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Entitlement and Derivative Works

I have seen some discussions recently about Eric Von Websnark's suggestion that For Better or For Worse fans appropriate and repurpose the comic. There are some very interesting (and heated) comments going on over at that post, so people should check those out, but I want to talk about entitlement and derivative works.

Some commentators were accusing Eric of falling prey to a bad case of fandom entitlement. Eric defended himself by saying, effectively, that entitlement is different than appropriation.

I'm gonna come down on the same side as Mr. Burns, both in the detail (whether he has gone afoul of entitlement) and on the big issue (whether the sort of project he suggests has merit), but as the debate about whether the right word is used to describe the presumption of such a suggestion is uninteresting, so I'm mostly going to talk about the latter.

What I think about IP: The single biggest difference between intellectual property and actual property is scarcity. By that I mean, specifically, if I steal a chair, I now have a chair that someone else used to have, and they no longer have that chair. There are multiple things that we describe as theft in the realm of intellectual property. Filesharing/piracy is one, which I won't get into. Another is theft of ideas/jokes/etc. That is, another artist/creator using material that they took from an existing source. Note the difference though. If I make a Dungeons and Dragons comic, ripping off a joke from Order of the Stick (to pick a random comic), the joke is still in Order of the Stick. No one is missing a joke that they once possessed. Is stealing jokes from Rich Burlew a good thing? No. It is dishonest, because I portray myself as the author, and it is, or at least can be, disrespectful to the creator whose work I ripped off.

There is some something scarce in the field of IP though: talent. By scarce here I just mean that not everyone is talented, and talent is what introduces additional value by way of generating new intellectual property. Tangentially, this informs a lot of my opinions of how copyright should work, but that is a matter for another time.

Let's talk about value, not in the dollars and cents mode, but in the "that piece of artwork has aesthetic/cultural/popular/entertainment value" mode. Imagine two people are given the same set of characters and plot to write a story about. One of them might write a crappy story, while the other writes a good story. They might both write decent stories, which explore different elements of the plot. A lot of things could happen. But, one thing we do know is that the presence of quality in the story one author creates from a certain set of elements doesn't prevent there from being quality in the way another author arranges those same elements.

One thing to consider, if you are up in arms about the FBOFW idea, is whether or not you take issue with the book "Grendel" or for a more pop-culture version of this reference, the musical "Wicked." Both are retellings of another person's story. If there is nothing in principle wrong with creating a derivative work, then the objection to doing so for FBOFW is something like the fact that the creator is still alive or that copyright law gets in the way, or something like that.

Nothing Eric Burns suggested precludes Lynn Johnston from writing the story she wants to write. Nothing Eric Burns suggested subtracts value from Lynn Johnston's work. Eric sees a different story that he wants told, using many of the elements of her work (or elements quite similar). While I am not arguing about whether copyright law does in fact prohibit his plan (I am not an expert on copyright law), most people who are upset with the idea don't seem to be worried about the legal question.

If the question is whether it is somehow a violation of Lynn Johnston's natural right to do whatever she wants to her own characters, keep in mind that Lynn Johnston may still do whatever she wants to her own characters.

As to the issue of disrespect, which I noted when mentioning the idea of joke theft, I don't know how disrespectful it is to say, "we would like to tell your story another way." Maybe the tone of the suggestion is more, "You are screwing up your story, we want to tell it better." In which case, it may be disrespectful, but not that much more so than someone just saying that think the story is being told poorly.

My point is that, regardless of whether Burns & co. tell a story that is better, worse, or just as good as the one Johnston is telling, doesn't seem to be relevant to the fact that they want a different story, and are willing to tell it themselves. Maybe we need to have copyright laws that prevent that for some reason (though I highly doubt it), but again, the empassioned concerns are not legal ones, they seem to be about morality or respect, and I'm not seeing how this plan is immoral or disrespectful.

I said I sided with Burns, and by that I didn't mean that I think his story will be better than Johnston's. He wants to tell a story, and in the end, I think that more stories are better than fewer stories. His story will appeal to different people than Johnston's. But even if it didn't, there's nothing stopping them from reading both. So, assuming there is someway around the legal issues, I say, full steam ahead. Go ahead and tell the story.

