Of Coase and Copyrights: The Law and Economics of Literary Fan Art
11 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2009 Last revised: 17 Sep 2019
Date Written: May 26, 2019
This paper explores the law and economics of “literary fan art,” i.e. unauthorized derivative works by third parties that are based on someone else's literary work product. What is the legal status of such fan art? Because copyright laws extend to derivative works, the legal question boils down to this: when does fan art constitute “fair use”? Literary fan art thus poses a difficult puzzle: how far should property rights extend in the domain of literature? This paper is this organized as follows. To motivate the paper, Part I presents some notable examples of contemporary literary fan art inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella "The Old Man and the Sea." Part II then restates the legal puzzle this paper will attempt to solve. Next, Part III shows why the traditional fair use standard is utterly unhelpful in solving the fan art puzzle, while Part IV will sketch an alternative Coasean solution. Part V concludes with two cheers for fan art.
Keywords: copyright, fan art, fair use, Ronald Coase, reciprocal harms
JEL Classification: K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation