I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Our MIT6 Conference Presentation: The Intellectual Property of Remix Culture

After a truly great time presenting about fan culture two years ago at MIT5: Creativity, Ownership, and Collaboration in the Digital Age, we presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media in Transition Conference — this year entitled MIT6: Stone and papyrus, storage and transition (MiT 6). While our conference summary is forthcoming, here is our presentation (originally entitled: The Intellectual Property of User-generated Content), though the full paper will be on the conference website:

Generators of remix culture create communities and content, making the intellectual property of others more valuable, but receive no compensation for their work that increases the value of another’s property, and receive little to no rights in what they have created or added. Our presentation focuses on a particular sub-set of user-generated content: derivative/ transformative works of creativity – such as music videos (or vidding), fan-fiction, fan-zines and websites – though it could be applied to any situation where there is tension between a corporate content owner and its audience about ownership of the “brand” usually due to concerns of degrading market value or anti-piracy.


So what do we mean when we talk about intellectual property? To greatly simplify, we are focusing on copyright and trademark. In the U.S, copyright attaches to works immediately, once a creative, intellectual, scientific, or artistic works is fixed in a tangible form — and exists for life of the creator plus 70 years. The right to create derivative works is given to the creators — but there is fair use that allows others to use copyrighted works. Trademarks are the “branding” imagery plus auxiliary content (Apple brand computers, Apple brand music providing network (iTunes), Apple brand symbol, etc.) — and require registration, can be kept forever, yet need to be protected to be kept. An additional complicating factor are licenses — either for use of specific intellectual property or for use of a platform, such as YouTube.

Henry Jenkins writes in Convergence Culture that

“American intellectual property law has been rewritten to reflect the demands of mass media producers–away from providing economic incentives for individual artists and toward protecting the enormous economic investments made in branded entertainment”


Those who are part of participatory culture are often not seeking compensation in traditional ways, yet are not just doing it for the LOLs. Viviana Zelizer discusses the social meaning of money in her same titled book:

“Money [according to some theorists] destroys, necessarily replacing personal bonds with calculative instrumental ties, corrupting cultural meanings with materialistic concerns…. Observers of commercialization in Western countries have thought they saw devastating consequences of money’s irresistible spread: the inexorable homogenation and flattening of social ties.

Money may not be what fans are seeking — instead recognition, credit, etc — but what are likely at the bare minimum to be seeking the ability to continue to participate. And continue to strengthening social ties in multiple ways — to each other, to the work, and to creators/owners.

LESSIG! (done in Khan style)

Laurence Lessig’s recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy discusses our present situation, includes a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. Therefore, our presentation is about both the successes and failures of hybrid economies and about how in order to get something of value, some measure of control over property needs to be loosened. Commodifying the value added by user-generated content varies greatly depending on who or what is determining the value. culture.

Tiziana Terranova also discusses the role of moral economy that discusses “free labor” found in fan participation:

“Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited….The fruit of collective cultural labor has been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices.

Firefly/Serenity (we have this section blogged here)

Harry Potter (we have a longer version of this section here)

Recently, J.K. Rowling won a case preventing the print publication of the Lexicon, a non-licensed encyclopedia of the Harry Potter universe. While barely mentioned during the trial, this case is not just about one book, but concerns the entire Harry Potter fan community.

The Lexicon was created as a online encyclopedia with a large number of fans helping to make the entries accurate. When Vander Ark signed his book deal, completely ignored were the countless fans that contributed and made the website a success. So the lawsuit was fight between the author and the compiler/host of a fan-created work. Yet the fans who have contributed to the Lexicon get neither money nor recognition of their contribution.

The longest mention of fans during the trial was by the publisher:

Q… if you win this case, out of the money that you receive, you don’t plan to give any of it to fans who submitted their work, their time, to submitting information from Ms. Rowling’s book to Mr. Vander Ark’s website, is that right?

Q. You’re going to give back money to the fans, is that what you’re saying?
A. If the book is successful, there’s a lot of possibilities.

Later, the judge said that the issue of fan payment/contribution was irrelevant:

Whether or not the fans contributed … is a side issue.

