BROOKLYN, N.Y.--It's a languid, late-summer Wednesday afternoon at the offices of online handmade-goods marketplace Etsy, and Chief Technology Officer Chad Dickerson is sitting at a table in a conference room decorated to look like a cartoonish version of the interior of a Mercury-era space capsule.
Surrounded by fake panic-button consoles, plush jet packs, and quilts depicting outer-space views of moons and planets, Dickerson is peering at his laptop screen to report a particularly important number that he's just been asked to look up: "We've got 263 search results for 'Justin Bieber.'"
That's 263 listings at this precise moment in time by Etsy sellers hawking homemade shoelaces, tapestries, pendants, and pillows (to name a few) featuring the visage of the sugary pop singer. Bieber is hardly alone on Etsy; poke through its listings, and you'll find necklaces in the shape of the "Golden Snitch" winged orb from the "Harry Potter" series, cuff links painted to look like the head of "Star Wars" robot R2-D2, and bottle cap pendants featuring the bronzed face of "Jersey Shore" star "DJ Pauly D."
Fan creations are a funny thing. For well more than a decade, the Web has provided an unprecedented gathering space for loyal and zealous followers of literary, cinematic, and televised franchises who might not otherwise ever interact, allowing many phenomena that were once cult hits to achieve mainstream, mass-market success and often phenomenal profitability. Sometimes, as with the sale of unofficial DJ Pauly D pendants and Star Wars cuff links, the fans stand a chance of profiting, too. And the trademark and copyright holders aren't always happy about it.… Read more