Law & Speculative Fiction Round-up

This, er, week’s entry is,to what I am sure is the surprise of no one, Star Wars-centric.  Wait, I said that last time.  Well, it’s still true.  I’ve got three Star Wars posts, a post on video games and right to publicity, and a post on legal troubles for a crowdfunded Star Trek movie.


The First Amendment, the right of publicity, video games and the Supreme Court

By Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy

The “right of publicity” gives people considerable exclusive control over the commercial use of their name, likeness and other identity attributes. But obviously, that control can’t be complete


Unfortunately, there are now five different First Amendment tests that lower courts use in right of publicity cases (setting aside cases involving commercial advertising, which is less constitutionally protected than other speech). [Footnote: Amici express no opinion on what First Amendment protections should apply in the context of commercial advertisements.] Unsurprisingly, these different tests often lead to inconsistent results, which leave creators and publishers uncertain about what they may say.

For instance, say you are writing a comic book, and want to name a fictional character after a real person. You read Winter v. D.C. Comics, 69 P.3d 473 (Cal. 2003), which states you are free to do so. But then you read Doe v. TCI Cablevision, 110 S.W.3d 363 (Mo. 2003), which allowed a right of publicity claim against an author who did so; Doe eventually led to a $15 million verdict against the author. Doe v. McFarlane, 207 S.W.3d 52, 56 (Mo. Ct. App. 2006).

This is the sort of uncertainty that leads speakers to “steer far wide[] of the unlawful zone” and change their speech to avoid risking ruinous litigation — even when most courts would see their speech as constitutionally protected. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 109 (1972). This Court should agree to hear the case and resolve the split among lower courts.

Read the full post.


Crowdfunded ‘Star Trek’ Fan Film Accused of Copyright Infringement

By Jacob Gershman at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog

Weeks before a Star Trek fan film was set to begin production, Paramount Pictures Corp. and CBS CBSA +0.32% Studios are setting their phasers to stun, accusing the makers of the crowd-funded project of infringing on their interstellar intellectual property.

Paramount and CBS have filed a copyright lawsuit in federal court in California against the production company behind the planned “Axanar” movie, an independent film with a shoestring budget financed by Trekkies. (Link to complaint.)

“The Axanar Works are intended to be professional quality productions that, by Defendants’ own admission, unabashedly take Paramount’s and CBS’s intellectual property and aim to “look and feel like a true Star Trek movie,” state the lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit, which Hollywood Reporter wrote about, claims the fan film incorporates “innumerable” copyrighted elements of Star Trek, from the Federation starship bridge to the Vulcan and Klingon races.

Read the full post.


Family Film Blogging (Special Edition): Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By Christine Hurt at The Conglomerate

I have to say that when the movie opens and the “Star Wars” banner starts to scroll, I got a little choked up.  For those of us of a certain age, Star Wars was the background of our childhood/tweendom.  We were told there would be nine movies, three that preceded the original trilogy, and three that followed.  As adults, we heard that the three prequels would come first.  (I was a little saddened.  I wasn’t as interested in how Anakin fell as how Han and Leia got married.)  Then the prequels were. . well. . .awful.  So, the news that in our middle age, the last three would be made was met with excitement mixed with a lot of anxiety.  Would these be awful, too?  Would they be all ewoks and Jar Jar?  Would the acting be so bad as to make you laugh in inappropriate parts?  So, with some trepidation, a generation of viewers bought tickets ahead of time to see Episode VII.

And it was good.  Maybe great, maybe amazing, but definitely all was good.  At the end there was clapping and rejoicing, for the story but also for the sense that the movie makers (Disney now, not George Lucas) heard the fans.  Understood what was so genre-defining and game-changing about Episode III.  Gave the fans the story, without muppets and bad actors.  If the original movie resonated with the audience’s priors about good and evil, the latest installment resonates with the audience’s need to be understood and heard.  George Lucas has criticized the “retro” Episode VII for pandering to the fans.  Whatever.  I loved it.  I walked out and wanted to walk right back in again.

Read the full post.


