Monday, October 22, 2007

Child-Generated Content Gets Televised

I've been meaning to post on this since before my comps, but somehow didn't found the time until now. Following the success of Canadian Zimmer Twins and other (possibly less successful) attempts to integrate "child-generated content" into cross-media properties (check out my post on this from last March), Star Farm/Bardel Entertainment/YTV have announced their own plans to integrate kid-produced content into their co-venture, kiddie-goth property Edgar and Ellen. Here's an excerpt from the Star Farm press release, posted in August by Izzy Neis (who, by the way, also does work for Star Farm):
Viewers will finally see just how wildly creative the twins can be as fans inspire 10% of the content and receive full credit [***yay!!!***]. Every episode contains a short-form cartoon that is inspired by their global fans via The twins, in the most startling trick of all, break through the screen barrier and address their fellow pranksters by name.

While many companies struggle to incorporate user-generated content, Edgar & Ellen is pioneering a multi-layered approach throughout its storytelling. The mischief-makers reach audiences through multiple platforms simultaneously. Avid fans in scores of countries read the books and create content online.

I haven't seen any of the resulting products, but I really appreciate the fact that kids will receive full credit for their contributions. This represents a pretty radical departure from the emerging norm among sites/companies soliciting UGC from kids (and adults), who much more often claim full copyrights over contributions and other submissions, even when kids' contributions are central to the goal and contents of the property. Take, for example, Lost the Plot Online, Inc. (LTPO)'s terms of use for Zimmer Twins, a site aimed at enabling kids to create and submit episodes for the brand's interstitial television programming:
Again, if your content is selected for broadcast through Teletoon Canada Inc., we will have you execute a release and contract relating to that broadcast. Those documents will indicate that you assign all rights in the content to LTPO and that you allow LTPO to license the use of the content to Teletoon Canada Inc. for broadcast.

While Zimmer Twins has so far been limited to Canada and to web/TV cross-overs, the brand shared Star Farm's plan to expand to a variety of formats over the coming months. According to an article appearing in KidScreen earlier this month:
The co-branded Zimmer Twins site will be featured on beginning December 2007, and will include games, puzzles and tools for creating user-generated mini-movies. Cross promotion for the new web elements on qubo's broadcast and digital services is in the works and will feature story-starter clips that ask viewers how they would finish each story and then direct them to the website to make their own creations.

The best user-generated toons, and their creators, will get a nod on qubo's weekly NBC, ION and Telemundo networks broadcasts, and daily on the qubo 24/7 channel that's available in the US on on select digital, cable and satellite systems.

As a member of the MAGIC Network and a big supporter of children's rights, I am 100% supportive of involving kids in cultural production processes, and creating media and cultural products that reflect kids' own ideas and priorities. What troubles me about all this is that there are as yet no clear guidelines or rules about how kids' copyright/authorship fits into corporately-defined intellectual property regimes...and no formal mechanism in place to ensure that their potential rights are upheld. While properties like Edgar and Ellen appear to be taking a positive approach and enforcing their own ethics about how child producers should be treated, I suspect that unless this is implemented at a structural level (regulatory, legal, or at the very least through industry standards of practice) and/or unless some sort of challenge is put forth, the majority of media producers will maintain their existing stance vis-a-vis user submissions, and continue to claim full copyright/authorship over kids' ideas.

In the meantime, check out some of the other initiatives quietly involved in setting the standard -- iCarly and Me:TV -- both Nickelodeon properties, and both of which make sweeping IP claims over user submissions (forever, throughout the universe type claims).

And for some more discussion on this, you should check out this posting by Children's Media Consultant


Ashley said...

Thanks for the link :)

You raise some very interesting points about copyright law and intellectual property when it comes to kids/user generated content on television. Would you be interested in writing a guest commentary on Children's Media Consultant (in response to our article from a while ago)? Let me know!

jason said...

Glad you've enjoyed seeing kids interact with the Zimmer Twins. As the producer of the project, I can say that we actively discussed the copyright issues wrt the terms of use. There is a reasonable distinction between what we are doing with the Zimmer Twins and other sites where users are creating content from scratch such as CBC's Zed project.

On our project we encouraged our client to frame the terms of use so that artists were not assigning any rights through the use of the site.

From the a business point of view the broadcasters and producers are understandably fearful of having their hands tied. As a result the default position is to ask for full rights.

P.S. The Zimmer Twins is on the air in Australia with ABC and (soon) in the US with Qubo and in each case the broadcasters review the terms of use and are the final arbitrators on it.

Sara M. Grimes said...

Thanks for the info Jason!