J.K. Rowling has always been supportive of the fan community surrounding her works, interceding on behalf of fanworks (she is however against fanworks that use underage characters in illegal physical situations). This case has led to a rift in the Harry Potter fan community, with the Leaky Cauldron (the most popular Harry Potter news-site/message-board) cutting all ties to the Lexicon.

A recent New York Times article, Public Provides Giggles; Bloggers Get the Book Deal, discusses how user input to websites, such as I Can Has Cheezburger? (book sold over 100,000 copies), has led to website owners receiving compensation while those that created value receive nothing:

the latest frenzy is over books that take the lazy, Tom Sawyer approach to authorship. The creators come up with a goofy or witty idea, put it up on a simple platform like Twitter and Tumblr, and wait for contributors to provide all of the content. The authors put their energy into publicizing the sites and compiling the best material.

Nowhere mentioned in the article is whether contributors receive recognition or compensation.

Star Wars

Star Wars is often talked about as a positive example — after all, there is a highly active fan community and a fanfilm contest. However, at present, Lucasfilm only allows for and takes control over certain types of fanworks — and zealously goes after those that do not fit their standards, even if those works arguably could be considered to be fair use.

Both Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture (2006) and Anne Elizabeth Moore in Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (2007) quote the same Lucasfilm exec, who said in the New York Times in 2002:

“We’ve been very clear all along where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.”

Moore describes the control Lucasfilm expects over the fandom as

It is an idealized brand environment that prohibits any potential negative, critical, or neutral comment.
…The Lucasfilm IP strategy, therefore, might read something like this: imitation is the sincerest, and only allowable, form of flatterry. Yet in practice, this narrow definition of fandom, while encouraging freedoms of certain speech, actively discourages others …[and] even punishes them. The strategy begins to look like a legally enforced suspension of critical engagement.”

Lessig says

A careful reading of Lucasfilm’s terms of use show that in exchange for the right to remix Lucasfilm’s creativity, the remixer has to give up all rights to what he produces. In particular, the remixer grants to Lucasfilm the “exclusive right” to the remix — including any commercial rights — for free. To any content the remixer uploads to the site, he grants to Lucasfilm a perpetual non-exclusive right, again including commercial rights and again for free.

The remixer is allowed to work, but the product of his work is not his. Put in terms appropriately (for Hollywood) over the top: The remixer becomes the sharecropper of the digital age.

Lucas is of course free, subject to “fair use,” to do whatever he wants with his creative work. The law of copyright grants him an exclusive right to “derivatives”; a remix is plainly a derivative. And it’s true that no one is forcing anyone to make a remix for free.

Nine Inch Nails (we have a shorter version of this section here)

Conversely, the band Nine Inch Nails and the musician behind it, Trent Reznor, has in recent years spearheaded novel approaches to user generated content that allows a symbiotic/collaborative relationship with fans and their work. It closely represents both the fundamental mindset of Open Source developer communities (distributed ownership) as well as adopting a model very similar to to the curious copyright culture in Japan, anmoku no ryokai, that allows derivative manga to be sold alongside their corporate-owned source. This approach won’t work for every corporate owner/creator, and it’s certainly not the only one, but it’s at least one current example of a hybrid.

NIN’s fanbase have had a traditional unusually interactive relationship with each other and with the band, serving as self-selected ambassadors and archivists for both official releases of the band and NIN fanworks:

NIN Historian: started in 2002, a fan run website that has documented memorabilia from live NIN shows from the bands inception.

NIN Remixes.com: an archive of fan-created remixes of Nine Inch Nails songs, which allows indivuals to upload their own work, and existed before Trent Reznor allowed his post – Interscope work to be distributed under a Creative Commons license. Remix.nin.com , started two years ago and exists alongside ninremixes.com, the fan run site that has existed for over 5 years. Universal Music group halted the launch of the “official” site

Year Zero ARG: As part of the Alternate Reality Game that accompanied YZ, three of the tracks were made available on flash drives ata couple of NIN shows. When the tracks were leaked on the internet, RIAA cracked down on the fans leaked tracks and remixes, even though the ARG campaign was officially condoned by Universal Music Group.

From Billboard:

“An RIAA representative confirms this, a move that boggles the minds of many. “These f*cking idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on,” the source says.”

