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Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 4 months ago




In 1992, prominent media scholar Henry Jenkins labeled media fans as "textual poachers." They don’t just passively consume media; they actively engage with it and make it their own. While the average person might make a point of being home on most Wednesday nights to watch Lost, the fan will be home every Wednesday night, with the VCR ready, remote in hand, and an Internet-connected computer not far away. The fan will discuss the episode with other fans. She will write stories based on the characters or the actors. She will create art using images from the show. She will write songs and edit music videos. She will create databases of information for other fans, and attend conventions thousands of miles away. She poaches a text created by others for her own uses … she seems destined for conflict with copyright law.


Fandom is not new. Fandom did not pop into existence with the Internet. Fans have been doing these things for years. They gathered in homes to watch and discuss their media texts. They wrote stories and photocopied them and mailed them to each other through the postal system. They drew pictures, composed songs, and used a two-VCR method to edit music videos. As always, they attended conventions thousands of miles away. Why does the Internet matter so much?


The Internet is a magnifying glass. What was once a cult activity has become fodder for market research. What used to occur in living rooms and mailboxes and hotel conference rooms has migrated to computer screens and servers and watchful corporate eyes. The innocent story starring Kirk and Spock that used to live in stapled together fanzines on a few bookshelves across the country now has seemingly eternal life on the World Wide Web. It resides an openly accessible server and catches the attention of COMPANY lawyers formerly unaware or uncaring of the inherent possible copyright violations. The Internet has made fandom easier in many ways, creating more mainstream access and faster communication; it has also shined a new, unwelcome spotlight on the questionable legal basis of many fan activities.



Why are such fan activities as these so problematic in terms of copyright?






All this fan activity was bound to show up on the radar screens of copyright holders once it began whizzing through cyberspace. Corporate reaction has ranged from attempts to “beat ‘em,” through legal action, to reappropriation of the fan aesthetic in a distinct “join ‘em” perspective.







Tim Wu of Slate magazine described the current climate as one of “tolerated use” rather than “fair use.” He defines the term as “use that is technically illegal, but tolerated by the owner because he wants the publicity,” and claims that “the industry is deeply conflicted about mild forms of piracy—trapped somewhere between its pathological hatred of ‘pirates’ and its lust for the buzz piracy can build."


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was formed to protect copyright holders from the onslaught of new and easier ways to appropriate media, but there appear to be instances where those holders don’t wish to be protected. They want fans to love their shows, movies, and books, and to purchase their own versions. They want fans to show these texts to other people and convince them to buy them, but they don’t want fans to make these texts available online. They want fans to engage with the texts and be excited by them, but not to use them creatively. They want fans to proselytize until they don’t want fans to proselytize.


As legislation and technology continue to evolve, so too will corporate policy regarding fan appropriation of media. There may never be a consensus on when the number of vids for a specific show on YouTube goes from helpful promotion to troublesome copyright infringement. Corporate lawyers will continue in their attempts to define that line, and fans will continue in their creative pursuits. Only time, and a precedent-setting court case, will tell who will come out on top.

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