Shutting Down Fan Art With Copyright

Via: Andrea Kalfas
‘Dark Lady’ Via: Andrea Kalfas

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.

3 thoughts on “Shutting Down Fan Art With Copyright”

  1. Pingback: Fans Attempt Sailor Moon Episode Remake | The Animation Anomaly The Animation Anomaly

  2. Isn’t that usually the point of just about ANYTHING made by a particular fanbase of a media franchise?

    To drum up interest in said franchise’s universe and characters while gaining new fans in the process and reminding older fans why they became a fan of that series in the first place?

    What is it about any of this that the major studios don’t seem to understand?

    Anyone who makes fan-art or even an abridged series version of the show isn’t trying to steal anything from the original creator or studio that made it.

    From what I’ve seen, I’ve thought of it this way:

    “You know, this abridged series is really good. It was obviously made with love and I can tell that the ones who made this had fun with it and managed to keep true to its source while adding its own style to it.”

    Or alternatively:

    “This drawing and/or comic is nice. Who is this character and is it possible to learn more about her?”

    “Hi there!”

    “What, who are you?”

    “I’m the one who created that abridged series you like so much.”

    “Really? That’s great. I liked your artwork and your abridged series was a laugh riot to sit through. I was cracking up the entire time I watched it.”

    “Cool and thanks. Listen, I understand that you’re interested in the series.”

    “Why yes, yes I am. Your work has really gotten me interested in whatever it was you’re parodying. By the way, how or where can I find the actual series?”

    “Well, you can find the original series at on DVD or Blu-ray at your local retail video store or look for it on Netflix/Amazon. If you’re looking for the comic that the animated TV show is based on, you can see if your local comic shop or bookstore sells it.”

    “You know what, I think I will. I’ll see if it’s still in print. Thanks.”

    “No problem, and you’re welcome.”

    This leads to:

    -Said customer buying/purchasing the manga/comic+ buying the DVD/BluRay and letting everyone else know about it which could stir more people into doing the same.

    Which equals to: more revenue for not only the bookstore, but for the original team behind the comic and/or the made-for TV animated show and… potentially more new projects to be made.

    Then again, when (if ever) does it really work that way?

    1. “Anyone who makes fanart or even an abridged series version of a show isn’t trying to steal anything from the original creator or studio that made it.”
      Well said, sir, well said. Fanart and fanfiction are forms of expression for fans, and almost anyone who creates them acknowledges the original work they are derived from. I don’t see why there should be a legal issue there at all unless the person claims ownership of the original material.

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