Race in *Star Wars: The Force Awakens*

By Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

It is nice to see the major protagonist be black, nice to see the interracial romance, and nice that none of this is supposed to be a big deal. Yet the casual attitude doesn’t quite come off either. The protagonist names himself “Finn,” a reference to Huckleberry Finn except the black man is now the lead rather than the companion. So far, so good.

But what an awkward lead he is. In the early stages of the movie Finn feels like a reject from the set of Paul Verhoeven’s bitterly satirical Starship Troopers. Clumsy, intensely middle class, and oddly bland, almost to the point of being a caricature. Finn just doesn’t seem like a slave who was raised to kill by a fascist empire and given only a number never a name. He becomes a fleshed out character – if that is what you should call it – only after teaming up with the white guys. We are not allowed to think that, working as a storm trooper, he might ever have killed anybody. We are told explicitly that, when he refuses to kill innocent people, he had never ever killed anyone before. Later we learn that he worked in the sanitation department of the First Order. Unlike many of the white characters who inhabit the series, he is never allowed to have brutality or even ambiguity in his past or for that matter his future. (Don’t forget the burden of Lando Calrissian, who worked for the Empire, for a while rather gladly, can’t have both black characters with such mixed records.)

Read the full post.


Star Wars Proves Feminists Are Clueless about Science Fiction

By David French at National Review Online

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already inspired hundreds of think pieces, none more amusing than those by feminist writers who are positively over the moon about Rey, the movie’s female protagonist. Make no mistake, I like Rey. Daisy Ridley brings the right amount of joy and wonder to the character, cutting force-empowered hyper-competence with the right hint of surprised determination. But the fact that feminists are hailing her (and a couple of other bit-part characters) as some sort of ideological revelation shows how little they know about modern science fiction, including Star Wars itself.

Perhaps my favorite piece in this nonsensical vein was Jezebel’s “Finally, Women Do More than Give Birth and Die in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But writing in more sober tones, columnists at The Atlantic and Slate couldn’t help but declare basically the same thing: that the new movie is distinctively different and more feminist than every other entry in the franchise. “Rey . . . is Star Wars’s first feminist protagonist,” gushed The Atlantic’s Megan Garber. “No distressing damsel, she’s instead a fighter and a survivor and a nurturer and an all-around badass.”

So what was Leia if not a fighter, survivor, and all-around badass? All the way back in 1977, just as the “right side of history” was establishing that starlets could kick just as much butt as male action stars, Carrie Fisher’s character blasted stormtroopers, resisted torture, gave up her home planet for obliteration, mocked her “rescuers,” blasted more stormtroopers, and helped plan the attack on the Death Star, all in the trilogy’s first two hours. Subsequent installments saw her do even more blasting and play an even bigger role in the military affairs of the Rebel Alliance. She infiltrated a slaver’s den dressed as a bounty hunter, then choked Jabba the Hutt to death using the very chain with which he’d imprisoned her. How empowering is that?

Leia paved the way for the legions of butt-kicking females that dominate modern sci-fi/fantasy films. From Sigourney Weaver to Angelina Jolie to Mila Jovovich to Scarlet Johansson to Jennifer Lawrence, the empowered woman is everywhere. She outfights men, outthinks men, and displays physical prowess that the mind can scarcely comprehend. Does anyone remember Serenity? At the climax of the movie, River, a young girl who looks like she weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, takes down dozens of rabid, howling “reavers” in hand-to-hand combat. It’s a gripping scene, and not atypical for the genre.

But for the feminist Left, the past is a yawning abyss of sexism. It’s almost like they haven’t actually watched the last 40 years of science fiction.

Both the original films and the newest Star Wars work because their stories echo the story — the chosen one, the journey, the adventure, the ultimate struggle of good versus evil. In that context, the sex and race of the characters is immaterial compared with the quality of the script and the excellence of the actors. But if you politicize the story — defining good and evil according to the dictates of social justice rather than their more commonly understood meanings — then fewer people will care what happens in that galaxy far, far away.

Read the full post.


About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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