Disclaimer

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Synonyms:
See also: Copyright, TPTB, Header, Fair Use, Age Statement
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A disclaimer is a statement that indicates that the fan is not claiming to own, or to have invented, any copyrighted characters or concepts that she is writing about. It is usually found in the header of a fanwork, such as a piece of fanfiction or fanart. It can also be included at the beginning or end of a vid. Many fanfic authors post overall disclaimers on their websites, while some include disclaimers on each individual page containing a fanwork.

Format

Some disclaimers simply say "I don't own these characters" or "Not mine," while others specifically credit individuals ("Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon") or the corporate TPTB who may own the actual copyright ("Due South belongs to Alliance Atlantis.")

Another common aspect of a disclaimer is for the author to state that she is making no profit from her fanwork.

Although a disclaimer would probably not do much to deter a company or individual who really wanted to sue a fan for copyright infringement, disclaimers are generally seen as a gesture of good faith from fans, and are traditional in many areas of fandom. Some communities, archives or mailing lists will not allow stories to be posted without proper disclaimers.

The Archive of Our Own does not offer a standard field for disclaimers, as their stance is that not-for-profit fanworks are Fair Use.

Disclaimers on RPF generally emphasize two things: first, that the author knows that her story is fictional, and second, that she does not intend for anyone to actually believe that it is true. However, some fans have noted with annoyance that RPF sometimes includes a copyright disclaimer, despite the fact that RPF characters are not copyrighted.[1][citation needed]

Usage

Use of disclaimers varies from fandom to fandom, and not all fans use them or take them seriously if they do. There is no one simple reason for the variations of fannish culture around this issue, but some fans believe that the decentralized control of fic posting that Livejournal made easy, led to more people making up their own rules.[2] [3] It's possible that a lot of fans use them simply because the standard fic header they've picked up from a community or an archive has a space for it. A 2016 Fansplaining episode noted that usage of disclaimers varied between different fan archives such as Wattpad and AO3 and that posting a disclaimer "also shows that you're a member of an in-group" (i.e. that you understand the local fannish cultural norm).[4]

Examples of Disclaimers

From The Professionals zine, Arabian Nights: "This is a work of fiction and any similarity to reality is a dreadful accident."

From the Star Trek: TOS zine: In a Different Reality: "All rights reserved to the author, artist and this publication. This is solely a not-for-profit fan activity, and in no way intends to infringe on copyrights held by Paramount, Deslilu, Filmation or other professional Star Trek agencies."

From a Sentinel fiction website: "Disclaimer: These are works of purely speculative fiction. It is not intended to infringe on any rights by and of the companies and/or individuals involved in the production of any series mentioned here." [5]

Humorous disclaimers have become more popular in recent times, perhaps a reflection of fans' understanding that disclaimers don't carry a lot of weight, combined with increasing boredom with the general wording. It is not uncommon to see disclaimers stating: "I don't own the show, if I did it would have more porn" or "The characters don't belong to me, I'm just borrowing them for a while, or Not mine, don't sue, I have nothing but student loans anyway."

From Abstract Transmissions: "This copyright in no way infringes on the copyrights and/or trademarks of any mentioned media. (We'd only put ya in here if yuz was good, so ya oughta be flattered.)"

This disclaimer is succinct: "Aw, bite me." [6]