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig) has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

In The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law Posner and Landes state that

“When several artists contribute to creating an integrated expressive work, it is efficient to vest copyright in one person [or company] and who better than the initiator and coordinator of the project?”

Posner and Landes continue

… [I]f a work is offered as a substitute for another work, then it takes away sales from the copied work. If the work is offered as criticism, it may take away sales too, but not by virtue of the copying– by virtue of the criticism, which should be permitted.”

The Ghosts example is certainly an argument against that statement. Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour. From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org:

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas:

By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Reznor, who even before the video leak, loosened up the video security at the the show, allowing fans to record their own footage. Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ‘04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ‘em All, that featured some fan-made video record during their early years. But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that embraces the open source/Creative Commons approach to fan-works and fair use that presumes a kind of perceived collective ownership of property. (A court would argue whether the derivative works of remixes and fan videos belong to Reznor or the fans, but there’s cultural perception within that particular community that the footage is owned collectively the fan community at large.)

Each party receives compensation from this sharing economy: NIN gets to leverage the enthusiasm of fans, who are willing to invest time and money to serve as free marketing ambassadors for the band, while fans recieve a product to consume free-of-charge.


We’re at a point now where more content/owners creators depending on social media/viral and word of mouth marketing to extend their reach and fans using technology and media tools to create increasingly sophisticated derivative works that conflate the role of media producer/consumer/owner/ambassador. Now, we’re seeing those worlds bump into each other. Current copyright law and culture hasn’t yet caught up to these advances in technology and culture. Pat Aufderheide mentioned at her presentation at MIT6 about a 20th century mindset to fair use being carried over into 21st century practice, and I think that’s what we are seeing here.There’s room here for scholars and practitioners to identify these “best (and worst) practices” of this hybrid economy model to replicate and to guide policy decisions, with more companies at least exploring the possibilities of adopting an approach that allows for a safe haven for fans/brand supporters/etc. to create content that would benefits all parties, and also allow users to edcate themselves on their own rights and responsibilities as media producers in this public sphere.

Laurence Lessig says that:

“there is a deep divide between those who believe that obsessive control is the hybrid’s path to profit … It is for the privilege of getting to remix … that these new creators are told they must waive any rights of their own. They should be happy with whatever they get (especially as most of them are probably “pirates” anyway).

A decade from now, [a controlling] Vaderesque [approach to remix culture] will look as silly as the advice lawyers gave the recording industry a decade ago. New entrants, not as obsessed with total control, will generate radically more successful remix markets. The people who spend hundreds of hours creating this new work will flock to places and companies where their integrity as creators is respected. As every revolution in democratizing technologies since the beginning of time has demonstrated, victory goes to those who embrace with respect the new creators….Businesses will have to think carefully about which terms will excite the masses to work for them for free. Competition will help define these terms. But if one more lawyer protected from the market may be permitted a prediction, I suggest sharecropping will not survive long as a successful strategy for the remixer.

Blogging May Not Be Dead But Live Journal Could Be

alivejournal2Uh-oh. According to Mashable, LiveJournal, of blogging’s old warhorses, is in some big financial trouble:

The company has reportedly laid off 20 of 28 employees, “leaving only a handful of finance and operations workers.”

As the Mashable article implies, MySpace and Facebook currently dominate when it comes to social media, and personal blogging is on the wane, for the most part. Most non-fandom oriented bloggers I know abandoned LJ for Blogger or TypePad years ago.

I joined LJ back in 1999-2000, mostly to follow specific fan communities that made a home there at the time, but even then I did my personal blogging on Blogger, and only kept up my LJ account to follow “Friends Only” accounts and communities like Oh No They Didn’t or Fandom Wank, when it was housed there. But blogging – and fandom activity – has certainly changed, much as it did when many e-mail discussion groups were abandoned for LJ in the early ’00’s.

