Fan productions: Fair Use or Piracy?
I was encouraged to add my comments to the history page even though it was getting incredibly large. This did catalyse certain material that I am collating for Decembers edition of The LIEF Erikson. This is a preview ...
To me, the overriding question when considering Viacom's response and relationship to the growing number of fan productions should be - Is this a legal problem or a commercial problem? I mean, are they compelled by law to take a certain course of action or can they respond in a manner that best suits their commercial needs. To put it bluntly: are the lawyers in charge or are the managers?
Let's view this as an ethical question. What is the purpose of the copyright laws? To assert the rights of ownership by the professional producers - Paramount - over their works, the characters, designs, scripts, music … etc. These rights of ownership usually mean getting a fair monetary return by the producers and distributors for their investment but it can also include the rights of the creators (scriptwriters, composers etc) to be identified as the authors of their work. The threat of litigation is the force that the law uses to enforce the owner's rights when they are compromised.
Fan film producers have no problem with any of this.
- They acknowledge the copyright ownership of the original Star Trek copyrights
- They do not divert revenue from Viacom by accepting money
- By being predominantly an "original work of authorship" they are by definition an unauthorised derivative work
- They are non-confontationist and admit that they exist by the sufference of the copyright owners.
- From an artistic standpoint, they not only acknowledge the work of the writers and directors, they venerate them! Remember we are talking about fans here! I see no need for punitive action.
I would go so far as to say that fan productions are doing the opposite. My contention is that they are maintaining Paramount's revenue by keeping interest alive in the Trek franchise. In fact they are doing even more - they are an active force for increasing Paramount's revenue on the general and the specific level by drawing new fans to the franchise.
If that fails to impress you look at it the other way around. How much profit will Viacom make by taking a Draconian stance and closing fan productions down? certainly Disney does this, but remember Disney is in active production of even its oldest copyrighted characters, Mickey and Donald! Paramount has said they will not have any new professionally produced within the forseeable future so their sole income will come from merchandising their existing productions. Who buys them? The fans and any new fans who might come along.
So explain to me again how closing down fan films on a legality and alienating their only source of revenue is going to deliver a higher profit to their stockholders? I would contend that it makes sound long term commercial sense to encourage fan productions