Shutting Down Fan Art With Copyright
Copyright is another recurring theme of this blog for the simple reason that we are in an era of rapid and destructive copyright reform. Technologies such as the internet are redefining the role and even extent of copyright as a business model tool. Creation and distribution are some areas where copyright reform is an issue but the presence of the concept in fan art is another important area. Today’s topic comes via Crunychroll (stay tuned for a separate post on them next week) and concerns the shutting down of a Sailor Moon fan art book on Kickstarter by publisher Random House.
The Copyright Issue At Hand
Yes, I know we discussed it just yesterday, but here, Kickstarter plays the opposite role in the debate. Instead of the creators hoarding copyright, it is they who need to be concerned. In this instance, the copyright on Sailor Moon (at least in manga form) is held by Kodansha Comics (the US subsidiary of the Japanese company). What’s interesting though, is that the DMCA takedown notice filed with Kickstarter was not issued by Kodansha, rather it was by major publisher Random House who are merely the distributors in this saga.
The Kickstarter project in question was an attempt to print a collection of fan art for this extremely popular series and had a few famous names attached (Adventure Time crew member Natasha Allegri stands out). As of writing, the project has been suspended and no appeal appears to be forthcoming.
Who Does This Hurt?
As the Crunchyroll piece which I stumbled across lays out right from the start:
Here’s an example of why there isn’t much of a doujinshi scene in North America, particularly not in regards to print doujinshi.
For the unitiated like myself, ‘doujinshi’ is what Wikipedia calls “the Japanese term for self-published works, usually magazines, manga or novels. Doujinshi are often the work of amateurs, though some professional artists participate as a way to publish material outside the regular industry.” In other words, a combination of fan fiction and fan art.
So as is often the question here on the Animation Anomaly; who does this hurt? It isn’t so much the fans; they will adore Sailor Moon regardless, but rather its the people on the fringes who may be fans of the artists and subsequently discover Sailor Moon (either in manga or anime form) through this book.
Why The Copyright Aspect is Problematic
Despite the apparently strong case, there is a number of issues with this it. First of all, why is the distributor of the manga filing the complaint? Surely it should be the copyright holder (Kodansha), right? Random House is merely the middleman that gets paid on a per-unit basis and whose profit should be a set markup on each. The copyright holder should be the one filing any DMCA takedown notices as they are the stakeholder that the law is designed to protect. If middlemen like Random House have a problem, they should take it up with Kadansha instead of being able to act on their own initiative.
The other concern is that there is a strong fair use case (via parody) for the artwork. They are clearly non-official and although I can’t find any details to confirm, it’s quite likely that the book’s creators made it clear that they are not officially associated with either Randorm House or Kadansha.
The End Result
The unfortunate conclusion is that this hurts everyone. The creators obviously since they can’t share their awesome artwork with fans, but also the publisher too. New fans could have been brought into the fold and possibly become purchasers of the manga collection.
In an additional twist, a new version of the anime is slated to hit the airwaves later in 2013. Surely every attempt to build public awareness of this should be treated with care. Again, this comes back to potential fans on the fringes being missed because they never had a chance to interact with the fan art book.