OTW Fannews: Copyright is the question

  • While a lot of fans are aware that older fiction is often part of the public domain, many might assume the same to be true about speech by deceased celebrities and historical figures. But as a Freakonomics podcast discussed, a century old speech might still be restricted. “What I assumed was that as we’ve all written quoting throughout our writing career you abstract a certain amount of words, and you don’t necessarily quote an entire book, but you can quote selected passages” under fair use. “Well there is no fair use law in the United Kingdom.” So for a biography on Churchill his estate would require “Five hundred pounds per 1,000 words quoted.” The problem extends to institutions and valuable historical material. “[W]e’ve had lots of cultural institutions, museums and galleries coming to us saying we’ve got tapes, old videotapes, spools of tapes rotting in our basements because we can’t digitize them, because in digitizing you are changing the format, which require permission from the copyright holder. And with a lot of these old 1920s, 1930s films and recordings the copyright holder can’t be found. And so these tapes are left rotting for fear of litigation. So, you know, we really see these absurdities abound.” (Transcript available).
  • Even when entertainment industries want to encourage fan interaction, they are often extremely limiting in how that may occur. For example, the official Girls site on Tumblr does not allow material to be combined, any original text, a longer animation than 5 seconds, and even insists on images coming from an official source. “The Girls Tumblr blog has not caused any sort of outrage (yet) but has made GIF artist collective Mr. GIF question HBO’s intentions. ‘It is pretty funny that they put so many constraints on what you can submit,’ Mr. GIF told the Daily Dot. ‘It looks like its a legal thing. I mean it seems like a odd barrier for entry though. You would imagine that the goal is to get as many people as possible to submit.'”
  • Yet as The Learned Fangirl points out, unauthorized content can keep a fandom’s heart beating. “YouTube seems like an unlikely location for an multimedia fandom encyclopedia, but it’s probably the only location where such a function is even possible online. Think about it: YouTube is currently the Internet’s second largest search engine – bigger than even Yahoo and Bing – and the Internet’s second most trafficked website. Not to mention, its interface makes for easy social sharing and embeds. The playlist functionality makes it easy for content uploaders to group and categorize videos…And clever labeling of metadata makes it relatively easy to locate obscure content – if you know what you’re looking for. It’s YouTube’s unique combination of platform functionality and social community that makes this, a tech startup probably couldn’t recreate this even if they tried.”
  • Or as one cartoon made the case, if Copyright vs. Shakespeare had taken place, Shakespeare, and the larger culture, would have lost.

What absurdities of copyright have you come across? Write about it in Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or link you think we should know about, comment on the most recent OTW Fannews post. Links are welcome in all languages! Submitting a link doesn’t guarantee that it will be included in a roundup post, and inclusion of a link doesn’t mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.