Monday, July 14, 2008

legal reason

I was on a writing sabbatical in the northwoods for the last week, totally (blissfully) cut off from the online world, so I apologize if this posting appears dated by webby standards.

Grace Westcott, intellectual property lawyer and Vice Chair of the Canadian Copyright Institute has written an excellent, balanced, reasonable and detailed analysis of fan fiction and its copyright implications for the Literary Review of Canada. It is available in full online, at this link.

Here is my favorite quote, around which I intend to write a long story about Grace Westcott, lawyer by day, darkly moody superhero by night:

"What is needed is a kind of digital civility, an online code of respect in engaging with cultural works that recognizes and addresses authors’ rights and legitimate concerns."

Grace clipped her bullwhip back onto her belt and leaned out into the night, clutching the gargoyle's wing to keep her balance forty stories above the darkened city streets. Would her work ever end? Would she ever be granted rest from this endless battle for respect? It seemed unlikely.


John McFetridge said...

"Tushnet argues that the writing of non-commercial fan fiction is fair use."

And I think she's right - the writing of it. It's the posting of it where things start to break down.

(as always, it's this new technology we have now enabling a breakdown in civility - should we just watch it happen or mention, casually, that it's too bad?)

It's hard to learn how to write just like it's hard to learn how to play a musical instrument. Fan fic is kind of like learning to play other people's songs.

In fact, some famous writers have told about mimicking someone else's style to learn to write. Elmore Leonard has said he used to type half a page of Hemingway and then go from there himself.

He just never showed those stories to anyone else and then wrote his own with his own characters, settings and adding humour.

It's what writers do.

The saving grace of fanfic is, in fact, the lack of imagination that goes into it. For it to be interesting to the writers and readers of fanfic, the source material has to be hugely popular and mainstream - Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (hey, I'm seeing a trend here).

So, fanfic is just another irritant that really succesful people have to put up with like the paparazzi and death threats, it comes with the territory, but it's not something the rest of us have to worry about.

Someday, maybe, the digital world will see beyond the multinational approved canon and then there might be something to this.

The scary thing, of course, is how easily the companies that profit from providing the technology have managed to convince people they should supply the content for free - so many musicians giving it away and someday, maybe fan fic instead of literature.

I'm not sure why that is, why we we've become anti-artist and pro-multinationals (wow, do we love Apple, we can't live without hand held wireless internet connections - you'd think we got this stuff from co-ops), but there you go.

John McFetridge said...

Oh, and welcome back, John.

The big rumour today is that we finally signed a striker, Turkish international, Hakan Sukur.

John said...

Get right out of here. Sukur? He's a bull -- albeit an old bull. I love it!

Yes, I think there's lots of interesting social comment to be made about defenders of the creative commons whose working concept of that commons extends very little beyond the product of entertainment mega-corps.

Same for the technology concerns -- does Apple care if someone breaks into their technology in order to create some sort of private hybrid freaky thing only one person will ever use? A techno-fan-fiction if you will? I doubt it. They are worried about well-financed competitors using Apple's own creativity to suck market share away from Apple. No?

And in a regulated market economy, asked the high school socialist, is there something inherently evil about that concern?