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

"It seems to me that the only difference here is that a webcomic creator does not usually have the resources to sue someone who uses their characters. This does not, however, change the fact that no one, fan or otherwise, has the right to use their characters without their permission. In fact, ethically, it may even make it worse. And any article which encourages people to do so is highly irresponsible."

First off, if you had read what I wrote carefully, I was, at every juncture, setting aside the legal question, and focusing, primarily, on the moral or ethical question.

I didn't use the term 'fan-fiction' because it didn't seem like it would be useful to bring up that method of classifying works. I am concerned with derivative works generally, fan-fiction is only one subset of those.

I am not singling out web comics, because I think this applies to IP across the board. There may be ethical questions about the relative inability of a webcomic creator to bring suit, but Lynn Johnston actually does have considerable legal means at her disposal for bringing suit, through her publishers, so it isn't an issue in this particular case.

My position is that creators only have the right to control characters from their works because the law says so, and not because the law is modeling some underlying moral principle. You disagree with that, but you haven't explained why you think there is anything above and beyond a legal right which would make ignoring that legal right any worse, ethically, than jaywalking.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

[quote=posiduck] First off, if you had read what I wrote carefully, I was, at every juncture, setting aside the legal question, and focusing, primarily, on the moral or ethical question. [...] My position is that creators only have the right to control characters from their works because the law says so, and not because the law is modeling some underlying moral principle. You disagree with that, but you haven't explained why you think there is anything above and beyond a legal right which would make ignoring that legal right any worse, ethically, than jaywalking.[/quote]You're right, I do disgree with that. To begin with, I'd argue that these issues cannot be separated from the legal position, precisely because the relevant laws here are specifically designed to uphold the moral and ethical rights of the creator.

As for my reasoning, despite the passage you quoted, copyright laws are there to protect the income (or potential income) that a creator earns (or may one day earn) from his own creation. That's why copyright is usually expressed in terms of a number of years from the creation of the work or the death of the creator.

Allowing anyone other than the creator to interfere with that intellectual property and possibly damage it in the eyes of the general public would indeed be not only illegal but decidedly unethical. Yes, it's also possible that they may enhance the value of the property but - since it's the creator's income at risk - that's his (or her) decision to make (ethically and legally).

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

[quote=DAJB]

To begin with, I'd argue that these issues cannot be separated from the legal position, precisely because the relevant laws here are specifically designed to uphold the moral and ethical rights of the creator.

[/quote]

Then in that case, let's talk about those moral and ethical rights, and not about the current legal implementation. What are the moral and ethical rights of the creator? Are they best understood as modeled after property, or after something else, or as a category unto themselves? The current model is property-based, but runs into difficulties because of the very real disanalogies between IP and physical property. If you can enumerate the rights you think the creator has, it will be easier for us to discuss which of them Burns' plan conflicts with, and determine whether or not we have good reason to think the creator has such an ethical/moral right.

[quote=DAJB]

As for my reasoning, despite the passage you quoted, copyright laws are there to protect the income (or potential income) that a creator earns (or may one day earn) from his own creation. That's why copyright is usually expressed in terms of a number of years from the creation of the work or the death of the creator.

[/quote]

I can accept that as a matter of fact, copyright laws are used to protect the income and potential income of creators (or, in too many cases, corporations that publish the works), but I don't see the connection you are suggesting in the "number of years" issue. I agree that copyright laws are designed in such a way as to give control of the IP to a particular individual or organization for a period of time, but, as I said before, this is the means described by the constitution to serve the purpose of progress in science and the arts. Based on the text of the constitution itself, if the framers had known of a superior way to progress arts and sciences, that did not involve this method of income protection, that would be what congress would have been given the power to legislate. However, I'm not concerned with the constitutional scholarship question, and so we can set it aside. I'm much more interested in knowing what moral/ethical rights you think a creator has, and what the basis is for their having those rights.

