English 102 #3186
Jim glanced up.
"What's up, Chief?"
"Oh, nothing. Just a student."
"So, what's the problem?"
"He wants an extension on his paper."
Blair sighed again.
"At least he was honest."
"Come on, Sandburg. Do I have to drag it out of you?"
"He was busy writing fanfiction."
"What?! That's his excuse? You're not going to give him an extension are you?"
"I think I have to."
"Why in the world would you have to?"
"I'm the one that keeps begging him for the next section of the story."
Most of you probably have no clue what is going on in the above story. This is because it is an example of fanfiction, one that I wrote for the television show "The Sentinel". If you did watch the show, you would know that Jim was detective James Ellison, a cop in the fictional city of Cascade, Washington who has heightened senses, and that Blair was a Anthropology student studying people like Jim, who wanted to use him for his dissertation in exchange for helping him control his senses. I first got into fanfiction for the show "Quantum Leap," another sci-fi show, about a time traveler out to right wrongs. I loved the show, and wanted more stories than had been produced for the televison. When I became a fan of "The Sentinel" I went looking for fanfiction for this universe as well. Fanfiction has a long history, great social significant, and can be beneficial to both sides of the copyright issue.
Fanfiction is a type of fiction that uses original plots, but characters and concepts from a work of fiction owned by someone else, such as a TV show. Although it can be found for a variety of genres, "most of it derives from, and appears in the science fiction and fantasy genre" (Mitchell, Fan fiction I). There are two main avenues for getting fanfiction. The first are zines, also known as fanzines, which are a type of magazine that prints fanfiction stories, and often has articles about the actors, writers, producers and other people involved with the show in question. The second avenue is the Internet, that vast institution where you can find just about anything.
Fanfiction is geared to a very specific audience, and often lacks the normal underpinnings of a fictional story, such as setting, background information, and main character description. These things are not needed, because they are already provided by the universe the writer is using. These stories can be as short as the hundred word drabble (Called the prose equivalent of the haiku, because the story is limited to exactly hundred words) this paper opens with, or as long as a novel.
There are several terms that must be understood before one can understand fanfiction. The first is crossover. This is a story where characters or settings are taken from two different sources and put together, such as having Mulder and Scully from the 'X-files' being visited by Enterprise crew from 'Star Trek'. Another type of story is a slash story. This is a story that puts two characters into a same sex relationship that wasn=t present in the original universe, named for the slash (/) used in the abbreviations that refer to such relationships, such as K/S to refer to a sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock from the show Star Trek (Plotz, A History and Discussion of "Slash."). Another term is AU, or alternate universe. This is where the fan writer changes some fundamental part of the show, such as location, time frame, or character characteristics.
I once read an AU sentinel story entitled "After The Fall" that had the predicted Y2K crash and the relationship that developed between Jim and Blair in those circumstances. There are different degrees of AU, anywhere from plots that barely have anything in common with the original show, such as the above example, to ones that start out in cannon and just sort of wander away from it, such as "Dead Drop: Alternate Ending". It is also considered AU if you kill one of the main characters, or cause enough injury that the story couldn=t fit in the regular time line.
There is also the problem of canon information versus fanon information. Canon information are facts that are set down by the original creators of the universe in question. Fanon information are facts that a fan makes up that then get accepted by a majority of fans, and show up in a lot of the fanfiction. A common occurrence in Sentinel fanfiction is for Jim to identify Blair by his heartbeat. Although this was never once shown in the show, it shows up quite often in the fanfiction. Sometimes a fanon idea can be so cemented in the fans' minds, that they don=t remember that it was never actually seen in the original universe. According to Websters: Fandom n. all the fans (as of a sport). One of my fellow list subs (a subscriber to an email list) told me that "The term first appear[ed] in print around 1903. The first time it was used in a book title was in a book about baseball, 1920's" (Linda).
Kathryn, another list sub, stated that "Fandom [is] the collection of all (SF) fans in the world/country. From 'kingdom'." She went on to describe "X Fandom [as] the collection of fans of X" (Andersen), such as my belonging to the Sentinel fandom. In other words, the term fandom is used to describe a group of fans and the ways in which they communicate, such as websites and email lists. As with any art, fanfiction has its own language and rules, and these rules also vary from fandom to fandom. The best way to learn them is to talk to writers already established in a particular fandom.
