Le Droit Botté!

Fairy tales have been woven into the fabric of our culture for thousands of years. Initially transmitted orally by storytellers and enriched through interactions with their audiences, they were later definitely fixed under more literary forms. This fixation on paper – by the Grimm Brothers and their counterparts – rigidified the texts but in return offered a wider access to the tales, thus allowing mass-consumption of linear stories. Whether through literary or cinematographic formats, fairy tales have now more or less explicitly invaded our cultural space.

However, Vladimir Propp’s work revealed that fairy tales are all based on a series of only thirty-one actions, whose actors and challenges evolved with time and societies. Therefore it is form – more than substance and underlying ideas – that embodies originality in fairy tales. As copyright theoretically only protects the expression employed by a tale’s author, those reusing elements from existing fairy tales should only be careful not to include already copyrighted material in their works.

But this limit to their freedom to create could prove to be more problematic than expected: in a context of massive consumption of culture, traditional limits to copyright may fail to prevent the appropriation of cultural commons such as fairy tales. In conjunction with longer terms of protection, the copyright spell could in fact lead our culture into a dangerous state of artificial sleep.

This content has been updated on March 27, 2016 at 14 h 44 min.