I came across an interesting project on the crowdfunding platform Patreon. The small production team Ismahawk has been producing a popular Nightwing fan film series since 2012. Many of their movies are about comic book properties. The next projects they want to produce through crowdfunding will involve Marvel Comics characters. Should Ismahawk be allowed to fund their projects when they feature existing comic book properties? I think they should not.
Ismahawk is not the only team producing fan films about existing properties. Fan films are an established outlet for budding creators much like fan fiction. They are tolerated to some degree by copyrights holders. Many copyrights holders do not tolerate them at all because they clearly infringe on their exclusive rights to exploit their properties. DC Comics and Lucas Films have become more tolerant of fan films. Just like fan fiction, fan films cannot be eradicated. They are part of the general culture.
New creators have always borrowed from past culture and updated it, changed it to tell new stories. Superman is Moses. Shazam is Samson. Disney built an empire on retelling old French fairy tales long in the public domain. For culture to evolve, new generations of creators must be able to borrow from the commons and current culture. Fan fiction and fan films serve as training for new generations of creators. 50 Shades of Grey started as a fan fiction based on Twilight. It’s author made substantial changes and created her own property.
I believe that copyrights holders should be tolerant of fan films and fan fiction but to a limit. When fan fiction and fan film creators earn money from the unlicensed properties they exploit, this is a problem. More than voluntarily breaching the rights of copyrights owners, they earn revenues from properties they have no right to exploit. If you want to make a Batman film, do it on your own, bear all the costs. Use it as a portfolio piece. But to go out of your way to ask people to fund your Batman film is wrong. You don’t own Batman. It’s malicious.
It also gives an excuse to copyrights holders in Hollywood to keep pressuring governments to tighten copyrights laws and stop all forms of expression. Ismahawk’s actions may help them create their next Nightwing film, but it also gives ammunition to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Warner Brothers, and Disney to make sure no one can produce anything that is not registered or to learn movie-making easily.
It also hurts other creators who are not Hollywood majors and prevents them from creating their own original properties. Hollywood majors would really like to claim the exclusive right to create culture. Many of the laws they push for force independent creators to spend much more money to register and protect their own projects. New proposed regulations always benefit large copyrights holders, not small ones.
If you were thinking about funding this and other similar projects, I suggest that you do not to. No one benefits from this. Patreon and Kickstarter should be more proactive in blocking these kinds of projects. If Ismahawk are serious about their work, let them develop new characters and new concepts that will really show their skills, talent and merit funding.