LJ’s impending demise has been a long time in coming, I believe, considering the steady account erosion that started several years ago, and it certainly may have some correlation to the fans that abandoned LJ in the wake of “Strikethough/Boldthrough”, the primarily fan-community driven backlash was spurred by LiveJournal’s parent company, Six Apart, suspending user accounts deemed sexually explicit or “harmful to children.” Since a lot of fan-fiction writing communities (particularly the Harry Potter fanfic writers) were among the few that remained on LJ after the blogging masses moved on, Strikethrough was kind of the death knell for LJ, when those communities eventually moved on to open-source alternatives like GreatestJournal, insanejournal, JournalFen, etc., especially after Six Apart sold LJ to Russian software company SUP.

There’s a lot of contention about Six Apart/SUP and how the companies dealt with some of their most dedicated consumers – fangirls, for the most part. But regardless of that, with the fluid migration of social media audiences and fan communities being a constant, I think the eventual decline of LJ was inevitable.

Lexicon of not fair use: The Decision in the Harry Potter Lawsuit

After many months, Judge Patterson issued an opinion (PDF) in the Harry Potter Lexicon case, ruling that the Lexicon, could not be published and ordered a payment of $6,750 for copyright violation.

The part of the decision based on fair use states

The fair-use factors, weighed together in light of the purposes of copyright law, fail to support the defense of fair use in this case. The first factor does not completely weigh in favor of Defendant because although the Lexicon has a transformative purpose, its actual use of the copyrighted works is not consistently transformative. Without drawing a line at the amount of copyrighted material that is reasonably necessary to create an A-to-Z reference guide, many portions of the Lexicon take more of the copyrighted works than is reasonably necessary in relation to the Lexicon’s purpose. Thus, in balancing the first and third factors, the balance is tipped against a finding of fair use. The creative nature of the copyrighted works and the harm to the market for Rowling’s companion books weigh in favor of Plaintiffs. In striking the balance between the property rights of original authors and the freedom of expression of secondary authors, reference guides to works of literature should generally be encouraged by copyright law as they provide a benefit readers and students; but to borrow from Rowling’s overstated views, they should not be permitted to “plunder” the works of original authors [], “without paying the customary price” [], lest original authors lose incentive to create new works that will also benefit the public interest [].

So what I think? Overall, this decision will not hurt non-commercial fan works, but one should be careful before commercializing works or using too much of the source material.

As I discussed previously, the exclusion of mentions of fan labor and fan contribution is unfortunate. However, there are helpful nuggets for those who are engaged in fanworks, for example, the Lexicon was found not to be a derivative work — meaning that it recast the story of Harry Potter in a way that no longer made it the same as the work of J.K. Rowling:

altering the original aesthetic of the Harry Potter series from an intricate narrative to an alphabetized catalogue of elements from the Harry Potter world.

Overall, the decision gives a distinct impression that if one is to base a work on that of another, it should be of high quality — and that means not too much direct copying:

The Lexicon’s verbatim copying of such highly aesthetic expression raises a significant question as to whether it was reasonably necessary for the purpose of creating a useful and complete reference guide…. Verbatim copying of this nature demonstrates Vander Ark’s lack of restraint due to an enthusiastic admiration of Rowling’s artistic expression, or perhaps haste and laziness as Rowling suggested …, in composing the Lexicon entries.

So be careful about the aesthetic quality of your next fanfic or fanart !11!!

Our Law and Society Conference Presentation: The Intellectual Property and Political Economy of Fanworks and other forms of user-generated content

Main points

1. As media consumers become amateur media producers with an (at least perceived) economic stake in a media production, it has become more important for scholars to examine the legal and public policy implications of these fan productions and the communities that create them.

2. Communications theory that has informed most political economy/legal scholarship is based around the traditional “magic bullet” model of one-step communications flow, that a single media owner sends a message to an intended receiver who consumes the message.

3. Traditional legal models of intellectual property do not properly address a two-step model of communication and how user-generated content works in new and emerging media. (ex. What happens if Second Life went bankrupt, many people would lose much of their intellectual property, because the creations only have value in Linden dollars.)

4. Both communications studies and legal studies scholarship should expand its reception to a more interactive view of media communications, and user generated content. While fans are not “exploited” for their labor in the traditional sense of the term. Fans are freely participating in these productions; however, the economic benefit is largely one-sided.