Henry Jenkins states that "contemporary Web culture is the traditional folk process working at lightning speed on a global scale. The difference is that our core myths now belong to corporations, rather than the folk" (Jenkins, Digital Land Grab). As long as story telling has been around, audiences have taken the stories and retold them, often with liberal exaggeration and expounding on the original material. This is where legends, tall tales, myths, and fairy tales get their origin. Such retellings are part of a group culture. "To the ancient authors of Greece and Rome for instance, there was almost certainly no such concept [authorship]. Authors did not prize originality so much as they did learning, and to write literature consisted of rewriting the great authors on that subject e.g. Plautus rewrote Menander, and was in turn rewritten by Terence, Virgil's epic the Aeneid was largely constructed in imitation of Homer" (Mitchell, Fan fiction I).
Authorship, and the concept of copyright, became more prominent after the invention of the printing press, when book production became a commercial venture (Mitchell, Fan fiction I). However, fanfiction still persisted. As early as 1869, writers were borrowing the characters from Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to write their own stories (Jenkins, Digital Land Grab). When Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing Sherlock Holmes stories, the readers rose to the occasion with their own stories (Plotz, Luke Skywalker Is Gay? Fan fiction is America's literature of obsession). In his article "Luke Skywalker is Gay? Fan Fiction is America's Literature of Obsession", David Plotz noted that "Fanfic[tion], like so much weirdness in American culture, is rooted in the 60's" (Plotz).
Fanfiction became a widespread phenomenon with the exploding fan following of the show Star Trek: The Original Series. "Desilu Studios and Roddenberry were swamped with unsolicited scripts. Written by viewers, they were not unexpected or unusual in the industry; what perhaps was unexpected was the fact that a very few were in fact used. This probably had two effects - [SIC] it spurred fans to keep on writing, and the rejected scripts rapidly came to form the earliest Star Trek related fan fiction" (Mitchell, Fan fiction I). "Perhaps Star Trek is not the sole cause of the widespread interest in fan fiction which has developed over the last twenty years, but it undoubtedly set a precedent, not least in the highly relaxed attitude of the copyright owners, Paramount" (Mitchell, Fan fiction I).
The original stories were published in zines and distributed at conventions or mailed to those who bought them (Plotz, Luke Skywalker Is Gay? Fan fiction is America's literature of obsession). Fanfiction was limited to very dedicated fans who attended the conventions or went to the trouble to seek out those producing zines. In "Fan Fiction on the Line" Janelle Brown states "before the Internet was a media force, studios had a long-time habit of looking the other way when it came to fan fiction, because those hand-copied print zines that published it didn't get much exposure" (Brown).
The advent of the Internet changed that. Suddenly, fans from all over the world had instant access to each other, and the stories being produced. Fans built their own sites to house their and their friends stories, and to share other aspects of the show. These sites are often more detailed and accurate than the 'official' websites for shows. Extensive archives, such as Guide Posts for The Sentinel, are found for many fandoms, documenting hundreds of authors and stories. There are numerous sites dedicated to fanfiction for many fandoms, such as fanfiction.net, and also many personal webpages that include fanfiction, such as my own site for fanfiction about the TV show The Sentinel. Shows that have been canceled live on in the stories written by fanfiction writers. There is even a webpage called Phoenix Virtual Television, where virtual seasons for television shows are shown. Many of them try to capture the television experience, from showing commercials between acts, to not re-running episodes until summer. Just during the short time I have been active in pursuing fanfiction (a little over a year) yahoo (an internet search engine) has added a category just for fanfiction sites to their TV entertainment section.
"Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is provided to both published and unpublished works" (Copyright website). This definition of copyright, given on the US government's copyright website, is a very broad blanket meant to protect creative people from having their works used without permission.
The Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989 states the following.
(2) It shall, however, be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to prescribe that works in general or any specified categories of works shall not be protected unless they have been fixed in some material form (Berne Convention).
In other words, a work is not required to be published, or display the copyright notice in order to be copyrighted under US law (Copyright website). All works are copyrighted automatically when they are recorded in a permanent form.
As technical as the copyright laws are, they are still very vague in what is really copyrightable. A character cannot be copyrighted, nor can a place that is real. This should mean that fanfiction is fine, but the more precise the description of the character, the more right the owner has to claim copyright because the character is no longer an idea. "The depth of detail is a determining factor in copyright. Whilst a brief verbal description of a character will probably not be enough to grant copyright to an individual character, a detailed description, or better yet, a pictorial representation is" (Mitchell, Fan fiction I). James Bond, for instance, is not copyrightable, because the description of him is too vague, but Sherlock Holmes is, because he is instantly recognizable, even in profile. "Dame Jean Conan Doyle (the copyright owner [of Sherlock Holmes]) has pursued and won her case for copyright infringement against a TV production company, even when they were using none of the original stories, filming instead "The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" - a variation of fan fiction if you like, only with a lot more money involved" (Mitchell, Intellectual property - Fan Fiction and Copyright).
