Hollywood's Next Big Piracy Fight: Digital Merchandising

Imagine watching Inception at home and being able to instantly own one of those spinning tops. Or picture leaving a screening of Transformers 3 and immediately buying an autobot of your own.

Such technologies are coming, and they probably constitute an entirely new form of digital merchandising (and perhaps even a new revenue stream). But before these products get off the ground, studios are looking to handcuff the creators to ensure they aren't doing anything without a proper license.

Todd Blatt, a mechanical engineer from Baltimore, has been working on the physical recreation of digital data. Using a 3D printer, movie viewers may be able to print out objects they see on screen. Check out these transformers or this full-size version of Star Wars' Hans Solo in carbonite.

But Paramount isn't happy.

According to one report, the studio recently sent out a cease-and-desist letter to Blatt after he bragged about his work on a movie prop website.

Paramount wouldn't comment to us about this, but the studio sees such efforts as counterfeiting.

Is it? If someone creates a technology that allows movie fans to recreate Angelina Jolie's exact eyeshadow in one of her films on their face, is that copyright infringement? Think of this as the Mike Tyson tattoo controversy in reverse.

Obviously, the creator of such a product might run into trouble depending on how the technology is packaged. "Bring home a character from Transformers" might imply a false endorsement. "Look like Angelina Jolie" might constitute a violation of the actress' publicity rights. But copyright? Is a physical re-creation of an object on-screen a derivative work?

Here's another example of the technology -- a video showing the re-creation of the extraterrestrial shapeshifting white cubes from the film Super 8. The object in question is now being packaged as a "super vibrating jewelry box" instead of "Super 8 Cubes." Does that get it off the hook from any legal trouble?

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

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