An Idiot in Skyrim

About the Mod

An Idiot in Skyrim was to be a mod for Skyrim that implemented Karl Pilkington as an in-game follower. This in-game Karl would be fully voiced by clips from radio, podcast and television. Moreover, Karl would more talkative than your average follower, offering his unique insights as you travelled across Skyrim.

The mod was inspired by a YouTube video by AwakeIsland.

Progress on the mod was going well. A playable version had just been released where the in-game Karl was (with a few small expections) fully functional. Future work was to mainly involve adding more quotes to give him even more variety.

To get a taste of what the mod would’ve been like, take a look at the videos in the playlist below. You can also browse the development posts.


Copyright Takedown

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been referring to the mod in the past tense. That is because late in April I received an email from Karl Pilkington’s manager, Tiffany Brown, requesting I take down the mod.

You can read the entire exchange further below, but here I am going to offer my thoughts on the affair.

Tiffany was actually fairly polite, in so far as is possible in such a matter, and I don’t particularly hold anything against her as a person. Furthermore, I would be very surprised if Karl himself knew anything about this mod at all.

Not Such a Little Mod?

I never would’ve imagined the profile of this mod would be so high as to get on the radar of Karl Pilkington’s management company. I had imagined that this mod would be played by a few hundred people, tops.

So why was it I was “targeted”? I’m speculating here but I imagine it’s down to a misunderstanding of games and mods. Gamers like you and I know a mod for Skyrim is a fairly little thing. Non-gamers might not grasp this distinction. They may have imagined this was going to be some stand-alone title revolving around the adventures of Karl Pilkington.

Or it may have been bad timing. Season 3 of The Ricky Gervais Show had just started at the time the mod was gaining some popularity.

Did the Mod Infringe on Copyright?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I’m not a lawyer. Moreover, I don’t know if it could’ve been alright after some tweaking or not.

I’ll probably never know.

So Why Did I Do It?

If I suspected this was going to infringe copyright why did I go ahead and do it anyway?

Firstly, as I said above, I never thought it’d be a big thing. I thought I’d have a small audience of at most a few hundred. (I’m talking people actually using the mod, not people looking at the YouTube videos etc.) If a high-school band plays “We Will Rock You” at the yearly dance does the RIAA bust in with a legal notice from Queen?

Secondly, and more importantly, I genuinely believe this would’ve done nothing to harm the Karl Pilkington brand. It wasn’t causing any loss of income — the mod was free and there were no official Karl games or mods that it could’ve been competing with (at least, as far as I know). It wasn’t denigrating Karl (the title “An Idiot in Skyrim” was a reference to An Idiot Abroad, not a personal attack). And I wasn’t claiming that the mod was official (though I admit I could’ve been more explicit in saying it wasn’t).

Indeed I personally think works like this add to the brand they are based on. It keeps Karl Pilkington in people’s minds. It may introduce newcomers to the wonders of Karl. Ironically I think Ricky Gervais may realise this — how often did he encourage and showcase people painting Karl, drawing Karl, sculpting Karl and remixing his quotes into music?

(It’s also interesting to consider Karl in a Film. While I don’t pretend the situation is exactly the same, both that and this mod are basically sounds clips from a more famous source used for satire.)

Unable to Find a Middle Ground

You’ll probably get a sense of this if you read the emails below. I thought it might be possible to make some changes to the mod and continue working on it.

The original letter mentions ownership of An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais Show. It says nothing about XFM. My thoughts are that Tiffany has no rights to complain about use of XFM material. I thought there was a slim chance I could keep working if I back off the former two shows and used only XFM material, while making changes to the mod’s title and removing Karl’s full name from the mod.

(Yes, that may have lead to an email from XFM down the road. But it was at least worth a try to keep the mod alive in the immediate future.)

But, as you can see, that route closed off for me. I’m not sure what Tiffany said is true in a legal sense. But hey, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not paying for one over this, so I have to assume she’s right.

Final Thoughts

I’ve mentioned how I don’t blame Tiffany personally. It’s her job, innit? I think she did what she had to with kindness and politeness.

I’ve mentioned how I think this mod should’ve been allowed to proceed, as I believe it was good for the Karl Pilkington “brand”.

There’s only three other things I want to say.

Firstly, I don’t want all my experience to go to waste. I plan to make a series of posts explaining how to make a custom-voiced NPC. (Edit: click here to see parts of the guide that have currently been written.)

Secondly, a big thank you to everyone on YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr and various gaming sites and forums that wished me well and offered me suggestions. You kind words really motivated me. I am truly very sorry that I cannot provide you with this mod.

And I think my final thought should be from the post-script of my final email to Tiffany:

[Regarding Karl.]

I hope he, and you, and indeed everyone knows that this mod was never about making fun of him, but rather bringing a little bit of him into our world because we genuinely like the guy.

Contact

If you’d like to contact me about any of this, you can find my contact information here.

Perhaps you’d like to contact Tiffany Brown, or the managing director of her company? Or you’d like to know her company’s Twitter? All this information is publicly available:

  1. Go to www.johnnoel.com (turn your volume down).
  2. For email addresses, look for the white “About Us” box. Scroll down in this box to find emails for various staff.
  3. The company’s Twitter is displayed on the left-hand side of the page, under the white “About Us” box.

