Steve Bogart,

bogart at


Stupid, Stupid Movie Studio!

July 27, 1999

Seen on Scripting News, here's an interesting study in corporate thickheadedness involving Universal Studios and Movie-List:

  • Universal: Don't Link to Us [Wired]
    A Web site that aggregates links to movie trailers online has come under fire from a major movie studio that says the links infringe on its copyrights.

    "[Y]ou are not permitted to link to other sites that contain our copyrighted material without our authorization," the company wrote. "Accordingly, you must remove all images from our films as well as links to other sites that have our servers."

    The trailer links on Movie-List technically point to other servers, but only the URLs mark the pages as studio content. Kuester says the average user is likely to be confused, because the trailers appear to be part of Movie-List's pages.

Okay, first, I Am Not A Lawyer, and as the article says, no actual legal precedent on linking deep down into other people's sites has been set. But going strictly on the business merits here, Universal is exhibiting an astonishing dearth of clues even for a large corporation:

  • Movie-List is giving them free publicity. (And I'm giving Movie-List free publicity too by linking to them above. This is what the Web is best at.)

  • In fact, in a frictionless, micropayment-based e-conomy (sorry, got buzzword-happy there), Universal should be paying Movie-List for the additional exposure.

    Doesn't Universal have to pay to show their trailers on TV or in theaters? They're benefitting here, not being infringed upon. They should shut up before Movie-List changes their mind.

  • Movie-List isn't making copies of the trailers, so there's no direct copyright infringement as it's widely understood. Real copyright infringement would be if Movie-List copied the trailers, removed the movie frames containing Universal's logos and reposted them.

    It's easy enough to see where the trailers are coming from by looking at the destination of the movie link. Though Universal may consider it confusing, it's not deceptive.

  • If Universal really wants to prevent people from 'deep linking', there are technical means of doing so. (Just off the top of my head, a trivial solution would be to make them accessible only if you fill out a form before you'll give them the movie file. Yeah, that should make their customers happy...)

    Given that there are many possible technical means to prevent deep linking (my example only scratches the surface), why is the law being brought into this?

  • Universal still gets to see how many people are viewing each trailer and from where by analyzing their server logs. That's valuable data. They should work on doing something with that instead of worrying about external links.

Why does Universal want to limit the audience for a trailer, anyway? If more people see a trailer, presumably more people will want to see the movie. Universal then makes more money. Stopping Movie-List from doing what it does hurts Universal.

The fundamental question Universal should ask itself is: Do the economics of producing and providing movie trailers only make sense if their web site's ad banners get loaded? Funny, there were trailers before there were ad banners. Clearly there's some benefit they provided the studio before all this; isn't that benefit still there when someone 'deep links' to the trailer?

To be sure, there are things Movie-List could do to make the studios happier and more inclined to look upon them favorably: for instance, when linking to a trailer they could note "Courtesy of Universal Studios" (or Disney or Miramax or whoever). In exchange, Universal could, say, allow Movie-List the liberal use of logos and/or stills from the trailers to entice people to download the whole trailers.

If Universal were smart, it would be negotiating with Movie-List for prominent placement on its site. At the very least, Movie-List shouldn't be the targets of Universal's lawyers.

-- Steve Bogart,

Note: The title of this piece is a reference to the familiar refrain in Bone comics: "Stupid, stupid rat creatures!"

Last modified on 7/27/1999; 4:19:39 PM Eastern 
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