More copyright nightmares: Fan fiction – fiction created using characters and scenarios from books, TV, film, etc., is flourishing due to the Internet, and the largest body of all centers around Harry Potter. J.K. is tolerant unless the material veers into the “adult” range:
- As fans await the June 21 release of Rowling’s fifth novel about the magical boy with the trademark lightning scar on his forehead, they can find tens of thousands of stories online about what the boy wizard is up to next.
In the past few years, a curious literary genre known as “fan fiction” has been flourishing. The term refers to all manner of vignettes, short stories and novels based on the universes described in popular books, TV shows and movies. Similarly derived works are appearing in music, where fans are using their computers to mix songs from popular artists into new works that they call “mashups.” Movie fans are taking digital copies of films such as the “Star Wars” epics and creating alternate endings or deleting characters such as the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks.
….Fan-fiction creators say their work represents the emergence of an art form that takes advantage of all that the Internet was built for. They invoke the First Amendment and say that under fair-use laws they have a right to create what they want as long as they are not trying to profit at the expense of the original material. But some book, music and movie houses argue that fan fiction is more plagiarism than high art and have demanded that operators of Web sites remove the offending material.
Rowling has unofficially sanctioned some fan-fiction sites by leaving them alone. To many of those that feature adult material, however, her agents have sent sharply worded cease-and-desist letters.
….Among the most popular sites is Sugarquill.net. It prides itself on its selectivity and takes only those submissions that it believes match the tone and spirit of Rowling’s first four novels. Sugarquill, founded two years ago by Jennie Levine and Megan Morrison, two friends from Baltimore, now hosts more than 500 writers and artists who have created 1,300 stories and 650 illustrations, cartoons and other pieces of art. The site was named after a candy that appears in Rowling’s novels. (In book three, Harry’s friend Ron Weasley says, “Really excellent sugar quills, which you can suck in class and just look like you’re thinking what to write next.”) The site is run by volunteers and funded by the women’s savings. [WashingtonPost]
Ah, anal fan fiction editors:
- All works that appear on the site are screened and edited for content, logic, grammar and other things by “professor” volunteers; only about half the submissions are accepted. The site has forums where people can discuss plot points, character creation and other story-development issues. Every story has a feedback link where anyone can offer praise or criticism.
And the copyright mess:
- The law remains blurry about what’s acceptable, said Wendy Seltzer, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Copyright law protects “derivative works,” but it’s not clear whether the use of names or characters or histories fall into that category. On the other hand, the law also protects people’s fair use of material from copyrighted books for such things as newspaper articles and criticism. The ambiguity also raises a slew of questions about who owns the fan fiction, about what might happen if, say, the author of the original piece lifted material from fan fiction or if fan-fiction writers take from other fan-fiction writers.
Only four more days until the real thing.