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Free-Jack City

Smiley Guy Studios has set Odd Job Jack free through a novel copyright licence. Philip Alves tracks Jack.

Free-Jack City

Free-Jack City

Jack Ryder is a 20-something university graduate with a sociology degree. In debt and without any solid prospects for steady employment, he returns to Odd Jobs Unlimited every week looking for temp work. Hilarity ensues.

The thing about Jack is that he’s the animated title character of his own Comedy Network cartoon, Odd Job Jack.

The creator of the show, Toronto’s Smiley Guy Studios, has recently launched a new program it calls Free-Jack. In the summer of 2006, Smiley Guy began bundling the show’s art and releasing the packages as free downloads, days after the original airing of the episode. The packages include each episode’s characters, animation poses, props and backgrounds, along with tutorials about how to animate them.

Adrian Carter, one of the show’s producers and directors, said all the material they make available would otherwise sit forgotten on a computer’s hard disk somewhere.

“For every episode, there are probably 60 characters, 200 backgrounds,” he said. “Of those, maybe 10 of them will get reused and the rest is just kind of left and done with. It’s kind of a cool idea to think that someone could take that stuff and make something else with it.”

An “all rights reserved” copyright is granted automatically once an original work is created, such as a new book, painting or cartoon. Should creators of such a work want to share some or all of it, a plan to manage their creative rights is needed.

In the case of Free-Jack, Smiley Guy made the downloads available under a novel copyright arrangement in which the show’s creators don’t give up their creative rights.

Users are allowed to use Free-Jack material as long as they attribute Smiley Guy as the creator, don’t use the work for commercial purposes and only distribute their resulting work under the same licence.

This kind of “some rights reserved” policy is the specialty of Creative Commons Canada, an organization trying to simplify this area of copyright law. Marcus Bornfreund, the Toronto project lead and founder of Creative Commons Canada, said using a Creative Commons licence is an easy and free way for content creators such as Smiley Guy to share their work.

“People, if they want to opt out of all rights reserved, have to explicitly say so,” he said. “In one sense, this is a licence that people don’t have to draft themselves. In another sense, it’s a vehicle or tool for them to craft a licence and then also to attach it to their work and to publish it, so that other people can quickly be aware that there’s a (some rights reserved) copyright licence governing that work.”

Mark Ellwood, president of Inventors’ Alliance of Canada and creator of a device called the TimeCorder, brings a unique perspective to the issue of rights management.

“Inventors are far more concerned about the secrecy of their idea than they need be,” he said. “They do need to be cautious and careful about who they talk to about how it works, but perhaps not as cautious as they think.”

The creative rights issue for inventors in Canada and the reason for much of the secrecy Ellwood described is the “first to file” patent policy. What that means, he said, is that the first person to successfully apply for a patent is considered the owner of the invention. A simple slip of the tongue could cost an inventor the rights to his or her creation.

Once a patent is filed, though, it enters the public domain, Ellwood said. Anyone who wants to take a look can, and essentially use what they find in the patent to build a better mousetrap. That is, as long as it’s sufficiently different from the original.

Still, he said, inventors’ creative rights don’t need to be so closely guarded.

“People are stealing very popular movie titles,” Ellwood said. “People know what Casino Royale and Pirates of the Caribbean are. They don’t know what Mark Ellwood’s little doohickey is. That’s the biggest area of intellectual property theft.”

To legally allow people to use Free-Jack art, the Smiley Guy team decided to use a Creative Commons licence specifically because it was easy to understand and didn’t cost a thing, Carter said.

“It’s the only thing out there like that,” he said. “Lawyers are expensive and it’s free. It wouldn’t be feasible to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s give away all the stuff that we made for free. All it’s going to cost is 12,000 bucks in lawyers fees.’ It wouldn’t be giving it away for free. With Creative Commons, free is free.”

The added benefit to sharing the show’s artwork, simply put, is exposure, an idea the Comedy Network liked when it agreed to the idea of Free-Jack.

“A lot more people know about Odd Job Jack than they did before (Free-Jack),” Carter said. “You can say, cynically, that it’s just a promotion. But I think that by saying that you’re negating the fact that it’s actually interesting and people would want to use it.”

Bornfreund said content producers are increasingly looking to this method of sharing their creations as a promotional tool.

“It’s not so much to give something away for free in the case of the creative work, but it’s to create a value in your work,” he said. “To give it a market value, you have to have some exposure.”

For Smiley Guy, Free-Jack has provided exactly that exposure.

“Record audience this year and it’s growing,” Carter said.

kapiTal Magazine
December, 2006
Page: 20
Byline: Philip Alves