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Kickstarter Campaign Earns Lawsuit Threat From Sony

‘Inspector Spacetime’ project will continue, but with new character and story elements

Travis Richey simply wanted to honor a piece of an NBC show that, in turn, was honoring a piece of a BBC show.

But while parody and satire may be protected from copyright laws, raising money to fund it isn’t. And Richey had to learn that the hard way.

Richey, who produced other Web series like “Robot, Ninja & Gay Guy” and “2 Hot Guys in a Shower,” had decided he wanted to create a Web series on the “Doctor Who” spoof “Inspector Spacetime,” according to DoorQ. Spacetime was a character created for the NBC comedy “Community,” as a way to spoof “Doctor Who” without exactly mentioning it.

Although the character would pop up from time-to-time on “Community,” its overall story had never really been fleshed out before, and Richey wanted to be the online filmmaker who did it. He took his cue from other fan-produced web series like “Star Trek: Phase II” and even many of the fan-made Star Wars films that are now out there.

However, he made one mistake along the way that was different from those other Web projects — he tried to raise money to support it. And while studios may turn a blind eye to self-financed fan productions of their properties, they spring to action as soon as they see or hear about a single dollar exchanging hands to make it.

Richey crossed that line when he opened a campaign for “Inspector Spacetime” through the popular filmmaker fundraiser site Kickstarter.

In his video appeal on Kickstarter, Richey said he pitched the proposed project to NBC and others, but none were interested. While his other Web series were done with no budget, he wanted to increase the production quality for “Inspector Spacetime” by raising money for equipment. Although he did make it clear that money would only be used for equipment, and that no one would be profiting from the venture, that wasn’t enough for Sony Pictures Television, one of the production companies behind “Community.”

“This was a great way to bring audiences what they were hungry for — more of the Inspector,” Richey told DoorQ, adding that while he believes the law would be on his side, he didn’t want to start a fight with Sony. “Since there is a very real possibility ‘Community’ won’t be back next year, a Web series was a further way to celebrate all of this. It’s sad that Sony doesn’t see it that way.”

Richey, who actually played the character on “Community,” has continued his Kickstarter campaign, but is now calling the project “Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time.” As of early March 1, Richey has raised just under $12,300 in pledges, with a goal of $20,000.

Those donating $5,000 or more will receive associate producer credit on the series, as well as a number of special gifts, including a set visit. Richey has set a deadline of April 1 to raise the necessary funds.

NBC has yet to announce the fate of “Community,” which aired Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on the network. NBC pulled it from the schedule last December, but it’s expected to return later this month.

This season, it was NBC’s No. 18 show (through the end of January), and was ranked No. 83 overall. It was tied with “Parks & Recreation,” but was doing slightly bigger audiences than “Free Agents” and “Chuck,” which are now both off the air.

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