Is crowdfunding ethical?

With Veronica Mars’ successful Kickstarter campaign, there have been some rumbles that it may not be terribly ethical to ask fans to fund the movie projects of major studios. The arguments vary: studios are being cheap, it’s exploiting fans, it’s taking money away from indie projects that need it, it’s taking money from little people and putting it into the pockets of the wealthy Hollywood elite…

Personally, I kicked in towards a Veronica Mars movie, and I would do it again. Considering all the money fans have wasted peppering studio execs with Mars bars, peanuts, Tabasco sauce and even skywriters, to me, chipping in money towards an actual sustainable project was a great way to put my proverbial money where my mouth is. Better yet, I’m not only contributing directly to a movie instead of filling the CW’s backlot with candybars, but I also, for my $60, get a digital and physical copy of the movie, a T-shirt, a PDF of the script, and I get it all shipped to me in Canada on the day of the film’s release. I’d have spent $60 to buy the movie and T-shirt anyway, so I saw it as pre-purchasing the final product in order to fund the production. As Rob Thomas pointed out on Twitter, money put towards his Kickstarter should have been coming out of your entertainment budget anyway.

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But that’s not to say the arguments against crowdfunding big studios don’t have teeth. Following on Veronica’s success, Zach Braff has also launched a Kickstarter to fund his new movie, since he didn’t like the strings that came attached with studio funding. Fine. Fans of Garden State have the right to pay for their sequel too. But Braff could have had the film traditionally funded — an option not available to Veronica Mars — but he decided he liked this way better.

Keeping network and studio interference out of a creative endeavor is certainly something I can get behind. But there is also the fact that Kickstarter backers can’t be paid back. If the Veronica Mars movie blows up and breaks box office records (dare to dream), all I can do is be happy for their success. My $60 contribution doesn’t get me any returns on the film.

That’s fine. I knew that going into this. But it does raise some concerns if more films and movies start going this way, especially if they start choosing to crowdfund instead of going the traditional route. Let fans put up the money, take the risk that this project might suck or flop or get tied up and never see the light of day… but if it succeeds, the suits collect the money.

This article from ThinkProgress raises some interesting and, I think, valid points. And apparently, at least in the U.S., lawmakers and the SEC are trying to figure ways to allow crowdfunders to somehow share in the pie that they helped back.

But, let’s face it. This blog is dedicated to cult television. When it comes to the shows we love, we aren’t thinking about the bottom line. Nobody contributed to the Veronica Mars campaign expecting to get rich even if the movie somehow became a blockbuster hit. And, really, I do think crowdfunding is an exciting new way for fans to show their dedication to a show: something a great deal more useful than online petition or sending the studio candy by the crate.

What do you think? Is this exciting or a dangerous new trend? Would you kick in to a campaign if it meant bringing back one of your favorite shows?