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The Crowd Strikes Back

I’ll start this post by jumping back into memories. Over a year ago, I was on a night flight on my way back to Verona after pitching at the STARTinMED startup forum in Barcelona. After a few hours of sleep I took my car and on a rainy early morning left for Udine to give a talk at the 20th International Film Studies Conference.

There I met my colleague and co-author Marta Martina and on 13 March 2013 we delivered our speech titled The Crowd Strikes Back. Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and the Changes of Intellectual Property. As for all proceedings from international conferences, it takes a while before the talks have the chance to be published and reach a wider public. But here we go: now you can access them by getting the book Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era, edited by Alberto Beltrame, Ludovica Fales and Giuseppe Fidotta. And I will now try to give you a few good reasons to read it…

"Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era".
“Whose Right? Media, Intellectual Property and Authorship in the Digital Era”.

The book focuses on the critical debate surrounding copyright and the concept of authorship within contemporary creative industries. Our paper, which is an extended version of the talk, addresses how crowdsourcing and crowdfunding impact new organisational and financial structures. Do you think it is a boring topic? I do too, but it becomes quite interesting and funny if you look at it by evaluating franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter under the light of fan fiction and remix culture.

We used a series of case studies to develop what, according to our idea, could be kept among industrial structures and routines, and what instead should be dropped or changed. We worked on two areas, considering the relationship between fans and franchise, and between prosumers and new models of collaborative productions. Starting with an overview of the so-called Potterverse, we then focused on the Pottermore platform to analyse how much space is given to prosumers within the Harry Potter’s intellectual property.

J. K. Rowling's announcement for the launch of Pottermore.
J. K. Rowling’s announcement for the launch of Pottermore.

Among the crowdsourcing category, we then focused on Star Wars Uncut in order to examine in depth the complexities of the relationship between fans and franchises, and Life in a Day, one of the best known collaborative projects among the ones launched in the past few years.

The official poster for "Star Wars Uncut"
The official poster for “Star Wars Uncut”

Finally we considered the Italian Dark Resurrection saga, a non-profit “homage-project” involving the fictional universe created by George Lucas, and the Spanish sci-fi film The Cosmonaut. They both involve crowdfunding campaigns and quite interesting features, such as Creative Commons licensing and remix options.

The teaser poster for "The Cosmonaut"
The teaser poster for “The Cosmonaut”

What did we discover after this overview? I suppose that now I should say: “Buy the book and you’ll find out”, but I want to share at least one of our findings. Some of these projects involve content that has a complex relationship with the dimension of commodities and free labour within gift economies. In order to better frame them, we need to consider how they change in meaning and value during their “digital afterlife”, because very often they shift multiple times from a commodity culture to a participatory dimension, and it’s in the tension between the two that we can find their true meaning. May the Force be with you while you’re searching for it.