Jenkins writes: “…intellectual property…has enormous economic value and companies seek to tightly regulate its flow in order to maximize profits and minimize the risk of diluting their trademark and copyright holdings.”
So Jenkins tells us that media companies seek to regulate all the things that are said about its intellectual property in order to maximize its profits. After all, if you can only get Star Wars stories from George Lucas, he will maximize his profits! But like I said in class today, this kind of thinking is not sound in the long term.
Firstly, I’m not saying that we should make all movie characters and plot lines into public domain, as this would create a situation where there would be no incentive to create. I do think its potentially a good thing for consumers that media companies are spreading their properties across many different forms of media. Action figures, books, movies, and websites all increase our enjoyment of a franchise. But to try and limit fan fiction from going up, to limit the right of people to imagine and create new storylines and scenarios and share them with like-minded fans is not only plain greedy, but also fiscally unsound.
Firstly, the very people that create fan fiction are the ones that buy the action figures and videogames that come along with franchises such as Star Wars. To alienate this population would have multiple effects: 1) you would get your most dedicated fans to get angry at you, 2) you would lose demand in these ancillary markets (clothing, merchandise), 3) people will think you’re evil, and 4) fans would experience a dearth in narratives from these popular fictional universes. The argument that fan fiction dilutes a franchise and cuts into their profits or their control over a fictional universe may be mildly true at best. The stories and narratives and plot lines that come from the media companies themselves are unquestionably definitive, and fan fictions absolutely do not claim that their plot lines are the “true” ones, so you have no threat of a fan changing the character traits of Ron Weasley, for example. They will still look to the pen of J.K. Rowling for the “true” story. Thus, the media companies’ cumbersome and clumsy efforts to limit this dilution would bring about more problems than benefits because they would alienate a key consumer population and decrease “buzz” for little gain. After all, who is going to buy a novel based on a videogame? Obviously, only the geeks who read and write fan fiction.
I do think that the seemingly greedy behavior is caused by the very nature of corporations, which concentrate only on the short-term bottom line. The bottom line number cannot account for the future benefits of fans creating a rich culture around your franchise, and it cannot account for the social benefits of letting fans weave creative narratives. I agree with Jenkins in that it benefits us to be able to talk about our society’s heroes, and the fact that companies can flex their legal muscles and try to control the public’s imagination about them seems like an unfortunate result of our modern legal system.
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