Fandoms, we need to talk about copyright…

Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert. I have studied media law at university and have a basic understanding of copyright legislation.

It’s easy to lose yourself within a fan community. News and updates about our favourite stars are constant and soon circulate on social media sites such as Twitter and Tumblr. Fandom members are passionate, dedicated and excitable, and whilst such a mindset is understandable, it can sometimes lead to some oversight – particularly when it comes to copyright infringement.

Timothée Chalamet (centre, in red) on set for The King, coming to Netflix next year. It’s photos and videos I took of this shoot which were reposted online without my permission or credit. Photo: Liam O’Dell.

It was the start of a boiling hot week in Lincoln and news of filming on the grounds of the city’s cathedral had soon spread across the county. Local residents had gathered outside when news spread that one of the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, could possibly be in town.

Alas, he was not, but the lead actor in the new Netflix drama, Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet, was. He plays the role of Henry V in The King, which is believed to come out next year.

News emerged that the historic cathedral would be used for Henry’s coronation, and this appeared to be the case when a blue carpet was rolled out, and Chalamet emerged nestled in a line of people marching towards the building. Keen to do some reporting, I got out my phone camera and started taking photos and video to share online. Things were going well, and the fact that I was seeing a film shoot unfold right in front of me was very exciting indeed.

Just moments after sharing a video of the shot being filmed on Twitter, tagging the actor, things took an interesting turn.

First of all, a fan account for the drama was quick to get in touch, asking if they could repost my image. I wasn’t so keen, preferring a retweet so that the content was on my account, rather than being reposted on somebody else’s – potentially without credit.

On this occasion, they did repost with credit – which was fine – and I soon settled for this as a compromise, knowing that even a credit on any reposted image could still help my social media following. Yet, as more people came across the photos and video, some weren’t providing the credit I asked for.

Granted, they probably weren’t aware of my request to provide credit until I notified them asking them to do so, but even this alludes to a larger problem within fan communities. This being the issue of copyright, and fans sharing any content displaying their favourite celebrity without real understanding of the consequences of doing so.

In fact, in around eight instances, I had to submit takedown requests to Instagram and YouTube (seven for the former, and one for the latter, I believe). In one case, an individual said my video was not copyrighted, which is not true.

Of course, under Section 11 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, “the author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in it”. In terms of ‘broadcasts’ (this being the video I shared on Twitter), it’s “the person making the broadcast”.

Nevertheless, I have, for the most part, been lenient on fan accounts sharing my images and videos – I understand their excitement. In fact, it happened in January when fans of Downtown Abbey star Michelle Dockery reposted a photo of me meeting the star in London. However, all it takes is for one fan to share a copyrighted image online which the original owner doesn’t like (or feels infringes on their copyright) and then there’s a very difficult situation indeed.

Sure, in the case of, say, television shows, the networks may be okay with fans sharing promotional images, even though these photos are still copyrighted. This is probably on the grounds of free promotion (hundreds of fans sharing their promotional image is great for getting the word out), or the act of submitting hundreds of takedown requests is probably too laborious.

I remember the discussions we would have in school about how taking an image from Google Images is a big copyright faux pas. Are we now seeing said faux pas making its way into fan communities instead?

If so, then we need to build upon the cautiousness we already possess on social media when it comes to fake news, and introduce a greater sense of awareness around copyright within fan communities.

As someone who mingles in a couple of fandoms myself, these groups open up opportunities for creativity, collaboration and friendships. Such an experience should not be diminished by a careless approach to sharing images of our favourite stars online.

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The Online Audience: Individuals or Communities? | The Wednesday Article

Naturally, British culture expands and grows every year. Within that, we create our own subcultures, groups and communities. Whilst we may not like being labelled, we can’t complain when we enjoy the benefits that come with belonging to a specific, restricted subculture. But when an audience is grouped together, do we value group privileges over our own individuality?

In terms of this debate, the answer lies in two of the most popular social media platforms. On YouTube, numerous ‘YouTubers’ or vloggers have often spoken out about the dangers of fandoms on the video-sharing site. In particular, some have talked about the risk of an aggressive fandom if an audience is grouped together. Another example is this video by Thomas ‘TomSka’ Ridgewell, entitled No Fandom.

However, micro-blogging site Tumblr presents the other side of the equation. For users of the site, the fandom aspect is one thing which makes Tumblr what it is. It is the site for sharing in-jokes, references and reactions to TV shows, films and books. But when everyone has the same thoughts on the show, is it possible for a member of the community to express an individual opinion and feel involved in the subculture at the same time?

So whilst users in YouTube comments may turn nasty if grouped into a community, fandoms on Tumblr thrive for an individual connection with the show, book etc. they love.

With that in mind, is there any way to satisfy an online audience?

What do you think? If you’re a blogger, do you refer to your audience as an individual, or a collective? Vote in the poll above and comment below!

Liam