Now Movie Studios Want to Control Twitter

By  · Published on February 5th, 2014

A few decades after the halcyon days of Mad Men, advertising began to give way to a terrible step-child called Public Relations. The goal of PR was to build brands because, as it turns out, telling people to like your product is much harder than having someone else tell people to like it. In fact the former is pretty close to impossible – otherwise new companies would pop up constantly with promises that their widget was the best, and we’d nod our heads thinking, “They seem honest and legit! Five widgets please!”

There’s a lot of science to explain why we don’t trust advertising, and a pretty great book on the subject, but there’s a fundamental problem (for companies) with PR. While you can completely control the ads that people don’t trust, you can’t control public relations. At least not as much as you’d like. You can’t eat your cake and entice people to buy it, too.

To be fair, movie studios have accepted that shift relatively well – probably because PR solves the age-old problem of having to advertise a new product (and make millions of people believe in it) every other month or so. But now that the Aint It Coolism of internet movie sites has reached gargantuan levels, studios are scrambling for some semblance of control over the things they don’t want out in the open yet. The latest, biggest example is Paramount sending copyright violation notices to random Twitter users for sharing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles concept art.

The whole thing is next level weird. First in the timeline, hideous costumes were passed around as proof of what the iconic characters would look like in Jonathan Liebesman’s forthcoming project, and nothing prompts a studio to provide (or leak) concept art faster than Halloween costumes and crappy pieces of plastic so it made sense to theorize that Paramount had sent out illicit pictures themselves. Apparently not. Or apparently one hand isn’t talking to the other. Or apparently Paramount is crazy like a fox that believes in chaos reigning.

Because almost immediately after the new pictures (which showed some stellar detail) surfaced, the studio sent Cease & Desist notices not only to websites, but also Twitter users who tweeted the images. Twitter users like this one, and this one, and this one. And probably a ton more because could you ever really stop the spread of an image on Twitter? Friend of the site Aaron Morgan was one of at least 34 people to receive a C&D notice for his feed via an official DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take down notice sent through Twitter. He posted the image online, of course, on Twitter.

Some tweets had the image removed, some were deleted altogether, but it doesn’t seem like any of the feeds are in danger of being deleted for abuse.

But how is Paramount doing at punching back the tide? On the one hand, the images aren’t exactly clouding the #TMNT hashtag or anything, but it also only took a full 2 seconds to find the images still alive and well on Twitter. Naturally. I also pity the intern who has to monitor/hunt through Twitter to find versions of the pictures floating throughout the social network. It’d be like swatting flies in a shit factory.

What contributes even more to silly season is that there are still movie websites (some decently prominent ones) that I class-fully won’t mention by name who still have posts with the images up even as random fans on Twitter caught a C&D in their email. Oddity aside, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with positive vs. negative posts, but that’s still the scary scenic view this new tactic places us at.

Paramount is 100% within their rights, and their actions make as much sense as Quentin Tarantino being pissed over the Hateful Eight script leak. They have millions riding on something as fragile as buzz and intent-to-watch, they have a coordinated marketing schedule, and that thing that happens to all geek properties has happened to their geek property. Putting the genie back into the bottle isn’t a bad first wish.

However, all of this matters because it proves what studios (and really any business) could do legally regarding commentary on copyrighted property of this kind. Today, a studio wanted to stifle the flow of material they (rightfully, absolutely) didn’t want in the public purview. Tomorrow, a studio might want to send C&D notices to everyone on Twitter who has something negative to say along with the photo they post, leaving the positive stuff to aggregate. In a sense, they’d be shaping their own PR by excising the bad stuff (to the extent that they could).

In theory, there’s a good faith agreement between studios and fans that they won’t push that far because they depend on us to create the buzz necessary for their success. Getting in the business of DMCA minutia would ultimately alienate all the people that keep a close eye on this stuff, which wouldn’t be wise. However, a studio wiping an image from a social network through copyright notices puts toothpaste into the whiskey.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.