How fans can buy Star Wars from Disney using the blockchain
It seems that ever since the advent of the prequels, fan reception to new Star Wars movies has been very mixed. Some fans were sorely disappointed by the prequels, believing they didn’t do justice to the original trilogy while others (like myself) appreciate the expansion of canon that the prequels made possible, love the Clone Wars series, enjoy a high speed lightsaber battle and yet feel uncertain about the direction of the latest sequels. Where the prequels disappointed, George Lucas’s formidable presence and his council of yes-men was often blamed for an overuse of CGI and at times very poor dialogue.
With the unusual and surprising turns taken by the sequels, there seems to be a resurgence in appreciation for the prequels and what they brought to the broader arc of the Skywalker saga. A growing memetic trend in the fan base is signalling that fans are beginning to entertain the notion that the prequels were in fact great contributions and that perhaps George Lucas did in fact have a wise, long term vision for the franchise. I’ve noticed a few instances of social media yearnings to “let George take the reigns again”.
The (Disney) Empire Strikes Back
As an avid Star Wars fan, I’ve actually found that some of the most enjoyable content is in the form of fan made indie films and commentary on YouTube. Comments like ‘I would pay to watch this’ and ‘If only this were canon’ are common. In particular, one of the projects that recently caught my eye is a Darth Vader movie being worked on by the owner of the Star Wars Theory channel. Cognisant of the restrictions on fanfiction and realizing that there was no way in Mustafar that he’d be allowed to monetize his creation, he opted for crowdfunding.
However, even that was blocked by the Intellectual Property Lords at Disney and so he was cornered into funding the entire project himself for $100k and hoping that his fan base would continue to support him through Patreon. While I realize that some are more sympathetic toward IP laws than I myself might be, this inability to monetize any work that even remotely resembles something based on the concepts of Star Wars seems a tad excessive and severely reduces the breadth and scope that could be possible in such a beautiful universe. To draw a parallel, imagine if the Tolkien Estate had barred all use of elves, dwarves, and orcs that resemble the ones from Middle Earth. Imagine deleting from history the entire fantasy genre and confining it simply to Lord of the Rings as a one off event. In a sense, Star Wars doesn’t just represent a great universe but a genre in and of itself, apart from future-oriented sci-fi. Star Wars straddles steampunk, western and sci-fi in a space all on its own with an overlay of family friendly zen themes throughout. Yet this genre is constricted by the bottleneck of whoever currently owns the rights. To sum up, the two major problems holding Star Wars back right now are:
- The complete inability of the passionate fan base to participate in guiding the direction of canon, except through the opaque forces of ticket sales which themselves aggregate too many signals to be very useful to Disney.
- The draconian restriction of a blossoming fanfiction industry that could give rise to a genre of Star Wars based content similar to the blossoming of the fantasy book genre, role playing D&D set in Tolkienesque settings and the rise of fantasy games, all with unique plot lines, now independent of Middle Earth entirely.
Recent events in both jurisdictional law and in blockchain developments have brought together the necessary ingredients to make it possible for the fan base to collectively buy back the franchise. Here’s how:
- GOVERNANCE: A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) would be created on the Ethereum blockchain. The DAO would have a constitution outlining how voting would take place and what the purpose and mission of the DAO would be. Presumably something like “To buy the IP of Star Wars from Disney so that the DAO can finalise canon and licence out fanfiction in an open and fair manner”.
- FUNDRAISING: The DAO would sell tokens called midichlorians for a set price that give the owner proportional voting power. There would be no limit to the number of midichlorians sold. The funds raised (in Eth and ERC20 tokens) would be added to a pot. This pot would represent the buyout price that Disney can expect to receive. At first this value would of course be small but since more midichlorians imply more voting power, in time the pot would grow as avid fans vie for influence. In addition, wild price swings upward might suddenly take the pot to levels that would make Disney sit up and take notice.
- DEMOCRACY(!): Voting members would be able to make proposals for how the eventual ownership of the IP could be handled. Proposals would be voted on. Submitting proposals burns midichlorians to prevent fans from spamming the DAO with new proposals.
- MISSION: The constitution would be enforced by a decentralized judiciary such as Kleros or (when it hits the blockchain) Ulex.
- SALE: At some point, Disney might decide that it’s worth selling to the DAO. At this point they can make a public signal so that all DAO participants would know that it’s buy time. At this point the DAO would make it known that a real world legal team would need to act as a proxy to facilitate the transfer of IP from Disney to the DAO. Various legal firms would signal their intent and place deposits into the DAO. The DAO would then vote on the most trustworthy firm and if the purchase transaction is conducted correctly, the legal firm would receive a percentage payout. The DAO needs a credible signal from Disney to begin the sale operations. It could require upfront that when Disney is ready, they signal on one of their official outlets such as Twitter the phrase “Execute Order 66”.
- LEGAL PRESENCE: the final step is that the DAO needs to have the ability to own intellectual property. A recent legislative change in Malta has made it possible for a DAO to own property and act as a legal entity in the entire EU (European Union, not expanded universe). The Star Wars Fan DAO would be registered in Malta so that this process can have legal teeth in the real world.
Implications and long term Sustainability
One of the first objections to the outline above is how to maintain momentum so that initial fundraising excitement doesn’t peter out and end in stagnancy. The DAO could vote to have 50% of incoming funds paid to independent content creators of fanfiction, elevating their prominence in the community, creating a kind of parallel fan aristocracy, ready to influence the production of new canon once the IP has been transferred to the DAO. In this way, before Disney sells, the DAO will act as a Star Wars themed decentralized Patreon.
However, this is just one of many steps the DAO can take to self govern and sustain a vibrant mission. The purpose of this article is not to explain every move and action but instead make it clear that a future of fan owned and guided Star Wars is possible.
Assuming the DAO eventually raises enough money to trigger Disney into selling, the fans (at least the ones who have a midichlorian count) will be in control of the future of the franchise. It’s unlikely that the DAO would want to micromanage the expansion of canon. Instead it is likely that it would delegate canon expansion to trusted writers such as the aforementioned YouTube personality and perhaps George himself. The power of the DAO will be to withdraw that trust at any point, rather than sit by helplessly as canon is taken in an unpleasant direction.
Fanfiction and Copyright
The enforcement of IP can move from the current restrictions to something more relaxed such as
All fanfiction can be monetized so long as it is made clear that the content is not official canon. The DAO reserves the right to make any fanfiction official canon. When fanfiction does not invoke any of the characters or places from canon, such notice need not be provided and can be treated as part of the broader Star Wars genre.
With the IP rules severely relaxed, it might be alleged that there won’t be enough incoming revenue to justify big budget productions. However, the DAO represents a crowdfunding channel through which all future films can be subsidized. For instance, the DAO could announce a set of Palpatine Prequels starting with “Plagueis: a Star Wars Story”. Fans could then deposit funds into the project and if it reaches its goal, the movie is made. If not, deposits are refunded. The final ticket sales would then be in addition to the initial funding pot, reducing the need for record sales to pay for big budget production.
Conclusion: a New Corporate Hope
This mechanism of delegation by a watchful DAO is a model that can be replicated throughout the corporate world to decentralize traditional industries without sacrificing the efficiencies that come from organizing production at the firm level. It serves as an alternative to owner controlled direct democracy cooperatives on one hand and centralized corporate hierarchies on the other by decentralizing power without decentralizing mission. To test this theory of DAO-oriented capitalism, we need a test bed that would evoke enthusiasm in a broad base which is why I’m putting forward the idea through the example of Star Wars. Once more the fans will rule the galaxy… and there will be peace.