Friday, April 24, 2009

IP/Gender: Panel One

Panel One: Is There a Text in This Work? Transformation Beyond the Written Word

Francesca Coppa, Moderator: Fan fiction is moving out of fair use conferences to literary theory conferences, where it belongs. Other forms have existed for a while, but you’re only hearing about them now because women have been trained to fly under the radar. Guys have brought forward their RPGs, fan films, and so on more readily than women.

Casey Fiesler, Paper Dolls: Role-Playing, Gender, and Pretending Without A License:

RPGs: Beyond Dungeons & Dragons Include collaborative writing. The key features are collaboration and taking on the role of imaginary characters. On average, women prefer the storytelling aspects to the combat/dice-rolling aspects. Focus on world and characters rather than authorial intent and structure. Related to how little girls play: the socialization of play. Today, toys are more licensed and integrated into media tie-ins: even Doctor Barbie has been replaced by Hannah Montana Barbie. They have (copyrighted) storylines inherent in them. A girl may sleep on Cinderella sheets, wear a Cinderella tiara, and have a Cinderella Barbie: she is Cinderella (question: what does it mean to identify with a doll, an object that you dress up, in this way?), so the next step is to perform her character.

Fan-based RPGs are created and maintained by creators, not copyright owners. Artifacts produced are often very similar to fan fiction. Blogs are great for this: the affordances of the medium allow you to be your character. They’re interactive, so other characters comment back and forth. Virtual worlds: Second Life hosts a huge simulation of Hogwarts. This raises the issue not resolved in the City of Heroes/Marvel case. Players aren’t making money but are using commercial venues—how will we treat that? Copyright/TM owners have reacted: takedown notices to Twitterers playing the roles of Mad Men characters, though despite the DMCA notice the Twitterers are back.

Playing with dolls is legitimate; moving online with playing creates new copyright issues. Closing question: when is it fun and games, and when do you need to call the lawyer?

Melissa Tatum (work conducted with Robert Spoo), Does Gender Influence Attitude Toward Copyright in the Filk Community?: A filker and a law professor, though not an IP scholar; borrowed Bob Spoo for the legal analysis. Filk started at sf conventions, and now has its own conventions and awards. Traditional form: take existing music and use new lyrics. Filk also contains original music & lyrics, and lyrics based on characters from existing works. A separate category: filk based on other filksongs.

Tatum surveyed filkers and looked at award-nominated songs to look at copyright issues. Did not expect to find differences, but found some. Men publish more filks than women, but award nominations are basically equal. Statistical difference in type of melody: women are more likely to use original or public domain melodies, while men are more likely to use another filker’s melody or a copyrighted melody. 45% of women use melody not subject to copyright, 38% of men. Maybe originality of melody is a constraint on publishing, because most filk magazines are just sheets of lyrics marked “to the tune of…” Men slightly tended to use more original lyrics and women tended to use lyrics based on someone else’s characters/world.

Nonscientific survey of 62 respondents. 1/3 were involved in filk for more than 20 years. 62% of men worked in a technical field, while only a small percentage of women did. Males are more likely to perform songs written by another person, around 82% v. 90% (so the base rate is pretty high). Legally: 17% of men considered all legal requirements when making writing/performing/recording decisions, but 0% of women mentioned that. 34.5% of men didn’t worry because they were only performing informally, while 21% of women didn’t worry for the same reason. 63.6% v. 31% men v. women said that fair use includes not profiting from others’ work. 13.8% of men leave fair use “to the lawyers,” while 0% of men did.

Also asked about attitudes towards copyright; men had stronger opinions—men were more likely to think copyright lasts too long (51.7% v. 24.2%); women were weakly more likely to say they didn’t know enough (21.2% v. 3.4%), and weak evidence of greater participation in Creative Commons by men (around 44% v. 18%). Further work will target these issues.

Question: what do filkers think of Wizard Rock? Or Olivia Chrestomanci’s Supernatural-based album (recommended)?

Tisha Turk, Transformative Narrations: Fan-made Videos and Fair Use: English prof and vidder. She approaches copyright as a vidder. (See Sarah Trombley’s Visions and Revisions.) Ambiguously legal, but ought to be legal: nobody’s going to mistake it for an authorized work, and she’s not making any money.

Not very many vids (female-dominated artform) are parodies in the ordinary sense. Women are usually coming at the sources from a more affectionate point of view. We like this world and want to spend more time with it. We have to stretch the term parody pretty far to talk about vids as parody. Vids do function as textual/literary criticism: they are close readings of a text. This is a broader category. If a vid is a visual essay that stages an argument, to make the argument you have to quote from the source. That’s how it works.

