Thursday, January 14, 2010

don't believe what you read, now, the writing is on the wall

A food printer now exists. Wild.

And the virtual-meeting-real suit was covered a couple years back, but I found more information on the team responsible for it--included in the article is a mention of the Virtual Transgender Suit and a terrifying way to kill your avatar off in SL.

Microtransaction conversions--aka, game money converted into real money--is now legal in Korea. Expect a flood of gold/diamond/Linden/currency-of-choice spammers in your virtual world soon.

The investigation started a few days ago. I continued it last night, but now I'm left with even more questions. It turns out James Cameron--and the design team responsible for the film's unique look--may not only have been inspired by Poul Anderson, but by Roger Dean and the writing and artist team of Tom Yeates and Steve Perry, who wrote a very similar-in-look comic for the Marvel title Timespirits, which ran from October 1984 to March 1986.

The issue in particular that seems to have caught peoples' attention was issue number 6, "The Jungle Beat", because of its extraordinary similarity, shot by shot, to James Cameron's Avatar.

Okay. So Marvel Comics, LLC is owned by Isaac Perlmutter (CEO),Simon Philips, President (of the corporate store and affiliated products), John Turitzen (Executive Vice President and chief counsel), Alan Fine (Executive Vice President, worldwide, and Chief Marketing Officer) and Kenneth P. West (Chief Financial Officer). And their chief media contact is Jeff Klein, who works for Dan Klores Communications, another company entirely.

Epic Comics, who, in 1985, co-branded the Timespirits comic miniseries (among others) served the same function as the Vertigo imprint did for DC Comics--namely, provide a place for more mature work, intended for an older audience.

Twentieth Century Fox Corporation is now owned by News Corporation--there's the equivalent of a small town managing them, headed by Rupert Murdoch--and they and Lightstorm Entertainment, James Cameron's production company, put together Avatar.

So at this point, near as I can figure...

James Cameron+WETA Digital,Peter Jackson,New Zealand
James CameronplusWETA Digital
Roger Dean+Poul Anderson,science fiction,controversy
plus Roger DeanplusPoul Anderson

+Timespirits,comics,Marvel Comics,Avatar,Epic Comics=James Cameron,Avatar,controversy

Did I leave anyone out? This is deranged.

Ultimately, the case of who influenced who, and when, will likely be settled by the courts; but in the meantime, the original question I started with still languishes by the wayside: namely, did Linden Labs have permission to trade on Avatar's name from Twentieth Century Fox Corporation or James Cameron?

So far, I'm still hearing crickets.

[Note from the Editrix: not minutes after I finished this, I discovered a brief little squib from Tateru Nino on NWN claiming the words of Peter Linden:

["While we’re certainly fans of the Avatar film and of blue avatars (not to mention pink, green, yellow, and robot avatars), we do not want to cause any confusion between Second Life and the movie with this advertisement, and we plan to change it to avoid any misunderstanding."


[One wonders, if a few of us hadn't noticed--or hadn't said anything--would they have bothered to "realize" the ads might "cause confusion"?

[In short, though, this does validate my thinking: any leg the Lindens had to stand on, regarding copyright infringement, just collapsed under them in a major way. The CSI gateway went beautifully. The alliance with GossipGirl and Warner Brothers, though reducing in size now, is still strong. IBM practically has a virtual training campus in SL at this point. So it's not like they don't know how to ask permission and gain licensing.

[No, to be blunt, they fucked up, and now they're trying to backpedal gracefully so no one gets "confused". Peter, I'm not confused. You wanted to tie into Avatar without licensing the property formally because you wanted more money in your pockets. And according to Miss Nino, the tactic worked; more people signed up using the "Free AVATAR" banner than using any other advertising banner. Go you.

[Except it was blatant copyright infringement, even granting the absolute thick murk Cameron's done to the property himself. You didn't care, you did it anyway, and you won't apologize for it because it was just a case of "confusion".

[Sadly, though I'd love to say the cover-up won't work, it very likely will. An enormous number of people are willing to put up with the nonsense you give them on a daily basis, Peter. Apparently including me, because I'm still in SL, after all. But it galls. This one galls, and it also cheapens every intelligent and reasonable solution proposed to copyright infringement out there--including Step Up!'s.]

And a further note, at just past noon--I'm still thinking I was in the crowd that noticed it first, but I wasn't the only one to notice. And me personally, I don't think the controversy is over yet...


Dio said...



you lost me somewhere around the part about how when the Ace of spades has been dealt, hearts are trump. Unless of course, it's the full moon, and then all jacks are wild.

seriously..I must have missed something somewhere--what's the deal about LL "trading on Avatar's name?"

Dio said...

oh wait, never mind. I got it--jeez, pay no attention the woman behind the curtain.

Emilly Orr said...

I likely seriously revised this post between the time you commented and the time I noticed comments--but, yeah, in short: Linden Labs put together an advertisement heavily trading on James Cameron's Avatar, and are now distancing themselves from that entire campaign so as not to 'tarnish their good name', so to speak.

If they have one.

Sphynx Soleil said...

That last link gave me a giggle, actually...Seeing Ann OToole's comment: "So Argyria is sexy now. You can has Argyria by drinking enough colloidal silver over time. Any takers?"

I hadn't though of it, but yea, the skin does get very blue with that....a very silver blue, but still a blue. :)

Magdalena Kamenev said...

What an intriguing investigation. Have some ibuprofen, please.

And thank you for calling out LL on its ... well, let's call it inconsistency. However, I'm slightly confused by:

Ultimately, the case of who influenced who, and when, will likely be settled by the courts;

Is there a court case? Should there be a court case? Yes, it definitely appears that the Na'vi race is a result of a mishmash of prior alien/alternative evolution races from other stories/media. But does influence = infringement?

