5 Famous Works That Were Just Half-Assed Copyright Abuses
When faced with a terrible movie, song, or book, try to take some consolation from the fact that nobody sets out to make something god-awful. You can sleep at night knowing that, at the very least, Batman & Robin had good intentions. But that's not true of every property: Sometimes suck is a byproduct of honest effort gone bad, and sometimes suck is a direct result of cynical copyright shenanigans. Consider ...
The Unused Star Trek Lyrics Were Created to Screw the Composer
Star Trek's flighty, loopy theme song is one of the most memorable in TV history. Too bad it only came about as a means for show creator Gene Roddenberry to screw the composer out of money.
To boldly go where many a dickbag producer has gone before.
Composer Alexander Courage (who is almost certainly the secret identity of Captain Bravery) wrote and conducted the theme song himself, going so far as to perform the Enterprise's "whooshing" sound with his mouth to save Roddenberry money. Courage was a busy guy (his movie credits as a composer range from My Fair Lady to Jurassic Park), but he agreed to work on this then-obscure show about space malarkey and what have you on the understanding that he would get royalties every time an episode aired using the song. Obviously, thanks to the many spinoffs and feature films, Courage is now neck deep in cash and green-skinned strippers of the gender of his fancy.
"Hey, can I dye those things when you're done? I've got ideas ..."
Or he would be, if there wasn't a small note in one of the contracts he signed stating that if Gene Roddenberry ever added lyrics to the song, they'd have to split the royalties. Good thing there are no lyrics, then! That would not only shaft a talented composer, but utterly ruin that classic instrumental theme. Ah, but here's the rub: Nobody said the lyrics had to be used. Roddenberry exploited the loophole and wrote these bullshit lyrics anyway, just to snatch away half of Courage's royalties.
Beyond the rim of the star-light
My love is wand'ring in star-flight
I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches
I know his journey ends never
His star trek will go on forever
But tell him while he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me
Roddenberry would later steal half of Jonathan Frakes' paychecks before he noticed the "Riker beard" clause.
According to Courage, Roddenberry tried to excuse himself, saying he had to make money from the show somehow. Clearly, that profit could come only from pilfering theme-song royalties via junior high school-caliber cosmic poetry. It's not like this space-exploring nonsense would ever take off and drown the world in spinoffs and action figures.
Hellraiser 9 Was Made in Two Weeks So the Studio Could Keep the Rights
Hellraiser: Revelations is a remarkably shitty horror flick, even considering that it's the ninth installment in the series -- well past the obligatory "Set it in space" and "What if he's a good guy this time?" plot twists. The movie is from 2011, yet somehow managed to have shoddier costumes and effects than the 1987 original. The whole thing looks like it was made in two weeks with a script the makeup guy wrote on the budget of a single episode of Jersey Shore.
Which makes sense, because that's exactly what happened.
Not a shitty deviantART cosplay photo.
In 2010, faced with the terrifying prospect of losing the rights to make the inevitably disappointing Hellraiser remake, the Weinstein Company rounded up a small crew of filmmakers, gave them $300,000, and told them to produce a sequel in about two weeks. They approached the original actor for Pinhead a month before the shoot, but after reading the script (which, seriously, was written by the makeup artist for the other films), he said no -- again, this was the guy who once read a script about Pinhead in space and said "Sign me up!" but everyone has a limit.
Just to be completely clear, this he was OK with.
As seen in the hilariously bad trailer, the movie has elements of the "found footage" genre, which we suspect is less for artistic reasons and more because somebody hawked the camera for sandwich money. Hellraiser: Revelations was screened at exactly one theater in Los Angeles, for free, before jumping to DVD. So what does Pinhead's creator, Clive Barker, make out of all this? We're not sure; it's not too clear from this tweet:
They had to rush to add "From the butt-hole of Clive Barker" to all the posters.
Bob Dylan Released a Limited-Edition Album Just to Exploit a Loophole
Bob Dylan has sold millions of albums around the world, and yet one of his albums only managed to move 100 copies. That's probably because only 100 exist. Why such a limited run, when even his half-assed Christmas album sold tens of thousands of copies? Let's look at the lavish cover art and see if it provides any clues:
Vol. II comes in used Taco Bell wrappers.
According to the track listing, half the album is pure repetition, including three versions of the transcendental "Milk Cow Blues" and seven consecutive repeats of "Mixed Up Confusion" (we're pretty sure even the most die-hard Dylan fan could have lived with just the one). There are no liner notes or anything, just a brown piece of paper and a list of songs.
