A story is a mish-mash of ideas, some original and some borrowed. The same can be said of memes and fan arts. Done properly and with good intentions, they become a homage to the original ideas they borrow from. But when works can be easily duplicated, and words can be easily misconstrued on digital platforms, how far do we go to protect our copyright in order to prevent IP infringement or cultural appropriation?

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This link is embedded using URL link-sharing, enabled by WordPress. It ensures that we don’t have to download this meme by Flashrouters. Is this an infringement of Article 11 or fair use? Image source: Flashrouters.com

Never mind the directive. What about my memes?

The European Parliament has approved the Copyright Directive and one of the first things the media asked was: “What’s going to happen to our beloved memes?”

The EU has assured us that, yes, we can still use memes. The EU stated:

“The Copyright Directive protects freedom of expression, a core value of the European Union. It sets strong safeguards for users, making clear that everywhere in Europe the use of existing works for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature as well as parody are explicitly allowed. This means that memes and similar parody creations can be used freely.”

Ok. So what else are the netizens not happy with? It depends on the articles covered by this directive:

Article 11

Article 11, the most contentious of them all, proposes the idea of the “link tax”. It means that publishers or search engines who share links to news that they don’t create might be required to pay license fee to the news creators. This includes links to the news source. This affects search engine giants significantly because that’s their business model: searchable contents. The EU argued that the news headlines and links are not their contents.

It’s understandable that publishers and media outlets have to protect their copyrighted contents against the likes of Google News, comparison websites and newsletter subscriptions that pull their contents from other people’s news that are scraped on the internet by bots. Some marketing and PR divisions actually pay money for this bot service, to our surprise.

But inadvertently, this tax link can also affect publishers, authors, illustrators and bloggers who rely on link-sharing to promote their works (read: links to Amazon, shopping carts and reviews). At Story Of Books, we make a point to share links because we have to cite the sources of our contents. Otherwise, it’s plagiarism.

Your GIF comments? Kiss it goodbye. Your DIY Game Of Throne videos speculating on the origin of the House of Stark? Well, netizens, winter is coming.

Article 13

This article affects aggregators such as YouTube, Facebook and Reddit.  It holds these platforms accountable for any “copyright infringement” done via user generated contents. Your GIF comments? Kiss it goodbye. Your DIY Game Of Throne videos speculating on the origin of the House of Stark? Well, netizens, winter is coming.

Article 14, 15 and 16

These articles are popular with content creators and are fully backed by the Society of Authors.

Article 14 will put pressure on publishers to be transparent with authors and illustrators about royalties and any revenues earned from extended licensing.

Article 15 will guarantee the creator rights to more earnings should his or her licensed works become more popular than expected. The Society of Authors calls this “the bestseller clause”.

Article 16(a) means that the publishing rights of an author or creator can be reverted after a reasonable period, depending on circumstances. This enables the author or creator to resort to self-publishing or transfer the rights to another publisher.


The good news is that it will take up to two years for this directive to be implemented. By that time, it will be clearer what constitutes fair use and copyright infringement within this directive. In the meantime, be prepared to write your own contents. And make sure you promote your works vigorously, not relying on algorithm and bots for reputation.

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Down and Up in Paris hits London

On 21 March 2019, we attended the launch of Marc Vallée’s latest photobook, Down and Up in Paris, at The Photographers Gallery in Central London.

Published in black-and-white zine format, Down and Up in Paris features a series of photographs of a graffiti artist at work on the streets of Paris. It’s not the first of Vallée’s photobooks but it’s still a shock to see graffiti tagging in action, especially if you are mindful of public space and the law.

However, to understand the context and themes in Vallée’s reportage, you’d have to visit his earlier works on urban youths and their response to neoliberalism. Vallée is very disciplined with his photography. Apart from documenting his subjects over a long period of time, he also gives lectures and publishes the photographs as books and zines.

Also present at the launch was Andrew Weale, author, London Out Of Time, whom we featured on Five Minutes With in October 2018. He was at The London Book Fair the week before, but we missed him. So it was good to catch up with Weale at Marc Vallée’s event. We’re hoping to feature another of Weale’s ground-breaking photo/graphic novel on Story Of Books. So watch this space.

