Copyright becomes an issue as fans edit TV series to speculate about relationships

Fans’ attachment to fictional characters may determine which TV series remains the topic of conversation for decades and which gets cancelled after the first season. The entertainment industry sees major marketing potential in videos edited and published by fans, but there are also copyright issues.

– Producing fan videos is a technical and artistic process requiring knowledge of audio-visual narrative and technical competence as well as a strong personal vision, says Meniina Wik, who will defend her doctoral dissertation at the University of Vaasa on 3 February.

Fan videos are made with great passion

In her dissertation, Meniina Wik studied amateur videos published online by shippers (relationshippers), who are interested in romantic relationships and personal chemistry between fictional characters. Shippers look for subtle clues of chemistry between the main characters of a TV series and compile their own videos including scenes that make the romantic relationship between the characters come true. The shipper culture is flourishing in the YouTube era, but it dates back to the 1970s, when fans first started to edit videotapes manually.

The thesis focuses on three TV series that have inspired shippers to produce fan videos. These are The X-files, Sherlock and Outlander. All three series represent different genres and premiered at different times. Thus, they can be used to examine shipper activity at different times.

– Similarly to these three TV series, the fan videos I studied were very different from each other. The shipper culture does not look down on home-made videos, so shippers can immerse themselves in the video and enjoy the characters even if it only lasts a minute and is slightly clumsily edited. The most elaborate fan videos, however, are cinematic in terms of their visual narrative and effects, Wik says.

As part of her thesis, Wik also created her own X-Files-themed video, gaining practical experience of the passion and skills required to put together a fan video.

– I have been an X-Files fan ever since the series first aired, so for almost  30 years now. It was a fascinating experience to challenge my fandom and technical competence and combine the two with my identity as a researcher in a way that respects the traditions of shipper communities. As a part of my research, I also built a model that can be applied as a tool for studying short videos. New video makers can also use it as a practical guide for, for example,  visuals, sound and post-production.

Fan production has great commercial potential

Videos made by shippers convey a passion that is connected to their “relationship” with the TV series that may have lasted for decades. For example, The X-Files has fans who first watched the series in the 1990s and who continue to build its popularity today by sharing articles and video clips related to the series. Others go even further and jump into the shoes of the director of the series.

– The way viewers like to process what they see in a TV series or film is highly personal. Some people want to discuss what they have seen with a friend, while others are so inspired that they decide to make their version of events with the help of video, Wik says.

Fan productions may gain massive visibility, so they also have great commercial potential. However, there are major copyright issues related to fan productions, and dissenting views cannot be avoided. Fan videos are shared online on international platforms that are also keenly monitored by commercial production companies – after all, the videos feature characters, storylines and raw material protected by copyright.

– In general, people’s understanding of copyright and its importance is increasing with the changes in the media environment and the digitalisation of various materials, Wik says.

Fan activity may generate phenomena that benefit both the fan community and commercial production companies. Fans can be encouraged to participate and create their own production based on TV series and films, in which case fans will market the media product in question for free. And best of all, this also helps create a new generation of fans.

Expression is becoming (audio-)visual

Wik’s doctoral dissertation is related to an extensive discussion on how expression and communication are becoming increasingly reliant on audio-visual material. We use various video applications in our daily lives, participate in a dance challenge on social media with our own video, and make a job application in video format.

We now have a generation whose lives have included videos that they have found easy to edit and share since childhood. The means of expression used in amateur production for decades have now become part of our daily lives and working life, thanks to the changes in the available technology and our media use.

Public defence

The public examination of MA Meniina Wik’s doctoral dissertation “Tulkinnasta tuotantoon: Audiovisuaalinen shippaustuotanto digitaalisena itseilmaisuna” will be held on Friday 3 Feb 2023 at noonat the University of Vaasa, auditorium Kurtén. Professor Kaarina Nikunen (Tampere yliopisto) will act as the opponent and Professor Tanja Sihvonen as the custos. The defence will be held in Finnish.


Wik, Meniina (2023) Tulkinnasta tuotantoon: Audiovisuaalinen shippaustuotanto digitaalisena itseilmaisuna. Acta Wasaensia 501. Väitöskirja. Vaasan yliopisto.

Publication pdf


Further information

Meniina Wik was born in Vaasa. She graduated from Vaasan lyseon lukio upper secondary school in 2003 and studied graphic design at Kauhajoki Evangelical College. Wik gained her master’s degree at the University of Vaasa in 2012, majoring in communication sciences. During her doctoral studies, Wik worked as a graphic designer and taught visual communication at the University of Vaasa. For the past few years, she has been working as a doctoral researcher at the University of Vaasa.

Did you like the article?