Pride and Prejudice on Facebook (or, of Fanfiction and Copyright)

I found this delightful piece a few weeks ago and wanted to share it. It is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice retold through Facebook statuses, events, and tags.

Here is a sample:

Exerpt from Pride and Prejudice on facebook
Excerpt from Pride and Prejudice on Facebook

The whole thing is like that, a mix of Facebook events, statuses, and tagged letters.

It’s cute; but is it legal?

The above is a great example of original fanfiction. It is innovative, interesting to read, and well written. Because Jane Austen’s works are all out of copyright, and thus in the public domain, this work should be legal. But something similiar, say, about the characters of “Rent”, might not be legal. Perhaps it would be covered under fair use (fair use is simply, legal unauthorized use of a copyrighted work); but perhaps not. Fair use has been steadily neutered in the past century and is currently a hard defense to make. But more on that later.

It’s rough for a me, as a fan and intellectual property geek, to discuss fanfiction. Much of it clearly violates the intent of copyright (that is, it wrests control a world away from its original creator). Some of it is probably original enough to warrant fair use protection (the above is a great example of original fan work). Much of it is not.

Under the popular modern economic defense of copyright (ie, that the purpose of copyright is to allow authors to profit from their work as long as possible) fanfiction should not be a violation*. I would argue that, as upset as Disney’s writers might get to read fics where Jack Sparrow and Will Turner are paired romantically, it does them no harm economically. No one will read Jack/Will fics rather than buy the DVD of PotC (Pirates of the Caribbean), and a fan unfamiliar with that PotC may become hooked on the series after reading a fic based on it.

Anime creators have long seen the economic benefits of fan-art, fanfiction, and, especially, AMVs. I was shocked to learn that the AMV (Anime Music Video) competitions held at fanime were sanctioned by the copyright holders of the animes shown. They treat AMVs, fanfiction and fan-art as free advertising, and encourage fans to spread their love of that Anime (be it Trigun, Full Metal Alchemist, or Sailor Moon).

I can’t imagine Disney (or Metallica for that matter) permitting a fan to remix Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Metallica’s “Die, Die, My Darling”. But that is what some fan has done here:

It should be noted that both Disney and Metallica are (in?)famous for aggressively defending their copyrighted works. Metallica was instrumental in the demonization of Napster, while Disney’s advocation of progressively longer copyright terms has lead to many intellectual property geeks nick-naming the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

I still enjoy reading fanfiction, and have several friends who write it. It is time that their legal status got cleared up, and the fair use defenses of their writings get better defended.

*Note that this definition of copyright is different from the one given above, which is about the intellectual control of an author over her property, not her economic benefit.

Inspirational Quote:

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
— Philip Pullman

PS: I just found this amazing video on Fair Use. It uses snippets from Disney to explain copyright, fair use and the public domain. So. Good.

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