This is a PDF of a paper written by Rebecca Tushnet, whom some of you may remember from her fandom advocacy. It looks dense–it’s a law paper!–but, despite the typesetting, it’s actually quite an easy and interesting read on the current way media companies are attempting to subvert fair use with seemingly-user-friendly licensing. Tushnet looks at three services in particular: Getty Images’ new embed thingie, Google’s Content ID, and Kindle Worlds.
Of these services, Tushnet writes:
The aim is not just to put the genie of frictionless copying back into the bottle, but also to make it start granting copyright owners’ wishes. As a result, certain themes will recur in my discussion: the systems’ abilities to suppress uses deemed unacceptable by copyright owners; their expansive and potentially invasive data collection; and their concentrating effect on markets for expressive works.
The whole paper is a little longer than your average blog post, but it’s definitely worth a read, particularly for anyone either in fandom or with a fandom, and particularly particularly the section on Kindle Worlds versus fanfic. Tushnet is scathing of Kindle Worlds, quoting an earlier paper by Abigail De Kosnik in describing the service as “the moment when an outsider takes up a subculture’s invention and commodifies it for the mainstream before insiders do”, and taking it to task for using “the language of control and exploitation”.
Fanfic communities in general tend to push back hard against the notion of commercialising the culture, and Tushnet touches on several potential explanations as to why. She also has the Obligatory 50 Shades Reference. It’s worth noting, for outsiders, that the Twilight fandom which spawned that book is notorious in broader fandom communities for being a bit of an island. A lot of Twilight fans are “one fandom” fans, without broader exposure to fandom as a whole, and there’s even an argument as to whether they’re really “Twilight fans” at all or simply a community of romance readers who happen to’ve connected over that one particular series.
Media fandom can be just as exclusionary and insular as any other community, so whether you feel Twilight and 50 Shades and p2p in general represent disruption or usurpation or innovation (or some combination of all three) to The Way We’ve Always Ficced is up to you. But I think it would be hard to deny they’ve had some influence; if it weren’t for Twilight we wouldn’t have 50 Shades, and if it weren’t for 50 Shades we wouldn’t have Kindle Worlds.
There’s gold in them there fandom hills, in other words, and sometimes it seems that everyone wants a piece of it except the ficcers themselves…