[quote=DAJB]

Allowing anyone other than the creator to interfere with that intellectual property and possibly damage it in the eyes of the general public would indeed be not only illegal but decidedly unethical. Yes, it's also possible that they may enhance the value of the property but - since it's the creator's income at risk - that's his (or her) decision to make (ethically and legally).

[/quote]

Performing some action which can damage the value of IP is not in and of itself unethical. For instance, writing a negative review of a movie is not unethical, even though a prominent reviewer writing a negative review can likely impact the ticket sales to some degree. So, sometimes it is ethical to do something that damages the value of another's IP. What are the conditions under which it is unethical? You are targeting a situation in which the resources of that IP are used to damage the value. But parody could easily do that, and is protected by law. Now, that doesn't automatically mean that it is ethical. Do you think parody is unethical? What about just plain old competition using your own IP? Was releasing "Dante's Peak" at the same time as "Volcano" unethical for whichever came second? Obviously, the presence of a second volcano disaster movie impacted the profits of the first. What about the release of Batman the same summer as UHF? They aren't even in the same genre, but surely UHF would have done somewhat better if no blockbusters had been released that summer. What is the difference between all of these cases and the one in question? So far, it seems that it is just the fact that the characters are the same.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

I'm afraid it's impossible for you and I to debate this any further. Your starting point is just so far removed from mine that any argument I give, you automatically argue is outside the bounds of the question. Similarly, the arguments you give seem to me to be based on an almost willful misconstruction of the very notion of ethics.

We'll just have to agree to differ.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

I have re-read your posts in an effort to better understand your position. Please tell me if I am accurately summarizing it:

  1. The legal and ethical questions are bound up in each other.
  2. This is because the laws are in place to protect the ethical/moral rights of the creators of intellectual property.
  3. Copyright laws exist to protect the income of creators.
  4. Creators of intellectual property have an ethical right to make income from their intellectual property.
  5. Derivative works can effect the value of a piece of intellectual property.
  6. Because of that, the creation of a derivative work can effect the moral/ethical right of a creator to make income from their work.
  7. While it is possible that the derivative work augments the value of the original work, and thus, enhances the creator's ability to make income from their intellectual property, it also has the possibility to diminish the value of the original work, and inhibit the creator's ability to make income from their intellectual property.
  8. This means that the creation of a derivative work puts the creator of the original work's income at risk.
  9. Since the creator has a right to make income from their work, and a derivative work would put that income at risk, it is up to the creator of the original work to decide whether or not such a risk is acceptable.
  10. Thus, it is up to the creator of the original work to determine whether or not the derivative work is acceptable.
  11. I think that is a fair reconstruction of your position, but let me know if it is not. If it is an acceptable reconstruction, then we should be able to talk about individual items on that list, and see where our disagreement lies.

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    Lewis Powell
    (pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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    Lewis Powell
    (pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

I am certainly not willful in any misconstruction of ethics I may or may not be guilty of. And I'd prefer not to "agree to differ" (though obviously, if you don't want to continue the debate, that's your choice). I am still curious about your position though, as I don't see where you are coming from. I'd like to try again, and I will do my best to follow what you are saying.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

I'm amazed no-one has yet used the term "fan fiction". Isn't that essentially what this is?

Some properties lend themselves to fan fiction (Buffy, Xena etc). Fans do not have the right to appropriate those characters and the producers tolerate the existence of these unauthorised spin-offs because, for the most part, they do not harm the original property and may even add to its commercial viability by drawing the fanbase together.

Other producers/publishers/creators will jealously guard their properties and, because fans do not have the right to use their characters, will readily sue anyone who tries to write a piece of fiction in which they feature. Certainly, if anyone tried to publish a piece of fan fiction commercially, I don't think there'd be any doubt that the law suits would come flying thick and fast.

It seems to me that the only difference here is that a webcomic creator does not usually have the resources to sue someone who uses their characters. This does not, however, change the fact that no one, fan or otherwise, has the right to use their characters without their permission. In fact, ethically, it may even make it worse. And any article which encourages people to do so is highly irresponsible.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

Mark Mekkes's picture

Since Zortic is basically the poster child of derivative works, I feel obligated to jump into this discussion.

