Hollywood's Next Big "Piracy" Fight? Digital Merchandising

Is a physical re-creation of an onscreen object (like the shapeshifting cubes from Super 8 which seem to have been copied above) a derivative work - requiring permission from the copyright holder - even for a homemade toy that you never intend to sell? According to a June 29th, 2011 post by Eriq Gardner on the Hollywood Reporter's legal blog, the next battle for motion picture revenue may be fought over physical merchandise that is based on a film - but created by fans extrapolating from only the onscreen image.

Is a fan's physical re-creation of an on-screen object a derivative work that violates copyright? Could the studios sue a ten year old kid who makes a Darth Vader mask out of cardboard? What about a teenage girl who copies a hairstyle or eyeshadow look from a film? What if the ten year old is selling his Darth Vader masks online - and the teen girl is offering a makeup kit with instructions on ebay?

This is not just a theoretical question. According to a June 28th, 2011 report in TorrentFreak, Paramount has already tangled with Todd Blatt, a mechanical engineer from Baltimore. Blatt has apparently been using the 3D printing site Shapeways to recreate objects from movies in a range of materials from plastic to metal - and offering the results for sale on the Internet. On June 8th, 2011 Blatt announced on a movie prop fansite that he was recreating the distinctive cube from this summer's Super 8. On June 10th Blatt received a cease and desist letter from Paramount.

If a child wears her hair like Princess Leia on Halloween, Fox and LucasFilms lawyers (dressed like Storm Troopers?) probably won't come after her. But what about kids who make homemade toys based on movies and trade them with their friends - sharing pictures on the Internet? Currently the copyright law says simply copying a copyright work - without the intent to sell or profit - can be a criminal act.

What's going to happen when we all have 3D printers attached to our computers?

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