How To Create A Web Series Using Popular Content Without Infringing On Copyrights

How To Create A Web Series Using Popular Content Without Infringing On Copyrights

In a previous article titled, "How to Market A Web Series To Generate Interest & Gain Viewers," we talked about a number of ways web series have tried to increase awareness. One of the segments, called "Tie The Web Series to a Companion Piece," discussed The Office and their supplemental web episodes. Chances are, however, that you have no affiliation with a well-known TV program or movie, so what good does that segment provide? If I love Star Wars, how can I make my own web series about it when I have no access to the actors, or sets, or George Lucas' permission? Just what kind of advice is that, anyway?

How Chad Vader Leverages Star Wars

Well, one web series is tied to Star Wars, and it didn't require access to anything George Lucas had to approve. It's called Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, and it ran three successful seasons beginning in 2006. A fourth season is in the ether, and creators Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda recently put out a, "Sorry we haven't come out with the fourth season yet, making a series takes money" video on YouTube in July:

Chad Vader and another remarkably successful series, Red Vs. Blue, have something in common. They use familiarity with one product to make their own, distinct product. One that dodges copyrights and approvals. In the case of Red Vs. Blue, it's the blockbuster video game franchise Halo. They don't use specific characters or use plots from their inspirations, but they sometimes refer to them or jump off of them to create their own "previously undocumented" universe.

Chad Vader and Red Vs. Blue are comedy series, and both take a heightened, dramatic storyline that millions of people care about and focus on the mundane, everyday lives of secondary characters. Early on in Chad Vader, we learn that Chad is the younger brother of Darth Vader. Although he could very well just be some guy who likes Star Wars and goes too far with the part, the show leads you to believe that this is the actual brother of Darth Vader, and it's more fun that way. He works as the day shift manager at a grocery store, dressed in full-on Vader gear. He takes his job too seriously. He has a rival, the night shift manager Clint. The show makes tons of references to Star Wars, both subtle and obvious, and fit the stories nicely.  Here's Episode 1 of Season 1:

How Red Vs. Blue Leverages Halo

Red Vs. Blue is an example of machinima, or the use of a computer graphics engine to create a motion picture production. In this case, Rooster Teeth Productions, the creators of Red Vs. Blue, have used pretty much all of the Halo games in the creation of a series that now spans 9 seasons. It premiered in 2003 and is currently enjoying a new season that premiered this summer.

Red Vs. Blue takes that familiarity with Halo and truly breaks down the "down time" of soldiers supposedly fighting a war. The discussions between the faceless, armored fighters are hilarious, talking about everyday life and usually the absurdity of the situation they are in. For instance, the very first episode, "Why Are We Here?" has red soldiers talking about how the only reason they have a base is that the blue side created a base, and the only reason the blue side created a base was because the red side created a base. Another episode covers the curious idea of "capturing the flag" as a means to win a game.  Here's the very first episode of Red Vs. Blue:

While Red Vs. Blue often echoes plot issues from the Halo games, it is an entirely different universe, not "canon," and creative liberties can be made. Red Vs. Blue made such an impact, though, that the creators of Halo actually included content for the series in the Legendary Edition of Halo 3.

Referencing Popular Content Without Copyright Worries

These series also have a lot in common with The Guild in that their presentation is immediately familiar to people who already use the Internet, code for "nerds," but a massive amount of nerds.  And in many cases the product has gone beyond the realm of just nerds and into the mainstream. The Guild uses World of Warcraft as an unseen backdrop to the daily lives of MMORPG players. But using an existing, famous property to frame their series is not all they did to be successful.

Red Vs. Blue and Chad Vader created extra content aside from their seasons, and much like The Guild, appeared at Comic Con. There seems to be a running theme with the promotion of these shows, it just keeps coming up. The people who create these series care about what they put out there and are tireless promoters. Unfortunately in the case of Vader, the money hasn't been there to produce consistent content, which is what seems to be the problem for a lot of beloved series unable to put out a new season.

So there you go. Find a property that is famous and make your own story to create a web series without infringing on any copyrights, using the familiarity to hopefully springboard your way to Internet stardom.


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About the Author -
Chris Atkinson joined ReelSEO in 2011. He is a longtime film and television reviewer, and has almost two decades of experience in the theater industry. He also writes on his personal blog - http://nymoviereviews.com. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2523281 Marc Goodman

    Hey, I think the red vs blue idea is brilliant, but I am not sure why it doesn't violate copyright laws. Couldn't Halo ask them to take it down since it is their own copyright? Obviously Halo makers might actually welcome that, but I am wondering If I were to start my own miniseries using machinima, do I risk a legal lawsuit?

    Thanks

    • Jeremy Scott

      Excellent question, Marc. Here's the rub: technically what the machinimists are doing could be perceived as infringing on copyrights. However, for the most part, game companies have been supportive. Red Vs. Blue is probably the most visible machinima out there, and Halo has embraced them.

      Also, there has been discussion that machinima might be able to defend themselves with "fair use" and "parody" laws.

      I think game companies have been allowing it because these are not new games being created, people are dubbing their own dialogue, and sort of making it all their own creation. Games are getting free marketing in a way.

      I think what it comes down to is this: does your planned web series have the ability to cut into sales of the game you are using? Meaning, watering it down, lowering the brand in some way? If your creation has the chance of hurting the game company in any way, that's something in which to be wary.

      How Stuff Works has a great breakdown of machinima legal issues here: http://www.howstuffworks.com/machinima.htm

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1404099061 Matt Koval

    Nice article, although I'm not sure "how to" is accurate. I was expecting to see steps and guidelines about what you can and can't do to create your own series Using Popular Content Without Infringing On Copyrights. Informative nonetheless, however. Ray William Johnson's YouTube show is another example that uses the content of others. Maybe it's best to just produce it and hope nobody objects!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1645352007 Christion Robinson

    that is retarted.

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