Fandom and Fair Use Policy

fansI want to begin this week’s post with a confession: I am a fan. Ever since its release three years ago, I have been a diehard, (overly) obsessed follower of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and I ain’t ashamed to admit it. Granted, I haven’t read the books, but the show… I follow every storyline like it’s gospel, and I’m constantly gabbing about it with friends and fellow fans of the series; I just love to speculate as to just how far GOT will go with each new episode of every season. It’s damn good TV if you ask me, and if you haven’t watched yet, do it. Seriously.

In Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis’s book Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, the authors explore the many avenues and intricacies of film/television fandom through the lens of their own personal connection to WB/CW’s hit show Supernatural, which first aired in September of 2005. For me, one of the more intriguing aspects of the book was its discussion of how devoted fans often get treated by society at large; hardcore fans (of books, film, TV, what have you) are seen as weird, too over the top, even hysterical by those who do not share the same love and appreciation of a given piece of pop culture. However, the authors had this to say about the important role of fandom in our culture:

Given the culture’s clear discomfort with fans, it’s a wonder that any of us admit to being one. And yet fans keep film studios profitable, television shows on the air, Fifty Shades of Grey on the shelves, and gossip magazines and blogs in business. We might make fun of the guy dressed up as a Wookie at Comic Con or the co-worker who watches Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, but odds are more people can name all the Kardashians than can name all nine Supreme Court justices. Whether we want to admit it or not,most people are aware of popular culture, if not infatuated with it. We tend to laugh (or worse) at people who can’t join the water cooler conversation about what Britney Spears did over the weekend or what happened on the latest installment of Snookie and JWoww. Thus we mock the overinvested and shun the underinvested. (3-4)

While it may be true that fans tend to receive more than their fair share of flack from non-fans, there is no question that fans are largely responsible for helping to keep the film and television industries thriving. Furthermore, the connection that fans feel towards their respective shows/films can have a rather profound effect on their lives. On page 10, the authors cite entertainment critic Karla Peterson, who believes finding that perfect show, the one you can’t be without, is a truly awesome experience for her. She admits, “it’s like this perfect snow globe that you can be a part of and it’s a total escape because it’s so well done, and I really feel like I’m in good hands when I turn myself over to that show. I trust that show.” I believe the word trust is crucial here. When a fan falls for a new show, they put themselves and their trust in the hands of that show’s creators, and as the author’s note, “once you’re hooked, you want more.” (10)

Joining fan communities, writing fan fiction or participating in any aspect of the culture surrounding a TV show are just some of the ways in which fans can feel more connected to a show they feel they can’t live without. However, in this regard, fandom can sometimes cost you.

In Professor Stenger’s Intro to New Media course, I remember spending one class day discussing some of the issues fans can run into when the conglomerates and/or companies of original works catch wind of particular fan practices. For example, a fan of The North Face clothing brand got slammed with a lawsuit over his use of The North Face’s logo design for his quirky spinoff company, The South Butt. Below is a video courtesy of Carter Law Firm which explains why this fan ran into problems.

Another issue that came up that day in Intro to New Media were the difficulties faced by Harry Potter fans who wrote HP fan fiction and lexicons for the popular J.K. Rowling book series. These fans got slammed with lawsuits from Rowling and Warner Bros., the owner of the HP film series’ rights, because these fan created works were believed to violate fair use policy. Rowling and Warner Bros. won these suits, and the fans responsible for the derivative works had to pay hefty fines as a result. Unfortunately, in the industries of film, television and big business in general, fans can not only be viewed as weird, but as criminals, too.

Do you think it’s right for big companies to sue fans for creating fan fiction? What about other forms of derivative works? Click here to read a rather informative piece on copyright issues in fan fiction, and I look forward to our class discussion this week!


Image Found through Creative Commons.


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