Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
A few weeks ago, I did a copyediting favor for a friend: I proofed the first chapters of a long-form My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction. (Apparently MLP has a bit of a cult following, based on the superabundance of fanfics and the evolution of the term “brony.”)
But I’m getting away from myself. Because although that was a really unusual editing gig (and I’ve done some weird ones), the point is not that My Little Pony is making a comeback. No, today I’m going to talk about something way more complex and enigmatic. It goes by the name of copyright. And sometimes intellectual property (IP). Whatever you call it, copyright by any other name is still a big tangle of crazy. Let’s dive in.
What is IP, anyway?
In summary, “intellectual property” is a name that describes a class of several different legal regimes that generally concerns creations of the human mind. Copyright is but one of the legal regimes that fall under the umbrella of intellectual property.
Intellectual property laws protect creative things that people make (and which, frequently, end up online). IP includes things like movies and books, images and videos, music and more. The role of IP law is to protect creators’ rights to their own work and to prevent others from copying that work without permission or purchase.
And so, you bravely ask, how does this relate to your random introduction about bronies? Well, my friends, it’s all a part of a thing that media scholars like to call… remix culture.
Remix it up
This creates problems for what some people term our “remix culture.” Remix culture refers to a general attitude of collaboration where ideas are freely created, used, reused, taken apart, put together, and made into new forms. Deejaying is a reflection of remix culture. YouTube fan videos are frequently examples of remix culture. Fanfiction is definitely a reflection of remix culture. And IP law doesn’t gel very well with this sort of thing.
One way that publishers and other appointed protectors of intellectual property can fight against this cultural trend is through fun and interesting tactics like sending cease and desist letters. They can also invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is generally considered to be pretty annoying.
Fortunately, a DMCA notice is not the end of the world. In striving to protect their authors’ IP, publishers and other creative content licensors have a huge amount of ground to cover—and so sometimes their research into potential IP infringements is not very thorough. (In fact, stop back at Appazoogle tomorrow for a firsthand account of how DMCA notices are not always as scary as they first seem…!)
So what’s an author to do? Give away content for free? Let untalented 13-year-olds mash up real, published characters with their own crappy creations? Ignore the copyright that actually is in place to protect authors’ income? Or should they crack down on fandoms? Blacklist fanfiction writers? Request YouTube videos about their work be taken down? There are authors on both sides of the IP fence.
I doubt there will be a hard and fast answer anytime soon. The Internet is the perfect forum for remixing our favorite forms of art and distributing them to our friends, enemies, sympathizers, and casual browsers-by—and at the same time, is unlike anything else the artistic community has ever come across. Copyright and IP laws were not really prepared for the Internet… and it’s still taking them some time to catch up.
Stop by Appazoogle tomorrow to read a guest post about one self-published author’s experience with IP challenges and a wrongful DCMA takedown notice. Trust us, it’s worth a read!