Other cases: less clear-cut. All vids are arguments to one extent or another, even if only in the basic sense: see what I see! Read this show the way I do! Some are more obvious about this than others. Trombley: A fanvid that recapitulates a plot or a character relationship is perhaps the least transformative; they don’t seem to be fighting back or talking back. But they are still fair use, not just because of market failure but also because they are fundamentally transformative, according to narrative theory.

What exactly is transformed? What’s the difference between that and abridgement/condensation? Narrative theory offers an explanation. A vid, in one view, is visuals + music. But thinking about vids that way enables the false assumption that a vidder should just be able to swap audio. And that doesn’t work. The audio is not independent of the video.

A narrative has two parts, story and discourse. This is true for any narrative, written, oral, TV, what have you. The story is what happened; the sequence of acts and events. The discourse is how we find out what happened; the way the story gets told. Discourse can be divided into plot and narration. We tend to use plot and story interchangeably. But the story is just the events; the plot is how and when those events are conveyed to the audience. Mystery novel: the premise is that part of the story is withheld; events are not told in the order in which they happened. There are not that many stories, and yet so many books: that’s the magic of plot. Rearrange the plot, and you have new narrative.

Narrative is also a matter of choices about how to tell the story. Is the story told by a main character, a secondary character, an omniscient character? Is it in past tense or present? In TV, narration is different: you can have a voiceover, but that’s unusual and often misguided. The narration is nonverbal. What does the narration is the camera angles, duration and sequencing of shots, the music. Those elements of narration are exactly what vidders alter. We usually can’t change the camera angles, but we do make choices of what to keep. Often change duration and sequencing of shots. Always change the soundtrack that tells the viewer how to interpret the visuals. Even if the vid does not change the story, it still changes the narrative. The discourse is different.

That retelling can be a telling against the grain, but even a telling again is a transformative difference. These changes are the point, not an interesting side effect. A vid generally relies on knowledge of the existing source: it’s not a replacement. You can read literary criticism without reading the original text, but it’s not clear what you’d get or why you’d want to—vids are the same way.

Why drag narrative theory in? It helps us think through the audio elements. A song is part of a narrative strategy. It’s what makes the vid’s discourse different from the original. But the song is also part of the story of the vid. If the story is changed, the song choice is a big part of why the story is changed. The audio/video split is artificial and does not explain why vids produce the effects that they do. It’s a repurposing of the song, but is it a transformation? Yes. Some songs have stories; others are pure discourse. Listeners project onto the song—I had that relationship! When you turn the song into a piece of a larger narrative you’ve produced a structural change in the role of the song and the way in which viewers respond.

Ann Bartow, Commentator: the unifying theory of the panel is that women have a different view of the First Amendment than men. Each speaker talks about the value that women place on noncommerciality. Maybe women don’t really feel that commercial value is plausible for them.

Turk’s paper begins: Vidding ought to be legal because we’re not making any money; you’d never mistake it for the original so it doesn’t serve as a market substitute. Carol Gilligan’s A Different Voice: women’s arguments about texts may be different than men’s. Her argument is one about separating sound from pictures: copyright law is warped. Audiovisual works have one copyright, but the reason for doing that is to make the work-for-hire doctrine work, so contributors don’t have individual rights.

On Tatum: If awards are a signifier of quality, women are outperforming men. When women were a smaller percentage of law schools, they tended to be unusually talented/motivated. Once they’re half the class, they are more likely to include some of the less accomplished. Is there something deterring women from participating? Women seemed to be more copyright-compliant/overly obedient, and even when they used copyrighted works they seemed to be more invested in not hurting anyone. Also, look here how badly concepts of joint authorship work—participation is asynchronous.

On Fiesler: Communication in character raises the issue of threats: what is a threat does not necessarily depend on the explicit words; it’s a context-dependent issue.

Back to the First Amendment and copyright: Courts get into a circular loop where they say a use isn’t fair because it couldn’t have been licensed. Women more than men may be processing this as: if it’s not losing you money, I can do it. A stronger claim would be: even if it’s costing you money, I have a free speech right to do this.

Women are spoken about in certain ways; our bodies are used in advertising; our bodies are more strictly disciplined: how does this affect our relationships to free speech and the First Amendment?

Kristina Busse: Are women asserting ethical responsibilities greater than legal ones, or just different? Anime/manga translation communities that withdraw availability once a licensed version becomes available: ethical piracy.

Coppa: Women’s art still exists on someone else’s suffrance: we don’t assert the right to say what we need to. If our encounters with commercial entities, who do attack women in various ways through ads and other ways, are ones in which we’re instinctively more aware of our roles as buyers, then we are negotiating our artist roles with our consumer roles. We claim that we become better consumers as a benefit of our artistic productions: is it a specifically female argument to say that fanworks increase the value of the original? May be a Gilliganesque ethic of connection, but may also suggest that our minds are colonized: what would it mean to say—“hey, I’m an artist, I don’t so much care to consume your stuff”?