For better or worse (so to speak), we have become an audience of derivative works. Movies and TV all seem to be remakes or sequels or interpretations of something that we're already familiar with. We thrive on that comfort and familiarity. Think about the movies you've seen over the last few years, how many of them weren't a sequel, prequel or based on something. With all of our media rehashing familiar concepts, is it any wonder that we as viewers feel a sense of entitlement to rework our favorite works?

Of course, there's a huge difference in acquiring the rights to a franchise for a remake and taking it upon yourself to redo someone's work in your own image. However I also feel that there's a question of honesty in your inspiration. Let's face it; everything you create is derivative of something; whether it's your friends, your job, the news or your favorite entertainments. Portraits, landscapes and still lifes all have subjects that they were “derived” from. Most "original" creations are either derived from significantly obscure references or changed enough to become unrecognizable. But the ideas do come from somewhere. So is it "more wrong" to pretend that our collections of inspirations are original, or acknowledge where our ideas come from in a more deliberate salute to those influences?

As I pointed out, my work is extremely derivative (protected under the magic word-of-protection, "parody"). But what helps me sleep better at night is that I try to bring as much variety to my sources as possible. I didn't invent any single spice, but I can mix them together to create a great tasting dish (see, even my analogy is a Ratatouille reference).

If a derivative work is just a rehashing of what when before it, then that's all it's going to be. But as long as an artist gives it something more, is it really any more derivative than anything else?

Visit www.zortic.com and www.abbysagency.us

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

A further expansion on disrespect, since I can see the potential comeback: "But nobody is intending to be disrespectful to Lynn Johnston by using her creations to tell a different story." That would, I suppose, depend on whether the intent of the speaker or the interpretation of the listener is what defines whether something said (or done) is disrespectful.

(As an aside, what little of the comments I've seen indicate that there's not much respect going around on the part of the fans, so I'm doubtful that there'd be much respect in the handling of this possible project.)

In issues of statements that can be taken as sexist or racist, for example, some argue that if someone honestly did not intend to cause offense, then offense should not be taken, or be minimally reacted to. Others contend that if someone takes offense, that feeling is paramount and the incident should be treated almost as seriously as a deliberate intent to offend, no excuse is acceptable.

What I do not know is whether Lynn Johnston herself is aware of this idea of appropriating her work and/or concepts, and if so, what her feelings on the matter are. If she approves, or doesn't care, then the issue of respect would seem to be moot - but if she disapproves, and the plan goes forward anyway, it's hard to rationalize how it could anything BUT disrespectful to Lynn Johnston and her wishes. As long as she's unaware of the plan, it can exist in a grey area where the issue of how she feels about it can be ignored - but once she knows of the plan, it becomes plain whether or not people would be deliberately opposing her.

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

But making a post saying that her work is no good would also be disrespectful, and people aren't up in arms about fan complaints. I think people imagine there is more than the disrespectfulness going on. Some sort of violation of Lynn's 'right' to preclude other people from telling stories with her characters in them. Since I deny the existence of such a moral right (though obviously, I am not challenging her legal standing), I think that the concern should be much less strong than the detractors are treating it.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

Well, "inherently disrespectful" is a somewhat different beast than "having the right" to do something, and it's mostly the former idea I was addressing.

That you deny a moral right won't, of course, prevent others from believing in that right, or being concerned.

I think it's a little disingenuous to try to completely separate the moral and legal rights of Lynn Johnston to protect her work, incidentally - after all, the copyright law wouldn't have been established in the first place if nobody thought there was a moral right of an author to retain control. Granted, today's copyright law has been greatly expanded since its inception, and a great deal of that has been motivated by large businesses seeking to retain control over their cash cows. But at some point, someone had to say, "I don't think it's right that someone can just walk up to an author's creation and swipe it (or parts of it)."