Fan Comments

  • "Disclaimer - Boy, I am getting sick of these things. But, I'm too paranoid not to write it down. So, Mulder and Scully belong to CC, 1013, and FOX. Everybody else in here belong to me." [7]
  • "It is wise to copyright your zine. The far, far majority of zine editors use a common law copyright, which is perfectly legal, but which is not listed with the Library of Congress. This consists of running a copyright in your zine, generally with a disclaimer that it is "an amateur publication, not for profit and not intended to infringe on any other legally existing copyrights." I don't know of any instance in which a zine editor has been taken to court or in which the common law copyright has been forced to stand up in litigation. In the unlikely event you ever find yourself in this situation, get yourself a good lawyer! But don't lose any sleep over it. As I said, I've never heard of a zine editor getting sued by the copyright holder." [8]
  • "I’m 24, and I read my first stories around 2003 or so... What I remember most, though, is the “slash warning”/”don’t like, don’t read” that came on pretty much every slash fic or slash website I saw, because apparently if you didn’t say that you would get flamed by homophobic readers." [9]
  • "Oh lord, and DISCLAIMERS on EVERYTHING. Every fic on FF.NET was all **DISCLAIMERRRRR* I don’t own these characters or *insert show/franchise name here* but lol, I wish I did!" People genuinely feared the copyright gremlins and way back in the early days, once in a while you stumbled across websites or such that could genuinely be confused with something official, especially in tiny fandoms. Because lets face it, EVERYONE’S website on Geocities looked like wonky shit." [10]
  • "Oh man, I remember the hilarity of elaborate disclaimers, but the threat of being sued/approached by TPTB/sent to jail (Shut up! I was a dramatic youth >.>) felt real. Everyone “knew” one person who knew someone who’d been sent a letter from TPTB about their fiction, or had been sued for copyright infringement (which adult-me realizes wasn’t as much of a problem as it seemed like at the time, but it WAS a problem. The relationship between fans like us and TPTB was NOT GOOD.)." [11]
  • "Really aggressive =disclaimers on slash fic (GAY STUFF IF YOU DON’T LIKE DON’T READ etc), and a general terror of homophobia. So many people were genuinely frightened of what would happen if their story about Trowa and Quatre kissing got into the “wrong” hands that it seems unimaginable now." [12]
  • "Fanfiction.net then quickly became a thing. The individual disclaimers…were so annoying… some websites never got over them (adultfanfiction.net deleted one of my fics because I didn’t write a serious disclaimer, I’ve hated it ever since, though for more reasons than that). They made no sense though because if someone wanted to sue you, they still could, though to my knowledge no one has ever been sued." [13]
  • "There was a transition period in, I think, the early 2000s or so, where the lengthy headers were still de rigueur and part of demonstrating that you were a respectable fanwriter, but the disclaimer got SNARKY AS FUCK. I reckon people had gotten progressively more jaded/tired of writing “I own nothing, I am nothing, please dear god nebulously defined copyright holders don’t sue me.” The disclaimer started turning into lurid descriptions of what you’d do with the characters if you “owned” them, the many ways in which canon would be better if you controlled it, etc. Some of them were like, two words long - “Not mine” - while others were masterpieces of invective. Ultimately, I guess fans either got wise to how ineffective and indeed counterproductive this would be if you ever did get hit with a C&D, or the lengthy headers just didn’t make the transition over from LJ fandom - you could probably write a scholarly thesis just about how and why it happened, actually - but still. Good times." [14]

Meta

References

  1. Example at slashypunkboys: "Disclaimer: Don't own them." untitled post by pokeswithspoons, Archived version, 2003-06-24.
  2. meta-ish type stuff posted on September 22, 2008 by bluefall, accessed November 1, 2010
  3. reference link
  4. Fansplaining: Larry is Real, 15:20 minutes in, posted 24 February 2016.
  5. Gena's Sentinel Fan Fiction, accessed November 1, 2010
  6. from Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe at squidge.org
  7. 12 Steps to Success, from a fan in November 1995
  8. from an article, "How to Make a Zine" by Mary Urhausen and Cheree Cargill in the June 1991 issue of Southern Enclave : PDF file of zine, accessed November 1, 2010
  9. a comment about a common disclaimer in early online slash fandom:comment on Tumblr by geiszlerandgaila, January 26, 2015. See Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  10. a comment by odamakilock, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
  11. a comment by cornmouse, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
  12. a comment by alittlethor, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
  13. a comment by lemon-and-chai, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
  14. a comment by innocent-smith, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
  15. reference link