The Morning Read: Has Fox declared war on online script trading?
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I guess based on the volume of e-mails and messages and conversations I've had about this in the last few days, it's time to take a look at the lawsuit that 20th Century Fox is filing against the woman who was hosting the download page for screenplays. If you haven't read about the lawsuit, you should start by reading the basics of the case.
The core truth here is simple, and it's not one that the online community likes very much: no one has the right to distribute screenplays via an online archive. Not legally. One of the reasons I think people assume I'll pick up the charge on this one is because of my history reviewing scripts for Ain't It Cool, and David Poland was quick as always to bring my name up when writing about this issue, claiming once again that discussing something is the same as publishing that something. He calls it a semantics issue. I call him a donkey-headed moron because that distinction is a significant one. I knew from day one that you cannot and must not provide actual links to download screenplays, and especially not for in-development work. You can discuss something all day every day, and it's not legally actionable, no matter what someone thinks of it. But distributing the actual material? The reason Fox is lawsuit-happy right now is because of the leak of the script for "Deadpool," which they are actively working to get onscreen. The lawsuit may list the rest of the Fox scripts that were on the site of PJ McIlvaine, but it's "Deadpool" that made this lawsuit happen.
McIlvaine is not the kingpin of all online script trading. Until all this began, I'd never heard of her, and it's silly for her to be the line in the sand that Fox draws. But, having said that, I think she's legally got no ground to stand on. It is one thing for people to privately, quietly trade and collect scripts, and that's a practice Fox is never going to be able to curtail, no matter what lawsuits they file. It is another thing entirely making those scripts available to the public in an archive. Doesn't matter where else they're available. Doesn't matter if they're for "educational purposes." The legal grey language that script sites hide behind is convenient, but it's also wafer-thin. In the end, the rights-holders are the only ones who hold any real rights to that material, and as much as people would love for me to come down on McIlvaine's side on this one… I can't.
I don't think will make it to court. I don't think it will become the precedent-defining case that much of the Internet is treating it as. But I do think you're going to start seeing companies like Fox defend their rights online even more vigorously, and it's because people keep testing the limits of copyright. Someone's going to be the one who is made an example of, and if it's McIlvaine, she just had the dumb luck to be the one they picked. She's certainly not unique online, and there are plenty of script trading sites still up and running. It would make more sense if Fox targeted the people actually selling their scripts illegally, but asking litigation in Hollywood to make moral sense is pointless.
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At the bottom of the article today, you'll see an embed for the new Motion/Captured Podcast, which is also available now on iTunes. This was recorded for Thanksgiving, and it's by far the most casual, off-the-cuff podcast so far. I'm not sure it's the most informative one I've ever done, but if you want to hear what happens when my old friend Scott Swan decides to break me in the middle of recording, you'll hear it. He stopped me cold, helpless with laughter, and I left all of that in. I've got some ideas for how to improve the podcast that should start being part of the show in the next episode, so keep checking them out.
I'm traveling today, tomorrow, and Friday, so postings will be sporadic, whenever I can fit them in. It's going to be a miserable trip, but I'll try to suffer through a few nights in Hawaii the best I can. Pray for me.
The Morning Read appears here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Except when it doesn't.