I do think there's a significant difference in making some sort of alternate telling of For Better or For Worse, and things like Wicked or Alan Moore's Lost Girls or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - in the latter cases, the original creators are deceased, the works are mostly in the public domain. Debating the wishes of the creators is only an intellectual exercise in that case - we won't ever know how they may have felt for certain. Lynn Johnston still lives; her reaction could be measured.

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

I think it's a little disingenuous to try to completely separate the moral and legal rights of Lynn Johnston to protect her work, incidentally - after all, the copyright law wouldn't have been established in the first place if nobody thought there was a moral right of an author to retain control.

In the US, the constitutional basis (and therefore legal grounding) of copyright law is not about protecting the creators. It is about promoting scientific and artistic progress. The relevant passage from the constitution is: "[Congress shall have the power] to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

That is not a particularly ambiguous passage. The legal basis for copyright is not founded on the moral principle that the owner is entitled to control of their works, but because securing that right for them is a means to the end of artistic progress.

Perhaps you think that there should be copyright law for other reasons as well. And that may be good, but it isn't true that the law as written is based on protecting the creator's encodes our thinking that using the IP of others is wrong. At the very least, the primary motivation enumerated is to get more people producing things. This is something to bear in mind when considering the legal issue.

And I really can't get behind the "it'll be ok when she is dead" argument, since I'm not sure why her preferences stop being relevant then, even if they are well known. Part of the reason I think that is because I don't think they are super-relevant while she is living either. As long as she can still tell the story the way she wants, then I don't see her as having legitimate grounds to complain (again, setting aside the legal grounds for a complaint).

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

[quote=posiduck]The legal basis for copyright is not founded on the moral principle that the owner is entitled to control of their works, but because securing that right for them is a means to the end of artistic progress.

[/quote]


All right.


In that case, then, do you think it would have a chilling effect on the creation of new works by authors if they were more aware of the possibility that any old random dipwad with a burr under their saddle could decide to appropriate their work?


If the reasoning is that giving authors this control promotes creation (and is thus a GOOD thing), doesn't eroding this control discourage original creation (and would that be a bad thing)? If Lynn Johnston were to be unable to prevent a re-purposing of her story (assuming she felt strongly enough about it to want to prevent it), and as a result she threw up her hands and said, "ah, the heck with it, I'll go into some other business" and shelved any future projects - meanwhile, the fan committee was able to put out their FBOFW v.2 comic... is society better or worse off then?

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

No, I don't think that there would be a corresponding decrease in the production of works. In fact, I think there would be a vast increase if the market were opened a little more to derivative works.

Additionally, I don't recommend the complete abandonment of any safeguards or protections for authors. I think ownership is the wrong model, but that the people in question deserve credit and compensation. I just don't think they deserve veto power over another person's project.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

[quote=posiduck]I think ownership is the wrong model, but that the people in question deserve credit and compensation. I just don't think they deserve veto power over another person's project.[/quote]


That's an interesting point, then - if they make FBOFW v.2, what sort of compensation is owed to Lynn Johnston? Some sort of royalty*? Should FBOFW v.2 list credit to Johnston as the originator of the base concepts? And what if Lynn Johnston prefers to not have her name associated anywhere near the thing?


In fact, if FBOFW v.2 is recognizable enough as an "alternate" or "branch" version of the original that no doubt could exist as to its origins, isn't Lynn Johnston's name sort of de facto associated with v.2? And in such a case, does the original author have any right to keep her name clean of association with the sequel?


*(Royalty may not intuitively seem to be a factor for a derivative work that is not being sold or marketed; however, the music industry does currently have a mechanical royalty system in place, where if someone records a song someone else wrote (example: Devo covering the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction), the performing artist is required to pay X amount of money to the composer/song owner for each copy of the recording that is made, regardless of whether the copies are being sold or given away for free.)

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

My thinking is that the royalties should be based on money taken in by the authors of the new project, but I'm not an economist, so I don't have a full proposal for compensation. I think that if the derivative work does not earn money for the creators of the derivative work, then they can't very well be charged with making money off of her work, and thus, wouldn't owe her any money.

