In this article Cathy Young acknowledges common complaints against fan fiction but offers that the practice may not entirely deserve the stigma that has been attached to it. While Young concedes that there are many, many poor-quality fan fiction stories circulating the internet, she disagrees with broad generalizations that the practice constitutes intellectual laziness or theft. In many works of fan fiction, she argues, there is a significant degree of creativity and effort; some fan fiction is arguably quite good. She refers to one Australian fan fiction writer who has done significant historical research to write a sequel to the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film, in which she develops the film's characters in original and unexpected ways. The challenge in many other fan fiction pieces, Young continues, lies in inventing new circumstances or alternate universes for underlying works and adapting existing characters to them. Because fan fiction is available to virtually anyone on the internet, the best works tend to receive the widest readership. Young also maintains that rewriting and appropriation is not an old practice, but one that has resulted in significant artistic works throughout history. She cites Goethe's Faust as based on an older work by Christopher Marlowe; likewise, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a classic retelling of an story, and it continues to be reworked in new ways. The only way to vindicate fan fiction and entirely erase its stigma, she concludes, is to continue encouraging high-quality fan fiction that will raise standards and draw in more talented writers.
Young's argument is interesting—and serves the purposes of my research—because it praises the democratic aspect of fan fiction, whereby anyone can write, but only the best fan fiction tends gets popularized by recommendation throughout fan circles. This counters the argument that fan fiction lowers the bar of entry to writing and allows all sorts of “artistic” drivel to be seen by all. Rather, the fact that so many people read and review this sort of work means that the best writing will be praised and that bad writing will be discouraged and improved. By extension, all creative fan endeavors that reach wide circulation from today's technology may be likely to increase in quality and effort, as the public has greater opportunity to comment on it.
In this article Salil Mehra discusses the practice of dojinshi, or Japanese fan-made derivative comics, and its implications for copyright law in both Japan and the United States. He investigates the economic and social incentives fueling both sides of the dojinshi movement, making particular effort to understand the Japanese system in context of American copyright concepts of fair use and economic efficiency. He divides his dissertation into four parts, focusing on the ubiquity of comics in Japanese culture; a comparison of Japanese and American copyright law; the Japanese comic industry's tolerance of dojinshi's infringement; and the implications of this tolerance. After briefly discussing the artistic and economic history of manga and anime comics, Mehra compares American and Japanese copyright law and precedent rulings, specifically in regard to cartoon character copyright. He even attempts to evaluate dojinshi by the four factors of fair use analysis and court precedent involving cartoon character infringement, and finds that dojinshi would not pass by American standards. The similarity of the two copyright law systems, he offers, suggests that the grounds for a legal action against dojinshi are certainly evident should the comic industry choose to pursue it. The fact that the industry generally has not taken filed complaint against dojinshi artists, however, indicates that there are rational incentives for tolerating dojinshi. Mehra notes that culturally, Japan is a less litigious nation than the United States, and winning copyright cases are typically not nearly as lucrative as American ones; this is likely a deterrent to lawsuits in the manga industry. Furthermore, mainstream comic artists might tolerate dojinshi in order to appease their fan base--an artist could ruin his reputation among fans by filing a lawsuit against a loyal, albeit infringing, fan. Discussing commercial reasons to not litigate, he posits that dojnishi ultimately promotes the original work and raises new artists that can eventually enter the mainstream system with ideas of their own. He closes by calling for a reevaluation of the American notion that greater protection yields more or better intellectual property, as well as acknowledgment that a system akin to dojinshi may promote innovation and benefit collective industry.
Mehra's article is unique in its attempt to reconcile dojinshi with Japanese Copyright Law. His investigation of court precedent in cartoon infringement suggests that dojinshi is indeed a unique situation. By comparing Japanese and American copyright laws and demonstrating how alike they are, he proves that the creation and sale of dojinshi is not simply allowed in Japan because it has weaker copyright laws than the U.S.--other factors (cultural, economic, etc.) must account for the dojinshi phenomenon. Mehra is also unique among dojinshi scholars for making pains to demonstrate that the industry's tolerance of dojinshi has as much to do with the legal atmosphere of Japan as the commercial benefits of allowing the practice to continue. Furthermore, he emphasizes that with the dojinshi system, individual artist's interests are sacrificed for the collective good of the manga industry. In other words, an individual artist must agree not to protect his work from infringing artists in order to maintain the system that benefits the industry. This is all important for my paper because I investigate whether the fan policies of entertainment industries in Japan are transportable to the United States. The comparison of American and Japanese laws and cultural circumstances is thus critical to determining my argument.
