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  Home | Features | The Battle over Fan Works


A fan is an ardent devotee; an enthusiast. The word "fan" is derived from the word fanatic - a person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause. From this is born the term fan boy, a fan of a certain series who is essentially a fanatic, but the term has come to have a derogatory connotation. Interestingly enough, the term is sometimes warranted. Step on into a random gaming board, say, Final Fantasy VII boards on GameFAQs, and say "LINK PWNS SEPHIROTH!" and watch the fun ensue.


(Editors Note: This is not a rant against anyone, any web site, or any community. This is not meant to be disrespectful, but is rather the summation of observations made over the past few weeks.)

Fans are passionate, though. Every fan has their own reasons, all equally valid, for getting involved in the thing they love the most. The same is true for why fans get into the online community. Some of us create web sites. Some of us just love to discuss the series. Others, however, love to create things based on the thing they love. We've seen people create videos, music, images, books, costumes, comics, magazines and even games based on their favorite franchise. It is their way of expressing their devotion and creativity.

Many fans love to write their own novels about the Zelda series.

Yet, I find something rather disturbing in this whole frame work. I've spoken with a representative at Nintendo of America, Inc., regarding a certain legal issue about my speed runs. In the conversation, the legality of certain materials was brought up, and though the information passed along is only "Nintendo's interpretation" of the law, I've spoken with others who share the same legal interpretation. Apparently, just about everything, including all fan works, are technically illegal.


Hold the flames. Keep reading before you jump to your e-mail composers. The law is a fickle thing sometimes, and the law is not always "right". Also, in many instances, one party has to "invoke" the law for it to apply. In this case, if Nintendo does not cry "foul", there is no harm. From speaking with many staff members at Nintendo, as long as it seems like the nature of the work is for the benefit of Nintendo and is not benefiting the creator in any form that can measured financially, the have little problem with most stuff online.


The biggest thing for Nintendo is fan games. Of all the fan works in existence, fan games get the most attention and usually get the wrath of angry corporate video game developers' lawyers. Chrono Resurrection is probably the most well known fan project to face the wrath of such a company - in this case Square-Enix. Zelda 2 Enhanced, in production at The Gaming Universe, also apparently received an angry letter from Nintendo asking them to cease and desist. Others who I personally know were in the spot light of Nintendo's legal department were Ocarina of Time 2D and the Halo CE mod based on Ocarina of Time.


On the topic of cease and desist letters, I read an interesting case study. They usually are just a "scare" tactic, and they only work about half the time in achieving their goal. Most companies do not go beyond this measure because it is not worth their time for something as trivial as a "fan work". However, if the work is severe enough (in this case, a fan game getting millions of downloads and possibly having the chance of influencing the consumer base), a company will go beyond the initial step to resolve the matter. And more often than not, the company will win because the defendant has neither the financial ability nor the time to fight a corporation.


So, this got me thinking about something more relevant to our community. There are occasionally outcries from fans or sites when another individual or site "takes" certain content and reuses it. This is viewed as the most severe when it deals with a fan work, and when it is used without any form of permission or credit. Several cases of this have happened in the past, and they usually result in hurt feelings and bitter grudges.


Now, before I say what I am going to say, let me make a few things clear. You should never take anything, unless it is stated clearly and in public that you have permission, without the consent of the creator or without crediting them properly. It is morally wrong to "steal" content and use it, even if there is no legal recourse.


With that said, here's what I am getting at. I'm not too thrilled with the mindset of some people who think because they made a fan work, they are entitled to all rights of it and feel they can raise holy hell when another person uses it - especially when that person credits the creator, and is using it in their own, original way. Let me explain; as I said earlier, fan works are technically illegal. You are creating something based off of the work of another. So when another person comes along and does this to a fan - takes your work to base something on - and that fan creator gets pissed off, I can't help but feel a bit ticked off inside at this hypocrisy.


They're only doing to you what you did to the creators. Please understand what I am saying. I am not saying that a fan that draws an original Link artwork based on a scene from Ocarina of Time who then has their work taken verbatim and placed on a web site to get traffic is okay. I'm totally against that. I am saying if that said fan who took your work modifies your work, and then creates something new and original (like a wallpaper) and credits the appropriate people, the creator of the original fan work should be respectful of that fan's creativity.


Another example would be somebody who reads your fan fiction, and then writes a spin off using your story and characters. They've written a new work, not copying anything verbatim from your original text, and thus they're just continuing on the creative process you started.


When fans react harshly to the actions I've mentioned above, you are doing just as much harm as the current US copyright law does - it is destroying creativity. I will say it here and now - I think the current US copyright law is a crock of shit and is only the way it is to help corporations whore out old intellectual property to milk them as long as possible, well after the intellectual property has made them enough money to cover the creation and then some. The creators of the original copyright laws would be rolling around in their graves if they saw what happens today. Avarice is still a deadly sin, is it not?


This also gets me into another subject, which this will probably tick off people the most of anything I've said yet. Official Nintendo content is not your work. Yes, recently I had a single individual contact me demanding I remove official Nintendo work they "produced" - which is sort of a prompt for this section, but it goes beyond just me. Fans need to realize you have no legal right to a scanned page of a player's guide, a scanned page of manga, or a scanned artwork image from a manual. Screen shots and videos are also not yours if they are from the game. Even speed runs, which I thought were protected by performance laws, are "iffy" - somebody would have to go to trial over one to really know the US's interpretation of them.


I am not endorsing a free for all of going around to everyone's image gallery and raiding their official work. I am saying you shouldn't rely on this content for the purpose of recognition or exclusivity. You should be providing this content for the distribution to everyone for the purpose of knowledge and information. It should also be put up to allow others to use it for their own creative purposes. My personal stance is I won't take something unless it is given to me, is open use policy, or I ask for it. In case you're wondering and haven't read my last community update, I did a sweep of my gallery and removed anything didn't feel I had sufficient permission to use - even if the source had no legal recourse. So hold off on the flames for just a bit longer.


The bottom line is this. Without Nintendo, there wouldn't be Zelda. Without Zelda, you wouldn't have the inspiration to create your fan works or a basis for these said works. Going back to the start of this article - we're fans. We are enthusiasts of Zelda. We owe our enthusiasm to Zelda. If you are so concerned with recognition and exclusivity, you're in the wrong field. Go create an original comic series based on something you imagined. Go write an epic novel based on a dream you had. Go create a game based on your own ideas. Just don't go screaming at the community when it involves content you didn't truly create independently of the content of the franchise you're a fan of.


I understand there is almost no such thing as "originality" anymore - but just plain copying Zelda for your own use isn't "original". Yes, I understand the use of some of the Zelda content in fan works is "original" - but the problem still is you are using Zelda content! Just remove that, and you have your own work.


Again, I am not saying there is anything wrong with fan works. I hope they will always be around. I hope fans will always love to enjoy fan works as much as official content. Fan works help drive the community and make it what it is. Fans should respect these works, and try to act ethically and morally sound in dealing with these works. I just want to stress that sometimes, the actions of some fans over their "work" is detrimental to the community.


To be fair - I do not see a lot of what I spoke of happening. The majority of outbursts in this community are prompted by blatant rip-offs of fan works for the purpose of claiming them as their own credit or using the works in full without permission. Those are warranted complaints, and I abhor that type of theft. My article is about specific uses of fan works to foster creativity, and any use of official Nintendo content. Please keep that in mind before you IM me asking me to remove this article, or how this article is dividing the community.


This article shouldn't do either; it should only hopefully enlighten some and help foster more creativity in our community.

- Mike "TSA" Damiani is the Senior Editor and Owner of The Hylia

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