showing the actual music videos, the Grammy’s chose user-created tribute/cover videos for each of the songs. They appeared to professionally produced videos, not the kid in a basement with a guitar that you might be imagining. I am sure that the individuals who created the videos were pretty excited, but what about the artists and the record labels?

It is certainly possible that each of these derivative videos were officially licensed, or that NARAS went through all the appropriate legal steps to get the appropriate approvals from the artists and record labels (and the authors and performers of the derivative videos, too). I admit that this seems a bit unlikely.

While attempting to find the answer, it turns out that each of the nominated songs has its own connection with copyright law. One YouTube performer had his video parody of Lorde’s – Royals removed based on a DMCA notice (only for a social media campaign to have it reinstated). Katy Perry’s song Roar has been accused of ripping off her co-nominee Sara Bareilles and her song “Brave.” For what it’s worth, Ms. Bareilles doesn’t think so. Interestingly, Katy Perry gets two mentions thanks to the accusation that one of the videos for “Roar” stole the idea from Dillon Frances’ “Messages.” As for Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake, well, no accusations of infringement. Yet they did make the top 20 list of most pirated artists of 2013, coming in at #1 and #4 respectively.

Other than that though, I couldn’t find any word either way whether NARAS had obtained approvals from the party involved, or whether somebody had a “wouldn’t it be cool if” idea and forgot to run it by the legal department, because, for most people, why would you? They’re just a couple second clips, plus they’re already on YouTube, so it’s really nothing… (setting aside the fact that they will be broadcast to millions through television and live internet streaming throughout the world). I doubt any owners, artists, or performers are too concerned though, or that the record labels are scouring through YouTube to find these videos and take them down.

However they might have cared about whether, by playing clips from these user-created videos, NARAS was in some way legitimizing the uses and encouraging others to make similar videos (maybe my yet-to-be-released remake of Pitbull’s Timber could be featured next year?) . It’s an interesting photograph of the current state of how performers, owners, and consumers of music view the intersection of user-generated content and copyright law. Maybe it is symbolic of a greater trend toward acceptance of new technology, remix culture, and user-generated content. If I were YouTube, I’d keep a few people on hand to process DMCA requests, just in case.