Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fair Use and You

[The following pertains to laws and regulations of the United States only. Please check your local laws as they are likely to be different.]

The Fair Use Act comes up a lot in creative endeavors. It allows for a number of necessary uses of copyrighted material, and as such it needs to be discussed. Those uses are research, education, and parody, all of which are necessary for a free society. After all, if I am absolutely forbidden from using copyrighted material, I can't use it for reviews, compiling lists, and it becomes immune to being made fun, all of which runs counter to running of a society where information and humor are key.

Education and research are pretty basic. The material must be used in such a way as to educate others on the topic, and in such a way that it is obviously educational. This allows it the material to be critiqued, reviewed, and used an an example of a relevant topic. Yes, that includes textbooks, and yes, this means that the original creator may not get any money from it, but he or she does need to be recognized. It also allows relevant information to be compiled, and for the material to be used in a report without needing to know who the copyright holder is. It may end up sucking to be the creator of the material in question, but it does allow information to flow freely, and allow people to make more informed choices.

It should be noted that merely compiling the strips does not constitute fair use. If I'm discussing perspective and I decide to use a few strips to illustrate the point, that constitutes an educational use. If I compile Top Ten lists and occasionally use strips, that constitutes fair use as well. If all I do is show a number of strips without some kind of context and without permission then I'm improperly using those strips, even if I don't intend to profit from them. Okay, so that's a major point by itself: The intent to profit (or not) is superfluous to determining fair use, so don't count on it.

Parody is a hard one, as people confuse it with satire. A "satire" is a hopefully humorous poke at society, whereas a "parody" is making fun specifically of the source material. Granted I can combine them, but the issue here is that I need to use enough of the original material to count as a parody, and not just a satire. In other words, if I were to use Gabe and Tycho from "Penny Arcade" to make a point about video gamers in general, that is to satirize video gamers, but I don't refer to the strip, then I have not parodied the comic and as such have no fair use protections. On the other hand, if I make fun of the strip while making a bigger point about gamers, then I have parodied it and thus have fair use protections.

It's important to understand the difference between satire and parody for those making comics in order to avoid legal issues with the original creators. It's just as important for creators for them to understand education and research in order protect themselves. Learn it, live it, love it; knowing the limits of fair use can help you protect yourself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Problems of Cosplay versus Source Material

[First off a caveat: I definitely believe in the idea that cosplay does not equal consent, and that sexually harassing a woman in a skimpy costume is definitely a bad thing. That said...]

An interesting question that popped up on a Facebook thread recently was someone inquiring about which female characters a person could faithfully cosplay without showing a lot of skin. She and her boyfriend couldn't think of more than a few options. I ended up giving them a few dozen options, but it did raise an interesting point about female costumes.

That point was that although there are quite a few good options for female costumes, a lot of attention gets placed on the skimpier costumes, and not just from men. Has anyone else thought it strange that while there are movements against dressing women in skimpy outfits in the books is seen as bad but women themselves routinely choose the skimpier outfits? Why is it that, out of all of the outfits Princess Leia has worn, the most popular by far is the Slave Leia?

Yet there are seems to be no no campaign against wearing skimpy costumes at conventions, and in fact rules are being created all of the time to allow for the wearing of said costumes. Think about that for a second: Isn't a cosplayer in effect a walking advertisement for my comic? If someone is wearing a Starfire costume, isn't that going to make people curious about the character, especially if the cosplay is great? And by extension wouldn't that make people curious about any other comics I publish? Conversely, the more clothed characters tend to be forgotten; how often do you see Rogue in her loose jumpsuit as opposed to her Spandex versions? And that's ignoring major players such as the Stargirl, who actually wears pants rather than leggings.

I can see any reasonably intelligent marketing department taking advantage of this trend. They'd mention to the illustrators that, "Sure, it may be exploiting them to put them in skin-tight outfits, but every time Starfire shows up at a con, Teen Titans sales go up." The illustrator, wanting to maintain a steady paycheck, is thus more likely to draw Starfire in as little as absolutely possible to increase the odds of her showing up at a convention and causing that spike. After a while, you're going to start seeing more female characters in little clothing in order to spike sales.

It gets worse when you look at successful independent comics. The ones with the best sales and critical acclaim are also the ones with scantily-clad females. Obviously I'm poking a little bit of fun at Image when it was big, but you also have Fathom (both the current and the Elementals version), and isn't there a character that stops time whenever she has sex? And this isn't just a new trend; both Silk Spectres in Watchmen are well-known for their nude scenes.

I just find it interesting that there is a movement to put women in less revealing costumes, yet the best received books contain the skimpiest costumes, and that the most replicated costumes on the convention floor are the ones that show the most flesh. I really don't think that the movement has much of a chance...

[Looking for some great cosplay ideas that don't show a lot of skin? Try these:
DC Comics: Katana, Liberty Belle, Stargirl, CIA Diana Prince, Talia al Ghul, Black Canary (Justice League Detroit), Big Barda, Gypsy, Ice, Molly O'Reilly (Booksof Magic), Madame Xanadu, Jonni Thunder

I'm not sure how to count Zatanna and Black Canary; they make beautiful outfits, but they both use fishnets by default; however, they have been known to wear pants (slacks for Zatanna, Black Jeans for BC).

Marvel Comics: Rogue (jumpsuit/jacket), Mariko (Wolverine's girlfriend), Lilandra, Mohawk Storm, Miss Marvel (Invaders), Yukio (Storm's friend), Wasp (depending), Nico (Runaways), Gerty (Runaways), Photon (Nextwave), Dazzler (Age of Apocalypse), Storm (Age of Apocalypse), Psylocke (the puffy purple outfit), Miss Marvel (Current), Captain Marvel (Danvers, curent).

Any of the Disney Princesses should also work, as well as the majority of Final Fantasy women. Even ignoring the school girl outfit, a lot of anime women work as well, such as Trixy (Speed Racer), Priss Asagiri (Bubblegum Crisis), and pretty much any woman prior to the 1990s. Sarah Connor, Buffy, Willow, and Tara, as well as any of the Firefly women, work as well.

If it helps...]