One (of the many) points of contention with copyright law is how much it limits fan-created works. Last week I wrote about a fan-made sequel to the classic video game Chrono Trigger that publisher Square-Enix forced to stop (only a few weeks before release). This fan-made sequel would never have replaced an official sequel. It was a labor of love from fans eager to promote their love to other people. Cory Doctorow points out, under copyright law, you’re allowed to criticize a work but not praise it.
Under fair use, I can criticize any copyrighted work. I can use clips or excerpts from it to support my criticism. But if I want to promote or praise the work, it’s considered a derivative work, and I have to get permission the copyright holder.
But as my IP classmates say: “Without copyright law, no one will make Transformers.” And “No good has come from remix culture.” These are the future of IP law.
This is where fan creation gets pushed aside. It’s not only the content providers that over value their content. Consumers also give commercial content a higher value than fan or user-generated content, often recognizing professionals do it better (whatever it is). But this assumption under-values the real benefit of fan content.
Video games are the best example of this. Many games have whole-heartedly embraced fan content, providing free tools for fans to create their own levels and add-ons to games. Fans help extend the longevity of the game with their own creations, extending the shelf life and value of the game for users. Even with tons of free content, game developers will release their own add-ons and fans will pay for them (sometimes even releasing fan content as official content). These game developers are not scared of the competition – they know the professionally made content will have a larger, more captivated audience because of the fan content. Other media are slow to realize how beneficial fan made content is for the lifespan of a project.
Fan content doesn’t compete with official content – it’ enhances it (I say official content because fan content can be commercial). Only devoted fans of the Lord or the Rings would take time to make “Hunt for Gollum.” And only fans of the franchise will go out of their way to see it. Any non-fans who see it will quickly recognize it is not an official production and if they like it, they’ll find the official versions. And if they don’t like it, no harm done (increased expose nevertheless helps).
And to say no value comes from fan or remix content? Let’s understand what that is: All those Disney movies from Snow White to Cinderella to the Lion King are based on fairy tales, Shakespeare, and other already written stories, remixed by fans to tell new, exciting tales. West Side Story is no less entertain for remaking Romeo and Juliet and yet Romeo and Juliet remains popular to perform. Movie versions of books and plays often increase the popularity of the original work. Letting fans create labors of love cost the content creators nothing, but gives them every opportunity to gain. Let fans be fans.