As the title suggests, The Copyright Extension Collection exists solely to exploit a loophole in European copyright law, proving that after all these years, Bob Dylan is still an outlaw (of intellectual property governance). European IP laws extended copyright from 50 to 70 years, but only for songs that have seen release, meaning that a bunch of Dylan's outtakes, live versions, and other such "bonus material" fodder were about to become free for everyone, and he couldn't have that.
"In my case, make money."
To prevent this, Sony distributed 100 CD box sets containing nine hours' worth of stuff Dylan recorded between 1962 and 1963 that they never released because they didn't think they could make money off of it (but didn't want fans to actually have for free in case they might pay money for it). The recordings ranged from alternate versions of well-known songs to a bunch of rejects Dylan recorded at a friend's house. They gave so few shits about the songs that you can actually hear a phone ringing in the background while they were being recorded -- but God forbid they enter public domain. Can you imagine what would happen if people could just get that shit for free?
The album was massively pirated on the Internet within days.
Marvel Created a Superhero Just So They'd Own the Name
The original Captain Marvel (the little kid who pulls a Big whenever he says "Shazam!") is actually owned by Marvel's biggest competitor, DC Comics -- the character was created in the '40s by another company called Fawcett Comics, but DC sued them out of existence due to the similarities with Superman, and eventually they ended up buying the guy.
Presumably just so they could do this.
In the meantime, while the character was out of publication due to the legal clusterfuck, Marvel swooped in and trademarked the name for themselves, just so DC wouldn't have it. That's why, despite having paid good money to own the real Captain Marvel, DC can't actually put the name on their covers. The thing about trademarks, though, is that if you don't use them, you lose them. (The best legal advice always rhymes.) And so it was that Stan Lee, no stranger to last-minute character design, set about creating a detailed, inventive, and rich world for Captain Marvel to inhabit. His secret identity? "Mar-Vell."
The most interesting thing he did was die.
Captain Marvel has never been a hit, but as long as they want to keep the trademark valid, they have to keep putting out comics about him every once in a while ... which explains why a character with little effort put into his creation and that does not really sell comics has had seven different incarnations and six series. How much money do you sink into keeping something from being free before "just make it free" becomes the more profit-savvy decision?
The Original Hobbit Movie Was Made Just to Resell the Rights
Did you like The Hobbit? No, not that one. The original one. No, not that original one -- the original original one! Oh, you didn't know about the original original? Figures. You're not a true Hobbit fan, otherwise you would have known about this recently rediscovered 1966 Hobbit animation that looks like papier-mache having a nightmare and clocks in at just under 12 minutes.
"Eh, I could wipe my ass with every copy of the book and I would still be the 'good' Adolf."
It's not exactly a faithful adaptation. For example, there's a new main character called Princess Mika whom Bilbo the hobbit eventually marries, the Trolls are now called Groans and turn into trees, Gollum is furry and well-fed, the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield is now a human general whose entire group consists of one dude who is dressed like a sailor for reasons that are never explained, and Smaug the badass dragon is now a pansy named Slag that Bilbo and his friends straight up murder with a giant crossbow while he sleeps.
"You just got tea-bagginsed, bitch."
How did this happen? Well, William Snyder bought the cinematic rights to The Hobbit on the cheap back when everyone thought Middle-Earth was somewhere along the equator. Snyder intended to make a full-length Hobbit movie, but when Tolkien-mania hit it big in the '60s, he realized it would be way easier to sell the rights for a profit. There was only one problem: The contract said the rights would expire if he didn't produce a "full-color motion picture version" by June 30, 1966. However, the contract didn't specify length, release, faithfulness, or overall quality. Just "moving" and "with colors."
And boy howdy, did Snyder know a guy who could make colors move for a few minutes!
Gene Deitch was the warm body with functional hands that Snyder ended up going with, but don't be too hard on the guy: He only had a month to pull it off.
He had time to spare.
The final product was shown to a handful of people they literally grabbed off the street in New York, since contractually they needed at least one screening to meet the requirements. But it was all worthwhile: Snyder did eventually make $100,000 selling the rights, an amount that Peter Jackson describes as "cute."
Scott Elizabeth Baird thinks Highlander 2 is the best one. Disagree? Argue with him here and here.
Related Reading: You'll be shocked at the everyday things that are trademarked. Like the word "yup." And did you know that the man who sponsored the oppressive Internet-crippling SOPA bill stole copyrighted images for his website? If you're curious about all the ways big companies are screwing you over via copyright law, click away, friends.