Fancraft: A Copyright Headache

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you know that I used to write fan fiction, and now I support and encourage fancraft as a means of learning and being part of a community of practice. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, because I don’t normally encourage violating copyright, and that’s exactly what fancraft is. Yes, creators and copyright holders tend to look the other way where fancraft and copyright are concerned, but ultimately those who create fancrafts, regardless of the medium, are violating the copyright holder’s rights, specifically where questions of derivative work and commercialization are involved.

All fancraft is derivative work. Regardless of whether painstakingly recreating every detail of a costume for cosplay, writing fan fiction incorporating one or more fandoms, or producing videos that involve clips, the fancrafter is violating the copyright holder’s exclusive right to create derivative works. In some cases (and those mashup cosplayers are getting out of control…in very entertaining ways sometimes), fancrafters are creating amazing derivative works that really engage with the property. In others, fancrafters are exploring seams between properties as they mash them together. In some cases, the fancrafter is just recreating or responding to the original property. Sometimes, they’re transforming their understanding and relationship with the property, taking their viewers along for the ride.

Some fancrafters sell their derivative works. Remember, commercialization of a copyrighted property is a right granted solely to the copyright holder. Some copyright holders do not support commercialized fancraft, and let the fancrafters know…sometimes in unfriendly, legal ways. Some are fine with it, to the point they see it as a flattering response to their work and the property. There are cases, more and more, where arrangements are made to allow fancrafters to legally create and profit from their fancraft.

There are some fancrafts, usually limited to fanzines, blogs, and videos, that actually fall under Fair Use. These writers, bloggers, vloggers, and satirists are utilizing some part of the copyrighted material to report on, criticize, or conduct research. However, even this is a rocky ledge with a lot of loose rocks. It’s a short step from utilizing almost too much of the original in your satirical criticism to profiting from your work.

So…long story short: Except in situations where a copyright holder has given explicit permission, fancraft is the most amazing copyright violation. Practice with pride….and extreme caution.

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