Monday, May 20, 2019

Can bloggers be sued for revealing movie spoilers? Is this copyright infringement?

I offer a lot of movie reviews on my blogs (and book reviews, but most of them are non-fiction).
In May 2016 I added a new Wordpress blog to my offerings, and started the practice of putting most feature film reviews on this new blog, and then used the Blogger entry for short films, particularly those on specialty topics like science fiction, basic physics and math enigmas, LGBT topics and shorts, and sometimes other policy short films. A few of the most sensitive films (like the emerging concerns over the threats of white supremacy) go on the “cf” or “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” (on the Blogger Profile).  There is also a television series reviews, which includes reviews of miniseries (I generally have not put those on Wordpress).

There has been some recent controversy over whether bloggers and video channels could be sued for copyright infringement for reviewing spoilers.   The copyright claims would sound to me more like trademark issues, because typically big comics-based movie franchises have trademarked their characters.  

Jose Senaris discusses the problem in a video on this Newsy story shared on Twitter today (motivated by the finale of "Game of Thrones".)
Some films, and some television series ratings, are particularly sensitive to viewer suspense about the ending.  Most of the material I review tends to be documentary, non-fiction, or dramatizations of history where this would not likely to be a problem.  But it is possible for this to be a problem in a fiction story where there is some ritual that becomes the climax and where the ritual makes moral or social points about something.

In fact, I have a novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brother”) and sci-fi (“O’Neill cylinder”) screenplay setting for my three DADT books (called “Epiphany”) where there is a ritual climax in each. Were either of these to be a feature film, I doubt that audience pre-knowledge of the ending would matter. 

However, “Angel’s Brother” is set up in such a way that it is possible to imagine sci-fi channel serialization. Audience speculation as to “what is going on” could matter.  But when books become movies or television series, typically audiences know the endings and are not deterred. The problem is much bigger with commercial serializations.

Bloggers are also likely to speculate on what is going on behind the scenes with, say, “Manifest”.  A blogger could guess and get it right.  NBC’s “The Event” had a plot device where the hero, a game developer played by Jason Ritter, doesn’t know that he is an alien (but the same is true of the young Clark Kent on "Smallville").  Oh, yes, this is the “Mark Zuckerberg is an alien” problem.
There is also a practical problem with screeners (often sent to me).  I generally review them immediately after watching them.
Likewise, if a blogger sees a film very early in its run and it gets a lot of views and it the review contains a spoiler (maybe to make a point on a public policy issue), it seems conceivable that this could cause a real problem for a film’s performance with certain kinds of audiences.

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