In order to prove copyright infringement, a plaintiff has to show 2 things:

1) the alleged infringer had access to the original work
2) there is a "substantial similarity" between the original work and the alleged infringing one.

If the subsequent work is a verbatim copy [or takes a verbatim chunk] of the original, not a problem. But when you start mixing and matching and melding copyrightable facets into a new work, the lines blur.

And if there IS a court case against Cameron, the fact that there are so many potential influencers could help him. Taking one aspect, even a significant one, from an original work may not be enough to make the 2nd work infringing if in the end, when you line up the two works and they aren't substantially similar. Just how alike are the Timespirits and the Na'vi, face-to-face (as it were), for instance?

And should anyone hold a copyright over 'a race of blue feline humanoids living in a jungle environment'? Maybe a jury would find that the Na'vi are substantially similar to the Timespirits race, or the other races/expressions of the above concept. But I hope, if it came to that, it's on the basis of the shared expression and not the shared concept. Copyright law (in the U.S.) was never meant to impose a monopoly on concepts or ideas, regardless of originality, because that would impede the very nature of what copyright law is meant to accomplish: the promotion of knowledge.

Forgive me to cluttering your blog ... yes, I do drink Larry Lessig's Kool-Aid™, and once I strap on a parachute, I'll base jump from this soapbox and will have Maintenance dismantle it.

Tateru Nino said...

Here we go. Complete with attached comic.

Emilly Orr said...

Thank you, Miss Nino! I'll have to read it. Copies are apparently also selling quite well on eBay and in independent comic shops; at the least, it's a resurgence of interest in an old comics title, which is rarely a bad thing.

Emilly Orr said...


It's not quite the same blue, but the point can be made. :)

Emilly Orr said...

And Miss Kamenev,

I'm not so much worried about Timespirits, actually; it could be that he (or someone from WETA in NZ) may have perused the comic, and it subtly influenced his portrayal of things. Just like, I'd be hard-pressed to count ownership of a Yes or Asia album as evidence of infringement on Cameron's part.

No, what interests me is the Poul Anderson connection. Both Call Me Joe and Avatar feature:

* blue-skinned cat people (Cameron's stopped there, Poul Anderson's were also centaurs)
* on an alien planet (Cameron's was Pandora, Anderson's was Jupiter)
* a main character who's a paraplegic (Anderson's was a telepath, Cameron's was a Marine)
* who then becomes involved with the natives' fight for freedom from the evil men of Earth.

And the real annoyance of the thing is? If he started in 2005, it was just barely before the terms of copyright end for Anderson (assuming a fifty-, not a seventy-year copyright span on novels; I may be wrong there), so it could be argued that Cameron, in fact, thought the work was in public domain.

Unfortunately, Cameron has been carrying the Avatar project in his back pocket since 1999, waiting for the technology to be available to do it justice. Since Poul Anderson published Call Me Joe in 1956, and it was compiled in an omnibus in 1967, it might not even have been out of print by 1999.

Tateru Nino said...

I'm pretty sure that Call Me Joe is still in copyright in the USA.

Magdalena Kamenev said...

Those are striking similarities, yes. *grin*

If the estate of Poul Anderson sued on the basis of copyright infringement, would it be enough?

Hard to say without knowing the plots of both very well. Also, different courts use different tests to evaluate similarity.

Another thing ... since "Call Me Joe" was written in 1957, we would need to know if it was properly copyrighted at the time (it wasn't an automatic thing like it is now and if it was still under copyright as of the Copyright Term Extension Act (1978), which tacked on another 20 years of copyright for certain works (and made the term for new works "Life of the author" + 70 years (or 95 years for corporate works)). There's also the matter of who might control the copyright now, if Call Me Joe is under copyright.

So, legally ... who knows? Morally ... a shout-out in the credits to Poul Anderson would be nice.

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

In the words of the great Walter Slovotsky "It's easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission."

Emilly Orr said...

Thank you, Miss Kamenev, I was just attempting to search that down. I had found the disparity between pre- and post-1978 copyright law, so post-1978, Anderson would be fine; but before? Not entirely sure, though he may well have extended when the term ended, if it did.


Aheh. Well, yes, of course. I think people are jumping on this one because of the Ellison v. Cameron lawsuit regarding Terminator, frankly.

Rhianon Jameson said...

That's a bizzare way to "kill" your avatar - and isn't it a TOS violation as well? Furthermore, if I thought that an inability to know a password was equivalent to killing an avatar, I wouldn't need to contract out the process, I'd just change the password and fail to write it down. In about two hours, problem solved!

Regarding Avatar and where various pieces parts came from, I'm no lawyer, much less an IP lawyer (and I haven't ingested the Lessig Kool-Aid :) ), but casual empiricism suggests two things to me: first, everyone borrows, whether consciously or not; second, for the most part, the best predictor of a finding of legal liability is the size of the defendant's bank account. We wouldn't be having this discussion had the movie flopped.

Emilly Orr said...

And remember, Miss Jameson, there's no court suit yet--while it's by no means sure that Poul Anderson's estate won't declare suit, they just may not have the finances, or the tenacity necessary.

What is known is James Cameron is a science fiction fan. And he reads. And he admitted--before the lawsuit--that he had, in fact, ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories to make The Terminator. (Which is why Ellison declared suit, and settled out of court for a small financial settlement, essentially unimportant to him, and an "inspired by" credit on Terminator, which remains important to him.) So it's not so much whether the movie is successful, or not--though it is--but that many of us are wondering if Cameron, having done it once, and gotten away for--in his mind--so very little--would do it again.

I think he well might. Whether Poul Anderson's estate thinks he might have, well, that's for them to decide.