February 20, 2021

Schwabach on Bringing the News from Ghent to Axanar: Fan Works and Copyright After Deckmyn and Subsequent Developments @UARKLaw

Aaron Schwabach, UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, is publishing Bringing the News from Ghent to Axanar: Fan Works and Copyright after Deckmyn and Subsequent Developments in volume 22 of the Texas Review of Entertainment & Sports Law (2021). Here is the abstract.
Fan works offer a lens through which to view the complex future of copyright law. Recent years have seen an explosion in academic interest in fan works, for reasons including the ongoing crisis in copyright law, changes in the way we consume copyrighted content, and increasing interest in fandom itself. Scholarship on fan works has continued to explore the key questions of fair use, parody, and First Amendment protection that allow fan works to exist yet fail to clearly delineate the boundaries of the legal twilight zone in which they reside and thrive. It has also continued to address the intersection between fanfic and gender and what this says about the gendered nature of intellectual property law. Much has also been written about the future of copyright in general, and of fan works in particular, often looking at fan works from new perspectives, including law and economics and the closely related vexing problem, for content owners, of how to address possible infringement without alienating the fanbase. This article looks at recent developments relating to fanfic first by looking at the historical context and current state of fan works, and next by looking at story elements and the ways in which they are and are not protected by copyright. The article devotes special attention to the related issues of cultural appropriation and reinterpretation, looking at Own Voices stories and street murals as a means of reclaiming a right to cultural property appropriated by others. The article then looks at the shrinking space for online fan works, with a look at two fairly recent decisions dealing with works based on existing popular culture franchises. One, Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Productions, deals with true fan art (a Star Trek fan film), while the other, Deckmyn v. Vandersteen, deals with hate speech masquerading as fan art. Ultimately the article concludes that there is both good and bad news for fans in the current situation. The good news is that the formerly frustratingly nebulous legal status of fan works is increasingly coming to be understood by fan work creators, courts, and content owners. The bad news is that the balance of powers in copyright generally, is increasingly shifting to large content owners.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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