Blog: Cherry-picking copyright battles? Bethesda and Nuka Break

RTVF 4450 Web 2.0: Theory, Research, Uses, & Effects | Blog Post

Spring 2013

Cherry-picking copyright battles? Bethesda and Nuka Break

By Crystal J. Hollis

With all of the copyright infringement lawsuits, the war on “piracy,” and the constant lobbying for stricter control of the internet, one could easily make an assumption that all corporations making the big bucks want to bring down the little guy for making a video with their precious copyrighted content. What about the companies that just choose to ignore the legality of fan creations?

An example would be Bethesda Softworks LLC. They produced successful video game franchises such as the Fallout series and Elder Scrolls series. In January 2011, Wayside Creations released a high quality fan-film called Fallout: Nuka Break. Co-founders Zach Finfrock and Vincent Talenti were independent filmmakers who participated in Indy Mogul, a podcast/vlog series with do-it-yourself filmmaking tutorials and impressive fan videos. As of today, Nuka Break has over 2.3 million views on YouTube. Wayside posted disclaimers in the beginning of the film as well in the description tab,

“Fallout: Nuka Break is a non-profit fan film made by Fallout fans. Please don’t sue us. We don’t have any money. Really, like none. On a side note, Fallout: New Vegas is out. Check it out!
Fallout and all related things are TM and © Bethesda Softworks LLC, a ZeniMax Media company.”

Most fan-films are generally non-profit. Fans create fan-films for other fans as a way to express appreciation for the original content. Usually filmmakers can get away with fan-films as long as they met the legal requirements for Fair Use. Nuka Break can be viewed as a parody because of the humorous moments in the film. The fan-film has generated enough viewership to inspire Wayside Creations to create a web series, generally 7-10 minutes long. Each video during the first season generated viewership ranging between 500,000-1,000,000 on YouTube and Wayside is currently working on season 2. Even though they made the disclaimer that the film is non-profit, I can still see the YouTube pop-up ads on the video. Someone is making money off of the fan-film. YouTube? Wayside? Bethesda?

Last year, Bethesda Softworks and their parent company ZeniMax have had a messy legal battle with Interplay for copyright infringement. Interplay, the original creator of the Fallout video game series, wanted to create a new Fallout game that has an online multi-player feature. Bethesda, the current owner of the franchise, won the lawsuit and clarified that they own all the rights to the Fallout franchise. They seem to mean business, right?

You know what is ironic? I first found out about Nuka Break on the official Fallout Facebook page. Bethesda had nothing to do with Wayside Creation’s fan-film except for the fact that they own the original property the film is based upon. Bethesda has a habit of sharing fan creations on their social media outlets.

There are many fan-films on YouTube that are based on Bethesda’s properties. Some videos enabled the YouTube advertisement option when it is only reserved for content where the user has the legal right to make revenue. Is it possible that Bethesda does not view fan-films as a threat to their enterprise? Do they choose to ignore the minor details and appreciate fan creations for what it was? Do they view fan creations as “free advertising?” Does Wayside have Bethesda’s permission to profit from the fan-film? Is it another one of YouTube’s technical errors?

Maybe it is all of the above. In summer 2012, Wayside Creations launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for season two. They met their original goal of $60,000 ahead of the deadline. Then Chris Avellone, senior designer of Fallout New Vegas, and Tim Cain, lead programmer of Fallout 1, both agreed to help Wayside with pre-production if they managed to double the goal before the deadline. Fans were ecstatic at the news and not only did they meet the second goal, but they managed to raise $130,000, way beyond the intended amount. The Kickstarter campaign page mentioned that Avellone and Cain are in fact fans of the fan-series. Two member creators of the original content are actually fans of a fan produced project based on their creation. How cool is that?

We might see more of this kind of collaboration between media companies and their fans in the future. Bethesda might just understand how today’s digital culture work. Or maybe it is a marketing and public relations tool to get viewers to constantly think about the company’s brand. Maybe it just subconsciously happens. No longer will it be about fans consuming producers’ content; there will be an on-going conversation between the producers and the consumers that appreciate the work.


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