– Why are a public summaries/ Wiki’s for a tv show/book allowed under copyright laws?


There are many Wikipedia or Fandom Wiki articles that go into so much detail that, in some cases, it tells you more about the story than even watching or reading the original content could tell you. Why is this allowed, and when does it cross the line to becoming an issue?

In: 9

Commentary/review is part of fair use. Especially if it is transformative – and in your example it is being changed into a written explanation of a visual medium. If a copyright holder believes in good faith it is an infringement or a market substitute (reading the wiki prevents people from seeing the film), they can try to use the courts to stop them.

The copyright is on the work itself. It doesn’t exclude people from talking *about* the work. That would lead to untenable situations. Can I only discuss the Harry Potter books with you if we both own copies of those books? And how would anyone even verify that?

Where it crosses the line is ultimately a question for judges or juries. A summary of the work is generally allowed, but of course if you make the summary as long as the book itself and cover all the minutest story beats in exactly the same order, including all the dialogue and so on, then at some point you’re just plagiarizing the story rather than summarizing it (even if you do paraphrase everything and don’t copy anything literally).

It’s not just about the level of detail though. You can write a very detailed wiki about some copyrighted work that does contain all the information in meticulous detail, even including information not presented in the text itself (e.g. information revealed by the author in interviews, or in a videogame), but what’s crucial then is that you’re not just rehashing the story. You’re spreading the information over a kind of encyclopedia, in a totally different structure from how it was presented in the original work.

One way to look at it is: does reading a detailed wiki about some work stop you from wanting to read the work itself? Most likely it doesn’t (unless you simply find out the work doesn’t appeal to you), because the experience of learning *about* the story from a wiki isn’t the same as the experience of reading the story. A story is more than just a collection of plot points, characters etc. It’s also the precise way in which everything is described.

An analogy would be a piece of music. I can describe to you the chord progression, the types of melodies and harmonies, the instrumentation, and all the information about it, but it’s not the same as listening to the music itself, and so my description does not infringe copyright. What does infringe copyright is if I stage a performance of the piece (without permission), even if I change some details (like alter the melodies a bit, or play in a different key or on a different instrument). Because now that performance is a plausible substitute for the original work (even if in the end no one enjoys my performance and everyone still wants to hear the original instead).


Summaries are not against copyright.

This is why stuff like Cliff’s Notes is legal.

There is a point where a summary is so detailed that it becomes a derivative work, but pinpointing that exact limit is difficult.

Reducing a tv show that it would take half an hour to watch into a summary that it will take less than a minute to read probably won’t come anywhere close to that limit.

The original work itself is protected.

Discussing or describing the original work is itself a *new* work, which the creators of the original work have no control over.