Lantagne on Goncharov (1973), Internet Folklore, and Corporate Copyright @StaceyLantagne @WNEULaw @VandyJETLaw

Stacey Lantagne, Western New England University School of Law, is publishing Goncharov (1973), Internet Folklore, and Corporate Copyright in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law. Here is the abstract.

Goncharov (1973) is a meme – an especially rich, complex, collaborative, and mutating one. It revolves around a movie that doesn’t exist: Goncharov, a fictional Martin Scorsese film that the internet decided to collectively pretend had been made in 1973. Over the course of a few feverish weeks in the fall of 2022, a variety of social media users, with no coordination and without knowing anything about each other or the overall project, created a cast, a storyline, a soundtrack, reviews, fanfiction, and a promotional poster. And they did it all for free. Actually, they did it all for fun – a concept foreign to copyright law’s idea of creativity.

This Article uses the Goncharov meme to illustrate exactly how much copyright law doctrines have been developed to support a narrow, corporate conception of copyright. Copyright law depends heavily on an understanding of creativity as an economic venture mediated by contractual relationships. Sprawling collaborative and unmonetized memes like the Goncharov meme sit uneasily in the system, likely uncopyrightable as a type of folklore. However, positioning a meme like Goncharov as the equivalent of public domain folklore leaves the meme vulnerable to financial exploitation by others. This Article uses the vehicle of Goncharov to ask whether such a result is what copyright law should support, or whether we should rethink how we treat the new traditional knowledge being developed daily by our creative culture. This Article argues that copyright law dangerously focuses attention on a very small slice of human creativity, leaving huge amounts of creativity devalued as undeserving of legal protection. This hierarchy paints a watered-down picture of creativity. Creativity, as can be seen just in the single example of the Goncharov meme, is so much more complex, multi-faceted, unpredictable, and interesting than the law posits. As we prepare to grapple with machine-generated creativity that may challenge copyright assumptions, we shouldn’t forget the vast swaths of human-created creativity that also challenge those assumptions.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.