Oktopod: The Fanfiction Connection

Good morning, everyone. Last time, I mentioned some upcoming developments for Oktopod, and I think it’s time to unveil the first part of my evil plan. It all starts (as so many things in my life do) with me staring at a blank screen in frustration…

While wrestling with the idea of releasing the background notes for Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, I began to ask myself why I’d want to do such a weird, counter-intuitive, and potentially embarrassing (read: stupid) thing. Part of the answer ties back to the release of the very first Vengar story in 2010, and the decision I made to put the story out using a Creative Commons license. I chose to share because I wanted to see what community involvement might accomplish.

Three years later, it turns out it didn’t accomplish much. I thought it was a bold and interesting move… and I was apparently alone in that.

What was I hoping to see?

In short: Fanfiction.

There were actually a bunch of reasons (including increased distribution, and market differentiation of my product) but the possibility of fanfic was a big drive. I’ve always been amazed at how the biggest science-fiction and fantasy universes attracted communities eager to catalog and add to them in their own unique voices. That’s frankly kind of damn amazing.

If there was anything I could do to foster such a community, I firmly believed it was in my best interest to do so. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike-NonCommercial license at the time, and why I continued to release new works under the same.

I find it a great sadness that not every experiment works out.

That brings us to the present, in which I find myself looking back on the past three years and their negative results. I suppose that’s what happens when your efforts are kind of half-assed. I remain avidly interested in promoting community involvement, though, and that inspired me to reexamine my previous moves.

Most important is this question: Was a Creative Commons license really what I wanted?

The answer to that is, I think, no. What that specific license grants readers is the ability to duplicate or derive new works from the book, as long as the same rights are passed on to new readers, and only if none of those creators commercialize their work. That’s not the laundry list I was looking for, and it took me three years to figure it out. I started to think hard about what I really did want.

My key desires are for creators to be free to make new derivative works, and for those creators to be able to profit off of what they make. For example, let’s say you take home the newest Blood Conqueror novel by international superstar Frank Übermanly, and you fall in love with his characters and setting. If you want to write a story that uses either, you are currently working in a legal grey area. Fanfiction is tolerated because its authors are doing it for free, but any attempt to extract cash from their books would swiftly land them in a world of financial hurt.

There are hundreds of thousands of authors thriving out there who aren’t particularly interested in creating their own worlds. They’re content to play in other creators’ sandboxes, and I happen to think that’s awesome. More to the point, the fact that they can’t be rewarded for their contribution really bothers me. If you’re doing good work, I think you should get a fair chance to profit from it.

If there were a license designed to do that, how would it differ from Creative Commons? Well, this hypothetical license wouldn’t grant you the ability to directly copy or adapt the work. If Frank Übermanly releases his Heroic Rise of the Blood Conqueror under this license, you couldn’t just print out copies and try to sell them to stores, or adapt it for the silver screen. What you’re given are the derivative rights, and only the derivative rights. You have access to the events, characters, and ideas of the book.

Creative Commons licenses can optionally disallow derivative works, but there’s no way to only allow them. That’s essentially all this license grants.

That’s the core of what I was looking for… and it turns out the license I want doesn’t exist (as far as I can tell). I’ve always thought that if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you should make your own.

A few days later, I now have a fairly detailed description of how the license will work, but I lack a Juris Doctor. You see where this is going… That’s why I need your help to send me to law school.

Anyone?

Oh, that’s not happening? Crap.

Instead, I’m planning to hire an intellectual property lawyer to help me hammer out the specific language and make sure this thing holds some kind of water. I definitely can’t afford it right now, though, so I may be looking into a Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding) campaign to make it happen.

I’m calling it The Oktopod License for the time being. Super-creative, right? My rationale is that it’s designed to transform stories into a single head with many, many tentacles.

If this sounds at all interesting, clever, or valuable to you, you can currently help by spreading the word. Tweet about it, submit the story to relevant news sites… let people out there know someone’s working on it. With a little luck, I’ll be able to attract the attention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Cory Doctorow, Tim O’reilly, or someone else who can shed a little spotlight on the project.

There you have it folks, that’s Phase 1 for Oktopod. The second phase is also in the works, and it’s all about distributing and monetizing your writing, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Keep your eyes open for a new chapter of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall coming your way shockingly soon.
~Chris

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