Perhaps one of the best parts of a fandom is its fan created content. Whether it be fan art, fan fiction, videos, music or other creations, fan content is a giant aspect of any pop culture community. Look on fanfiction.net or (more recommended) archiveofourown.org and one will find fan fiction spanning longer than some novels. Thousands of fan artists share their work on DeviantArt, Tumblr, Facebook and other websites and some even make a living off of fandom related commissions. Musicians like Harry and the Potters and Kristina Horner play fandom inspired songs at sold out concerts across the world. While this type of content frequently gets a bad rap, the creativity and dedication that goes into it is astonishing with even the original content creators in awe of their fans’ creations. Supernatural star Misha Collins even created the international scavenger hunt Gishwhes after he was inspired by his fans’ creativity.
However, the copyright legality of fan created content has always been a little bit of a grey area. While many original content creators are flattered by these creations and even encourage their fans to make it, others are not so enthused. Recently the beloved “Adult Wednesday Adams” web series by Melissa Hunter was taken down due to copyright infringement. While this series isn’t any different from other fan created videos that still remain on YouTube, the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation demanded it be taken down. The rules about whether fans can share their creations without legal action or not seem to be dependent on how much the original creators care about what their fans are doing. The Harry Potter Alliance, long time fan activist organization, wants to change this.
“We believe that fan works provide tremendous value to the people who create and enjoy them,” says Fan Works Are Fair Use, the HPA sponsored group that is hoping to protect fan created content by making sure “any upcoming copyright and trademark laws are ones that protect and support [fans] reimagining of beloved stories.” With Net Neutrality still a frightening topic at large, fan work could be next on the chopping block. Their slogan “Creativity is not privately ownable” makes the argument that the hard work and imagination that goes into fan work is something that should be encourage, not squander with legal action. Creating content like this allows fans to further explore their favorite stories even after the final page is turned or the last episode airs. It also creates an environment in which creators can hone their craft. Even famous creators like The Mortal Instruments series author Cassandra Clare started out writing fan fiction. “Beloved universes and characters are reshaped through the lens of individual perspective, allowing writers and artists to hone their craft in a familiar, meaningful setting,” says FWAFU.
The project even makes the argument that fan works helps the original content creator. “While fan works obviously do not alter the original works, they do help shape and energize the culture that surrounds popular narratives. That energy helps to perpetuate the presence of the original work in the cultural zeitgeist, ultimately leading to more enthusiasm, passion, and (of course) sales.” Many fans would never have gotten into their now favorite fandoms if it weren’t for the astonishingly creative content that kept popping up on their social media platforms. The more people who get into a franchise, the more money that franchise makes. Fan works are like free advertisement, but user created and much more entertaining.
While there is no word yet on how FWAFU plans to protect fan content, the group is currently gathering its forces through a sign up sheet on their website. They are also leading a hashtag campaign to remove the stigma around fan work and prove how it can be beneficial. “Maybe a fic about Peeta’s delicious baked goods helped you imagine Katniss’s life after the Hunger Games, or perhaps a race-bent Hermione helped you picture a wizarding world that better reflects your own. Maybe you’re an artist who mastered brushwork doing Steven Universe sketches, or a writer who sharpened your skills penning stories about a young Kirk and Spock. Whatever your story, we want to know: what do fanworks mean to you?” asked the HPA in a recent subscribers email. Fans are encouraged to share their experience with fan work on social media with the hashtag #FanWorksTaughtMe. Some examples the group gives are “#FanWorksTaughtMe to think critically about my identity and how that is (or isn’t) reflected in the media,” and “#FanWorksTaughtMe how to play piano so I could make songs about my favorite books.” Tweets from around the globe are already rolling in.
You can find out more about this campaign at fanworksarefairuse.org.
Photos by The Harry Potter Alliance and Fan Works Are Fair Use. Video by Kristina Horner.