fair use Posts

On fan fiction

Here is a short clip on fanfiction. It was triggered by a conversation I had with a friend upon reading Keshav Guha’s debut novel Accidental Magic ( Harper Collins India ) and Stephen Alter’s Feral Dreams ( Aleph Publications). This is a new space for modern literature especially as access to the Internet and new forms of edevices proliferate. As I say in the video, The Wired noted in 2015 that more than 1 billion minutes per month were being spent either creating or reading material on fanfiction websites such as Wattpad. Of these 90% of the users accessed the websites using their mobiles.
Fanfiction is a modern literary phenomenon whose popularity is astonishing and understandable. It permits people who are infatuated with the books that they have read, characters, plots and/or literary landscapes to explore the oft asked question, “What If?”. It is also permitted to flourish by the original creators as long it sticks within the purview of the fair use clause of copyright laws and is not commercially exploited. It is a win-win situation as it allows the readers to exercise their writing skills, get feedback in real time from other users and it allows the writers to see their stories/characters remain in focus. In fact in a Bookseller article discussing Rainbow Rowell writing Harry Potter fan fiction, quoted a spokesman for Rowling’s literary agency, The Neil Blair Partnership, to say: “Our view on Harry Potter fan fiction is broadly that it should be non-commercial and should also not be distributed through commercial websites. Writers should write under their own name and not as J K Rowling. Content should not be inappropriate – also any content not suitable for young readers should be marked as age restricted.”

Fanfiction writing has spawned some bestselling authors in the West such as E L James of Fifty Shades of Grey and Cassandra Clare who wrote the Shadowhunter series. In India, it is still restricted to online spaces but in print there are a few examples. Not exactly in the definition of what constitutes fan fiction, a tribute, an imitative act, an exploration but Keshav Guha writes a form of fiction that is pays obeisance to Pottermania but also investigates what it means to be in this mostly online world. Stephen Alter’s Feral Dreams extends the story beyond the original and makes it his own but in his case the original work is out of the copyright domain, so these literary creations using the original characters are absolutely acceptable.

Sherlock Holmes is another literary character who has given rise to many, many fan fiction stories — offline and online. People have explored this for years and publishers regularly commission stories for young and older readers.

Fanfiction is here to stay.

6 Jan 2021

A response to Sudhanva Deshpande’s article on “fair use”

A response to Sudhanva Deshpande’s article on “fair use”

After uploading http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2012/09/21/du-photocopying-case-ongoing-sept-2012/ on the photocopying case/IPR in Delhi, I received the following email from Sudhanva Deshpande. I am uploading it on my blog with his and the anonymous author’s permission.

JAYA 23 Sept 2012

“Here’s a response I got, from someone who works at a multinational academic publisher.”

* * * * *
Sudhanva Deshpande
—– Forwarded Message —–

1. Publishing companies have no qualms about violating copyright when it serves their interests. Aspiring — but unqualified — authors in positions of influence at Indian universities routinely get published by leading publishing companies. Some of these books are heavily plagiarized from books by other publishers and even without attribution from Wikipedia — which publishers so readily dismiss with contempt– a fact which everyone in the industry chooses to ignore. Publishers publish these manuscripts with minor changes in language to skirt the issue of copyright; this involves re-writing sentences. Copyright violation in spirit, if not in letter. The author, being in a position of influence, guarantees sales of a certain number of copies, usually in the thousands. For the publishing company, such agreements cement a good relationship with the author, enabling access to his/her colleagues who serve on the advisory board which recommends textbooks in that university.

2. These boards are corrupted by the influence of sales managers from publishing companies. It is not uncommon for unpublished books, only in the manuscript stage, to appear in the recommended list of university syllabi. It used to be the case that the syllabus for a course was framed first, and then books matching the syllabus are recommended. These days, the reverse happens — syllabi are framed from the contents of a book by a favoured publisher. What goes in the book is dictated by self-appointed editors at these publishing companies.

3. Publishing companies are concerned with selling their books to the syllabus review committees and not the students. Prices are sometimes kept artificially high for the simple reason that multinational companies do not want to be seen selling their books at the “cheap price-points” of their Indian competitors.

4. Editors of highly technical textbooks often have no subject knowledge at all. It is a miracle that a student gets a usable book after passing through their hands.

5. Contrary to what they may claim, editors do not “value add”. Manuscripts usually fall into two categories. Those written by expert authors, where an editor can do no more than beautify it and prepare it for “production”, an act which could just as easily have been done by the authors themselves. The other kind of book involves heavily-plagiarized work, or manuscripts so badly written, that the editor involved practically has to become the co-author. Such authors scarcely deserve to be published and amount to cheating the students.

6. The “production” of a manuscript by a publishing company takes months, which is totally anachronistic in today’s world — especially for technical manuscripts, where one can produce a beautifully typeset work using LaTeX instantly. This “production”, in fact, is where a publisher incurs a huge chunk of the cost of any project and then proceeds to justify the price-points at which the end product is sold. Notwithstanding the fact that numerous errors are introduced at this stage, all this is justified in the name of “value add”.

7. The authors are milked to the limit and paid peanuts for their hard work. Royalty is never more than 10%; any author who demands more is “greedy”.

8. Perfectly good manuscripts by Indian authors are sometimes rejected if they pertain to topics which have no “sales potential”. Or are deemed to be written at a “higher level” than is suited for the “average Indian student”. This not only does these scholars a disservice, but also forces them to turn to publishers based abroad, who are usually more willing. Thus, Indian students have to either turn to expensive books by foreign authors, or to expensive books by Indian authors published by foreign companies.

9. Publishers assume that students only like to read “syllabus-oriented” books. Only such proposals are accepted — if not, the author is forced to dilute the book’s contents and “simplify” it. This deprives students in India, at least those of us who like to go beyond the syllabus, of quality material.

Academic publishing, as it stands, is a fundamentally unethical business. Nowhere is this more evident than in journal publishing, where the publisher collects money from the author for publishing, gets it peer-reviewed for free, and collects more money from the readers. No qualms.

Publishers are terrified of the potential of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to up-end the whole education ecosystem. And as Clay Shirky says, “Publishing is not a process. Publishing is a button.” Tomorrow is, no doubt, brighter for those of us who believe knowledge should have no gatekeepers and this is something we should fight for.

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