Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000

By Virginia Carper
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
1863 words

Battle Over Fan Fiction (01-04)
Battle Over Giants (05-08)
Wars Over Words (09-11)
Humbug Princes and Warrior Princesses At War (12-16)
Uber Xena, Uber Barnum (17-21)
Under The Big Tent (22-24)
Further Information

Xena (The Warrior Princess), P.T. Barnum (The Humbug Prince), and Copyrights

Where Are They Now -- Pac Man

Everyone has a hot logo these days, even government agencies.

Battle Over Fan Fiction

[1] As many fans know, writing stories about the characters on Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) is a copyright violation. Copyright law regards fan fiction to be a "derivative work", i.e., a composition based upon copyrighted material. Renaissance Pictures (RenPic) must give permission for fan fiction to exist on the Internet. The only exception to this is for a work of parody.

[2] Many fans argue that their fan fiction is only for themselves and is has not been written for profit. Fans write stories to continue a favorite episode or rewrite a "bad" one. Many fans write to explore relationships between the characters. Moreover, many fans have a burning story that they feel that they must write.

[3] Writing about Xena is a way of exploring writing and being creative. I started writing articles for Whoosh! to explore ideas presented in XWP. To me, Whoosh! is a safe place to receive feedback and to stretch my writing muscles.

[4] To see if I could write fiction, I also wrote several short stories about Joxer. Writing about established characters I liked was also a good platform for exploration. The short story writing was good discipline, and an excellent introduction into the world of writing.

Battle Over Giants

[5] Some copyright holders fear that sharing an audience with fan fiction writers will result in people not being able to tell the difference between the "real" character (i.e., RenPic's "Xena") and the copies (i.e., the fans' "Xenas").

[6] P.T. Barnum, America's premiere Showman, had similar fears in the 1870's. In upstate New York, George Hull and his cousin William Newell plotted to fool the public with a fake prehistoric man. Their Cardiff Giant became a popular attraction enticing crowds to pay fifty cents to see the petrified statue. The carving looked so authentic that scientists argued whether the Cardiff Giant was a real petrified man or a prehistoric statue. Newell sold the giant to a banker, David Hannum, who displayed it in Syracuse, charging a dollar per person to see it.

[7] Meanwhile, P. T. Barnum was looking for a new exhibit for his American Museum, which included such oddities as the White Whale and the Woolly Horse. Barnum offered Hannum $50,000 for the giant, but Hannum refused. Ever resourceful, Barnum made a copy, which he claimed was the original. Angry, Hannum applied for a court order to stop Barnum. The judge ruled that both men had copies and could exhibit their fake giants.

[8] Could the character Xena become television's example of the Cardiff Giant? Which is the original, and which is the copy? This could become RenPic's nightmare, since Xena is their intellectual property, not the fans' writing Xena fiction.

Wars Over Words

Eerily similar to tax forms

Copyright forms and applications are available online and in several formats.

[9] Writers' Digest contains ads informing writers not to use "Xerox" interchangeably for with the word "copying", "Roller Blade" for in-line skate, and other product names for ordinary objects. The 3-M Company lost profits when sticky cellophane tape became commonly known as "Scotch Tape". Copyrighted terms can become public domain through constant use. Although, Xena is a fictional character, the popular use of her in fan fiction and the numerous adjectival references to her in popular culture is similar to using "Kleenex" for tissue.

[10] Another fear that companies have is that the fans will dictate the direction of popular fictional characters. Many companies have specific rules for using their characters. For example, Planters will only allow "Mr. Peanut" to be shown with a top hat and a monocle. Planters wants the their character to exude geniality, a "man about town". The Pillsbury Company refused to allow their character the "Pillsbury Doughboy" be used in a "Got Milk" commercial because the character would be accused of drinking all the family's milk. The company stipulated that the Doughboy is "friendly and helpful," but never mischievous. Both companies are concerned about how their characters are perceived. Both want to avoid MacDonald Corporation's mistake of depicting "Ronald MacDonald", their clown, playing pool. Showing the clown participating in adult activities destroyed their sales base with children, MacDonald's major customers.

[11] What will be the fate of Xena fan fiction when Xena goes off the air? Will RenPic continue to tolerate its existence? Will they become worried if fans seem to dictate what Xena should or should not be doing?

Humbug Princes And Warrior Princesses At War

[12] Of course, companies can be overzealous in keeping their copyrights. The Coca-Cola Company has restaurant spies to ensure that "soda" and "coke" are not used interchangeably. In May 2000, Whoosh! participated in a protest against corporate shutdowns of fan sites for Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.

[13] Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus (Ringling Bros.) sued the City of Bridgeport over the use of P.T. Barnum's name. Every year, Bridgeport, Connecticut (U.S.) staged the Barnum Festival to promote the ideals of P.T. Barnum, the city's most famous citizen. Furthermore, the local festival included recreations of famous Barnum acts such as Jumbo, the elephant. Ringling Bros. claimed that the festival's name was an infringement on their copyright, since Barnum is associated with the circus.

