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Fan Fiction and Intellectual Property

January 18, 2012
Review by Mark Popielarski, Biddle Intern.
By: Aaron Schwabach (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011).
Who doesn’t have a favorite book, television series, or movie? Creative works such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and Twilight possess legions of ardent fans. Many of these fans like to explore “what if” scenarios about their favorite characters, major plot points, or what happened after the work’s conclusion. Fan fiction—or “fanfic”—are works created by a property’s most passionate fans which are then spread throughout the community. While fanfic has existed for decades, the internet’s impact has led to the genre’s exponential growth and greater accessibility. As is the case for many areas of intellectual property, the internet proved a game-changer in the relationship between copyright holders and the most loyal and passionate members of their fan base.
 Aaron Schwabach, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and admitted reader of fanfic, authored this book to provide greater clarity concerning the legal issues raised by fan fiction, the current boundaries of copyright, and how it impacts copyright holders and fanfic authors. Professor Schwabach proceeds to delineate areas of U.S. copyright law which are settled and where its application remains unclear. He explores how misunderstanding and murkiness in copyright as it stands today can create unnecessary tension between authors and their fans. Schwabach examines what part—and to what extent— the underlying work is protected, whether fan fiction infringes or can be considered a legitimate use, how the author’s financial and literary interests can conflict with fan authors, and the relationship between fan fiction authors and other fans.
 I admit that I don’t read fan fiction. However, when I saw this book on the Biddle Library’s Recent Acquisitions page, the title grabbed my attention. Aside from the fascinating legal discussion, the underlying subject material proves highly entertaining. I learned that devoted fans can have a truly creative interpretation of their favorite series. Additionally, the intersection between the internet and intellectual property has been—and will continue to be—a hot legal topic. Fanfic’s entertainment value combined with the timeliness of internet copyright issues makes the book a fun and informative read.