labingi: (Default)
With the heightened visibility of fan fiction in recent years, conceptions of what constitutes professional-caliber fiction have been in flux, and derviative fiction (based on pre-existing works) has been slowly regaining legitimacy. I want to share my new enthusiasm for the richer, truer world that opens up for all participants in narrative when we accept the artistic legitimacy of retelling stories.

The Copyright Model

Our culture's dominant view of what constitutes quality narrative still draws its lines based on copyright. Under this model, professional writers write “original fiction”; i.e. works dissimilar enough from preexisting copyrighted works that the writer (or publisher) can claim copyright over them. Published writers who extrapolate stories in public domain are sometimes highly respected but sometimes placed on a lower tier than "original" writers. At a lower status, but still professionals, are authorized writers of works within others' copyrighted universes, such as official tie-in novels. Low status and traditionally derided are fan fiction writers, who write unauthorized derivative works.

The dividing line for professionalism in this model is how much the writer gets paid. Original and authorized authors make money through traditional publishing (and, more rarely, self-publishing); unauthorized fan fic writers are legally barred from profiting on copyrighted works. Read more... )
labingi: (Default)
This is not a review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but I’ll share some impressions for context. Though it kept me entertained, I didn’t think it was very good. The story felt padded; the implausible action scenes lacked tension; the moralizing was often forced. But for all that, I’m glad the movie was made because it means that the narrative of Middle-earth is still alive.

Storytelling belongs to the public consciousness. All the copyright laws in the world cannot stop that being true. It is human nature to imitate: it is how we learn to talk, to dress, to be polite, to live in society. It is embedded in human nature to take in stories and breathe them out again. This is not to say there is no place for copyright. As long as we live in a nominally free market society, artists must be able to make money from their work for art to flourish, and copyright (ideally) gives them control over distribution of their work to prevent market saturation and grant them remuneration. But if copying must be restricted, the creation of art itself is naturally free: the mind flies to it as it flies to love, and no prison nor prison sentence can stop it.

One common complaint about derivative works is that they are often bad quality. And this is true. (It’s true of original works just as much.) I would argue that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, despite a great deal of talent and effort, is bad quality in many ways. It’s a legal, licensed work, but aside from giving it a big budget, that doesn’t affect whether it’s good or bad art. Likewise, some still claim fan fiction has dubious legality, but that has no bearing on whether it is brilliant or painful to read. Art is speech, and democratic society has long understood that respecting freedom of speech exposes us to reams of stupid speech. That is a very small price to pay for the freedom to share thought and learn and grow as individuals and cultures. Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
To ACTA and Its Handlers:

You can slow us, but you will not silence us. If you deny us the internet, we still trade stories; we will listen to music; we will create vids and fics and share images. We will do so through 'zines, through CDs, on sketchpads or typewriters or photocopiers. We will return to the post office. And if you compel the post office to censor our mail, we will leave parcels in the trunks of trees or behind garbage bins. We will blog on leaflets. We will hold our illegal public showings of films in people's houses by word of mouth. Our technical experts, who are legion, will still rip DVDs for us so that we can be about the human business of artistic creation.

And you will lose our money because, by eliminating or gravely restricting our use of the internet, you will have removed our incentive to go online and pay for our Netflix, our Hulu, to watch the ads your sponsors pay you for, which today so many of us choose to do because we understand that creative outlets need revenue.

But we will not consent to forgo any access to art you have priced out of reasonable means or deemed not legally available in our country or not legal at all because it pays tribute to some preexisting piece of art--as all art from the dawn of human civilization has done. We will not blind and deafen ourselves to pacify your fear of us. And if you do not behave reasonably toward us, we have no moral obligation to show obedience to you.

I am an American. And much of the time I'm ashamed to be. That my corporate government is one of the prime proponents this assault on the intellectual work of civilization makes me ashamed. Yet there remain precepts of America to which I adhere: that a people should not lightly undertake a revolt against their government, "But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security."*

I do not mean to overstate the case, to call you George III or accuse you of enacting tyranny against me. Up to now, the tightening of the copyright noose has caused me no more than annoyance. Up to now, you have not silenced my voice or deleted my art or blocked my eyes and ears from more than a handful of works of art I love. You have not denied me the internet I daily use for work and information and entertainment. You have not bankrupted me with fines or imprisoned me at taxpayer expense. You have not done so yet. But if you do, then revolt will be my duty.


* I did not need the internet to find this quote. I found it in a book. We will still have our books.

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