by Mike Masnick
Tue, Nov 6th 2007 7:20pm
The concept of "fan fiction" represents an interesting challenge for copyright law. Most copyright laws don't take into account the idea of fans creating new works involving characters or worlds that they like -- as such a thing just wasn't practical until recently. However, thanks to the rise of tools that make the creation of creative works easier than ever before, it's become a bigger and bigger question. In Germany, the problem has been highlighted by fans of the board game Warhammer 40,000 who spent time and money to create a fan film based on the game. Unfortunately, thanks to German copyright law, the film can not be shown. Apparently, they can't just say it's okay without losing all rights to the Warhammer brand. Basically, according to the article the company can assign the copyright to another party, but it's a complete assignment, meaning that the game maker no longer has those rights any more. This sounds quite strange, as it's hard to see how any copyright law (or trademark law) would function properly if you can't license things selectively for specific purposes. The gamemaker apparently feels bad about the result, and doesn't seem to mind the idea of the fan film, but claims that under the law, it can't allow the film to proceed. This seems to clearly go against the very point of copyright law, which shouldn't require the holder of a copyright to ban its use in other cases. If there's someone out there who can explain the specifics of German copyright law, that would be great -- as the story doesn't make much sense. Can there really be no licensing of content without assigning the entire copyright? If that's truly the case, then hopefully people will realize it's time to update copyright law to take into account our more modern communications infrastructure. Update: In the comments someone with a familiarity in German copyright law suggests that the company needs to find a new copyright lawyer -- as it should be able to allow this movie to go forward.
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