Who Owns Slender Man?

2 Oct

On Monday, a fascinating article regarding commodification of memes was posted, in particular surrounding the use of a phrase from Hark! A Vagrant (a damn, damn fine comic that you should all be reading) on Grumpy Cat merchandise. It’s raised questions about ownership in the online sphere, about content created and adapted by the faceless creative collective of the internet. Is it moral to sell merchandise and content that has been built upon the ideas of other, uncredited people? Is it even legal?

So, speaking of faceless things, let’s take on this issue by picking a single online presence to go under the microscope: Slender Man.

slenderman1

For those of you who don’t know, Slender Man is terrifying. Often dubbed the “first internet urban legend”, it has reached far beyond the expectations for an internet scary story, particularly one with such humble beginnings. Slender Man actually originated on the website Something Awful, in a thread where members were challenged to create paranormal images. A user called Victor Surge, real name Eric Knudsen, created a series of images showing a tall, tentacle-armed figure that kidnapped children. It took the thread by storm, and before long Slender Man had moved beyond Knudsen’s vision.

Marble Hornets is the first, and most popular, Slender Man YouTube series. Its creators, Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner, also used Something Awful, and were inspired by Knudsen’s images to create a vlog series that would evolve further into an ARG. The series was an instant hit, and is still one of the most frightening things to be found on the web.

Interestingly, the term ‘Slender Man’ is never used in the series – the being is called The Operator – and some parts of the Slender Man mythos, such as the tentacles, were removed. Marble Hornets, now in its third season, spawned various further Slender Man narratives, all adding and subtracting parts of the character to suit their own needs. Two more popular YouTube series were created, called EverymanHybrid and Tribe Twelve, as well as various blogs and stories.

Then, in 2012, Slender Man made its largest jump into the cultural consciousness. A free-to-play game called Slender: The Eight Pages, created by Parsec Productions, was a smash, loved by horror fans and picked up by a number of gaming sites. Before too long, Slender Man was a household name in geek circles, and with that came more projects. Many derivative games, including other strange, tall characters. The Slender Man, a Kickstarter project to make a feature film that successfully reached its target of $10,000. World domination beckoned for Slender Man, which is a terrifying thought for a creature that is partly deemed to get its power from the number of people who believe in its existence.

slenderman2

However, with these latest projects, the issue of ownership and creation really came to a fore. With Marble Hornets, Knudsen was accepting of their use of his character – after all, it was for a free series, certain aspects had been changed, and it was even born out of the same space – the Something Awful Photoshop thread. Knudsen even found it “interesting” that people were able to build upon his original images to create something more, although over time he has become more hesitant over his praise of other uses of Slender Man. One thing is clear – Knudsen has generally been happy for people to use the character, as long as it is not for profit.

And as such, there have been teething problems for a number of other projects. Although Faceless, a video game based on the Slender Man mythos, received the consent of Knudsen before creation, Steam – the online distribution service – refused to allow the game to be shared through their system until they had received permission from Knudsen themselves. Slender: The Arrival, a sequel to Slender: The Eight Pages, has licensed the character from Knudsen. This appears to have been necessary because unlike its predecessor, The Arrival is not free-to-play. Interestingly, the game was also written by the creators of Marble Hornets, meaning that the three largest influencers on the urban legend were all involved in the project.

Slenderman

The Slender Man movie has had less luck. After achieving its Kickstarter target, the film was completed and put online in 2013. However, the film was forced offline after legal action. This, in spite of the fact that the film was originally going to be a free online release. What caused the need for legal action by a mysterious third-party rights owner? The use of the name Slender Man? Or is it that the project had already gained money via Kickstarter? Either way, the film has had to change a variety of components before re-release, which we are told is coming soon.

And that’s the saga of Slender Man ownership up to date. So far Knudsen has, generally, been able to protect his creation from outside use, albeit with difficulty. But if Slender Man continues to grow as a narrative, how much longer can he keep control?

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5 Responses to “Who Owns Slender Man?”

  1. reliquiaworks June 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    I just read in the Daily Dot web page that Kndsen didn’t take legal action on the Slender man movie situation. That it was someone else…

    • Rob Gordon June 10, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

      Oh, thanks for sharing that! I’ll update the post accordingly.

  2. Elise June 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    I Believe There IS Actually An Entity, Called The slender man, the slender woman, and a slender people village, maybe! But The Slender People, Of The Slender Village, Just Like slender woman, and slender man, in the slender people village, Would Be Very Ashamed, As Entities, To Know, That All Of Us Dumb Humans, Are Going Around, Stabbing For It, When In Fact, The Slender People Entities, Are Probably Way Less Violent, Than Us Humans! I Would Be Very Ashamed, As ANY Entity, To Even Be Associating, With ANY Violent Human, Because We Are Very Violent Life Forms, If You Can Even Call Us, Much Of A Life Form, At All! The Slender People Entities, Are Probably Both Laughing, And Crying At All Of Us Stupid, Violent, Humans, That Go Around, Stabbing For It, Because We As Violent, And Stupid Humans, Believe, THAT Is What An Entity, Like The Slender Man, Of Slender People Entities, TOLD Us To Do, For It! Yeah, If I Was An Entity, Like The Slender People, I Would Not Even BOTHER, To Be ASSOCIATING, With Such VIOLENT LOSERS, Like ALL Of Us LOSER Humans! We Are Probably The Lowest Of The Low, Of ALL Life Forms, If Again, You Can Even Call VIOLENT THINGS, Like Us, ANY Kind Of A Life Form, At All! Us Humans, ARE The Lowest Of The Low, And The Slender People Entities, ARE Probably Both Crying, And Laughing AT All Of Us, As Nothing But VIOLENT LOSERS! I Know I Would Be Really ASHAMED, To Be ASSOCIATING, With ANY VIOLENT LOSER Human, As ANY Entity Life Form, Like The Slender People, Entities! Just LOOK Around YOU, At ALL Of The Other Human People, Around YOU! Pure VIOLENCE! There Isn’t Anything PURE, About ANY Human VIOLENCE! What A Pathetic Bunch Of LOSERS, All Of Us Humans Are! NOT Civilized, At All! There Is Nothing CIVILIZED, About Being A VIOLENT Human! That Goes For My Dumb LOSER Self, Too!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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