Remixing the Remix: Fannish Appropriation and the Limits of Unauthorised Use

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Academic Commentary
Title: Remixing the Remix: Fannish Appropriation and the Limits of Unauthorised Use
Commentator: Kristina Busse, Shannon Farley
Date(s): 2013
Medium: online
External Links: Remixing the Remix: Fannish Appropriation and the Limits of Unauthorised Use, Archived version
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Remixing the Remix: Fannish Appropriation and the Limits of Unauthorised Use is a 2013 article by Kristina Busse and Shannon Farley. It was published in "M/C - A Journal of Media and Culture."

Some Topics Discussed

Paper Chapter Titles

  • Why Remixes Are Not Copyright Infringement
  • Why Remixes Are Not Plagiarism
  • When Copyright Holders Object to Fan Fiction
  • How Fannish Remixes Are like Fan Fiction
  • How Fannish Remixes Are Not like Fan Fiction
  • How Fan Writing May Differ From Pro Writing
  • From Community to Commons

Other Topics

Some Excerpts

In August 2006 the LiveJournal (hereafter LJ) community sga_flashfic posted its bimonthly challenge: a “Mission Report” challenge. Challenge communities are fandom-specific sites where moderators pick a theme or prompt to which writers respond and then post their specific fan works. The terms of this challenge were to encourage participants to invent a new mission and create a piece of fan fiction in the form of a mission report from the point of view of the Stargate Atlantis team of explorers. As an alternative possibility, and this is where the trouble started, the challenge also allowed to “take another author’s story and write a report” of its mission. Moderator Cesperanza then explained, “if you choose to write a mission report of somebody else’s story, we’ll ask you to credit them, but we won’t require you to ask their permission” (sga_flashfic LJ, 21 Aug. 2006, emphasis added).

Whereas most announcement posts would only gather a few comments, this reached more than a hundred responses within hours, mostly complaints. Even though the community administrators quickly backtracked and posted a revision of the challenge not 12 hours later, the fannish LiveJournal sphere debated the challenge for days, reaching far beyond the specific fandom of Stargate Atlantis to discuss the ethical questions surrounding fannish appropriation and remix. At the center of the debate were the last eight words: “we won’t require you to ask their permission.” By encouraging fans to effectively write fan fiction of fan fiction and by not requiring permission, the moderators had violated an unwritten norm within this fannish community.

Like all fan communities, western media fans have developed internal rules covering everything from what to include in a story header to how long to include a spoiler warning following aired episodes (for a definition and overview of western media fandom, see Coppa). In this example, the mods violated the fannish prohibition against the borrowing of original characters, settings, plot points, or narrative structures from other fan writers without permission—even though as fan fiction, the source of the inspiration engages in such borrowing itself. These kinds of normative rules can be altered, of course, but any change requires long and involved discussions. In this essay, we look at various debates that showcase how this fan community—media fandom on LiveJournal—creates and enforces but also discusses and changes its normative behavior.

Fan fiction authors’ desire to prevent their work from being remixed may seem hypocritical, but we argue that underlying these conversations are complex negotiations of online privacy and control, affective aesthetics, and the value of fan labor. This is not to say that all fan communities address issues of remixing in the same way media fandom at this point in time did nor to suggest that they should; rather, we want to highlight a specific community’s internal ethics, the fervor with which members defend their rules, and the complex arguments that evolve from all sides when rules are questioned. Moreover, we suggest that these conversations offer insight into the specific relation many fan writers have to their stories and how it may differ from a more universal authorial affect.

In order to fully understand the underlying motivations and the community ethos that spawned the sga_flashfic debates, we first want to differentiate between forms of unauthorised (re)uses and the legal, moral, and artistic concerns they create. Only with a clear definition of copyright infringement and plagiarism, as well as a clear understanding of who is affected (and in what ways) in any of these cases, can we fully understand the social and moral intersection of fan remixing of fan fiction. Only when sidestepping the legal and economic concerns surrounding remix can we focus on the ethical intricacies between copyright holders and fan writers and, more importantly, within fan communities.
In fact, our case study and its associated differentiation of legal, moral, and artistic justifications for and against remixing fan works, may indeed be an historical artifact in its own right: media fandom as a small and well-defined community of fans with a common interest and a shared history is the exception rather than the norm in today’s fan culture. When access to stories and other fans required personal initiation, it was easy to teach and enforce a community ethos. Now, however, fan fiction tops Google searches for strings that include both Harry and Draco or Spock and Uhura, and fan art is readily reblogged by sites for shows ranging from MTV’s Teen Wolf to NBC’s Hannibal. Our essay thus must be understood as a brief glimpse into the internal debates of media fans at a particular historical juncture: showcasing not only the clear separation media fan writers make between professional and fan works, but also the strong ethos that online communities can hold and defend—if only for a little while.