The Emails

Presented in chronological order.

From Tiffany to me:

Dear sirs

We are the owners of all copyright and all other intellectual property rights of any kind and nature with regards to our client Karl Pilkington. Including but not limited to his related services in the television program An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais Show, the underlying podcasts and audio-books as well as attendant merchandising rights (The “Work”).

We appreciate very much the effort you have put into “An Idiot in Skyrim”; however, you must understand we have enormous sums invested in the intellectual property rights in and to the Work, and have contractual responsibilities to our investors and licensee around the world to protect same. We do not want to dampen your enthusiasm for the program, podcasts, audiobooks, or your loyalty to Karl Pilkington, but must insist that you abide by certain restrictions.

It has come to our attention that you are using clips of Karl Pilkington’s audio which incorporates elements and/or is substantially similar to our copyrighted Work. Specifically find: “An Idiot In Skyrim” http://deck16.net/pilkington#Download

Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce our Work and your Work therefore constitutes infringement of our rights. Under federal copyright law, we are entitled to an injunction against your continued infringement.

Additionally, the unauthorized use of our name and materials states and/or implies that we endorse, support, and or recommend the legitimacy and/or quality of the works you are promoting, which is false, misleading and deceptive to consumers. Such unauthorized use is clearly in violation of federal and state false advertising, unfair competition and unfair trade practices law. In particular, Section 43 of the Federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125, establishes civil liability against any person who makes any false or misleading statement that “is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person.”

In the circumstances, and as we believe that you would not knowingly infringe on our rights, we must insist that you immediately:

1.      Stop the development of An Idiot in Skyrim, remove the function/ mod/ game immediately and notify us in writing that you have done so;

2.      Remove clips that contain our visuals and/ or audio;

3.      Desist from using our name or any of our copyrighted Work in the future without prior written authority from us.

We await to hear from you by no later than close of business on 2nd May 2012.

 The foregoing is not intended and should not be construed as a full and complete statement of the relevant facts or of our claims, defenses, rights and remedies, all of which are hereby expressly reserved.
 
Thank you for your attention and responsiveness.
 
Sincerely,

Tiffany Brown

John Noel Management
Block B
Imperial Works
Perren Street
London
NW5 3ED

0207 428 8400
www.johnnoel.com

From me to Tiffany:

Hello Tiffany,

Thank you for your kind delivery. This sort of thing is not pleasant, and I appreciate the way you phrased this letter where others would write something cold and to-the-point.

I had wondered if a letter like this would come my way at some time. I never really thought I’d do anything “big” enough to appear on the radar. Anyway, I don’t intend to be combative. I’m happy to co-operate.

You will, however, understand if I ask for some clarifications.

You mention concern about use of audio from or similar to your copyrighted work. You also mention that such work includes An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais show. While some audio clips are from these explicitly named sources, not all of them are. Do you have ownership of the clips that are not from An Idiot Abroad or The Ricky Gervais show? If so, please clarify.

Please be prompt in replying so we can aim for a resolution by your suggested date of 2 May 2012.

Best regards,
Joel

From Tiffany to me:

Hi Joel,

Basically, you cannot use Karl’s voice in any capacity without his permission as it’s his intellectual property and I am afraid we will not grant permission for you to use his voice in this way.

Sorry for the disappointment and please take the necessary actions for removal.

All the best

Tiffany Brown

John Noel Management
Block B
Imperial Works
Perren Street
London
NW5 3ED

0207 428 8400
www.johnnoel.com

From me to Tiffany:

Hello Tiffany,

I am disappointed to hear you say that, because I’m not entirely convinced it’s true.

But I am not a lawyer, nor could I afford one for a matter such as this, so I’m just going to have to take your word for it.

I’m going render the Skyrim mod “An Idiot in Skyrim” undownloadable soon after finishing this email, and I will cease work on it.

I’m going to keep the videos demonstrating the mod because I consider them to be fair use. They are part parody, part satire, and part educational material regarding the modification of computer games (in this case Skyrim with its Creation Kit). Furthermore, they contain a minuscule portion of your copyrighted works, and in no case is any clip longer than a few sentences. Finally, it would seem strange that you’d target my videos when lengthy clips, and in some cases entire episodes, of your copyright works exist on YouTube unchallenged.

Regards,
Joel

P.S. It’d make my day if you could say “hello” to Mr Pilkington for me. I hope he, and you, and indeed everyone knows that this mod was never about making fun of him, but rather bringing a little bit of him into our world because we genuinely like the guy.

From Tiffany to me:

I can assure you that using Karl’s voice in a video game without his permission is infringement of his intellectual property rights. There are legal teams working on behalf of the broadcasters to remove related copyright infringement YouTube videos, one video at a time.

I appreciate you’re a fan of Karl and do not mean any harm. Please remove all of the offending material immediately.

All the best

Tiffany Brown

John Noel Management
Block B
Imperial Works
Perren Street
London
NW5 3ED

0207 428 8400
www.johnnoel.com