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Fanzines: The Whole Is Not Equal To The Sum of Its Parts (copying out of print zines) - Morgan Dawn Livejournal:The Here And Now
The Here And Now
Fanzines: The Whole Is Not Equal To The Sum of Its Parts (copying out of print zines)

I was recently chatting with friends about copying/scanning fanzines with fanzine publisher permission. One of the issues that came up was the statement printed inside many fanzines  that the "rights revert back to the author." A few took this to mean that if a fanzine publisher wanted to keep their zine in print or do additional print runs or give permission for their zine to be scanned, they could not do so without obtaining the permission of each contributor. According to this view, once the rights reverted back to the author, the  publisher’s publication rights ended. This line of reasoning meant that fanzine publishers today, such as the publisher of Spockanalia, the first Star Trek newsletter, could not – and should not - be printing and selling copies of their zines some 40 years later.

In order to make sense of this oddly circular discussion, it is important  to keep in mind that the majority of fanzines printed over the past 40+ years did not have negotiated  "rights" or even a universal understanding as to what rights were being given to the publisher. You wrote a story and submitted it in exchange for a contributor’s copy. As a zine publisher, you published and sold as many copies as you could afford to sell.  A few fanzine publishers took care to go into more detail with their contributors, but for the most part “‘trib copy” and “print as many as you can” was  pretty much it.

Multiple print runs were not the norm in the early print fanzine  era  - mainly because few publishers could afford the upfront costs to fund a second print run. Often the zine publishers would advertise for "pre-orders" (or subscriptions) in order to raise enough funds to do a second print run. But typically fanzine publishers did not have to seek permission from their contributors to do additional print runs. Their right to publish the zine continued as long as they could keep publishing. Zines would go in (and out) of print, and then back into print.  In the book world, savvy writers negotiated limits to the publisher’s publication rights,  ending after X years. Other pro authors negotiated rights for only as long as a book was “in print” and ran into problems when the arrival of eBooks suddenly meant that nothing went ‘out of print.’

In the fanzine world the in print/out of print rules changed when xeroxing and desktop publishing became cheaper in the late 1980s.  Suddenly zines never went out of print and many older zines from the 1970s were put back into print. This caused some fans to become upset as there was a booming market in selling and trading used out of print zines.  Having zines back in print undercut that used fanzine market. Other fans  - who were copying their out of print  zines to share with other fans – were also unhappy because they were now being labeled as ‘pirates’ and ‘thieves’ for doing the same thing they had been doing for years.   You can read more about this here.

In the Star Wars letterzine , Southern Enclave, readers and fanzine publishers began debating the practice of copying out of print zines. They called it, amusingly, the Clone Wars. Excerpts from that discussion can be found on Fanlore here.

One snippet in the Southern Enclave discussion caught my eye and may help explain how in fandom - according to fannish custom and not IP law - writer's rights and fanzine publisher’s rights mesh with one another. According to this description, the fanzine publisher has the rights to the zine as a compilation and, after publication, the author/artist retains the rights to do what they will with their individual creation. The writer can submit it to another zine or give it away.  Or, as the publisher suggests, the writer can give permission for their story to be copied. The publisher on the other hand, controls what happens to the zine as a whole.

"The rights of the individual author/artist [is not equal to] the rights of the zine publisher -- because the whole [is not equal to the] sum of its parts. After a zine is published, the rights to each story and piece of art revert to its creator--who can permit as much Xeroxing as they like! I can't stress this too strongly: It's YOUR story, or YOUR piece of art; please feel free to share it with all the fans you like! But -- but! - the zine as a unit, with its layout, editing, and arrangement belongs to the publisher. “ 

In later years, when the Internet burst onto the scene, fanzine publishers and writers added a new ‘limit’ to zine publication: as a contributor, you would agree to keep the story offline for at least one year to allow the zine publisher time to sell their zines.

Note that the “rights’ discussion, does not perfectly parallel contractual or copyright laws. And it shouldn’t – first because there were usually no contracts or negotiated rights in fanzine production. And second, because the application of copyright to the fandom world carries with it its own perils. But, to quote one fan, the interplay between our fannish culture and laws creates enough “wiggle room” to be able to say that: 

Part of the reason why fandom hasn't always cared about the legality of fandom is because we feel a sort of community ownership over the source in question. When a TV show or movie airs, when we read a book, when a rock or sports team plays, those things they create become part of pop culture, and as members of society, we have some ownership over the culture we live in, which these things are a part of. We feel that gives us the right to comment upon them, to obsess over them, to create around them…….fandom is just a subculture of overall culture and I honestly feel a similar sense of ownership over the fanworks that we create as I do for the pieces of pop culture out there. The fanworks we make become part of the fannish conversation, and they grow beyond the words/pixels/waveforms/etc. on the screen.”

My takeaway from this research is that the roles and responsibilities of zine publishers vs. contributors vs. fanzine buyers/readers has been part of an ever shifting debate that has adapted to new technologies and new methods of fanworks distribution. There never has been a monolithic, universal or agreed upon understanding on this topic - and given the way fandom operates, its global scale and the fact that media fandom as we know it is entering its 5th decade, there may never be one. And that is the way it should be.

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