Coppa: Fiesler talks about the huge array of products sold to girls. As long as you’re purchasing these things, have you bought the right to fantasize? What if you knit your own Dalek or Harry Potter scarf—are you a bad consumer? (Is it the bare minimum of surviving in a consumer culture that we get to talk back?)

Fiesler: Music videos have been increasingly commercialized too, so there is competition or arguable competition in a place there wasn’t formerly. Relatedly, how many people are using Livejournal, or Second Life, or City of Heroes because they can play fannishly? Helps other entities make money, creating secondary liability issues.

Fan Q: What happens when the corporation appropriates the form—Twitter, the fanvid?

Turk: They’re not very good at it. Failure to understand that the fan wants to make new stuff, not sit and watch the official fanvid. (Hmm. What about the audience for fanvids? I agree that the official versions are unsatisfactory for fan audiences, but the stasis is produced in a variety of ways.)

Busse: BSG official contest was gendered in that the clips vidders were allowed to use were of big spaceships, not of the relationships in which women were more likely to be interested.

Fan: Stealing authenticity: corporations are searching for authenticity, but that’s an inherent contradiction. Our content is more valuable for its authenticity, and perhaps we’re on the cusp of ownership claims over our stuff because it’s more valuable.

Coppa: the practice of sharing among friends is now part of a business plan. Giving things away for free is part of our marketing strategy now! Fans interfere with that by existing in the world!

Stauffer: NBC now calls itself a general-purposes service company—tied to the rise of embedded ads. Question for Fiesler: stepping into the shoes of Cinderella (heh). How is playing online experienced—is there a suspension of disbelief as there is with a novel? When you’re out in the real world dressed as a princess, people constantly comment on it and point out that you’re not a real princess. You can’t be as “real” in the real world. Cinderella at the ball, freeze-framed; brushing her teeth with a toothbrush bearing a picture of herself. A hyper-real, weird version of Cinderella. You may have more privacy/intimacy in fan RPGs.

Fiesler: There is a difference, but the difference is getting smaller as more play moves online. (You find people willing to suspend disbelief with you. Ties in to Clay Shirky’s point: 90% this stuff online seems so weird to you because it’s not for you.)

Julie Cohen: You can build in that in “real” life roleplaying is socialized as childlike, which has gender implications. A separate point: Bartow’s comment on Tatum—Cohen read the statistics exactly the opposite way—the pattern of men trying to be Weird Al is copyright-compliant to the extent that it’s exploiting a known exception and following the parody model. Women were trying to be transgressive in a non-free speech way (not clear to her that claiming the First Amendment helps copyright transgressors).

Q: Struck by Fiesler’s point that no one would care if people were cutting out pictures and playing with them, but online it suddenly raises a copyright issue. How long until the computer is recognized as just like paper, instead of creating a corporate presence in your home? (I think the standard move is to go the other way: the paper dolls always did create a copyright issue, but transactions costs made it not worthwhile to do anything about it.)

Fiesler: RPGs didn’t initially produce fixed artifacts; all of a sudden they do. Like the ways in which vids used to circulate on VCR tapes.

Turk: Think of mixtape culture, where you would give someone else a mixtape based on the contents of your soul. That was unenforceable; once it’s on your blog, it’s findable, but there are also issues of privacy/friendship. The openness of our online definition of friends is changing.

Coppa: As a media educator, she’s supposed to be teaching a language. But it turns out that each “word” is owned. We don’t expect people to invent their own words in general conversation. There’s a problem with the metaphor, if she’s teaching the “language” of film and video. Educators must face this problem quickly.

Bartow: On Cohen’s point: when women’s filk production went down was about the time of Napster—maybe 2003-2007 coincided with increased tech making it easier for men to spread filk through the web, and women were more hesitant/had less tech experience.

Coppa: Female-only conventions also have filk; maybe women are moving out of the mainstream community.

I asked my question about Wizard Rock’s relation to filk.

Tatum: there’s a growing schism in community about (1) definition of filk—if you bring in Irish/Scottish/instrumental music to the circle, does that count, or is it lyric-driven? (2) Spread of new tech—who is a filker? If you record tracks in a professionalized way and perform not in a circle, are you a filker? Some valorize community over the form of the work produced.

Cohen: Where are the age distributions for vidders and role-players? We’re all talking about the same types of creative play, but maybe the different methods of expression have different distributions—relatively older in filk, and perhaps relatively younger in RPGs.

Tatum: Caveat that the survey may well have been distorted because longer-term participants may have been particularly motivated to explain themselves.

Q: Is law just too far from practice now?

Fiesler: Notice that people make ethical norms even without much fear of law: noncommerciality, attribution, anti-plagiarism are self-policed norms that roughly track law.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blogging this stuff. Fascinating stuff, although I couldn't be there.