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Characters Belong to their Fans, Not their Creators

In this heavily debated world of Intellectual Property rights and their seemingly direct conflict with consumer creative expression, it has become my belief that the rights to fictional characters or worlds become property of their fans rather than the traditional rights holder as soon as they become popular. Content owners, instead, should have claim only to the franchise/series and canonical story-line.

Fictional people, places and sometimes things assume an existence in the minds of the consumers separate from the created work, obtaining a "life" of their own. This is exhibited when fans are inspired to create fan-fiction stories and artwork about a particular character, or even to create an amateur video mini-series set within an existing fictional universe. Motivated by passion alone, creative fans produce high quality content for the enjoyment of their fellows, completely free of charge.

These people are not committing malicious infringements on the intellectual property of the show or book series that they adore: On the contrary, they aim to celebrate it by contributing their creativity and talents!

And yet modern "common sense" regards these individuals as criminals, people to be sought out and intimidated by large companies who can afford expensive lawyers and write legally-backed Cease and Desist letters. These fans have neither the resources nor reason to take on such corporate bullying, and as a result most back down (arguably denying every fan and the series as a whole valuable creative works).

With both parties believing themselves to be correct, and with presumably no malicious intentions on either side, where is the disconnect? Obviously, consumers value their beloved series, and can even cause quite an outcry when the "rightful owner" takes it in a direction destructive to the fan perception (as seen in the Jar Jar Binks/Hans Shot First outcries), so are not the fans the true curators?

(This post is about nonprofit derivative works only)

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    Feb 12 2013: I'm thinking particularly of Bill Watterson's efforts to curtail unlicensed use of Calvin and Hobbes images. He insisted that the way the images were being used violated the spirit of his original work, and declined to create official merchandise because of the same concern, but the unauthorized images are still pretty ubiquitous. It seems to me that fans are going to do what they wish with your character, and that controlling the image isn't necessarily the right approach.
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    Feb 11 2013: characters do not belong to anyone.
    • Feb 11 2013: As a matter of fact, some copyrights do include the names of characters and, thereby, their creators do own them. However, the essence of a character belongs to no one. This is why I believe that a creative should not be criticized for creating a similar character and be attacked by another creative who believes that character is too much like one they created.
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        Feb 11 2013: ah, sorry. i was phrasing my point in line with the title, "characters belong to fans". which i suppose means they should belong to fans, and not the creators, as of now. my point is, characters should not belong to anyone. they are not objects to be owned, but concepts that can not be owned. any sort of intellectual "property" is in fact a government issued monopoly over a concept that has no place in a moral legal system.
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    Feb 13 2013: Cameron, you may be interested in the current discussion going on via Al Jazeera about the social.cultural/political effects of various fandom constituencies.
    • Feb 14 2013: Yes, I would be very interested! Could you private message me the link, or post it here? Thank you!
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        Feb 14 2013: You are almost certainly more tech-savvy than I am. Go to the site for Al Jazheera and look.

        I will do the same and see if I can find you something useful, but I bet you will figure out first how to participate. It might involve Twitter.

        Start here:
        • Feb 14 2013: Wonderful, thank you Fritzie! I am very much looking forward to reading this. ^_^
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    Feb 12 2013: RE: "I would like to point out. . . "
    Actually Mr. Rogers, my example of remaking The African Queen was meant to allow only the changes I mentioned with all other details of the original film copied directly into the remake. That would be a travesty I believe. It should go without saying that if the new film bears no significant resemblance to the original then there is no problem.
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    Feb 11 2013: So long as I don't do it for profit it's OK with you if I remake the movie The African Queen and portray Humphrey Bogart as a child-molesting Nazi sympathizer who tricks Kathryn Hepburn into becoming a streetwalker to support his opium habit? You don't think the original author has any right to protest? Am I understanding your proposal?
    • Feb 11 2013: As long as the title isn't the exact same and, therefore, claiming to be something it is not, I would say yes, that is exactly what is being proposed. The issue as I see it is that when someone makes a derivative work that is equal to or better than the original in terms of quality, it should be allowed to have its place on the market rather than being shot down because the original creator is afraid of losing market share in whatever field the creatives in question belong to.
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        Feb 11 2013: If that is true then I say characters (actually the monies generated from their depiction) belong to their originator and infringement should be punishable by law.
        • Feb 12 2013: I would like to point out the works under consideration here are, as mentioned on the last line of the original post, "nonprofit derivative works only", which should be interpreted as no "monies generated".

          Nonetheless, to respond to your original question, yes! It is my belief that, despite the questionable quality or vision behind the film you have described, such a work would be so heartily different from it's source or inspiration material that it would constitute another work entirely and not an example of intellectual property theft. Whoever --whatever--the new film had become, it would be entirely different from the original.

          If this uncanny movie garners a vast following, then it's creators and the new fans have every right to enjoy themselves. Alternatively, (and the more likely of the two in this scenario), the film will fade into obscurity and the derivative work's creative interpretation of existing characters would go as well.