Recently there has been considerable corporate media content owners’ backlash against “user generated content” on the Internet – content created primarily by Internet users rather than media production companies. In the past few years, social networking websites such as YouTube and My Space have made it easier for regular individuals to create and distribute their own entertainment media. A notable example of this is based in fan communities, where individuals create fan videos and other media content to share with fellow fans. As a result, media owners have retaliated by sending cease-and-desist orders to fan websites and ordering websites such as YouTube, that host such content.

By altering and policing fans’ interaction and use of media, media owners are protecting copyrights and trademarks at the expense of the fan communities that support their media products. Media owners and fan communities are involved in a symbiotic relationship — both relying on each other for their survival. In addition, media consumers are becoming more aware of the issues and consequences surrounding user generated content and ownership. As a result, it is imperative for media scholars to equally consider two now intertwined and until recently schools of media studies together (John Fiske’s cultural studies approach and McChesney’s political economy approach) with the study of intellectual property to best understand our complex relationship with media.

On the cable television program, The Colbert Report, actor Stephen Colbert plays “Stephen Colbert,” a pompous and self-important conservative pundit. Imitating conservative pundits such as Colbert deliberately attempts to foster and rally his fanbase, calling them the “Colbert Nation” repeatedly on the show.

Colbert has gone so far as to call upon the Colbert Nation to actively interact and engage with the media, by changing entries on Wikipedia based on the Colbert-created terms of truthiness (belief in something determined by emotion, devoid of evidence or fact) and wikiality (truth by consensus). Colbert told his audience to change Wikipedia’s elephants page to add the untrue statement that the number of elephants has tripled in the last six months, leading to multiple Wikipedia sites being changed within hours of the show’s airing.

Colbert showed a video of himself fighting with a lightsaber in front of a green screen and then challenged amateur filmmakers to edit and add to it, later showing their results on his show, including the second place finisher of the Green Screen challenge, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars (and the lightsaber). Based on the success of the first competition, Colbert launched a second Green Screen challenge.

However, the most effective campaign launched to date by Colbert and the Colbert Nation was winning a online poll regarding naming a Hungarian bridge after Stephen Colbert, Colbert told his fans over August 2006 to vote by going to a website completely in Hungarian. On September 14, 2006, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States, András Simonyi even appeared on the Colbert Report. In spite of the fact that the real Colbert is not fluent in Hungarian or dead, essential requirements, the bridge would have been named after Colbert, due to the actions of fans.

Members of the “Colbert Nation” have posted many clips of the Colbert Report, and their own entries in the Greenscreen Challenge to YouTube. In response, YouTube and fans received takedown notices claiming the clips violate copyright sent by Viacom, the Colbert Report’s corporate owner, thereby removing an unknown number of clips. Fans were outraged – and even “Colbert” said “I was pretty worried about the removal of our clips; I was worried that it was going to hurt you, the heroes.”

In a similar example, after the Firefly television show was canceled, to promote the sequel movie, Serenity, the corporate owners courted fans to promote the venture, leading fans to create websites and merchandise expressing their support – then turned their backs abruptly on fans. After the television show Firefly was cancelled, its fans rallied to support efforts by its creator, Joss Whedon, to turn the show into a movie, Serenity. According to Henry Jenkins, the Firefly/Serenity fanbase is extraordinarily strong – “it had one of the most committed fan bases in media history and they would have followed Whedon anywhere.”). (For a timeline for Firefly/Serenity see here.)

Universal, the corporate owner, used viral marketing techniques to market the television DVD and movie release, “consolidat[ing] and mobiliz[ing] … [the] relatively large cult following existing relatively untapped across several fan sites, according to Affinitive, the word-of-mouth marketers hired by Universal. Affinitive states that “Universal was able to create a community around the release of Serenity that harnessed the power of a large member base that exceeded the most optimistic of expectations” – primarily through a website and messageboard (now dead – was at http://browncoats.serenitymovie.org/)

Fans, acting as fans often do, had created websites, and fanworks – including fanart and merchandise, but in this case, these efforts were not tacitly accepted, their efforts were directly encouraged by the corporate owners. Fans “were encouraged to form regional groups to promote the film and perform activities that would help generate word of mouth, like creating bumper stickers and gift cards to accompany the DVD release.”