As to credit, I think that the credit should be of the form, "Based on characters from Lynn Johnston's FBoFW, Lynn Johnston is not inolved with this project, and the use of her characters in now way indicates her approval or participation.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

"That is, unless you think the project itself is inherently disrespectful, in which case, I'd want to know what makes a project like this disrespectful."

Think children.

Who should know their children better than the parents?

What the fans are saying is, in essence, "you may have created these characters, you may have charted every single event in their lives up until now, but now we think we know far better than you how they would really react in this situation."

Imagine someone coming up to you in a grocery store, your five-year-old in tow, as you're trying to convince the wee tot to not throw a tantrum because he/she can't have the shiny toy on the rack at the checkout aisle, and telling you that, having observed you for a couple hours, they know that you are wrong and you should go ahead and give the kid the toy since they really do deserve it.

Right or wrong, you'd tell them to get lost. (Or you should.)

Lynn Johnston, whatever faults she may have, has been cranking out stories of these characters for decades, pondering their actions and reactions for a significant chunk of her waking life. I think doing this would indeed be inherently disrespectful to Lynn Johnston. I'm not sure whether, as a parallel example, Wicked would be inherently disrespectful to L. Frank Baum's original stories, since from what little I know about it, the story ends pretty much in the same way, there's just a lot of added dimension to the character of the Wicked Witch that wasn't there before.

Perhaps, if the parties involved were to actually come up with some sort of palatable explanation for the events they don't like - an added set of facts that did not contradict "canon" but instead added to and enhanced it - it could be seen as not disrespectful.

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

It is certainly a tricky line to walk - how do you define what is one person's story and what is anothers? I don't think you can argue that Burns' proposal is taking Lynn's story as a starting point at the very least. While he may be taking it in a different direction, he is trying to rewrite her world to fit his ideal - to create the correct story he feels she should have told in the first place.

Whether that is morally wrong might be a tricky question to answer, but I think it is most certainly disrespectful. And I think the premise itself differentiates it from Wicked or similar subjects - they aren't trying to reinvent her world, they are trying to "fix" it. There is a very different motivation behind this, and it does walk a very close line to entitlement. At the very least it feels more spiteful than creative - an attempt to prove how Lynn went wrong with her work, and show her what it should have been.

(And like I've said elsewhere - if people showed up with variants like this on existing webcomics, the outrage would be earth-shattering. There would be speeches, there would be drama, there would be crusades. If such a thing had happened before this proposal was put forward, I don't think anyone would even have had even the slightest hesitation before condemning them.)

Now, does this prevent her from telling her own story? No. Does it steal or reduce her profits in any way? Probably not.

But does that make it worth telling? I mean, part of the entire concept behind this work is that they are doing this out of love for the subject matter, and the wonderful stories they feel that Lynn used to tell - this seems like a poor way to repay that. Like Tim says, like many others have suggested, why the need to directly mirror FBoFW, rather than create a strip emphasizing the ideals the strip used to celebrate? That would seem to be the best of both worlds - original and new, but celebrating the spirit you wanted to capture.

I mean, does the fact that the proposal wants to change only exactly enough details to be legal seem like a bad sign to anyone else? I mean, that strikes me as saying, on some level, "We know what we are doing is somewhat wrong, but here is how we can get away with it."

That may have come across more aggressive than intended - I certainly don't think Eric, of all people, have some evil motivation behind this idea. I think they do feel like they are doing this out of love for the comic - but it does come across as more childish. "You messed up, Lynn Johnston - now it's our turn."

And it seems like that just makes it a shameful piece of business all around.

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

"Now, does this prevent her from telling her own story? No. Does it steal or reduce her profits in any way? Probably not.

But does that make it worth telling? I mean, part of the entire concept behind this work is that they are doing this out of love for the subject matter, and the wonderful stories they feel that Lynn used to tell - this seems like a poor way to repay that."

What makes it worth telling is whether or not it is a good story. Good stories are, all else equal, worth telling. Now, maybe if telling a good story cost someone's life or livelihood, that would override the reasons favoring telling it. Hell, you know what, it doesn't even need to be a good story. The fact that it is a story someone wants to tell is what makes it worth telling.

