For fans of fan fiction

There's been some discussion on blogs recently about the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), which is a new "nonprofit organization established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms."

There is a post about the OTW on if:book:

Interestingly, the OTW defines itself — and by implication, fan culture in general — as a "predominately female community." The board of directors is made up of a distinguished and, diverging from fan culture norms, non-anonymous group of women academics spanning film studies, english, interaction design and law, and chaired by the bestselling fantasy author Naomi Novik.

John Scalzi posts about the OTW on his Whatever blog, making some interesting points, and eliciting a fair few comments:

Among [the OTW's] many plans is “Establishing a legal defense project and forming alliances to defend fanworks from legal challenge,” which basically means that the OTW is planning to make the argument that fan writing is fair use under copyright. Or, as the organization states in its “Our Vision” statement: “We envision a future in which all fannish works are recognized as legal and transformative and are accepted as a legitimate creative activity.”

And another on Everybody's Libraries:

If you maintain a library, you might want to watch the sort of interaction going on here, even if you don’t particularly care about fanfic. Collection building and public service functions in the digital age often have to negotiate similar gray areas that aren’t neatly covered in law, but have important social aspects. It can be useful to look and see what sorts of practices build up owner and user communities, and what tears them down.

Reading these posts, and the OTW site, put me in mind of a (fairly) recent article in Wired about the fanfic equivalent of manga comics in Japan. Daniel Pink writes about the manga industry in Japan, and about how fan manga has found a place alongside manga publishers.

I spent two days at Super Comic City. But an American intellectual property lawyer probably would not have lasted more than 15minutes. After cruising just one or two aisles, he would have thudded to the floor in a dead faint. About 90 percent of the material for sale — how to put this — borrows liberally from existing works. Actually, let me be blunter: The copyright violations are flagrant, shameless, and widespread.

It seems that publishers accept this position, unofficially, of fans essentially violating intellectual property rights and making more or less money out of it, because experience has taught publishers that a vibrant and open fan fiction market supports sales of the copyright works rather than diminishing them.

Given the freedom to fill-in back story and plot loopholes, complete unfinished stories and extend characters, fans are bolstering the position of the publishers' manga as the 'original', the 'source'. Readers return, then, to the source and in so doing extend the lifespan of those publications; as it grows longer, the tail feeds the head.