Mar. 25th, 2009

Another Fan Fails Copyright Law (and Rebecca Muses on Copyright Law)

Fen have their own sort of culture, with their own sort of norms. One of the big ones seems to be to be circumspect about fanworks around The Powers That Be. Sure, giving a drawing to an author is fine, or showing off your plushie or cosplay. But fic is considered a no-no, thanks to the near-legend about The Person Who Sued Misty Lackey about a Fanfic Idea and Caused her to Flip Out. There's a grain of truth to the idea of stories leeching themselves into your original writing -- Helen Keller found that out the hard way -- and having stories pre-packaged to include your characters probably makes it a bit harder.

The other big one is to avoid profit-seeking, with publishing fic being the big thing. Probably because you can get a wide distribution via POD self-publishing or vanity-publishing, while things like selling fanart prints at cons and zines that may be charging more than paper and postage costs are pretty small-scale in comparison.

Which means when someone comes online and tries to publish and charge for fanfic, I assume that they haven't been in fandom long, or if they are part of some isolated tribe of fen that has never had contact with the outside fannish world. (I mean, there do seem to be fen that would never have become fen if it wasn't for that special show/book/etc., and probably won't stick around after they get bored of the book. Harry Potter seemed to be like that, and so does Twilight. )

And possibly despair at the sheer lack of knowledge of copyright law. (Sure, I break copyright law with far worse things than fanfic, but I know I'm doing it.)

Anyway, our current case involves someone writing a 'tribute novel' to Twilight, one that I'd call 'an AU Bella/Jacob fic'. She also has a bad misinterpretation of copyright law in that she read an article comparing graphical characters to literary characters -- namely that it's easier to enforce copyright on a drawing than a character description -- and now apparently thinks that you cannot copyright literary characters at all.

Sadly, the author of the 'tribute novel' doesn't seem to get the message that this can only end in tears and cease and desists, because she fails at copyright laws.

(It's worth noting that I'm all for loosening copyright law, since I think it goes far too far towards creators and not enough to encourage other people to build on ideas. I mean, stuff hasn't passed into the public domain in decades. I also don't think non-profit fanworks hurt creators (much the opposite -- I think having an active fanbase promotes the author's work, and fanworks is part of that). On the other hand, I can see the line being drawn at marketing unauthorized derivative novels when the author might still want to write her own sequels/prequels/etc. -- a time limit might be good here. On the other hand, that might foster people doing crappy work just to keep a series under their control.

As a comparison, if you work at NASA and take some data using the Hubble Space Telescope, you have a year where the data is yours alone. After that, NASA makes it public. The same stuff goes for Cassini (my project) -- team members get a year where the data can only be used by team members (and their students). The idea being that if you are putting in effort to coordinate a spacecraft or apply for time on an orbiting telescope, you should be able to process your data without worrying that someone will scoop you, so you get a head start and access to any low-hanging fruit. On the other hand, all of this stuff is paid for by NASA, a tax-funded organization, so the data shouldn't stay private.

It's not quite an exact analogy, but I'm fond of the system.)