I think there is a weird sort of reverse-entitlement going on in the latter point you make. They don't owe Lynn repayment. She is telling her story, and her fans don't owe her anything. They are not indebted to her because she produced good stories for so long. First off, even if they are indebted to her,* Burns and co. are the sort who are or were supporting her by buying her print collections and the like. But their continued "debt" is conditional on her providing continued value to them.

I'll grant that they perhaps owe her gratitude and/or respect. But, I don't think that their debt of gratitude extends to thanking her for parts of the story they don't enjoy, and I don't think it is inherently disrespectful to appropriate her characters to tell a different story.

You might think that the manner in which the suggestion was made, coupled with the tone of some of the criticism is disrespectful. And that may be. But then, I think the proper rebuke would be, "If you are going to do this, remember to be respectful of Johnston" not "You shouldn't do this because it is wrong." In other words, the issue of respect has nothing to do with telling another story, even though it may relate to the manner in which they choose to tell the story, and the manner in which they discuss the idea of telling that story. If respect is the concern, then your worry should focus on engaging in this project respectfully, not on whether or not to engage in the project. That is, unless you think the project itself is inherently disrespectful, in which case, I'd want to know what makes a project like this disrespectful.

"I mean, does the fact that the proposal wants to change only exactly enough details to be legal seem like a bad sign to anyone else? I mean, that strikes me as saying, on some level, "We know what we are doing is somewhat wrong, but here is how we can get away with it." "

It seems to me like a sign that the people involved recognize that the plan is in questionable status legally. The fact that the plan involves minimal changes to conform with legal requirements does not in any way suggest to me that Burns or anyone else thinks the project is morally questionable. If anything, it suggests that he thinks the only problem is the legal one.

*I reconsidered my position on the struck-through text, but didn't want to drastically edit my comment to remove it after I already posted it, so this is left for posterity.

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

Tim  Demeter's picture

Yeah, well, somedays I wish I feel like I should be managing the Milwaukee Brewers, but no amount of bullpen meltdowns are going to grant me that right.

I'll start right out by saying I haven't read all the Websnark comments, so if I retread someone else's point(s), I apologize.

The more logical side of me agrees with most of what's being said here, and if others were to launch a pseudo-FBoFW, no it really doesn't interfere with the genuine article, and therefore is it worth getting worked up over? Is it flattering, or moreover, could it drive people to check out the original? (I looked at FBoFW for the first time in years because of this post.)

So, yes, subjectively, this all makes a lot of sense.

However...

The selfish artsy creator in me finds this notion HUGELY offensive. If a group of fans came to me and told me "we would like to tell your story another way" I would have more than a handful of choice expletives for them. This will sound harsh, but being a fan of a work entitles you to exactly nothing. You are free to support something or not with your time and money, and while a creator's job (if they're in it for the money) is to create something people will enjoy, fandom does not have the right to essentially say "we're taking over your creation from you, because clearly, you've jumped the shark, GOOD DAY." It's the creator's choice and said creation is their property to do with as they chose.

Comics is a very participatory medium, and that's a great thing, but I don't think that means the fans should be able to mutiny a comic and take over. If you really feel like this decision is taking FBoFW off the rails, why try and carry on with something stale when you can take what you loved about the strip, the parts that worked, and use that as a foundation to start something fresh that is all your own?

Or do you not think you can do better? Just saying...

Tim Demeter
does a bunch of neato stuff.
Clickwheel

GraphicSmash
Reckless Life

Tim Demeter
does a bunch of neato stuff.
Clickwheel
GraphicSmash
Bustout Odds

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

posiduck's picture

"The selfish artsy creator in me finds this notion HUGELY offensive. If a group of fans came to me and told me "we would like to tell your story another way" I would have more than a handful of choice expletives for them."

This gets into some sticky issues with the metaphysics of artwork, but if the plot is substantially different, they would not be telling your (or in this case, her) story. They would be telling a similar and related story. Saying that one can tell your story better than you is more like what that weird guy did who basically redid each and every Overcompensating, by redrawing the exact same strip. He was telling Jeff Rowland's exact same story himself. Burns et. al. want to tell a different story. What they are doing is much more like (though still not the same as) the Arbuckle project. In a way, the FBoFW remake is even cleaner since the basic idea is to deviate from the story being told.

