Vision of a Fan Works Economy

Last time we talked about the Studio/Publisher side of the new marketplace.  Last year, Clive from Fan Cinema Today and I went back and forth about the merits and flaws of Creative Commons system in Dream of a Fandom Economy and Fan Works and Creative Commons.

The Importance of Fan Works

The Studios/Publishers have to understand that they do not own the media franchises like they used to.  If they allow their fans to have a sense of ownership over franchises under their care, we will feel a greater sense of responsibility for the future of the franchise.  Fan works are the strongest way fans connect with the franchises they love.

The amount of time it takes to produce a fan work ties the fan to the franchise.  Lately, the best trailers for many films have been fan made, not to mention the T-shirts, posters, and desktops.  The problem is the studios/publishers have not found a way to bring in the fan works in a way that benefits them and the fans.

The studios/publishers need to license their works in such a way that fans understand what they can do and how.

Licensing Fan Works

A license like this is important for both the studio/publishers and the fans.  What would this offer the studio/publishers?

  • They empower their fans to give them free promotion through derivative fan works.
  • They allow their fan base to become more involved with their franchises which will allow them to become more involved and deeper connected to the original work.
  • By allowing their fans to produce derivative works, they are able to fill in the gaps between releases at no cost to them.
  • They increase their footprint which will help them to convert more casual readers/viewers into fans.  An increased fan base will increase sales.
  • With fans providing them free advertising, they will be able to focus their efforts more on content than marketing.

Fans would benefit from this approach nearly as much as the copyright holder.

A Fan Works Economy

Towards a Fan Works License

I approached the Creative Commons Foundation with a proposal for a Fan Works License:

Some of the rights holders I have talked to are reluctant to use the CC because they are concerned they are giving up too many rights to their works.  A Fan Works License would allow rights holders to clearly state what they will allow others to do with their characters, content, and settings.

It would be a bit more complicated than a standard CC, stating whether others may make original text, video, music, or art projects based on their works.  It would also allow them to set the content rating they would allow fan works to have.  This could be aligned with the MPAA ratings or the ESRB ratings system or an original system.  The reason for this is so a young adult novelist could set a max rating of PG-13, allowing others to know what standards they would apply to determine whether a fan work is legitimate or not.

The other terms would be the same as in the standard CC.

You may not think something like this is necessary, but the current state of fan works is hazy.  While few have been sued in the last couple years, at any time, rights holders could decide to start suing again.  By creating a license that covers works with the same characters and settings rather than a particular book or movie, I believe we could get more rights holders to use the license to allow for the creation of fan works, which is a step on the road to open up works to the commons.

They responded with a simple, “CC probably isn’t going to be expanding the license offerings, and in fact, over the past few years CC has been reducing the number of licenses.”

This type of license may not be the best, and it is by no means the only way to move forward, but it is the best way to end the tyranny of copyright and by showing the fans that they are a part of the franchise.

The d20 Model

One alternative is for the studio/publishers to institute something like the d20 License.  The d20 License allowed registered participants who followed the strict rules to produce for profit tie-ins to Wizards of the Coasts' games.  Rights, responsibilities, and penalties were clearly laid out.

Wizards made money by requiring that the licensed works refer back to their works and not retell certain aspects of the setting and system.

This is not the best solution, but it is one that has already been tried.

An Improved Music Licensing Model

The music industry allows for music to be licensed through an overly expensive but easy to use system.  The studios/publishers could attach a licensing fee and rules for each possible use of the material, then they could earn a royalty and the fan work can be made.

The Best Solution

The best solution is probably one that has not been developed yet, but it won't if we don't start the conversation now and keep it going until the answer is found.

The market in all forms of media will not be restored until the studios/publishers and the fans are brought back into balance in a way that is mutually beneficial and forward looking.

Next on the agenda, Fandom Strikes Back!