After creating the grassroots/ viral campaign around Serenity with official approval, fans were sent cease and desist letters claiming they have violated corporate copyrights and trademarks.

One of the fans receiving a letter, 11th hour, was faced with threats to close down her site and pay an $8,500 retroactive licensing fee within 72 hours, subsequently pulled. Finding the requirement from the cease and desist letter that she “permanently cease and desist from the advertising, promoting, marketing, sale or distribution of any products bearing or referring to Universal Property’” ironic, she says that

“Guess that could be seen as Universal telling me to stop guerilla marketing too. Good job Universal, can’t be having a loose cannon [sic] like me running around promoting Serenity. Think of the damage that could do.”

In response, many Browncoats [Firefly/Serenity fans] got to thinking about just how many hours they spent on helping to market and promote Serenity, in essence with the tacit agreement of Universal Pictures, if not their outright official encouragement and created an invoice response for “Billable Fan-hours: 28,030” with an “Amount Due: $2,102,250.”

The creators of the invoice see this as a “way to make both the specific point about Browncoat marketing for Serenity and the more general point about the relationship between producers of entertainment and their increasing (and knowing) reliance in the 21st century on fanbases to help promote that entertainment.”

Another open letter to Universal stated “When Serenity was being marketed there was constant encouragement from Universal for innovative viral marketing by fans, and that sort of interactivity drove us to new heights of resourcefulness and dedication. … We understand your position, we really do. But it appears obvious that you don’t understand us, and that makes a difference. A large part of why this property and its licenses remain valuable is due to the efforts of the fans. Just talk to us. We’ll listen. You don’t have to yell.”

In response to Universal’s actions, Firefly/Serenity fans have not stopped being part of the fandom – but they are finding more unique ways to market their items or have stopped selling their fan-made items entirely.

However, the Universal/Firefly/Serenity situation is far from the only example of a corporate owner sending mixed signals to fans recently. According to Molly Chase, Executive Producer of New Media Department, Cartoon Network, though her department decided to place information on YouTube to help fans create their own commercials, the legal department sent out cease and desist letters. In an important moment of honesty, Chase said, “Putting the content out there consciously is something we want to do, but we have to communicate that very well internally.” If corporations can’t even figure out what their position is on fan use, why should fans or the public be the ones that pay?

As mass media rapidly becomes more democratic, the role of consumer and producer are rapidly conflating and the issues that once were the sole concern of media professionals have now become the issue of non-professional media creators as well.

While communications theories of political economy and cultural studies both tend to lean toward the one-way model of communication theory, with media corporations as primary producers of media. Therefore, it becomes imperative to study the cultural and well as the public policy implications of this new hybrid of consumer and fan.

Manga Nation

Orignally posted in my other blog “Enjoy and Exciting”

I have a subscription to Wired because of my Mediabistro paid membership, and I have to say, I love it. Sometimes it’s a bit too fanboy for me. (Hey editors, chicks read Wired, too!) But it’s really many of the things I love, popular science, soft technology, underground geek culture, all in one magazine. And delivered in a clear, informative, non-snarky way, which is key, since too many publications these days are heavy on snark, low on information.

There’s a fantastic article about manga (japanese comics) and dojinshi (japanese amateur comics, usually based on existing popular manga) and it’s the first magazine article I’ve read that goes beyond limited perceptions of dojinshi among those who know of it in the U.S. — i.e. it’s all fan-fiction, it’s all pornographic. But also the author delves into the even more fascinating (and very peculiar) copyright culture in Japan that allows the sometimes-derivative work to be sold freely alongside its source.

Without getting too much into it (the article does a much better job) it’s not exactly legal, but it’s essentially a live-and-let-live consumer culture,where the content owners assume that fan interest and activity will increase, not decrease, interest in the original work. Its the same perspective employed by musical artists that permit fans to remix their songs, only with manga, it’s industry-wide. Of course now that manga is becoming more of an international cash cow, maybe we’ll see the underground trade of dojinshi become more regulated by U.S. manga distributors.

I don’t exactly how that works. Or if it will work. But after several years of having the discussion go on in fandom circles, I am glad to see it getting some mainstream coverage, because its a small part of a larger issue about copyright reform that anyone who works in a creative industry will have a stake in.