Copyright and ownership of fan created works: fanfiction and beyond

by Raizel Liebler

I am so pleased to say that my chapter, Copyright and ownership of fan created works: fanfiction and beyond, has been published in the SAGE Handbook of Intellectual Property. This 2015 edited collection contains lots of other interesting chapters — and I will be doing a separate review of the rest of the book.

The chapter covers everything from Don Quixote to G-Dragon — with the intent to reach not only an academic audience, but also to help fandom communities understand the complicated issues surrounding fanworks. Of course, there is much more to be said — so also be sure to read Henry Jenkins and Rebecca Tushnet to start!

And since I couldn’t embed the music video to 니가 뭔데 (WHO YOU?) in the chapter, here it is. Think about not only the ownership issues for the music video, but also how what the fans thought about their recordings (and their own images) being used in this official video for a kpop song. And about who makes money from this video….

[youtube_sc url=”doFK7Eanm3I”]

This is the abstract of my chapter:

This chapter draws parallels across fictional genres, historical periods, and national legal and cultural traditions, to explore the relationship between popular forms of copyright protected fiction and the diverse forms of fan fiction that develop in relation to such works. Whilst fans of various fictional works revere the authors whose works they like, this reverence often takes the form of a kind of guardianship or that does not directly conform with authorial/ corporate conceptions of copyright control. Fans are not passive recipients of content, but active in their engagement with it. Often this involves creative copies, extensions and revisions.

While parody is protected as “fair use” in US law, much fan fiction, precisely in so far as it reveres the original, cannot be so regarded and thus can be seen as a copyright infringement under the law. However, to the extent that fan fiction is rarely produced or circulated for commercial gain, its existence has often been regarded as harmless to copyright holders. Fan fiction is also, for the most part, highly beneficial to rights holders in holding and extending interest in their creative work. Nonetheless, disputes have arisen when it is suggested that fan fiction is either commercially oriented or might harm legitimate sales or the reputation of the original works. The issue of whether fans are themselves being exploited in the work they do in promoting and adding to commercial works is also discussed.

A variety of examples are used to highlight tensions between creativity and copying, help and harm. These include actual lawsuits, such as JD California’s take on Catcher in the Rye (the prohibited 60 Years Later) and various lawsuits involving the Harry Potter franchise. Non-litigated examples include Japanese comic book fan fiction (doujinshi), a form that has achieved relatively high status in Japan and which may offer an example of a more harmonious way of dealing with author/fan relations than simply asserting the exclusivity of copyrights. The bookend examples relate to whether Don Quixote (and his creator Miguel de Cervantes) could have better revenged himself on those that parodied him if he could have used the legal framework of “moral rights” rather than those of Anglo-Saxon “copyright” — and the IP implications of k-pop artist G-Dragon making a music video in which his fans create the visuals.

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