With all this talk of protecting copyrights, I’ve had many thoughts on the matter. This article is not entirely about the business or legal aspect of intellectual properties, and I doubt it’d be very accurate if I tried. What this article addresses is our need, as people, to create, and as you will learn in the following required viewing (Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix Part 3) to create is to copy, transform, and combine.
(be sure to watch previous episodes at: http://www.everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/)
Many of us grew up re-creating what we knew and enjoyed. A lot of my early drawings as a kid were Ninja Turtles. My sister’s first fan comics were of Archie and Sailor Moon. The songs we were taught on piano were all ones we know from childhood sing-alongs.
According to Kirby’s video, Hunter S Thompson re-typed The Great Gatsby, just to ‘feel’ what it should be like to write a great novel. Sounds crazy when you hear it, but in truth, many of us have attempted similar endeavors.
I was a fairly active member of the Voice Acting Alliance back in the mid 2000’s, and you know what largely took place there? Fan dubs.
People removing all the audio from selective scenes or even enter episodes of an anime, cartoon, and even feature film, and recasting all the voices with enthusiastic members, all wanting to some day be a voice actor. True, it’s a little specific to say “I want to voice act in anime and ONLY anime” but you gotta start somewhere, why not practice with what you know and like?
(one of my early ‘parody edits’ as it was long before “Abridged” became the word… and I wasn’t actually a ‘fan’ of Orguss… it sucked)
DeviantArt is a hugely popular site for seasoned pros and new artists alike. There, amongst many illustrations, comics, and photos, you can find fan art for just about every drawn or animated property enjoyed by the masses.
Whether any of these works have been sold at conventions or online, I can’t say, but for the most part, fan art is an act of tribute, and learning.
I myself have an audio series, Shaggy Reads Twilight, that originally started as a joke for a friend, but became a practice of reading a lengthy narrative out-loud, in preparation for one day to produce my own original narrative audio stories (betchya didn’t know that last part).
The problem we’re all running into is this:
Even though we don’t intend to make profit off of these projects, when we decide to share our work (usually for the need of critical response or just to give joy to others who share our interests) we enter the dangerous territory of Copyright Infringement.
Let’s return to the example from the video. Hunter S. Thompson retyped The Great Gatsby. Did he share his typed pages with his friends to read to show how good he could type? What are your thoughts if he did?
We can’t really talk about copyright infringement unless we know what it means. According to wiki’s opening line:
Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.
But right there we’ve already run into a problem. Every country has different laws on copyright.
Whenever YouTube users runs into trouble for having copyrighted material in their videos, they can often defend themselves under ‘fair use terms’ which legally allows the use of copyright materials in the case of commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.
However, this is in regards to United States copyright laws, and other countries (I believe my own, Canada) aren’t as clear on when it is legal to use material for the purposes of satire and parody for example. Canadians have to be careful.
But let’s not get jumbled into the technicalities of copyright laws, let’s give these large corporations a human face, and consider why they would need to be so protective of their properties we enjoy.
Financial reasons are fairly obvious. They don’t want people reproducing and distributing their work as it’s a loss in potential profit. This is a large reason behind all the hate towards web piracy. In the case of fans generating their own work INSPIRED by these properties and selling them, the companies may likewise not be thrilled over the idea of others making money off of their characters and ideas.
But enough about money, here’s another reason: Image and product integrity.
To explain this, we have to address a truth that you may not want to hear. Ready? Here it is.
People… are stupid.
People are easily confused, they get angry over stupid things, and they complain. OH BOY if people are good at one thing it’s complaining.
Let’s take this fact and apply it to the creative works of others.
Let’s say someone makes a fairly risque fan drawing of Kitara and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender… hell, y’know what? Let me just enter their names in Google… safe search off and HEEEEEY, I don’t believe THIS happened in the series
Now, with this image, we take a trip to Example Town.
Kid is on the computer.
Kid likes Avatar.
Kid searches for favourite characters.
This image pops up.
Parent walks in.