Fanfiction writers are aware of the fact that they are using copyrighted material, but they try and absolve legal ramifications by putting a disclaimer on their works. Such disclaimers state that the author of the story knows that they don't own the copyright on the characters and/or settings they use and that they don't make any money from using said characters and/or settings. It also usually gives credit to those who do own them. The writers are also quick to point out that they do not make money from the stories they write, only enjoyment for themselves and other fans.
However, Janelle Brown points out that "if the lawyers do come calling, it may not be the authors of the fan fiction that pay the ultimate price; network administrators certainly aren't taking any chances. There are only two things the administrators of the Big Eight Usenet [Defined by The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing as "A distributed bulletin board system and the people who post and read articles thereon"] hierarchies (comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk) don't allow: binaries [defined by The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing as "a file containing arbitrary bytes or words, as opposed to a text file containing only printable characters."] and fanfiction. If the proverbial shit hits that fan, they don=t want to be held liable for the content of the newsgroups they control" (Brown). This means that such groups, and also administrators of webpages, will err on the side of caution, and the tension between fans and copyright holders is building. Janelle also states that "Glouberman, who documents those [copyright violation] disputes on his Trademark Wars Web [SIC] site, says that when he first started documenting "cease and desist" disputes a year ago , there were only a handful. These days , they happen so often that he can't keep up" (Brown). "Most fan authors are non-lawyers of limited means, and are at the mercy of their Internet service providers, who, fearing liability as accessories to copyright infringement, will shut down an account or Web site in response to an informal complaint from a copyright owner. Therefore, copyright owners will find it simple to enforce a vision of copyright law that extends to every mention of their property" (Tushnet).
Some of the copyright holders are being more forgiving when it comes to things like fanfiction and fan websites, such as Lucasfilm which "is one particularly reasonable outfit when it comes to fan fiction. The company simply put up their own official site to counter - and overshadow - the unofficial ones. As Lucasfilm spokesperson Jeanne Cole puts it, "What can you do? How can you control it? As we look at it, we appreciate the fans, and what would we do without them? If we anger them, what's the point"" (Brown)? Similarly, Gene Roddenberry, creator the series Star Trek stated: "We were particularly amazed when thousands, then tens of thousands of people began creating their own personal Star Trek adventures. Stories and paintings, and sculptures, and cookbooks. And songs and poems and fashions....Eventually we realised that there is no more profound way in which people could express what Star Trek has meant to them than by creating their very own personal Star Trek things......This is the highest compliment and the greatest repayment they [the viewers] could give us" (Roddenberry, Marshak).
Also, some of the fans are fighting back. In "The War Against Fandom" Steve Silberman talks about how "in early May , fans of the band Oasis got cease-and-desist letters from the band's management, which inspired one young aficionado, Jack Martin, to launch the Oasis Webmasters for Internet Freedom" (Silberman). Regrettably this site is no longer available at the URL (internet address) cited above.
By including a disclaimer with their works, the authors are trying to claim safety under the fair use provision. The fair use provision in the copyright law allows a breaking of copyright "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" (O'Mahoney). In order to determine the whether the fair use provision is applicable, one must look at the following factors.
Fanfiction writers hope that by claiming not to be making a profit, they can get away with copyright violation by claiming the fair use provision. Even though writers claim this right, Henry Jenkins points out in his article "Digital Land Grab" that "although cease-and-desist orders are routine corporate practice, not a single case involving fan fiction has ever reached the courts" (Jenkins). This is because the fans never fight back legally. Most of them don't have the money or time to fight such large corporate entities. Rebecca Tushnet thinks that "Fan fiction should fall under the fair use exception to copyright restrictions because fan fiction involves the productive addition of creative labor to a copyright holder's characters, it is noncommercial, and it does not act as an economic substitute for the original copyrighted work" (Tushnet).
Fans of shows are no longer limited to getting together at conventions and other fan gatherings. The Internet provides several ways for fans to interact. Discussion boards allow people to post messages that can be responded to, creating whole threads of discussion. E-mail lists, where a computer script takes an email sent to the list and sends it to all the other listsubs, (subscribers to the list), are another way that fans stay in touch. There are also chat rooms, where live interaction between many people can happen. For a more individual interaction, you can use instant message programs such as AIM (America online instant messages) or ICQ (I seek you). All this interaction brings fans closer together, even though they may never meet. If fact, fans will often make plans to meet one another, if they happen to be traveling to an area where other fans they met on the internet live.
