First, courtesy sclerotic_rings, my attention is drawn to a rather dubious enterprise calling itself the Organization for Transformative Works. Now, when they say "transformative works," what they mean is fanfic, but I suppose it seems somehow more dignified if one uses all those extra syllables. Here's a bit from the OTF website, setting forth the group's poorly written and frequently redundant mission statement:
The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a 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. We believe that fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate.
The OTW represents a practice of transformative fanwork historically rooted in a primarily female culture. The OTW will preserve the record of that history as we pursue our mission while encouraging new and non-mainstream expressions of cultural identity within fandom.
During the next two years, the OTW will lay the groundwork for a vibrant and creative organization by:
* Establishing the OTW as an IRS-recognized nonprofit organization.
* Creating infrastructure for OTW by establishing a board and creating committees, soliciting membership and donations, forming alliances, and holding elections.
* Encouraging community interaction and input via the OTW's Web site and across the online and offline spaces where fans congregate.
* Designing, programming, and launching an Archive of Our Own, a Web archive to host transformative fanworks.
* Exploring ways to make fanworks as accessible as possible.
* Establishing a legal defense project and forming alliances to defend fanworks from legal challenge.
* Creating a fan wiki to preserve the history of transformative fanworks and the fandoms from which they have arisen.
* Establishing a refereed academic journal to promote scholarship on fanworks and fan practices.
* Developing a long-term plan for the organization.
* Undertaking additional projects relevant to transformative fandom, such as the preservation of fan history and fanworks, building and maintaining infrastructure for use by fans, and sponsoring academic scholarship on fandom.
On the one hand, as I've said in the past, I don't have any particular beef with fanfic — I've written a bit myself — and I'm generally sympathetic so long as the writers involved understand and respect the legal rights of the original creators and do not somehow try to circumvent those rights. Unlike most of the people out there writing fanfic, most of the original creators must rely upon their writing for income. The last Dragon*Con I attended, in September 2004, I actually wound up on a fanfic panel devoted to legal issues, in part because of Nebari.net, and I was generally appalled at the attitudes I heard expressed by the panelists and attendees (most of whom wrote fic). Many of the appalling things that I heard match up pretty closely with the above mission statement of OTW. And in the end, for me, it comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the artists and society. Legally (and I would say ethically), a novel or short story belongs to the creator, the author/s. In the case of movies, television, and comics, this becomes far more complicated, as most who work in those fields have sold their rights to studios and publishers. Regardless, the laws here are fairly clear (if not always clearly fair): whether or not "fanworks" are legitimate works of literature and graphic art is not the issue. I would argue that they are, and that they are regardless of whether they're good art or bad art, same as with the source material. The issue is copyright and ownership and respect for the original creators. And from that perspective, OTW is horridly misguided in their purported mission. So, in short, I agree with the statement that "fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate." But this does not necessarily entail agreement with an attempt to found a "a legal defense project and forming alliances to defend fanworks from legal challenge."
And here, before I go farther, read Franklin Harris' (grandmofhelsing) piece on Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and how it relates to the issue at hand. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Okay...here's the thing. There is, for me, no fundamental difference between an author writing characters created by someone else because a publisher is paying them to do it and an author writing characters created by someone else because they simply wish to write it. Artistically, the actions are pretty much the same thing, regardless of how good or bad the resulting fiction turns out. Money absolutely does not bestow artistic legitimacy. Setting aside, for the moment, my having written fanfic for Nebari.net and playing a Time Lord character and a Dune character in Second Life — both of which are clear copyright infringements — let's list some of the cases where I have written what is, in no way except the payment I've received from publishers, different from what non-professional writers of fanfic do. The Dreaming, for example. Almost all of that was derived directly from characters created by Neil Gaiman and other DC/Vertigo authors who came before me. Same for short stories like "Emptiness Spoke Eloquent," "Stoker's Mistress," "The Drowned Geologist" (all three based on Dracula), "The King of Birds" (inspired by James O'Barr's The Crow series), "Giants in the Earth" (based on Michael Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time), "Two Worlds, and In Between" (based on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead), and "The Ape's Wife" (based on the original 1933 King Kong). I could go on, but I think this list makes my point. If, as some claim, fanfic is inherently worthless and/or immoral, then all these stories are inherently worthless and immoral. And never even mind all the "borrowing" I've done from poor H. P. Lovecraft.
But, in the end, this is not truly an argument about art. It's an argument about law. And I do not support the sorts of perpetual copyright extensions sought by corporations such as Disney and Paramount. For my part, copyright should protect the writer or artist, not a corporation. If an artist or author wishes, these rights should pass to others (a spouse or children, for example), but only if they make those wishes known and take legal steps to transfer the copyright. Otherwise, so far as I'm concerned, copyright protection should end upon the death of the creator, as a dead author or artist no longer needs the income generated by hisherit's artwork. And there is far more to be gained, artistically, by allowing future generations to play in the sandboxes of deceased artists than there is to be gained from allowing corporations to profit from a monopoly on these works (as we can see by a work such as Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
This really is getting long. I think, to wind it up, what I'm trying to say here is that the proposals being made by OTW are wrongheaded because they exhibit such a flagrant lack of respect for the original creators, a disrespect I heard firsthand at that Dragon*Con panel. It usually comes down to a bizarre assertion that the source material, in whatever medium, actually belongs to the fans who adore it and not the creators whose livelihoods and ability to continue creating is dependent upon income derived from their work. But, on the other hand, I have no moral qualms with fanfic, as long as the fic is a non-profit endeavor and as long as the creators' whose work is being "transformed" are also cool with it being done. I think that moves by corporations and artists to stifle fanfic is almost always as wrongheaded as the mission statement of the OTW. In most cases, fanfic does not devalue art, but promotes it.
The community that creates "fanworks" would be far-better served if an organization like the OTW sought to establish a middle ground with the owners of copyrights, rather than attempting to lay claim to rights that clearly are not (and will never be) their's to claim.