Play Machinima Law

I’ve been following the goings-on at the Stanford Law’s Play Machinima Law conference (well, I’m following the PML hashtag in Tweetdeck as there isn’t much info on their website). For those that don’t know, Machinima (a misspelled portmanteau of machine and cinema) uses 3D rendering engines and screenscrapes of in-game footage from Halo, WoW or the Sims, etc, which are then scripted and cut to make small films.

Still confused? Then you should watch this:


The first machinima, Diary of a Camper by United Rangers Films, appeared in 1996. By today’s standards, Diary of a Camper seems primitive, however, until that point in-game recordings had been confined to speed runs and the like, so the imposition of an external narrative on in-game footage was a pretty significant step. And while the form has expanded to include a Sims-based sitcom and the search for Molotov Alma (a machinima film subsequently bought by HBO) – much machinima hasn’t strayed too far from its gaming origins, e.g. Red v Blue or Arby and the Chief, which in my opinion are ultimately more technically sophisticated version of the kinds of games kids have played with their toys since time immemorial (like these games a lot of machinima is bathetic in nature – subverting serious, adult narratives with humour and profanity).

So why is Stanford holding a conference about Machinima? Well, for a start, it’s popular: individual episodes of Arby and the Chief have over 7 million YouTube views, viewing figures most TV people would give their right arms for (particularly as YouTube is only one channel). And think of the cost base. Though some machinima productions are now professionally scripted, a lot of it is still produced by a couple of kids in their bedroom with a cracked copy of Premiere and $50 headset mic. Which is really why Stanford is interested in it, because machinima raises all sorts of interesting legal issues about derivative works, fair use and a host of other IP law. (For a more detailed run down of these issues see this excellent post from Wagner James Au at NewTeeVee.)

Actually, the games producers and platform owners, eg. Microsoft, Blizzard and Bungee, aren’t overtly hostile to machinima, indeed, they have worked with their fans in the past, allowing them to use intellectual property. However, as the popularity of machinima has increased it has suddenly moved from being a useful free marketing tool, to a potential source of revenue. Play Machinima Law is an attempt to get all sides of the debate – producers, game developers, console manufacturers and lawyers in one room to discuss the best way forward. And many of the issues raised at Play Machinima Law have resonance in the wider culture, where remixes of all kinds still sit outside the legal frameworks of most countries. For example, in the UK, the DCMS and David Lammy are due to report on digital rights in July. It’s doubtful whether the report will cover machinima specifically, however, it will certainly cover many of the same issues covered in Play Machinima Law.

The NewTeeVee post gives some insight into the Stanford PML conference. I also believe some kind of video is promised (presumably presented by Masterchief), which I will post when it appears online.

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