David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

intellectual property and prop relica community norms

Copyright discussions are hot and heavy in fandom again. As always, there is contention, which means plenty of folks wind up being surprised and annoyed when the simple act of explaining their point of view does not make the other person immediately agree. This makes these arguments like pretty much everything else in life where people have diametrically opposed self-interests. Complicating matters, of course, is that fandom has its own mores regarding transformative and derivative works based on stuff that belongs to other people. And fannish mores, to complicate matters, shift: pornography was once shunned in fanfic; now it’s the driving engine. And so on.

What’s most interesting about this to me is that as new mores are developed and adopted, different communities adopt different standards. Today, for example, I came across a fascinating flamewar among makers of replica props that revolved around identical property issues.

Replica propmaking is a weird, fascinating intellectual property twilight zone: people make versions of props used in film or television, mostly for their own use, but differing skill levels and interests being what they are, a lot of the time people make copies of these replicas and sell them. The various replica communities have differing standards about the ethics involved in this. (And differing perspectives, too; I’ve read, for example, that the R2-D2 builders apparently differentiate between “builders” and “assemblers,” based on how much you rely on other people’s parts to build your R2 unit.) Regardless, the intellectual property chain gets pretty interesting when you have people trying to make exact copies of something that was originally designed by someone else and the design of which is owned by (usually) a corporation.

The general rule is that you don’t fuck over somebody who has skin in the game. For example, if somebody sculpts a prop replica, then makes casts of the replica they sculpted and sells them (this is called “doing a run”), it is nyekulturny to buy one of those casts, make a mold of it and start churning out casts of your own to sell. If somebody buys a screen-used prop, makes casts of it and sells those, and you buy one, it is nyekulturny for you to then turn around and make and sell copies of those casts, because that person needs to be able to recoup their investment in the original and the supplies to make copies. If somebody licenses an item, you don’t copy their licensed product and sell it, because that hurts their ability to make back money on the license, and that’s a no-no.

But you can sculpt your own version from scratch, or buy your own screen-used prop, and do a run of that, and compete with them on the basis of your own (purchased or sculpted) original, and that’s okay.

As a general rule of thumb, however, the ethics of reproduction become more flexible the more desirable the item in question is. And if you cheat somebody, all bets are off -- there is one very desirable prop that apparently has been sold as screen-used by an individual connected with production, when that individual was actually selling casts from the original molds. One replica propmaker acquired said item, found out the history, and then decided to use that as a base to make a cast, clean it up, and do a high-quality run so people could get a close-to-screen original, because fuck the seller. This was seen as okay in the replica prop community in question.

As one participant in this flamewar pointed out (the argument was over whether a cast of a screen-used prop that had been fixed and partially resculpted counted as a new item and whether the person who had modified it could sell casts of his modification), the forum in question didn’t protect intellectual property rights so much as it “selfishly established a standard of behavior to protect those that bring in unique items to the hobby and do so by protecting their offerings.” Recasting, in the view of the participant -- who was a vociferous defender of this selfishly established standard -- wasn’t comparable with the violations of copyright violations, because “the fact remains its [sic] worse to US.”

That’s a clear, naked statement of self-interest as expressed in cultural norm. And it’s interesting, isn’t it?

Different groups will have different standards. Recasting is verboten or at least heavily scorned on this particular forum (people are banned for recasting there), but it’s very different in the Star Wars costuming group, the 501st Legion, where a truckload of Stormtrooper armor is recast, probably because there’s really high demand. Lucasfilm supports the 501st, curiously enough, and has them act as cultural ambassadors and march in parades and that sort of thing, which is really funny when you consider the fact that (as far as I know) there is no Lucasfilm-approved place to buy a set of licensed stormtrooper armor.

Anyway, it’s an interesting look at how another subculture has established its own norms, such as they are, and how they tend to focus rather bluntly on the self-interest of the subculture. Reminds me of fandom, actually.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.
Tags: fandom

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