Fandom. Let’s talk about copyright and that cunning hat.

jayne-hat

 

Copyright and the fandom have never been great friends. I understand, some of my favorite things in the fandom are not-technically allowed. Things like fanfiction, fan art, fanvids etc. These things expand our fandom, bring new fans in and, in general, keep the fandom alive. I know all this, it’s a fantastic thing to play in someone else’s universe. Especially if it’s a universe we all love.

But, let’s face it, it’s someone else’s universe.

And for me, as a writer myself, I’m fine with not profiting and creating. I’ve written fanfiction. I’ve made fanvids. I’ve knitted TARD– I mean police box scarves.

But then there’s some people who do profit off of their wares. And, for the most part I’m fine with that too. I’ve bought those things that aren’t available anyway else. These folks create things that other people want.

But then, finally, the license holder comes by with a product that fans have been making and selling themselves. And, inevitably the cease and desist letters go out.┬áThe fandom then brings out the pitchforks and fire. After all, they didn’t like the license holder at all. Personally, I wish we’d just stop jumping to the mass angry mob and think about this:

A writer, somewhere created a universe. In the case of the latest debacle, the writer is Joss.

Now Joss (and his ilk) make their living off selling their ideas. Firefly, for example.

The money that Joss and his family lives off of, the money that he uses to create new things (like filming a Shakespeare movie at his house), the money that keeps him going to create new things comes from the business of selling his ideas to a company. Be the company bad, scary or indifferent – that’s the business.

Now the company has created a product that a fan is selling. For kicks, lets call it an autumn knit cap. Their investment in Joss’ idea is going to be returning them a profit so they can go out and buy more ideas. Yet, the return on their investment is going to be smaller because people are buying the an autumn knit cap elsewhere.

But! The fan selling autumn knit caps protests. I’m just a small seller, only sold ten this year. That can’t harm anyone.

Yes, but you’re one of many fans selling autumn knit caps. And, with a franchise as small as this one (this ain’t no Mad Men, let’s just agree), combined all of the sellers can eat up a good chunk of the market for an autumn knit cap.

So what does that mean? Means that the officially licensed autumn knit caps are now less profitable and less desirable of an investment.

The investment, in the eyes of the company, was already kind of a loss (again, lets not get into the goodness or badness of said company, just saying how they may perceive it). And now this band of cunning hat sellers is making their investment even less profitable. That doesn’t just hurt the company, it hurts the scores of small business owners who work on the officially licensed cunning hat or who try and sell the officially licensed cunning hat.

But it hurts me too! the fan seller might say. Yes, I understand that, but you have to understand that you did not put the investment into the idea of Firefly. You did not (as some great companies out there) get official license. So, therefore, your idea of selling an iconic cunning hat while harmless at first (when no one was making officially licensed cunning hats) was a great one, but not technically legal.

But it’s just a hat, this kind of hat has been made for years before Firefly even existed! Knit caps, yes. So did cowboy westerns. But the minute the color, the order of the colors, the hat and the show came together it became iconic and uniquely Firefly. The hat was designed by Shawna as part of her work for said company. It belongs to said company and it’s license holders. Sadly, it doesn’t belong to fans (hey, I wish it did).

I sympathize with the sellers who were doing good works to get the cunning hat out to the ‘Verse. I know it’s out of love for a series that we all are bonded to in a way that defies logic and understanding. But I don’t think we can pitch a fit when our quasi-legal fanwork gets shut down, especially if we’re making money off it. I think we threaten the system of the shows and books and movies we want getting made if we can’t respect the license holder.

The cunning hat is just one example. Other fandoms and their ilk have similar problems. You can’t stop fan made things, people will find ways around it… I just like of the idea of not frothing at the mouth everytime a C&D letter is sent.

Also, support officially licensed products – they’re the equivalent to voting for your favorite shows to exist or your next favorite shows to get made.

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