December 5, 2019

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Transmedia, Crossmedia : a legal void ?


Written by  Sébastien Lachaussée
& Jonathan Guibert


Content producers swear by it: according to Orange, in the next five years, most audiovisual creations will need to integrate crossmedia to survive. As is often the case for novelties, many wonder which legal system to apply to these “unidentified creative objects”.


Transmedia, what’s that?


Transmedia content is a work or body of work whose specificity is to mix genres (audiovisual, multimedia, digital…) and to be conceived, written and produced in order to be adapted to different screens: mobile phones, internet, television, game console, movie theatre… Transmedia should not be confused with multimedia, which refers to one content mixing several media (image, sound, video). Often, transmedia no longer limits the audience to the role of passive audience. With interactivity, transmedia allows the spectator to become an actor, to choose, to decide, to participate, to create. Mixing codes, habits and frontiers between different media, transmedia is the participative web result of media convergence. The new trend of the second decade of this new century, this notion is at the root of many projects. Here are a few examples of transmedia activity:


Transmedia: examples


a)     Connected TV, or “smart tv” is on its way to becoming the unavoidable engine of transmedia. Indeed, connected television, whose main battle horses are Apple TV and Google TV, offers entirely digital and connected content on the small screen. It’s tomorrow’s television: interactive, un-linear and connected to the internet.


b)     ARGs (Alternate Reality Game) are a fusion of reality and the virtual world. Under the form of paper chases or role-playing, they take place IRL (In Real Life), using internet and connected smartphones in order to “enhance reality” for the players. One of the pioneers of this genre is the game In Memoriam that came out in 1999, which offered the player the possibility of embodying his own role in an investigation aiming to arrest a serial killer. In In Memoriam, an actor answered the players in a personalized way 24/7.


c)      Some projects are born from videogames: the game Wakfu, from the French company Ankama, was originally conceived to offer a massively multiplayer online role playing experience, coupled with an animated series unveiling a coherent universe. The project Chica Booma is an animated series for children whose aim is to teach different dances. Web and videogame versions are integral parts of the project.


d)     Other projects are born from documentaries: with the project Prison Valley, journalists created a television and internet documentary, offering the audience the possibility of stopping the flow of the film to deepen their knowledge of the subject by accelerating to interviews and “hidden” content. The web-documentary Gaza/Sderot allowed viewers to witness, in parallel, the lifestyles of inhabitants of Gaza and Sderot. These projects use transmedia tools for journalism, allowing viewers to go further than they would with a classic documentary as far as the knowledge of the subject at hand.


e)     Transmedia is also used in order to promote more classic content. An illustration is the film Buried, by Redrigo Cortès, whose trailer is interactive and allows the “spect’actor” to interact with the hero of the film. Or the pluri-media promotion of the film “Un mari de trop” (“One husband too many”) produced and aired on TF1, offering internet users the possibility of participating to the heroine’s fake blog or to watch fake “docu-dramas” based on the film. Today, many brands are counting on transmedia to reinforce their web marketing.


Transmedia: a legal void?


Despite all the potential of cross-media, there is, for the moment, no text, usage or law that talks about this new “non-identified object”. A “legal void” that can be explained simply by the fact that this is a new world, taking shape in front of our eyes.

A legal void that is becoming increasingly important to fill for several reasons. First of all, the increasingly fast growth of transmedia, requires legal security to foster a healthy expansion. Since transmedia content includes one or more “classic” media, the contractual transmedia relation must be broken down into “classic” transmedia contractual relations in order to determine its legal system.

For example, Ridley Scott started the transmedia project Life in a day. It consists of “documenting a day through the eyes of people throughout the world”. The film is edited from a selection operated among videos posted by users on July 24th 2010. For Life in a day, it’s necessary to refer to contractual models used in the web 2.0 and in feature filmmaking. Between amateur videographers and the platform where contributions are posted, there must be a general agreement.  By posting the video to submit it to the film Life in a day, in the hypothesis that it could be retained in the final edit of the documentary, the author of the selected video will have to be associated as an author of the film depending on the importance of the use of his work and copyright of the images used in the film will have to be agreed upon with the production company.

ARGs can bring about a different problem. The judgment passed on June 3rd 2009 by the legal assembly of the Court of Cassation (n°08-40.981) regarding the reality show l’Ile de la Tentation (Temptation Island) admitted that participants in the game could be employed under a work contract in certain conditions. The question is to know if the participants in an ARG could also have access to a work contract.

Transmedia often integrates the creation of videogame programs and complex works. The creators of these works are creative employees, the rights that they could claim on this work are automatically yielded to their employer. In this case, we have to refer to the contractual uses in terms of computer programs or videogames.

We will talk about the problems specific to creative commons licensing in another article.

These examples go to prove that the contractual relations existing in crossmedia are far from being the object of a real legal void, and that it’s possible, for each specific case, to find their legal system by breaking down the different steps for each media used in the transmedia content. However, if there isn’t a real creative void, the complexity of the contractual relations is increased and requires a “custom” analysis of each project, in order to determine the applicable legal system. Only trained legal council will be able to suggest efficient and innovative solutions for all the participants involved in this new bridge to the future that is crossmedia.


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