The thing I think is one of the largest and most significant problems with copyright — as it is now in the world — is that stories and their characters are effectively owned by one person or company. Usually the latter, and they’re turned into ‘properties’ and franchises.
The reason why this is so problematic to me is that if you look at, say, various legends and many of the fairy tales that survive to this day, you see many different versions. These were people’s entertainment back then too, but they weren’t treated as if a single person owned them. Every troubadour, every storyteller, every parent and every child could take these stories and give each one their own spin. People still do that. That’s what has made these stories last and appeal.
The saddest thing of all about copyright in the present day is that it’s made so many stories effectively dead-on-arrival. There’s nothing that can be done with them that wasn’t done by the original author, unless it’s given the stamp of approval by the company that owns them. They’re not stories, they’re cash cows. Travelling storytellers would get money too, but they didn’t tend to cash in like the conglorporations today do. They were generally paid for their talent in telling the story, not the story itself.
We’ll always have people interpreting stories differently. No two people ever read the same story the same way. And since these are fictional, what one person imagines is every bit as valid as another, even if one of them was the first to write it down or publish it formally. It doesn’t matter. They’re stories. They’re meant to be played with, like toys. They’re not meant to remain static. If they remain static, like languages they become ‘dead’. ‘Dead stories’.
That’s what we’ve got here. Without fanfiction and retellings and different ways people see things, without other people reimagining and interpreting, we are stifled. Not encouraged. Copyright was meant to be brief and encourage people to create their own things, rather than to copycat. But nowadays, it’s created more transparent copycatting, lack of inspiration, and inability to improve on things that are copyrighted so quickly they aren’t even fully-realised.
Shouldn’t most, if not all, of these stories enter into the ownership of the public after a few years? At longest, the time between one generation and the next, a decade or two. That’s plenty fair. Yet we have stories like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and others — stories that have been a part of our lives for decades, for several generations — being perpetually copyrighted. They’re not even the approachable stories anymore, because these copyright clutchers constantly remind us that they might take the stories away at any time, that we’re only allowed to agree with their interpretations…not to create our own.