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Cultural appropriation: a no-win scenario for authors

Given the political situation in the US, there have been many discussions on English-speaking writing forums about cultural appropriation in fiction. For fantasy and sci-fi writers, this is a headache because the two genres borrow extensively from various cultures.

The Descendants, a film based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’s novel of the same name, won’t be accused of cultural appropriation because it’s written by a Hawaiian native about the Hawaiian experience. Image source: IMDb

We’ve been following the topic of cultural appropriation for a long time. We had studied it for linguistics and we had heard it debated during anthropology seminars at grad school. This topic cropped up again recently on writing forums because of the haka performed by the school children in New Zealand to mourn their schoolmates and worshippers slain by a terrorist on 15 March.

How come haka can be performed by kids of diverse ethnic background? Isn’t that cultural appropriation? Our US friends asked. No, we said. In our region*, it isn’t.

A while back, Story Of Books asked a fantasy author if heightened sensitivity towards cultural appropriation is an American thing. We understand it might be a response or reaction against racial inequality. If the borrowing of culture is done in good taste and respectful to the original source, why is it inappropriate? Star Wars uses plenty of Buddhist and East Asian references. It’s a sci-fi that makes good use of cultural appropriation.

“Minority cultures are often misrepresented, and not so long ago thoughtlessly displayed as savages or ‘mystified’. I definitely want to avoid those.”

 

“As for if it’s a US thing, I think it’s an issue in any multi-cultural country with a history of racism,” the author responded. “I think it’s just an actually complex, intricate issue, so instead of getting into the weeds, people either believe everything is appropriation or nothing is.”

The author planned to introduce ethnic minority characters in his fiction. He’d been asking fellow writers for advice on cultural appropriation in fantasy. He explained: “I want to be particularly aware in fantasy because in the culture and business of fantasy writing, minority writers are very under-represented. Minority cultures are often misrepresented, and not so long ago thoughtlessly displayed as savages or ‘mystified’. I definitely want to avoid those. But even really good representation in an industry saturated by white male authors, it’s just something I want to consider.”

Star Wars, written by George Lucas, borrows heavily from Buddhism and East Asian cultures. It’s a homage to Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. Image source: IMDb

Authors agree that although it’s safer “to write what you know”, making fantasy homogenous will only make it unwelcoming to new readers. Our author added: “The homogeneity of it makes it so tone deaf, even in the most popular works. If the answer is it’s appropriating other people no matter how well-handled, is it a story I should be writing at all? I tend fall towards write it anyway, see what people of that culture think.”

“If your story is too white, you are called a racist, if you add other cultures, they say you appropriating culture (and therefore racist). It really is a no-win scenario trying to appease people who are going to complain regardless of what you do.”

 

Dune, the film based on the novel by journalist Frank Herbert, borrows heavily from Middle Eastern folklores. Herbert was also influenced by Zen Buddhism. Image source: IMDb

Another author commented: “There is no way to avoid it, so just write what you want. If your story is too white, you are called a racist, if you add other cultures, they say you appropriating culture (and therefore racist). It really is a no-win scenario trying to appease people who are going to complain regardless of what you do. Hell, if you are black and write about black culture, but criticise parts of black culture, well you are just a god damned Uncle Tom. Praise black culture, then you are an SJW (social justice warrior). It really never ends, just write the cultures how you want, and don’t worry about criticisms like that.”

Hm. So writing and trying to be inclusive nowadays take a lot of courage. If that is the case, fantasy and sci-fi authors have to research rigorously so that stereotypes and generalisation can be avoided at all costs.

Cultural appropriation or adaptation?  This artwork was proudly displayed at a Buddhist temple in Japan. Image source: Disney Japan via Kotaku.co.uk

*Our Editor does not see a haka performed by ethnically diverse school children as cultural appropriation. Let’s just say the Malayo-Polynesian concept of “race” is predicated not only on genetics and ancestral claims. Kinship is also formed via adherence to local customs. It’s not without issues but it’s the kinship system that works for a bunch of islanders in remote, far away places.

Cultural appropriation in fictions

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Editor, Story Of Books. Co-founder, GLUE Studio. A writer since 1995.

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