Icebox Radio Theater

News, events and doings surrounding the Icebox Radio Theater of International Falls, Minnesota.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fan Fiction: A Discussion

Hi All:

Looking back through the previous posts of this blog I now realize things haven’t come together exactly as I’d hoped. This blog was meant to be a discussion form on Art Through Sound, not just a dumping ground for IBRT press releases. So, I begin to make amends with this post.

I’ve wanted to write on the subject of Fan Fiction for quite some time. For those of you not in the know, Fan Fiction refers to works of fiction written by fans of a particular science fiction or fantasy universe, TV show, or movie. For example, I might sit down and write a story starring Captain Kirk with a situation, setting and plot entirely of my own design. I might then post my Captain Kirk story online for other fans to comment on, respond to, or praise. The idea is for fans to participate in the fiction they love not as passive audience members, but real creative contributors. In this way, fans exercise control over the universes they love instead of surrendering them to the hard realities of box office totals, TV network politics, and sagging ratings. It is, for the most part, harmless fun intended for the amusement of the creators and their friends. And I should point out that imitation is often a primary step in an artists’ development. Before many currently published writers were creating their own worlds, they were star-gazing kids, filling spiral ring notebooks with stories about Han Solo, The Robinson Family from Lost in Space, or even “Marshal, Will and Holly, on a routine expedition…”

All of this, it should be pointed out, is mostly illegal. Television shows, films and the characters that inhabit them are copyrighted to within an inch of their lives, and are not even generally owned by their creators, but by the studios that pay for them. Contrary to popular belief, violating a copyright has nothing to do with realizing income from it. Copyright is about ownership, and you can no more ‘borrow’ someone’s copyrighted creation than you can borrow someone’s car without permission. You might mean no harm, but the car’s owner still has the right to bring you up on charges. His permission was the requirement for taking the car, not your benign intent.

Now at this point, I sound like a bad guy, defending big business, a soul-less corporate system, George Bush and all other manner of evil creatures. But in truth, I’m just trying to get both sides of this issue into this initial blog post to spur responses. Why? Because this is a discussion I’ve wanted to have for a very long time.

Every year, I attend a con in Minneapolis (well, Bloomington, actually) called CONvergence. This is the con where the Mark Time and Ogle Awards for excellence in audio drama are handed out, and it’s become kind of a family tradition to go ever summer and recharge in an environment of pure creativity. The first year I went, I found myself at one point standing on a mezzanine over looking the pool area right after the masquerade, the moment when the maximum number of costumes are on display. With my was my friend and Great Northern Audio producer Kris Markman, a college professor in real life who studies how people interact with media, especially new technologies. I was a young audio producer, probably feeling the hubris from my first Ogle Award, and I made a sharp, and ultimately unfair observation about fan culture. That it was, well, a waste of creative energy. And that the hundreds of people in costume beneath me (geographically speaking, that is; I was on the mezzanine, remember?) would be better off creating their own worlds instead ‘stealing’ someone elses. Kris took me to task for this, and we ended up going around and around the point for the rest of the evening.

I honestly do not remember where that particular discussion ended up, but it did plant a seed in me that has continued to grow to this day. Fan fiction fascinates me. But I’m not sure it ultimately is a good thing, or even a harmless thing. Hence, this blog thread.

This post has gone one long enough, but I want to close it with a few questions. These are the interesting ponderables to me.

- Do we in Western Society need to rethink our whole concept of copyright and the ‘Idea Ownership’ at its heart?

- Does the fact that fan fiction has evolved to include movies, audio and even TV shows change the equation at all?

- On a scale with ‘Creative Artist’ being a 10 and ‘Pathetic Loser’ being a 0, where would fan fiction creators belong?

- Does it matter that few, if any of these artists are trying to make money from their creations?

- Doesn’t all gene art, by definition, involve imitation?

- Doesn’t all art?

That’s all for now. Write back soon and often.



  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger sxwwdfox said…

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  • At 3:12 AM, Blogger Jack said…

    It is an interesting discussion.
    One will wonder how things will move in the copyright realm when Mickey Mouse comes up into the public domain.

    I know in choosing Firefly to do our fan fiction, we picked something that we felt would be liked by the owner Joss Whedon and not something that would put us at too many odds with a company.
    I think Joss has said before that he likes when people pass on the browncoat word.

    I'm amazed at the works by people like Pendant Publishing who produce all kinds of shows- many of them owned by Warner Brothers.

    I know their intention is not to infringe on the copyright, and I enjoy listening to their shows a lot. But I'm wonder if they have any trouble with the studios.

    I hope not.

    When it comes to doing fan fiction, I do believe that the laws should be changed so that if someone doesn't profit from their homage that they shouldn't be chased down legally.