"This will sound harsh, but being a fan of a work entitles you to exactly nothing. You are free to support something or not with your time and money, and while a creator's job (if they're in it for the money) is to create something people will enjoy, fandom does not have the right to essentially say "we're taking over your creation from you, because clearly, you've jumped the shark, GOOD DAY." It's the creator's choice and said creation is their property to do with as they chose."

It doesn't sound all that harsh to me, but I think the entitlement point is unrelated to this. They are not taking over the strip. This is why I was talking about scarcity in my post. They aren't taking over the strip, they are generating their own strip which they think is a better continuation of her early work than the work she did/is doing. But she still has her strip. It will still be FBoFW 'canon' that Liz gets together with Anthony, the FBoFWarchives will feature the story Lynn Johnston wants to tell, and Burns is not doing anything to stop that.

You are describing it as though there is this boat, the USS FOOB, and Burns decided he didn't like the way the captain was driving, so he is trying to throw the captain overboard. That's an exceedingly inaccurate analogy, though. It's more like this: There is a boat, the USS FOOB. Burns was a passenger on that boat for a long time, and still rides it occaisionally. But he's sad because the captain (a) colored the portholes so that the view is shaded in a certain way, (b) the captain plans to stop exploring exciting new parts of the ocean, and instead will circle the harbor for the rest of time. So Burns wants to get his friends together to build a similar boat, untint the windows, and sail out to the places they had always hoped they would go.

In case you are worried I am painting it in a way that is favorable to Burns, I can give you the analogy from the other perspective as well.

Lynn is the captain of the USS Foob. She has been nice enough to let so many people aboard her boat and see what she wants to show them. Some of those people are upset. Their unhappiness is confusing, since she always keeps the windows clean and shows them the best sites she can find. Lately, she found a particular set of sites that are so good, she wants to keep the boat there and just explore. They are so upset that they want off her boat. They want to build their own boat (the same design as hers), never clean the windows, and go look at some relatively unappealing areas instead of enjoying the wonderful views she was showing them.

Even on that version of the analogy, it doesn't seem like Burns's plan is taking over the USS FOOB. Even if you think that Burns would be better served building a boat of an entirely new design and sailing uncharted waters, it doesn't seem like he is stealing Lynn's boat. Lynn's boat will go whereever she wants, and Burns's boat won't interfere at all. Unless of course, so many people want to switch to his boat, that Lynn's boat doesn't have any passengers left. But arguably, that would happen because people want the boatride Burns is offering, not the one Johnston is offering.

I can understand that it would not be pleasant for fans to tell you they could do a better job telling a story with your characters, but I'm not sure that I should have the right, as a creator, to prevent people from telling that story. It might very well be better. And it seems absurd to suggest that I as the creator am entitled to prevent other people from telling a better story. "Well, my mediocre story came first, so, I'm sorry, I guess none of you can get the fantastic story that So-and-So might tell."

And when I talk of rights I don't mean to get into the legal issue. I want to ask two questions: Should Burns be permitted to do what he is suggesting? To which I say, morally, yes. And secondly, Should Burns do what he is suggesting? And that one seems perhaps dependent on how well the story gets told, whether Burns wants to do so, whether there is an audience for what he is suggesting, etc.

That's why I said this wasn't about entitlement. He's not taking her ship from her, he's building his own. And I'm hard pressed to think that there is anything wrong with that, since the only way his boat harms hers is if his boat is that much better than hers. In which case, to say that he is in the wrong is to suggest that no one should get to ride the better boat, because someone else built the mediocre one first.

-Lewis Powell

(The above picture is "The Thinker" as a candle. One might even call it a 'wax intellectual')

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Lewis Powell
(pictured above: a 'wax intellectual')

Re: Entitlement and Derivative Works

It sounds like you're actually talking about ships, not boats.