However, fans want to do more than just discuss the shows they love. They want to feel like they're a part of it, which is why they write fanfiction. Creation and discussion of fanfiction brings the fans together. In a talk presented at the University of Michigan in the Spring of1998, Henry Jenkins stated that "Sociologists are starting to refer to the "N Generation," the "Net Generation," or "Gen.Com," children who have come of age in relation to interactive technologies and digital media and who operate under the rather bold assumption that they can be active participants shaping, creating, critiquing and circulating popular culture" (Jenkins). One fanfiction writer stated that fanfiction "opened up an avenue to creative writing that was as if you were given the ingredients and you could make your own soup with variations on a theme" (John).
Fanfiction authors are not social misfits that are overly obsessive with certain shows and cannot function in the real world. David Plotz points out that "Fanfic[tion] writers tend to be highly educated, and several fanfic[tion] writers have graduated to careers as science fiction novelist" (Plotz, Luke Skywalker Is Gay? Fan fiction is America's literature of obsession). I know from my own experience with various fanfiction writers that most live perfectly normal lives. If fact, we often complain about RL (real life) taking away from our writing time.
Fanfiction can be beneficial to both writers and holders of copyrights. Writing fanfiction is a great way to become a better writer. By using an existing set of characters, some of the pressure is taken off the writer. The writer doesn't have to invent everything from scratch, allowing them to practice such things as plot development and dialogue. Many people's first experience in creative writing is with fanfiction. They feel comfortable writing, because they already know the characters they are using, their personalities and physical traits, and some of the settings they are being put into. They then expound upon this with their own experiences and background information. Writers can also get feedback for their stories, since there is a ready made audience. People that would not normally look for reading material on the internet will seek out pages that offer fanfiction because they have an interest in the characters involved. This instant audience, many of whom are willing to provide feedback to new authors, helps writers improve their writing. This audience also encourages writers to keep writing, as they are always looking for new stories to read.
Fanfiction doesn't hurt the people who own the copyright on the characters and storylines being used. In fact, it may benefit them. New fans may be drawn into a show because of reading fanfiction. I received an email from Jen R who stated that "[She] started reading the [fan]fic[tion] before watching the show" (Jen R). Fans may also be introduced to a new show when reading a crossover fanfiction, where fictional characters from a different universe are brought over to interact with the characters from a show they already enjoy. In a simliar vein, Jeannette Foshee drew several icons based on the show The Simpsons and then shared them with other fans on the Internet. She said that people who didn=t watch the show would tune in after seeing her icons (Silverman). Another benefit is that if a TV show is still in production, writers from the show may get ideas for new episodes from the prolific minds of its fans through the fanfiction they write.
In "Digital Land Grab," Henry Jenkins discusses how "Amazon.com encourages amateur critics to build book-oriented Web sites. If they link back to Amazon's homepage, they will get profit points from every sale made to consumers who follow that link. Amazon has discovered that revitalizing a grassroots book culture increases public demand for books. Perhaps media producers should follow Amazon's example and find ways to transform media consumers from "copyright infringers" into niche marketers, active collaborators in the production of value from cultural materials" (Jenkins). Most webmasters (people who maintain websites) would be happy to provide a link to an official webpage in exchange for the right to have their sites. The sites often get more traffic than the official sites, because they are often more up to date. If media producers had an arrangement with fan sites such as Amazon.com does, then they may find that they get more traffic to their sites, which could mean increased merchandise sales.
The thing that media producers are most concerned about is money. They feel that since they created the characters, that they should receive all the money made from their use. Most fanfiction writers are satisfied with that, content to put disclaimers on their work as long as they can continue to produce and share it. Unlike the controversy over MP3s and other sharing of that type, fanfiction does not take away from the normal sales associated with a show. People who write or read fanfiction do not watch any less of the show than they would without it, and they may watch more. Many fans jokingly talk about doing 'research' for their fanfics by re-watching the episodes over and over. Fanfiction does not decrease the merchandise sales, even of books, because it's all different. Fans have a ferocious appetite when it comes to their favorite shows, and they always want more.
After all this evidence is looked at, why do copyright holders feel threatened by fanfiction writers? Copyright holders feel the need to have control over the things they own, and yet they expect the audience to be passionate about the shows they are watching. The Sci-fi website has discussion boards for all the shows on their network, and they expect fans to discussion the show. If they can allow, even encourage fans to discuss their favorite shows, why can't those same fans show their appreciation for a show by writing stories using the ideas from the show. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and yet these copyright holders don't seem to think so. Fanfiction is very beneficial to the writer, and to the other fans. It is a source of both entertainment, and a spring board for further discussion of a show. Although it is not always beneficial to the copyright holder, it is often more beneficial than not. Copyright holders must be willing to take bad fanfiction in the same way that they take bad reviews or negative discussions on their own discussion boards. Trying to hold a total control and preventing those few bad fics does not balance the risk of alienation of your fan base. Let the audience, as in the days before corporations owned our culture, be a part of their culture, sharing in the wonder of a good story.