    There's a whole lot more interesting and problematic issues for a Corporation to deal with instead of chasing down fans.

    It strikes me that Stevie Wonder was once asked if it bothered him if he was the most bootlegged musician of the day. Stevie said was pretty certain about what it meant. If someone hadn't heard his music before, and listened to a bootlegged tape of his music and liked it, he figured that there was a better chance of them buying an original album.

    That's the same thing when it comes to fan fiction. Gene Roddenberry encouraged it. Way back when Trek was in it's hey day, fanzines created whole new generations of stalwart fans.

    Audio fan fictions do nothing less, in my opinion.

  • At 8:58 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Adams said…


    Which is one central point to the discussion: is the idea of copyright in need of revision? Clearly audio does not have the same problem as film and TV because there is not any real money in audio right now. But if that were to change, would we be as cavalier?

    Another thing to think about, copyright, and the idea it entails, needs to be unanimous within a society. All it would take is one studio to go after one fan and everything would change. And on the flip side, if only one fan were to start selling DVD's, and those DVD's were to start selling well...

    Thanks for writing, Jack.

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger Joe said…

    Busy as hell on Afterhell, but I wanted to chime in on this thread. I'm sure folks are going to cringe, since I left rather incendiary comments on the SFF Audio blog a few months ago. I promise to be civil.

    Does copyright need revision? I sure think so. Intellectual property isn't a feudal concept, and yet that's how it's been handled. Jack's mention of Mickey Mouse is well chosen. Disney Studios is a good example of the draconian use of copyright as a bludgeon. They keep a regular stable of lobbyists who work to delay the inevitable, the terminal dates of Disney's copyright control over their popular characters.

    Now here's an example that radiodramatists will definitely relate to. Music labels once railed against radio, lamenting the free distribution of music on the public airwaves, fearing for their profit margins. Somewhere between the Philco and the iPod, the suits forgot about the whole thing.

    Whether corporate content owners would turn on fan-made efforts...well, that has more to do with enlightened self-interest than choice of medium.

    Years ago, Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm went on crusades to wipe out homebrew websites for Star Trek and Star Wars. That set off a major publicity backlash from their respective fanbases, which gave those studios a much-needed reminder of what those built-in audiences can do for them. Free, often positive, self-motivated PR. Now they're condoning fan videos, sometimes even showcasing them. And the production values on some fan efforts make them downright competitive.

    As for the writing or the acting...well, that depends on your opinion of the more recent efforts by the pros.

    I also wanted to address a common misconception about fan fiction. Where fanfic lands on a Richter scale of artistic merit... well, that depends on your definition of fanfic. If it's a matter of authorship, using major plot elements or backstory from other sources, then we'd have to nudge quite a few literary works of significance down near the "Pathetic Loser" end of the scale.

    Ulysses wasn't original with Tennyson. Shakespeare didn't invent Oberon, the king of the fairies. Tennessee Williams and Graham Greene didn't invent Don Quixote, but the character has appeared in their work. There has also been speculation that the novel Don Quixote itself includes the work of authors inspired by Cervantes' original first half. Fanfic definitely comprises the vast majority of H.P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. And Lovecraft himself, a public admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, used concepts from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in his own novel At The Mountains of Madness. And Neil Gaiman borrowed from many different sources for his Sandman comic book series, adding his genius and making them his own in the process.

    There you are, guys. Stuff to think about.

  • At 7:32 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Adams said…

    You know, I'm beginning to think the real question isn't, 'Is there such a thing as ownershp' but 'Was there EVER such a thing as ownership? Or was ownership of an idea simple a creation of the financial mind?'

    And something else to think about, does present Western Society represent the pinnicle of benefit for the creative artist? Has there ever been a society where successful artists were richer or more respected, and is that all due to our notion of copyright?

    And remember, I said successful artist.

  • At 6:06 PM, Blogger Joe said…

    Ownership, in the legal sense? Yeah, I'd say that was basically a financial construct. It assumes finite resources and finite access, physical property like land or livestock. Ideas, concepts, and personal expression aren't as easy to fence in.

    Present western society as the pinnacle of creative success? It may well be. More people have more creative freedom, in more media, than ever before. And competitive means of production are in the hands of more individuals.

    Successful artists were richer and more respected in medieval Europe (and maybe Japan too), thanks to rich patrons. But they didn't get any creator's rights. Their works belonged to their patrons, who often influenced creative decisions like choice of subject and did whatever they wanted with the finished works.

    Compared to a king hanging up the "Mona Lisa" in his bathroom, things like Final Cut Pro and CafePress definitely look like progress.


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