(image courtesy the OTW site)
Thanks so much to the excellent sculptor Julianna Yau for drawing my attention to the Organization for Transformative Works. I now know where to go if the ghost of Arnold Lobel comes after me for my Frog and Toad adaptations.
In all seriousness, I want to congratulate the OTW for addressing the question of fanfiction and other derivative works within the current copyright system in an intelligent, serious-minded and generally respectful way. If the overall copyright debate were handled with this much honesty and true balance, we'd be done now. In fact, the appearance of such a group right now is making me think that the actual struggle for copyright reform is less a struggle than it is a moment of education. Those truly interested in understanding how new technology and new practices inspire adjustments in our behaviours, are learning from each other and moving forward. Those pushing pre-formed or half-formed agendas, merely push.
I've gone through the OTW site in some detail. Here are a few highlights, and a couple of petty quibbles.
Highlights (taken mostly from the OTW FAQ):
-- Copyright is intended to protect the creator's right to profit from her work for a period of time to encourage creative endeavor and the widespread sharing of knowledge. But this does not preclude the right of others to respond to the original work, either with critical commentary, parody, or, we believe, transformative derivative works.
-- There is a distinction between plagiarism (the unacknowledged use of someone else's words claimed as one's own), fanfiction (the acknowledged or obvious borrowing of story elements to tell a new story in the fanfiction writer's words), and quotation (the acknowledged or obvious use of small excerpts of another's work)... Plagiarism is deceitful and prevents the original author from receiving credit for her own original work. Fanfiction and quotation are important fair uses which acknowledge the original author and her work. The OTW does not support plagiarism; we do support fanfiction and quotation.
-- The mission of the OTW is first and foremost to protect the fan creators who work purely for love and share their works for free within the fannish gift economy, who are looking to be part of a community and connect to other fans and to celebrate and to respond to the media works that they enjoy... While some transformative works legitimately circulate in the for-profit marketplace-parodies such as The Wind Done Gone (the retelling of Gone With The Wind from the perspective of a slave), critical analyses that quote extensively from an original, "unauthorized guides," etc.-that really isn't what fanfic writers and fan creators in general are doing, or looking to do.
-- While case law in this area is limited, we believe that current copyright law already supports our understanding of fanfiction as fair use. We seek to broaden knowledge of fan creators' rights and reduce the confusion and uncertainty on both fan and pro creators' sides about fair use as it applies to fanworks. One of our models is the documentary filmmakers' statement of best practices in fair use, which has helped clarify the role of fair use in documentary filmmaking.
-- If fanfiction is legitimate, wouldn't that also mean that publishers or studios could produce derivative works without compensating the original authors?... No, it doesn't. Profit matters, and the degree of transformative quality matters: telling stories around a campfire, freely sharing nonprofit fanfiction, summarizing plot in a book review, or making a documentary film about fans, is not the same as a major commercial derivative enterprise like making a major TV miniseries out of a novel.
And that's just a few short quotes. These people are comprehensive! I encourage everyone to look through their site.
Now, my quibbles:
-- One of the founding individuals at OTW is a professional author, and takes pains in the FAQ to distinguish between what she does for a living and what fans do. I'd bring that right up front and put it on the home page. It's sort of central to the whole discussion, and includes the acknowledgement that the original creator is actually a key partner in fan activity. In fact, I wonder why "respect for the original work" is not listed anywhere in the core values.
-- What's with the umbrella? I don't get it? What is there about fanfiction that suggests an umbrella as a logo? Is this a Mary Poppins reference?
I try to keep the quibbles list shorter than the highlights list.