No, the main issue facing machinima is neither technical nor artistic. As any machinima maker can tell you, the main issue is copyright.


If you shoot a high-def film with a Canon camera, Canon doesn't own your movie. If you publish a book or magazine that uses fonts owned by Microsoft and images corrected in Adobe Photoshop, neither Microsoft nor Adobe owns your publication, because their licenses specifically grant you ownership. But if you make a machinima film using The Movies, Activision (the publisher) controls it. Activision controls everything.

Artist and media maven Tony Walsh, on his blog Clickable Culture, analyzed the End User License Agreement for The Movies:

"While users retain ownership of movies they create, Activision exclusively owns 'any and all content within [users'] Game Movies that was either supplied with the Program or otherwise made available to [users] by Activision or its licensors...' This means that any movie containing anything less than 100% user-created content (an impossible feat, as far as I can tell) is under Activision's control. ... 'The French Democracy' might be a milestone in machinima history, but since Activision owns the content of the movie (the character models, environments and other material), the publisher could order the movie removed from internet sites."

What's more, if you upload your film to the official Movies site, Lionhead Studios can do anything they want with it.

The same restriction holds true for machinima made using other game engines - or, more accurately, there's no case law to disprove the publisher's claim on derivative works. If you make a commercial DVD of your Sims 2 videos, maybe you can sell it on Amazon, maybe not. To find out for sure, pay your lawyer a million bucks and sit in a courtroom for three years.


"French Democracy" maker Alex Chan spoke on the "Machinima With Issues" panel at the second annual Machinima Festival, held in November 2006 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. Another, perhaps more arresting panel topic there was "Will I Get Sued?" Gamasutra's Raina Lee covered it:

"[Fred] Von Lohmann and [the Electronic Frontier Foundation] represented the fourth speaker, Jon Grigg, a filmmaker who had dealt with an unresponsive game company, Valve. Grigg had contacted Valve numerous times to get permission for Counter-Strike machinima for his film 'Deviation,' with no response. He needed the permission in order for Atom Films to carry and distribute his work, and for him to be able to make a profit. While Grigg ultimately received permission, Von Lohmann noted that game companies do not have a stance on machinima yet, and it's up to the machinima community to sway things their way."

The copyright issue looms large among machinima creators. Paul Marino is Executive Director of the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences and author of 3-D Game-Based Filmmaking: The Art of Machinima (Paraglyph Press, 2004). On his blog, Thinking Machinima, Marino first praised "The French Democracy," then speculated, "Will a machinima surface that forces a game developer to issue a damage-control press release stating they have nothing to do with the work? ... [A]s a supplier of technology, do they get to dictate the how, what and why tech is used? ... I believe it is in the interest of the developers to handle the 'how' specifically and not become mired in the 'what' or 'why.' The developers, and technology, are enablers."

It's possible to negotiate these obstacles. Rooster Teeth Productions, which makes the popular Red vs. Blue series using Microsoft's Halo engine, signed an agreement with Microsoft that permits it to sell DVDs and merchandise. (See "Red vs. Blue Makes Green," The Escapist issue No. 68.)

But in practical terms, these issues will be solved only with successful Photoshop-style dedicated machinima applications. We're finally starting to see a few, including Reallusion's iClone and Short Fuze's Moviestorm. Both offer sensible EULAs that don't grab ownership of your film.

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