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On Nov. 27-28, the Japan Association for Cultural Economics organized the first edition of a yearly workshop at Doshisha University, Kyoto, to fill the long gap between its big yearly conferences. I presented a draft paper titled 'Fanwork as a test case for open source cultural goods'.

This paper is a follow-up on my recent symposium piece 'Why we should talk about commodifying fan work', more precisely this footnote:

The best-known and most developed hybrid economy currently in existence is that of open source software. In fact, one way to make the commodification of fan works easier to envision for all parties involved is to imagine fan work as a sort of "open source cultural good" (Hughes et al. 2007) that could be exchanged in a hybrid economy comparable to the hybrid economy surrounding open source software. Fannish production practices share many key characteristics with open source software production. For instance, the fan community has a history of sharing and collaboration, with common values about the aims and workings of that collaboration (Hellekson 2009, 115), which are qualities that make a community exceptionally suited for open source production of goods.

In more practical terms, open source and fannish production practices are similar enough that the vocabulary, problems, and solutions from one can help us articulate similar problems and find possible solutions in the area of the other. The complicated matter of copyright regulations is one obvious example in which insights from and developments in open source production can support the growth of a hybrid economy for fan work. On the economic side of things, business models crafted for open source software production can provide inspiration for the concrete ways in which fan works could be commodified so that fans receive sufficient benefits and control over their creations. Last but not least, given the exemplary function of the well-known and successful hybrid economy of open source software (Benkler 2007, loc. 883), casting fan work as an open source cultural good and drawing comparisons with open source may go a long way toward explaining to nonfans how and why an integration of fan work into the broader cultural economy could be both socially and economically desirable.


'Fanwork as a test case for open source cultural goods' explores this suggestion in detail. Please note that the paper was originally intended for an audience that's unfamiliar with fanwork and with open source, so it contains some Fandom 101 statements and places a very different emphasis than the TWC piece. The TWC text was written for fans and fan studies researchers, and argues that commodification of fanworks may not be that hard to imagine, or may even be beneficial for fans. The open source paper was written for cultural economics researchers, who generally won't need to be convinced that commodifying fanwork might be a good idea. They may, however, need to be convinced that a system for commodifying fanwork should be designed with the aim of protecting the rights of fans, not just with protecting the rights of copyright holders. That's what I try to argue here.

This is not the final version of the paper, and I would very, very much appreciate any comments or critiques anyone may have. Please feel free to poke me here or mail nele dot noppe at gmail dot com with any questions/opinions, however brief. All input welcome.

(Two-second headdesking: I can instantly can get reactions from dozens of strangers on the internet when I post a silly fan parody written in two hours, but feedback on academic papers that took months to finish? Whoa. The amounts of validation that come with these different sorts of writing is so hilariously out of proportion with how much effort they take :D My first thought was to offer my colleagues drabbles in exchange for a beta, but that might not quite work out.)

A list of all the papers presented at the workshop is here. Content-wise, I was particularly interested in Angeline de Dios' paper 'Filipino migrant musicians: the transnational mobilities of cultural labour', because it also tackles creativity that takes place at least partly outside of the 'official' copyright-defined framework of cultural production. I was surprised that amateur, non-monetized cultural activity seemed to be such a new topic for many of the people present. Cultural economics is a fairly new space for me, and it seems that the 'economics' in there is still often limited to economies that work primarily with money, as opposed to other economic systems like fannish gift economies. The workshop included David Throsby, an important contributor to the field, and he confirmed that cultural economics has indeed limited itself mostly to 'sanctioned' cultural activity so far. No wonder I felt slightly out of place. However, several other presenters besides Angeline did hint at cultural production by amateurs that might be interesting to research, so perhaps the field is starting to warm up to research about other sorts of economies.

My presentation was to take place on the second day of the workshop. Listening to the presentations on the first day, including Angeline's and the reactions it got, I realized that a theoretical story about fanwork and open source software production would probably be so chock full of new things for most participants that people would get confused and not give a damn. So I changed my presentation around, left out open source entirely, and concentrated on introducing the cultural production that takes place in fan communities and the challenges these communities face as industry and fans reach out to each other/get in each other's way more and more. Basically, the conclusions I draw in the draft paper without the open source framework that inspired a lot of them. This talk seemed to go over rather well; people were interested and asked a lot of questions, and several suggestions from profs. Lily Kong and David Throsby overlapped very nicely with what others have written independently about the commodification of unauthorized derivative works.

The final presentation:



(Comments on this one are of course welcome as well, but it's basically just the paper stripped down very thoroughly. I'm not sure if I'll be developing the presentation separately at any point.)
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