[14] The city replied that Barnum played a significant part in its history. He was a former mayor and state representative of Bridgeport. Moreover, Barnum donated Seaside Park to the city to allow public access to Long Island Sound. In addition, he is buried in Bridgeport's Mountain Grove Cemetery.

[15] The judge agreed with the city, ruling that the festival was a civic, nonprofit event, whereas the circus was for-profit. The two parties arrived at the same name by different means. The circus was formed from the merger of Barnum and Bailey's circus with the Ringling Brothers'.

[16] Will fan fiction be considered a different entity from XWP? Can both exist without conflict? Fans need to understand that they are only borrowing Xena for fun purposes. RenPic needs to understand that fans are not trying infringe on their copyright of Xena.

Uber Xena, Uber Barnum

When Dome Envy gets ugly

The Library of Congress, home to copyrighted works, strikingly similar to Ares' temple.

[17] UberXena fan fiction (Uber-fiction) explores the themes of XWP outside the construct of the TV show. In their Uber-fiction, writers examine the archetypes that Xena and Gabrielle represent. Because of this, many of the Uber- fiction characters are at least two degrees removed from the original XWP characters.

[18] In one of my Whoosh! articles, The Exploration Of The Descendants of Xena, et al [No. 13, October 1997], I constructed an history where the descendants of Gabrielle and Callisto would meet each other. The Smythe family (Callisto) and the Covington family (Gabrielle) were present at the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600s. Would a story written about these families, with the Callisto and Gabrielle archetypes, be a violation of the RenPic's copyright, or would it be a separate work?

[19] Bridgeport started the Barnum Festival in the late 1940s to promote city pride. Patterned after P.T. Barnum's circus, the Festival included acts such as Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale". Every year, the city sponsored a music student from Sweden to perform as Jenny. Another major event was the choosing of a local elementary schools student to be General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton). The lucky student received prize money and was feted at the Festival. One could say that the Festival is a Uber-Barnum version of his original circus. The spirit of Barnum is certainly present in the Festival's activities.

[20] In the world of Uber-fiction, anything is possible. To capitalize on the popularity of Uber-fiction, RenPic produced two shows [BETWEEN THE LINES(83/415) and DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422)] in the fourth season. Both shows explored the Uber theme of reincarnation and soul mates.

[21] Then perhaps, P.T. Barnum is an Uber- Salmoneus, or did RenPic base their character on P.T. Barnum? Both men had similar personalities and philosophies. Now, which is the original, and which is the copy?

Under The Big Tent

[22] P.T. Barnum dedicated his life to playing jokes on people. He exhibited hoaxes, and hoaxes of hoaxes, to teach people not to take themselves seriously. In his most famous practical joke, Barnum received a million dollars from New York City to turn Manhattan Island around. He had convinced the mayor that the island was top heavy. After various city officials realized that they had been had, Barnum asked whether they were entertained. After a good laugh, they forgave him for "humbugging" them.

[23] Later in his life, Barnum wrote to the Bridgeport Standard:

"I said that the people like to be humbugged when, as in my case, there is no humbuggery except that which consists in ... issuing flaming bills and advertisements to attract public attention to shows which all acknowledge are always clean, moral, instructive, elevating and give back to their patron in every case several times their money's worth."

[24] For me, P.T. Barnum's statement sums up what fan fiction is. It exists to entertain and to give the enjoyment of XWP back to the fans. I believe that RenPic wants the same end: enjoyment of their copyrighted characters. I should think P.T. Barnum would agree that there is enough room for fans and RenPic under the big tent of entertainment.


P.T. Barnum never said, "Never give a sucker an even break". As a long time resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I became steeped in Barnum facts and lore.

Further Information

Andronik, Catherine, Prince Of Humbugs, A Life Of P.T. Barnum, Athenum, New York, 1994

Barnum Museum, Bridgeport Connecticut

Fleming, Alice, P.T. Barnum, The World'S Greatest Showman, Walker and Company, New York 1993

Jenkins, Henry, "Digital Land Grab", MIT Alumni Association Technology Review, Volume 103, No. 2

Latham, Peter, "Copyright on the Web", All About British Theatre Website

O'Mahoney, Benedict, The Copyright Website

Templeton, Brad, "10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained", Brad Templeton's Website

Shalit, Ruth, "The inner Doughboy", Salon Magazine, March 23, 2000, Salon.com

Shalit, Ruth, "Mr. Peanut Chronicles", Salon Magazine, March 24, 2000, Salon.Com

"What is This .... Uber?", Whoosh! Uber Site


Virginia Carper Virginia Carper
My goal is to be a garden variety human being. My friends know me as a squirrel. I am, however, a card carrying member of the Squirrel Lovers Club, and do squirrel studies. My family watches XWP for the marvelous things Xena does and for Joxer, the warlord with autism.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Joxer to Xena and Gabrielle: "A great many people have become allies because of their hatred of me." Xena and Gabrielle nod 'Yes!' BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
First episode seen: WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Most of the Third Season

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