Social Media, Community, and the Inspector Spacetime Narrative Womb

Source: Johnny Eveson Posters

As we move into today’s extremely complicated and nuanced world of entertainment, infotainment, and e-ducation, it’s always fascinating to see how some of the older laws of the land are continually complicated and challenged by the evil legion of fans.

Travis Richey, a self-acknowledged fan of Community, has had his Kickstarter-fueled webseries send-up of Inspector Spacetime complicated by Sony and NBC (read about it here, here, and here).

Basically, he wanted to do it, NBC & Sony said “no,” and so he’s trying to figure out how to do it anyway, sans-as-few-things-as-possible-to-still-make-it-awesome.

One of the arguments that he tried to posit was saying that he wishes that they could look at it as fan fiction, increasing viewer engagement and retention, and let it continue. Some of the comments in the i09 articles talk at length about copyright, trademark, and some of NBC and Sony’s responsibilities in maintaining and protecting their intellectual properties, and I get it.

I understand that the issue could be problematic, but I think it represents a fundamental difference in old and new approaches to media and entertainment.

As a writer, I understand the desire to protect copyrighted works. While Inspector Spacetime may exist in this hazy reality, if someone wanted to write a web series about a sub-story line from a book that I wrote, I would approach it cautiously.

As a publisher, I would also want to protect my rights. Depending on the size of the property, I would want to maintain some semblance of editorial control over the content. What if Inspector Spacetime traveled back through time (and space) and committed some morally ambiguous crime? Does that necessarily reflect on the larger work? Would it be my responsibility to convince the public that there were differences in creative control?

As a fan, I would have to say, “Let it happen.” Readers, watchers, and listeners all want the content coming in a continuous stream. If it’s something good, then we can’t get enough of it. I want webisodes, behind-the-scenes, websites of fictional colleges, you name it.

Therein lies the problem. For some reason, NBC and Sony don’t have any wish to develop the program for themselves (at this time, that I’m aware of), but they are exercising what they see as their right (and never forget that copyright is the ability to restrict who can copy your creative material) to sit on it.

Now personally, I see this as a missed opportunity. Engaging with the audience in every way possible seems to be the right way to go in the hyper-connected, hyper-reality of the internet. Cory Doctorow has been an outspoken proponent of a new way of approaching created content (go read his rant on Craphound), and it has to do more with promotion than protection.

via Craphound

Free content (and by extension, additional content, like the Inspector Spacetime web series) only enhances the potential of fertile groundswell (shit I hate that word), bringing more people into the fold. Perhaps there are some diehard Doctor Who fans out there who haven’t watched Community… Maybe the web series is all. they. needed.

I don’t know how the whole Kickstarter-controversy over Inspector Spacetime will shake out. I like that it’s an [Untitled] program right now, because the only glue that is holding it together is the dedication and support of real fans.

It is the post-industrial cognitive surplus that enables this group of fans to come together to add value to the intellectual property, and it is this same theory that creates the internet-fervor over shows like Community, Arrested Development, and Lost.

The real question is whether or not a fan’s enthusiastic expression of enjoyment is bad for the narrative womb that birthed it.

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