Fan-Content and Copyright Infringement

I was reading an article the other day, and I’d really like to share it, and my own thoughts, with you.  The article, Is Fan Art Illegal? by Chris Oatley, addresses a topic that has always been a but dicey to me.

In today’s fast-paced world of online marketing and copyright infringement lawsuits, it’s best to know where you stand in the legal swamplands.  Everyone knows you can’t claim someone else’s work as your own, it’s one of the first lessons we are taught when we are introduced to essays in primary school.  Plagiarism is bad.  As we get older, we learn that plagiarism doesn’t just mean taking words someone else has written and claiming them as ours, but it also extends to ideas.

Of course, then we get into somewhat murkier water- and today celebrity lawsuits are all about making sure everyone gets their due when something sounds or looks just a little too close to something they created.  Take the Robin Thicke and Marvin Gaye Estate debacle, for instance, or the big clamor about Sam Smith paying Tom Petty royalties from Stay With Me.  It’s a messy world these days- and these were accidental infringements.

So what about intentional ones?  By intentional, I don’t mean “I am out to get  your money”, but that someone enjoys a television show, a book, or a movie so much that they just have to have more.  They have to be involved!

Usually, this evolves into using fan art or fan fiction as an outlet.  I’ve done it myself, right here on my blog.  Touching Tiffany is fan fiction, and I didn’t waste time being shy about it.  Fan fiction, and fan art might be two of the best doorway drugs for any artist or writer.  Many times, fan works are what draw young minds to creative fields.  The first script I ever wrote, no you’ll never-ever-ever see it, was a fan fiction based in the Sailor Moon universe.  It was well before they told us how all of the characters met in the “past”, and I just couldn’t wait for answers… So I made them myself.  The screenplay brought great amusement to my close-knit group of friends and myself, and then it found a place inside of binder that was buried deep in the bottom of a box that travels all over the country with me, along with the heinous drawings of Sailor Moon’s costume, and Tuxedo Mask’s roses.  And that’s where it will stay.

See, here’s the thing about fan-made content.  Unless you contact the owner of whatever media you are creating, you technically have no right, by law, to be even contemplating your actions.  Granted, most people aren’t going to say anything about your not-for-profit bit of whimsy when you post it on, with or without the proper disclaimers, but what about when you are big fish?  There’s a huge battle right now over a fan-made, not-for-profit Power Rangers.  I mean huge!

And, personally, I think it is silly.  What harm came from it?  Sure, the creators and actors got a little publicity, but so did the original show, and the upcoming movie.  Publicity is a good thing!  When I originally wrote Touching Tiffany, I had no intent to share it with anyone but myself and, maybe, if I was brave, the author of Pax Titanus.  It was only after a conversation with him that I decided to share it with the online world, with Tom Lucas’ permission.  I still don’t’ have rights to the universe or any of the characters, but I got to play around with some really cool content and he got a little publicity.

So, do I think fan art should be illegal?  No.  But, is it, even when you don’t make a penny from it?  Technically, in most cases, yes.