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Help prevent fan abuse

June 16th, 2011 | Et Cetera

All publicity is good publicity. – P.T. Barnum

Poor, dumb Harry

I’m a bit late to the game on this, but I still feel the need to say something, because this is important. The issue is this: fans are being abused. The history is long and familiar: fans create derivative works, and copyright holders force a takedown. Granted, much fan-produced work is of little interest to others, but occasionally fans produce strong, original content that seizes the attention of the rest of the fanbase. These works present the source material in arresting and creative ways, building on the original while not detracting from it. As many have pointed out, these “derivative works” should be protected under the “fair use” exception, and yet copyright holders persist in ordering takedowns of fan-produced works, claiming infringement.

This hurts everyone–including the copyright holder. I will elaborate.

What led me to write about this was the expulsion of SF Debris from YouTube. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Chuck “SF Debris” Sonnenburg is an amateur reviewer of Star Trek episodes (among other things) and has for several years been creating video reviews using his trademark combination of silly jokes and insightful analysis. Prior to the takedown, he had posted reviews of over a hundred episodes of Trek on YouTube, including multi-part reviews of all the films through First Contact. Unfortunately, as Sonnenburg uses clips from the shows to illustrate his points, CBS views him as being no better than a pirate, and effectively forced him to remove his entire archive–the product of years of work–from YouTube.

While Sonnenburg is in the process of transferring to blip.tv, which attempts to protect its users from these kinds of claims, this nonetheless is a setback for him, as he now has to reprocess all these clips before he can bring them online again. This is also unfortunate from the standpoint of his fans, because we no longer have access to most of his archive. And, finally, this is bad for CBS, too. Here is what the studio fails to realize: fans are providing free advertising. I first found Sonnenburg’s work while looking for information regarding Voyager‘s most notorious episode, the infamous “Threshold.” (In which Tom violates the laws of physics, turns into a salamander, and has salamander babies with theĀ  captain.) Sonnenburg had already posted a three-part review of the stinker at that point, and I was delighted by it. Naturally I began watching more of his reviews, and as I did so I was reminded of the fact that, flawed though it is, I actually kind of like Voyager. Suffice it to say I have since bought three seasons of the show (3, 4, and 6, which my research leads me to believe to have the best good/bad episode ratio). I likely would not have done so if not for these reviews.

When fans produce derivative works, they are not violating a copyright. They are celebrating the source material, and this can only lead to good things for the copyright holder. Fans are a precious, precious commodity, and persecuting them is perhaps the stupidest thing a creator can do. By eliminating sources of discussion within the fan base, they risk destroying the fan base altogether, and the fan base is, of course, where the money comes from. Honestly, who else is going to buy old episodes of Voyager anymore?

I will continue tuning into blip.tv every Saturday to see the new SF Debris reviews. I have faith that they will continue to be funny and insightful even as the Star Trek franchise continues its forty-year nosedive. And if CBS has a change of heart and allows him back onto YouTube, and they make more money thereby… too good for ‘em, I say.