© Marsha Courneya, 2019

Equity Authorship

Addressing income inequality through IP management.

"Creative people are indeed the chief currency of the emerging economic age."

Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class

THE CHALLENGE

The painstaking work done by fans enriches the value of major story franchises, but only for the benefit of the copyright holder.

  Currently, only the copyright holder's contributions to their storyworld property are legally considered valuable. That means that the 20 or so canonical works within the Harry Potter franchise are worth roughly $25 billion, while the countless fan works (upwards of 1,000,000) are legally worth $0 and exist in a grey area that leaves them vulnerable to prosecution for infringement.

 

  Fan works (sometimes referred to as 'fanfiction' or 'transformative works') add immeasurable value to the IP they are produced within, as they increase the level of engagement with the material and often center around communities that expend considerable effort to express their love for the original work.

 

  The works often match or exceed the length of the original works, and some would argue that they even approach the quality of the originals. Fan authors often add original characters and expand the storyworld to accommodate queer representation not available to mainstream audiences.

All of this work is done without compensation, while the owners of the copyright reap the benefits.

THE SOLUTION

EQUITY AUTHORSHIP:

A new model of licensing that allows users to earn ownership tokens of a story world through creativity.

Equity Authorship, at its core, is an attempt to assign value to a higher number of works created within the same story world.

It recognizes that story worlds are complex systems and that they benefit from crowd-sourcing to grow and become financially successful.

The concept requires the intellectual property to be released under a 'some rights reserved' license rather than the restrictive 'all rights reserved' of modern copyright. For this reason, it is unlikely to be realistically applicable to established, multi-million dollar franchises as it would disrupt their economic model. Instead, this multi-tiered licensing structure is for emerging story worlds instigated by creators with a mind toward a greater reach, complexity, and diversity for the derivative uses of their work.

It takes lessons from the unofficial ecosystem of fan works as they operate as part of the growth of story worlds and applies them to the architecture of potential growth from the beginning.

To do this, we must address what distinguishes a 'fan work' (unofficially part of the IP) from a 'canonical work' (officially part of the IP)

How do Fan Works differ from Canonical Works created within the same Story World?

CONTINUITY

  • Works created by copyright holders exist in a continuous story world.

  • Events in one piece of story do not contradict events from a preceding piece of story.

  • Fan works are not subject to these restrictions.

QUALITY

  • Gatekeepers of publishing and production help ensure a level of quality

  • The investment of time and effort by the original author is supported by feelings of personal ownership and accountability to consumers.

SCARCITY

  • Copyright laws that prevent the commercial publication of transformative works restricts the number of published canonical works in an IP.

Equity Authorship addresses these 3 key differences (Continuity, Quality, and Scarcity) through a community-based management strategy that grows an IP using:

 

A Two-Tiered Licensing System

1. Noncommercial

2. Commercial

Three User Types

1. Voters

2. Creators

3. Verifiers

Through their involvement in evaluating, creating,  and verifying units of story, users earn ownership tokens that represent a stake in the IP.

EQUITY AUTHORSHIP TIMELINE

AUTHOR POSTS ORIGINAL WORK

  • Author posts original work online that constitutes the foundation of a new story world

  • Any supporting resources (world-building documents, maps, character lists) are also posted in the spirit of 'open source' development

  • Work is released under a proprietary, Equity Authorship license

USER COMMUNITY BUILDS

  • Based on the strength of the original work and the appeal of participating in world-building, a user base builds made up of Voters and a limited number of Verifiers (Verifiers must be approved individually by the author of the original work)

  • A countdown to the number of unique users required to kick off world-building shows on the website

CREATION OF NEW WORK

  • Anyone registered on the site can create a work they hope will become part of the story world

  • Work can be completed in any medium (literature, screen-media, audio recording, visual art), each of which has a corresponding token value should the work become part of the story world

LICENSE TYPE

NonCommercial

  • Creator is free to use all elements associated with the IP as long as their work is noncommercial

Commercial

  • Commensurate with the projected budget of the commercial project, the Creator pays a licensing fee for the use of all elements associated with the IP

  • Licensing fee is distributed among existing owners of the story world IP, with a percentage going toward maintenance of the site

WORK IS EVALUATED

  • Once work is completed and posted online, Voters express whether they support its inclusion in the story world

Work passes approval threshold

  • Work passes through to Verification stage

Work does not pass approval threshold

  • Work does not pass onto Verification stage and is archived

APPROVED WORK IS VERIFIED

  • Verifiers evaluate whether the Approved Work contradicts anything in the established canon

  • Verifiers also hold the power to refuse an Approved Work if it does not fit within community guidelines (to prevent abuse)

Work Fits into Existing Canon

  • Approved Work is inducted into the story world's Canon, resulting in either a whole or partial ownership token based on the size and complexity of the work

Work Contradicts Existing Canon

  • Verifiers can either recommend edits to bring the Approved Work into Canon, or deny it outright

For more information on Equity Authorship, please contact Marsha Courneya at marsha.courneya@gmail.com

   Developed over the course of two years during the Digital Narratives master's program at the internationale filmschule köln, Equity Authorship combines thorough and thoughtful investigations into the history of copyright, fan culture, and the creative economy.