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Are Constantin Film the stupidest company in the entire world?

By on April 21, 2010

Constantin Film are the company behind Downfall, a reasonably successful German-language movie based on the final days of Hitler. Downfall has grossed $92 million at the box office since it was released in 2004.

It has also become one of the dominant video memes on the Internet. You’ve probably seen them – a bunch of military officers stand in front of the Fuhrer in his underground bunker. Then some of them file out (can you tell I don’t speak German?)

In the endless succession of parodies, Hitler flies into a rage, not at the loss of World War II, but at being kicked off Xbox Live (4.3 million views), or because no-one told him that Michael Jackson was dead (2.9 million views) or some other current political, social or technological topic.

They are often funny, they are well-thought through and they are the kind of viral marketing that marketers can only dream of.

So only a mind-numblingly stupid company would kill that viral activity stone-dead.

Using the DMCA on Downfall videos

Step forward Constantin Film.

According to TechCrunch, Constantin has issued notices to remove Downfall parodies under the DMCA to YouTube and other video sites.

Are they mad?

These are not pirates copying the film illegally. These are modern, clever mashups of existing footage with topical news. They make a six-year old, German-language film relevant to a US audience.

What financial loss is Constantin making from these parodies? I can’t see any.

Downfall took only 6% of its revenues in the US. These videos, created by third parties (for free) and distributed globally by YouTube (for free), had the potential to encourage people to watch the original movie on DVD or on a movie channel. It had the potential to create long-term additional revenue for Constantin.

Instead, lawyers have heavy-handedly stepped in and claimed that one of the most successful viral campaigns in movie history was, in fact, stealing.

Stupid, stupid, stupid

Can you tell how stupid I think this is? Constantin, I respect your right to protect your copyright. It is clearly up to you if you choose to stop all forms of free advertising for a movie that would be long forgotten if it weren’t the free activities of a bunch of fans.

But it shows how little respect you have for your audience; it shows how little your understand the power of the Internet to drive conversations about your movie and it shows why, in the end, the Internet will kill you.

It could have been so different

So what could they have done? It’s not rocket science:

  • Build a YouTube channel of Downfall videos

Encourage people to upload their parodies to a branded Downfall channel. Post a prominent link to getting the movie from Amazon, or Netflix, or wherever

  • Claim the YouTube revenues from Downfall parodies for yourself

If you are the copyright holder, you could claim the publisher’s share of all YouTube revenues from these parodies. you could be making money from other people’s work, legally and above board. (Did I mention that it didn’t cost you anything to get these millions of video views?)

  • Build a Facebook fan page for Downfall videos

Cross-link. Share. Promote. Encourage people who have never heard of your movie to watch the videos on Facebook. Use that community to promote future Constantin Films for free.

  • Build your own Downfall webpage

Run competitions for the best video each month and offer prizes. Get director Oliver Hirschbiegel to judge them. (Incidentally, he said that he was in favour of these videos in an interview with New York Magazine, although he added “If only I got royalties for it, then I’d be even happier”.)

“The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like” – Oliver Hirschbiegel

Give me another fifteen minutes and I could come up with a half-dozen ways to make money from these.

Your loss, Constantin

But it’s your loss, Constantin. We, the Internet, have lost a meme we had taken to heart and loved. You have lost a viral community who could have made you a ton of money.

I hope your lawyers were cheap.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • http://fbindie.posterous.com/ Facebook Indie Games

    This could be one case where copyright is being used in its noblest cause — to protect artistic integrity.

    Yes these videos were funny — I especially enjoyed Downfall of Grammar — but if I'd sweated to produce a thought provoking, serious, critically acclaimed film I really don't know how I'd feel about them — whether or not they earned a little bit of free advertising or pocket money.

  • http://www.gamesbrief.com Nicholas Lovell

    I would agree with you, but the director liked it. (Ah, I see you've spotted that too…)

  • http://michal.gancarski.com/ Michal Gancarski

    It does not matter whether the director likes them or not. “Artistic integrity” is meaningless – once a work of art is out in the wild, its creator should have no right to control how his creation is perceived, interpreted or used in remixes or mashups. If you do not want people to “destroy” your vision through creative reinterpretation, parody or provision of new context for the work used, don't publish it.

    Imagine your argument being applied to physical goods. Let's say you buy a luxury car. Would you like the producer to control where you are allowed to drive it? You know, maybe a car like this should be used in the most prestigious neighborhoods to protect the image of the brand?

  • http://www.specialmove.com Matthew Hill

    Perhaps they could have learned from AMC's experience with Mad Men. They initially tried to ban people tweeting as characters (including the Photocopier !) then realised the value of Free Advertising

    This was back in 2008 BTW !

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/feb/0

  • http://www.specialmove.com Matthew Hill

    Perhaps they could have learned from AMC's experience with Mad Men. They initially tried to ban people tweeting as characters (including the Photocopier !) then realised the value of Free Advertising

    This was back in 2008 BTW !

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/feb/0

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  • http://twitter.com/alexisbonte alexis bonte

    Totally idiotic! Our society is increasingly governed by lawyers and idiotic obscure rules :( A few parodies are still up for example the one done by eRepublik fans: http://bit.ly/9bA7zc

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