Where does fair use stop and true copyright violation start? I'm not a lawyer and I'm sure there's a billion ways to interpret the legal definition. I'm more speaking in an ethical sense. That's where the lines get blurry. I've been using the web consistently since about the age of 14 and have been involved in fandom for at least 10 of those years. I'm just as guilty as the next person of using Napster, bit torrent sites, loading music from a cd and ripping movie clips from a DVD.
The claim is that musicians, studios, production companies, writers and the like are losing potential income by us not paying for the content. For the most part I still generally think that's untrue - if I like a band I will buy their music after a few promising listens - this is no different than discovering a band on the radio and not paying for it either. Yes I suppose the record company is losing their licensing fees. With TV/Movies I do the same thing. Before the bit torrents and Netflix t I rented movies at a nominal fee. I'd say a good 95% of these movies I have never even had the desire to buy. However if I love something and think it has good re-watch value I will buy it. So to me it doesn't matter if I discovered it on a tv, video store or the web - if it's good I will buy it. If it's ok but forgettable I'll watch it the once and delete it forever. Don't even get me started on TV though. I mean, it's only even been in the last 10 or so years that we've even been able to buy our own copy of hit TV shows. Remember when you had to program your VCR? If it screwed up you had to wait until summer re-runs to catch it! If you missed it the second time around - you were screwed for life unless you were desperate enough to spend the next few months searching the TV guide on the off chance it might actually re-run a third time.
I'm getting off topic though, so while I claim that most people generally will purchase what they truly like, I am not blind. I see the album sales statistics. I see the box office sales. I see the TV ratings and the amount of show cancellations. This way of thinking relies heavily on the honor system which I admit is not always so honorable. The truth is though, the way we consume content is drastically changing from what we have known. I might even counter the loss of sales, ratings and revenue is equally affected by the quality and volume of the content being generated.
For instance, I no longer have to buy a whole album if all I want is that one awesome song from the one-hit-onder of the moment. If an artist is pushing out a new album ever six months you can bet it's not likely to be anything but filler with one or two occasional hits. Where as artists used to only dish out albums once every few years. They'd take the time to write and record quality music. They'd do year long concert tours, they'd release half the songs on their album as singles before a new album ever saw the light of day. Same with movies. Miss a movie in theaters last week? Better be quick, it will be gone within a couple weeks. Not to worry though, in less than six months it will be on DVD for your enjoyment. Hollywood is churning out movies so fast these days that I almost always have to go see a movie within a month of it's theatrical release to have any hope of not missing out on the movie-going experience. This is part of the reason I save my move outings for action and special fx movies. I know that rom-com of the moment will be on DVD before I can blink and it will look just as good on my HDTV as it does on a big screen. Same goes for TV shows. Remember when summer tv used to SUCK because it was just a re-run of the fall/winter season? Now, I can barely keep track when a new season of a show starts. It's no wonder promising tv shows get cancelled left and right now - and yet some how illegal downloading and DVR's get all the blame for slipping raitings.
So that brings me back around to fandom. It's my honest opinion that fanvids, fanfic, fan graphics, fanmixes, etc do hardly any harm to the industry at all. If anything, I've discovered new shows, music and skills all by being involved in fandom. Would "Firefly" ever have gotten a movie deal had it not been for fandom on the web? Would indie bands ever have gotten a break if it weren't for their music being shared freely on the web? These are debatable arguments, but I like to think fandom helps a heck of a lot more than it hurts.
Here's where my conflict comes in though. Being a photographer I am familiar with some aspects of copyright. I know many photographers who go on tangents about their image distribution rights and get very enraged if they even suspect an image has been posted without their permission. For me, it's not so extreme but I do wonder if I risk sounding like a hypocrite when I ask that clients please pay for my hi-res photographs instead of downloading the horrible low quality images from their online preview gallery while worse still taking those low quality prints to be printed at wally-world? I'm sure I do. Do I look like an ass splattering my logo on my promo and gallery images to help prevent this? Probably.
The truth is however that it doesn't bother me as much as it does countless other photographers. I believe most people who are going to buy prints will buy them and the people who take the low quality ones were probably never going to buy them in the first place so I really haven't lost anything. That said, my images have never been (and are certainly not at risk to be) used in any books, movies, magazines, ads, etc - so I wouldn't know what it's like to actually feel like I've lost significant amount of potential income.
So again this is another instance where fair use comes into play I think. I know sites like Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr etc are many people's public forum. Getting engaged? They announce it on Facebook. Having a baby? Tweet it to the world. We live in a digital age. Letting clients post their images online I believe helps significantly more than it hurts.
My own simple solution to this is the following: I set my session fee to cover what I what I think my time and creativity is worth. This way if print sales don't come through for any reason then I don't feel like my time was wasted. Print sales are merely a bonus. I also know most people are going to want a digital photo disc of their images, so I price it at a point that I feel comfortable letting go of creative control. With prints I can pick a lab and double check quality before I deliver the final product. With digital though it's a risk. I can make the images look their best on a computer monitor - but I won't be able to stop someone from printing out that image on their grandma's 5 year old inkjet printer.
And truthfully, I think lack of creative control is one of the biggest things these media industries fear more than any. Once that digital file is in my hands they don't know how I might manipulate it. What do you think?