In this article Nathaniel Noda discusses fan-based creative activities and their relationship to the copyrighted works that they draw from. He focuses specifically on the practices of “fan subbing” and “dojinshi,” but emphasizes the application of his findings to other derivative creative efforts (or “fan-based activities”), including the writing of fan fiction. Fan subbing, or the fan-based copying, translation, and circulation of Japanese cartoons, has been considered a key factor in popularizing Japanese animation in the west. Dojinshi, the fan-made and fan-sold cartoons that reuse characters from mainstream commercial manga, has proven to promote its underlying work and cultivate new artists for the professional manga industry. Both practices are technically illegal, but have been allowed due to their admitted benefits to the industry and, perhaps to a lesser degree, their ensconced position in our culture. Noda goes beyond other scholarly fan-related essays by arguing that the tacit agreement affording these fan-based activities is not enough, and that American fair use doctrine should be refined to acknowledge and protect the public benefits and incentives for authorship that fan-based activities provide. First he develops a formal definition for “fans” and uses it to form the two criteria for determining something as a “fan-based activity:” the activity complements the underlying work, but does not compete with it; secondly, a fan-based activity promotes the economic and creative incentives of the copyright holder whose work they are fans of. Noda then proposes that two changes be made in the traditional judicial interpretation of fair use to accommodate these innovative, arts/progress-promoting works. First, he posits that the first factor of fair use be refined so as to distinguish whether a work’s purpose is competitive or complementary. This, he suggests, would better align fair use analysis with the original aims of copyright law, and weaken the “commercial vs. noncommercial” distinction that never acknowledged that a commercial, complementary work (like these fan-based works) could actually, in some cases, benefit the author. Secondly, he offers that the fourth factor be applied to also evaluate a work’s benefit to the potential market of the underlying work. This is a much more nuanced, balanced evaluation of a work’s benefit to author and society than the traditional application of the fourth factor, which only looks for instances where a work could hurt an underlying work’s market.
Noda distinguishes himself from other fan culture scholars by urging that existing copyright law be revised to protect fan activities. He is also very specific, proposing criteria for deciding what constitutes fan activity and therein explaining why it is necessary to protect: it is innovative work that does not negatively affect underlying work. He then makes a compelling case for refining fair use evaluation, and is practical in suggesting how to implement it. Rather than attempting to force the change through legislative reform, an effort which would likely fail, Noda argues that the necessary change simply entails a refinement of interpretation at the judicial level. This is a departure from a number of other proposals, including suggestions that a dojinshi-like tacit agreement be attempted, or that publishers collaborate with fans to publish fan fiction anthologies. Because of its specificity and clarity, Jenkins's argument is the strongest one I have read for reforming and standardizing fan policy in entertainment businesses.
In this article, Daniel Pink presents a number of insights into the world of Japanese manga, focusing specifically on the practice of dojinshi, or the fan-based creation and sale of derivative manga, and its apparently unchallenged transgression of Japan's well articulated copyright laws. Pink investigates why publishers tolerate the sale of dojinshi, work that borrows the characters of official manga, in markets across Japan. He proposes several reasons for the stable relationship between manga copyright holders and the infringing party. First, dojinshi is practiced by many manga readers; allowing it keeps the fan base happy, and even nurtures new artists that eventually enter and sustain the mainstream manga industry. Secondly, dojinshi tends to promote the sale of manga that has inspired it. Finally, by monitoring trends in dojinshi sales, the mainstream industry can conduct a sort of free market research. Publishers' acknowledgment of these benefits of dojinshi results, Pink explains, in an unspoken agreement between publishers and dojinshi artists, whereby artists may sell their derivative work provided they only print limited editions of their work and do not attempt to compete with the manga from which they “borrow.” Pink offers that this approach to dojinshi—a tolerance and unspoken agreement that benefits both parties--is a viable business model for handling intellectual property, one which companies in the United States might do well to adopt.
This article explains the genius of the Japanese manga industry's intellectual property policies by showing how it successfully reconciles clever business with strict copyright law by simply choosing not to litigate. The industry's leaders recognize the benefits of fan infringment. They also understand that fans want the freedom to continue practicing dojinshi too much to risk it by attempting to compete with the mainstream market. They further realize that attempting to amend Japan's Copyright Law would be tremendously difficult and ultimately unnecessary as long as the current system works. The industry's initial response to dojinshi, that of watchfulness instead of hasty litigation, appears to have paid off. This recurring idea in my research has led me to contend that the tacit agreement resulting from the manga industry's watchfulness may ultimately be the most intelligent way to conduct business in a world governed by strict copyright laws that would be difficult to change.