A Need for Copyright Evolution

Many believe the theory, “There is no such thing as an original idea”. When you think of all the things that have molded and developed your creative mind, where do movies, music, and new forms of digital media rank? I know we have all experienced adapted works and remakes whether it is Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman, so how can we create in a new digital age which inhibits our creativity? We now live in a time where nearly everyone is creating, posting, collaborating, remixing with other artists, friends, and strangers. In this participatory culture however, we are stifled by outdated copyright laws.

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When examining fan fiction, there are many people creating their own renditions of famous works. They are making their own new stories and spoofs stemming from the original source. Many cross over into other genres, stories, and characters which can literally range from Musicals to Anime. The freedom of expression usually tends to be encouraged, however the line is very blurred between what is acceptable, and what is not. You would imagine that as long as you were not claiming the works as your own, using it professionally, or offensively (which is subjective), then the source would not have an issue. However, writers like Anne Rice do not allow fan fiction of her characters whatsoever, while J.K. Rowling is permissive. The work has to fit a certain criteria in order to be considered “fair use” which can limit creative transformations of new stories. As an artist, it is important to protect your material, but where do we draw the line? Gasser and Ernst analyze the broad term “Derivative use” – which is an understandable theory, you are obviously not going to allow someone to take your work as theirs, but the term still seems vague. If we weren’t allowed to be influenced from other stories and ideas, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare’s plays or poems. I mean, how many good stories are we missing out on for Disney’s overly strict copyright laws over their characters and fairy tales?

In addition to writing fan fiction, there have also been examples of combining different genres of music or movies and creating mashups. Music mashup makers are easily obtainable on sites such as masher.com and looplabs so anyone with basic knowledge of mixing can create something new using work from another artist. Supposedly, as long as the adaptation is not literally copying the original, used commercially, claimed as an original creation, or used “offensively”, then it’s acceptable. Who determines how different it needs to be, or whether it’s fair, or if it’s too offensive? They say you can’t copyright a concept or an idea, but you can copyright a story or character. I just don’t understand where these rules begin and end.

The topic of mashups also reminds me of the comical trend of dubbing over a video or movie. You have of course Bad Lip Readings and Wizard People (which was a victim of copyright infringement) and yet again the terms are blurred. Is it parody or not? Is it different enough from the original? One of my personal favorite examples of this is Master Pancake Theater at the Alamo Draft house in Austin. Once a month a movie is screened with several live improv comedians talking over the movie (which possibly might have developed from the Rocky Horror interactive screenings). Audiences pay to watch an older film and listen to comedians dub over it.

So how do we classify what is copyright infringement and what isn’t? Obviously, more current regulations must be examined, but with this participatory culture we live in, we can’t simply continue to judge using outdated copyright laws which were invented for the purpose of protecting the written word.

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