“Oh. My. God.”
Now, we have a problem.
These supposedly safe cartoon characters are posed in a fairly sexual context.
“They’re Nickelodeon characters you say?”
Nickelodeon gets a call.
“Why are you making porn for my child to watch?!”
“We didn’t create that work, fan art is not in our control.”
“It’s your product, you should BE in control.”
Parent groups rally.
Shame on Nickelodeon.
You get the idea.
[ SIDE NOTE: if you’re business is in children's ANYTHING (books, toys, cartoons, video games, comics, etc) you NEVER wanna piss off the parents. Kids may be the audience, but they are NOT the market. Because who are the ones with the money that buy the Happy Meals? ]
There’s a mixture of ‘protecting image’ and ‘profit’ that lead big media companies to shun down their fans. I recall back when the Harry Potter’s film rights were acquired by Warner Bros, Warner went after HP fan sites with cease and desist orders. I think Rowling got pissed at Warner for that.
Nintendo went after SuicideGirls for someone having Metroid listed as one of their favourite games in their profile. “Family friendly Nintendo, enjoyed by people on a site where woman pose nude? GASP!”
I remember all the excitement surrounding a Chrono Trigger fan remake, built in an engine similar to the N64’s (…I think). That got shut down by Squaresoft after a while. Similar deal with that Kings Quest fan project, kept popping up and being shut down.
Fortunately, a lot of this is slowly changing as shown by the support of fans from today’s most popular shows.
Because of the internet, the creative brains behind Adventure Time and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are in constant contact with their fan base. SO much so that many conversations and ideas become canonical (Derpy Hoves and Fiona & Cake come to mind).
True, the parent companies my not understand this and are still VERY concerned with preserving image of the products they own (as example of CN fighting anything that suggested Princess Bubblegum and Vampire Queen Marceline had a subtext lesbian relation growing, as suggest in the episode “What was Missing”.)
But generally we’re getting to the point where fandom is having a direct influence on the source material.
There are many properties that have thrived from the world of fan recreations and tributes. Star Wars has a never ending library of fan films, using just about every film and animation technique there is. Live action, Stop motions, puppets, flash animation, recaps from memory, you name it. And many of these people, who cut their teeth on a fan project or two have moved on to create their own great works.
(also watch: Star Wars Uncut: Directors Cut)
Regardless of if we know the parent company is uptight with copyright or not, the general rule of the web for posting fan work and remixes has always been: you’re probably not gonna get caught. You are just one of thousands. Why would they go after you? And if they do, take your work down.
And though YouTube has taken down anime fan dubs and abridged series in the past, for the most part, anime companies were born out of fandom for the Japanese art, and thus wouldn’t bother to take down the tribute work. In a way it’s promotion. “All news is good news” as they say.
Just, some companies don’t actually say that.
When big names like Viacom get pissy and shut down our SpongeBob music videos, we respond with: “hey, if anything, my work was promoting their show. What the hell?!”
Hmm… well, take a second and try and remember that annoying kid you had in class. He was arrogant, loud, a little sexist, maybe racist… do you want him running around yelling at everyone about how good the comic you made is, or original song you recorded, or anything you’re proud of? Do you want your work to be associated with him at all?
Let’s be realistic, sometimes people just ‘don’t need your help’. And they’re entitled to take that stance. If they believe what you think is promotion is actually hurting their image, who are you to dispute it? It’s their property. If they want to be over protective, we can’t really fault them for that.
It’s just an unfortunate relationship, really. A conflict of interest. We wanna share our joy of a property in a creative way, but they wanna protect their property from the wrong impression.
Fan works can do great things for the communities surrounding a property. But they can also confuse the ignorant and potentially tarnish a brand. Often, the studio & creators of a property are cool with the fan work, while brand owners can be weary as they want to continue the success of the property they’ve sunk so much money into.
The world of web fandom is both a wonderful & unpredictable place. All we can really do is just celebrate what we love, and hope after sharing our work, no one gets pissed off.