Participant Media and FilmBuff have licensed North American rights to “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz,” Brian Knappenberger’s documentary about the titular Internet activist. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews, and its subject resounds during the era of government surveillance and piracy legislation.
Distributors typically acquire the rights to movies, so a licensing deal is unusual. Yet this approach gels with Swartz’ own ideals, as well as those of his supporters, many of whom appear in the film. Swartz co-founded Reddit before he could legally drink and helped build Creative Commons, which offers public copyright licenses that facilitate the easier spread of an artist or intellectual’s work.
Those interested in the film will be able to buy it online the same day in June Participant will release it theatrically and FilmBuff releases it via video-on-demand. It will come with a creative commons license, which will protect many of the customers from being prosecuted for piracy. The movie will then make its television premiere later this year on Pivot, Participant’s TV network.
“We got really good financial offers for the film,” Knappenberger told TheWrap. “I just couldn’t […] One of my main concerns was that it worked with the whole range of ideas Aaron was all about.”
“This doesn’t mean we are giving it away for free, but we won’t go after people for piracy.”
Participant, which specializes in movies with sociopolitical themes, launches a social action campaign around each of its movies to mobilize people behind the film’s primary message. That appealed to Knappenberger, the director of films such as “We Are Legion,” about hacker culture, and “Life After War,” about the war in Afghanistan. It remains unclear how long Participant’s license will last.
“‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ is a deeply moving story that explores the incredible power of one individual to inspire change and the complexity and importance of freedom of information – all of which are right at the core of what our company is about,” Diane Weyermann, Participant’s Documentary EVP said in a statement.”