Poaching the Poachers

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Title: Poaching the Poachers
Creator: Lucy Gillam
Date(s): June 26, 2004
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic: Fanfiction, Vidding
External Links: Poaching the Poachers, Archived version
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Contents

Poaching the Poachers is an essay by Lucy Gillam. The title is a reference to Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

Excerpts

As is perhaps fitting in an essay about poaching from other fans, I'm going to admit up front that many of these ideas have been put forth by other people. In particular, the section on viding owes a great deal to tzikeh, the Brat Queen and numerous others who have chimed in over many vid theft kerfuffles.

Textual poaching. It's what we do. In many ways, it's what separates what we often refer to as "fandom" from the vast majority of people who watch shows, read books and comics, and go to see movies, even the ones who follow such things as faithfully as we do. Among the things that defines fandom is the taking of source text, whether characters and settings, art, or clips from shows and movies, and doing something new with it. And while we occasionally debate specific ethical questions, we generally accept that it is ethically acceptable for us to "poach" this source text for our own creative endeavors.

And then someone does it to us.

Someone writes an unauthorized sequel to a story. Someone uses clips from a fan vid in creating another fan vid. Someone uses a photo manip to make a Live Journal icon.

And all hell breaks loose.

Why are these situations different? Why is it acceptable for us to do it to them, but not to each other? Certainly every case of plagiarism, ever vid theft kerfuffle, brings someone out of the woodwork who accuses us of being hypocrites. Are we? Are we applying a double standard to the works of other fans, and if so, is that double standard ever justified?

In a post reporting on an Escapade panel about poaching from fellow fans, I expressed some frustration that the various ways fans could poach from one another wasn't sorted out better, because in some instances, I think there are very good reasons why it is different, whereas in others, the only reason put forth is "it's us, not them," which I find less than persuasive.
Let's begin with a hypothetical: Anne Q. Vidder creates a Buffy vid. She does this using her own source material. She painstakingly edits that material, adding various effects, to get the desired result. She then posts her vid to the internet for others to see. A few months later, she sees another Buffy vid posted by a another vidder. Within that vid are fifteen seconds that she recognizes as being identical to her vid. The edits and effects absolutely identical, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the segment was taken directly from her vid.

Various things might happen after that, but if the situation becomes public, the odds are very, very high that someone, somewhere will argue that the original vidder stole the source material in the first place, and as such is being a hypocrite by objecting to her vid being used.

And I will somewhat shamefacedly admit that for a long time, I accepted that using clips other fan vids was a bad thing (I'm only slowly learning the world of vids, so I took a lot on faith for a long time), I didn't really have a satisfactory answer for this question until fairly recently, when tzikeh and the Brat Queen provided it.

The answer in this case isn't really about "us versus them." It's about giving credit where credit is due.

If I were, say, to write a story set in Lanning Cook's Identical universe, it would be relatively easy for me to identify what elements of the story where hers and what were mine. A simple "This is set in Lanning Cook's Identical Universe; these aspects of the set-up and these characters are her creations," and perhaps a link to her stories, would suffice. And just as importantly, the vast majority of readers would understand what she had done and what I had done. In other words, it would be relatively easy for me to give credit where credit is due.

Taking clips from an fan vid and using them in other fan vid is, in essence, taking credit for someone else's work, and it is simply not possible to give proper credit on the same level that it would be in fan fiction. Trying to explain to the average viewer that the segment from this time to this time was taken from another vid, let alone what the original vidder might have done in the creation of that segment, requires a vocabulary that the casual vid viewer simply doesn't have.