Fan fiction — the term conjures up images of badly written and poorly thought-out stories. The common perception is that fan fiction doesn’t count as actual creation because the creator is taking the ideas of another. While most fan fiction only rises to a mediocre level, there are a rare few that are actually quite good. Fan fiction is a boon for creators as well.
So what counts as fan fiction? According to dictionary.com, fan fiction is “a fictional account written by a fan of a show, movie, book or video game to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored via the originating medium.” Most fan fiction exists in written, online form, but several other forms exist as well. Some fan fictions are actually published.
“Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Firefly” and “Lord of the Rings,” to name a few, have published works connected to them that were written as fan fiction. There are even brand new franchises born from works of fan fiction. “Predator” originally began as a joke sequel to “Rocky IV” and “Mortal Kombat” was an attempt to make the world’s first good movie-to-video game adaptation using Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movie “Blood Sport.”
With the exception of these published works, legal problems often come up in regards to fan fiction. This has been happening frequently with a new type of fan fiction known as abridged series.
An abridged series shortens an episode of an anime to roughly five minutes and puts a comedic spin on it. It puts the content in a more YouTube-friendly format and makes the episodes shorter and more viewable on a timely basis. It can also create its own storyline and canon loosely based on the original. The comedy is achieved by fans dubbing over the original’s animation. The most famous versions of this phenomenon are “Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged” and “Dragon Ball Z Abridged.”
Since an abridged series parodies an anime by editing and dubbing it, the original episodes of the anime are used. They need a lot of material to achieve their desired goals. According to the Stanford University Library, Fair Use for the purposes of parody allows the third party “fairly extensive” use of the copyrighted material. Without this access to a large amount of material, the parody wouldn’t resemble the original.
While there is a legal defense against copyright infringement, it doesn’t work well against YouTube’s system of restoring flagged videos. Often, when a video is flagged, it’s hard to figure out who flagged it. Sometimes the television producer is blamed when there are other reasons for a video being taken down or a channel removed.
For instance, it was thought that 4Kids Animation, owner of merchandising and TV rights to “Yu-Gi-Oh!” at the time, had it out for the “Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged” series, as the videos were being pulled off of YouTube. In reality, 4Kids wasn’t behind the removal at all. According to content from the show and interviews with the creator, LittleKuriboh, YouTube users flagged “Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged” videos. LittleKuriboh didn’t get sued when he put the same content up on his own site instead.
Even if fan fiction creators seem to violate copyright, the form in which they do it is beneficial to the original creator. Let’s Play videos demonstrate this well. A Let’s Play is a YouTube video showing a screen captured video of a gaming session wherein the player provides commentary over what is happening. In the case of both Let’s Play videos and abridged series, a third party is putting out copyrighted information on the Internet.
The difference between Let’s Play videos and an abridged series is that Let’s Play creators get endorsements, while Abridged series creators tend to get shut down. Let’s Play videos are considered good advertising — what better way of saying people are playing a game and having fun than videos showing people doing just that?
I do concede that if a YouTube user posts a work that is not theirs, like an episode or a song, that violates copyright. However, the law also says that commentary and parody are protected forms of content. While the original creator deserves his dues, going after fans for expressing their appreciation is detrimental to the original creator’s success.
Patrick White is a junior in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to [email protected]