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Quinnipiac Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 05 – ICM 552 – Who Owns Spiderman?

Who Owns Spiderman?

In 1998, Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman and other iconic comic book characters, contracted with his own company, Stan Lee Entertainment, Inc. (the predecessor company to Stan Lee Media, Inc., also known as SLMI). Lee assigned to the company the rights to all of the characters he had worked on while working for Marvel. In 2001, Lee pulled back his intellectual property rights, alleging material breach against SLMI. This was while Marvel was making movies from Lee’s characters, including the X-Men and Iron Man. In 2007, SLMI began asserting ownership rights. A series of lawsuits followed, with the fundamental question: Who Owns Spiderman?

And Iron Man, and the X-Men, etc.

Lawsuits

According to the January 2015 IP Update, SLMI filed numerous lawsuits. In 2009, when Disney acquired Marvel, Disney became the object of these cases.

Who Owns Spiderman?
English: Stan Lee at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Image by Gage Skidmore. CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license

Finally, in 2014, the Tenth Circuit ruled that SLMI had never asserted ownership and had never produced anything containing the characters at issue, whereas Marvel did. In Stan Lee Media, Inc. vs. The Walt Disney Corporation, USCA, Tenth Circuit, December 23, 2014, the court dismissed SLMI’s case, and said that SLMI had not owned a valid copyright and, therefore, the case was dismissed.

On its face, the case looks a bit like a contract/employment dispute. Who was Stan Lee working for? It seems as if Lee created a company but did not really work for it, at least not in the beginning. Instead, he was working for Marvel. I doubt that SLMI was turning a profit at the time.

By 2001, Lee disassociated himself from a company named after him. But it wasn’t until six years later that SLMI got on the stick and started asserting rights in the characters and trying for a share of the profits.

Ownership?

The issue of ownership is the crucial one. That includes the assertion (or not) of copyright. While the corporate relationships are a little hard to follow, one thing is clear. SLMI had a chance to assert copyright any time it witnessed Marvel, and then successor corporation Disney, prepare and sell any sort of media with the disputed characters. Yet they didn’t do so until six years had elapsed.

The court applied what was essentially a utilitarian theory. The maximization of benefits was to allow the original content creator, Stan Lee, to sell his intellectual property as he saw fit. And, when he pulled back his rights, while SLMI had had ample opportunity to object then, the company did not. Furthering the utilitarian maximization of benefits theory is the fact that SLMI never created or sold anything with the characters in dispute. Copyright doesn’t exist to just bring suit; it exists to protect an intellectual property owner who is sharing with and presenting to the public.

Righthaven

As VegasInc.Com said when talking about Righthaven,

” the theory [is] that copyrights have a special place in the law and are to be used for informational and entertainment purposes, not just for lawsuits.”

It would seem that the only way that SLMI wanted to utilize Spiderman and the other copyrights was as a lawsuit battering ram against Lee and Marvel (and, later, Disney). That’s hardly in line with the maximized benefit theory of utilitarianism.

Presumably, the matter is now resolved, but SLMI has gone jurisdiction shopping before. It’s possible that this lawsuit, or its near-twin, will show up in another circuit soon. But if that happens, I predict another dismissal, based on both precedent and utilitarianism. The webslinger will finally catch a break.

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Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM501 – Television and the Internet

Television and the Internet

Nielsen estimates that there are some 115.6 million television households in the United States. According to the US Census, over ¾ of all households have at least one computer, and about 95% of those households use it to connect to the Internet. That’s about 122 million households. It’s clear that many American households have both.

Ratings

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM501 – Television and the Internet
English: Primetime television ratings for 2008 in the Philippines: Blue = GMA Red = ABS-CBN The charted points represented the TV program that had the highest rating for that station for that day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nielsen has had some issues in counting Internet viewing in its ratings systems. A part of this is due to differences in the advertisements delivered (if any), and part is due to pirating. However, Nielsen appears to be, if not getting the details and minutiae quite right, is at least getting the essence correct. What it lists as popular really is popular (although the degree of popularity might not be perfectly represented). As Engler, C. (2011, January 20). The truth about TV ratings, online viewing and sci-fi showsBlastr. [Link] says, “…highly rated shows are streamed more frequently online, sell more DVDs, have higher sales on Amazon and, yes, are pirated more often. When you account for variables that impact all these metrics (e.g., some movies bomb in theaters but later sell well on DVD, younger viewers are more apt to watch things online than older viewers, etc.), we don’t see the crazy variances that you’d expect if ratings weren’t very accurate.”

Adding Online Streaming

As recently as 2013, Nielsen began making the effort to better include online streaming and other means of television content consumption. As Kelly, H. (2013, October 28). Nielsen adds web viewers to its TV ratings. CNN.com. [Link] says, “Shows that don’t include the same ads online as on TV will be counted as part of separate Nielsen Digital Ratings. Shows streamed directly by networks through their own sites and apps typically include the same set of ads, and those viewers are counted towards the traditional Nielsen totals.”

Nielsen’s main purpose is to count program viewership for the purposes of understanding advertising potential. E. g. the more viewers, and the more sustained viewers, the more a content provider can charge for commercials. Hence the need for a connection between online and offline delivery that includes the same advertisements. The networks and other content providers need to, as closely as possible, compare apples to apples. Comparing the delivery of different commercials makes it that much more difficult to achieve a reasonable comparison.

If Nielsen’s purpose were purely to measure viewership without wedding it to advertising, counting clicks and downloads would be easier, and it would not matter what was advertised during any delivery of the content.

Piracy also wouldn’t matter quite so much, at least not vis a vis counting an audience. But speaking of piracy …

Piracy

For networks and other content providers, piracy was and is a huge issue. When we talked about copyright and copyleft, the question arose about the grabbing of content. Who enforces copyright? Who pays when it’s violated? And are the punishments excessive at all?

The uneasy marriage of television and the Internet has spawned an interesting child – Hulu. After all, why were people pirating televised content in the first place? Perhaps, as DVRs made time shifting possible, it was just to allow for platform-shifting. Hulu arose as a response to that, and a way to monetize a far better version and offer it to a paying customer. The thinking was that quality would be its own advertisement, and that most people just wanted a platform shift. They didn’t want to steal from artists or cheat networks. As Braun, J.A. (2013).  Going over the top: Online television distribution as socio-technical system. Communication, Culture & Critique 6(3), 432–458. [Library Link] says, “With Hulu, the networks decided they would instead attempt to draw viewers away from pirated content by hosting higher quality versions of the same videos themselves, while selling advertising against them in an attempt to reclaim some of the revenue they believed they were losing to other sites.”

Most People Are Honest

Many users are more than happy to receive a better quality product and pay a commensurate fee for it. But there are still some who insist on pirating, practically seeing it as a right. As Newman, M. Z. (2012). Free TV: File-sharing and the value of televisionTelevision & New Media 13(6), 463–479. [Library Link] says, “Sharers [also] insist that DVR recordings and downloads are ethically equivalent. The difference between recording a show oneself using a VCR or DVR and skipping commercials and downloading a commercial-free file via BitTorrent is regarded as ethically insignificant.” (Page 469)

So, what is it? Theft? Sticking it to ‘the man’? Platform-shifting by (more or less) innocents? As the debate continues, it shifts away from ethics and morals and into monetization. If content providers can make a little cash even from peer to peer networks, and pay artists, can they continue to claim that they’re being harmed?