Help Wanted — We’re Launching the Ghost Works Survey

Ghost Works Survey temporary logo

We’re launching the Ghost Works Survey, and you can help.

The Ghost Works Survey is a project to investigate how often, and in what ways, copyright prevents artists from making new derivative works.

In the article “Seen Any Ghost Works Lately?”, we defined a ghost work as a creative work that never got made, or was made but not released, because copyright concerns prevented it from being started or from being distributed. Since then, informal conversations with artists, publishers and others have made it very clear that such suppression is a common event, much more common than most people think. But the public rarely hears about it, because no one does publicity for a work that doesn’t exist.

The purpose of the Ghost Works Survey is twofold: to demonstrate the scope and scale of this phenomenon by gathering and organizing as much data about it as we can, and to highlight compelling individual stories of artists and other creators who had their work thwarted by copyright restrictions. The survey will not attempt to catalogue every ghost work — there are likely far too many, given that almost every artist we’ve talked to so far has a story of a work they had to alter or lay aside due to copyright concerns. Rather, we’ll focus on qualitative results: we want to collect enough stories to discern large-scale patterns, so we can understand and publicize the effects of copyright suppression. For more information, see the projects page.

If you want to help, or are interested but want to know more before committing, please send an email to:

The time commitment will only be as great as you want it to be — we’ll need help with tasks both large and small. Since much of the project involves receiving and processing stories from artists, our capacity is directly proportional to the number of volunteers: the more people are involved, the more we can do! can provide technical infrastructure and planning, but there is no substitute for human minds.

We’ll also need some volunteers willing to take on specific responsibilities: for example, a maintainer for a MySpace page and a maintainer for a Facebook page (because we need to make it as easy as possible for people to send us stories).

And we welcome ideas, of course — please leave suggestions as comments on this article.

13 Comments on "Help Wanted — We’re Launching the Ghost Works Survey"

  1. I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but: I remember reading that some interesting-sounding documentary couldn’t be released because it included music on the soundtrack, and the filmmakers were unable to get ‘clearances’ for that music. So it’s just sitting somewhere.

  2. Yes, I recall that too… I can’t remember its name either. If you remember the name, please let us know!

  3. I think it would also be interesting to know how many creators of ghost works face prosecution even though they have not distributed them, e.g. on the grounds that they have prepared derivatives of a published work without authorisation from its copyright holder.

    It’d be even more interesting to know if anyone has been prosecuted for creation of such an unauthorised derivative that has been distributed (by parties other than the creator).

    I’m wondering whether if all or any of the ghost works you discover, when distributed via decentralised file-sharing networks, would have any legal ramifications for their respective creators.

    In other words, I’m suggesting there is a way these ghost works may be ethically published and distributed with insignificant risk to all parties concerned.

  4. I think the problem is that decentralization and untraceability turn out to be inconvenient in practice — they have “chilling effects” of their own. And the distributors would still be liable, even if the creator of the derivative work isn’t.

  5. The Grey Album was a notorious example of an unauthorised derivative whose distribution was performed by its fans when its artist was prevented from doing so.

    1. Thank you for the reminder. Yes, we should include it; it’s story is already well-known (in some circles, anyway), but we can use it as a conceptual foot-in-the-door to show that this phenomenon is common.

  6. Thanks for the suggestion, DPic. We’ll get right on it; look for a link soon.

  7. So yes, please host a Torrent. Everyone is encouraged to!

    We’ll link to some of those other sites from sohbet as appropriate: sites that share revenue with Nina or do something else nice will be given preference (this will be explained in more detail at chat).

  8. As far as Ghost Works go, add ‘Inner Warriors’ series to that list.

    I haven’t actually started any real production, you see, because of the concept of the series itself…

    It is a look into minds and how ideas and things work via my own: Inner Children/Demons (Often chosen from cartoon/game characters I have seen/played) that personalize different parts of my personality, an entire inner dimension that conceptualizes different attributes made from bits and pieces of my memories (Often of various songs/games/movies/characters) and ideas (ALWAYS derivative)

    Unfortunately, as would (And should) be expected, that will involve alot of dealing with copyrighted stuff….

    The only reason I have not gone further is because I have no idea how I’m going to distribute it, sites like Newgrounds and YouTube might take it but I am worried the videos might be taken down for copyright infringement at some time or another.

    It’s depressing, because I have no alternative, once it’s down it’s down, I can make new accounts to ban evade sure, but for how long? Nobody knows about it because it’s NOT LEGALLY SAFE TO ADVERTISE IN IT’S COMPLETED OR POSSIBLY IN-PROGRESS FORM so I no following that can aid in in it’s distribution via torrents or other sources.

    It’s dumb that I have to worry about using my own damn memories, influences and favorite things in a SERIES ABOUT “INTERNAL WORLDS/MENTAL DIMENSIONS WITHIN A PERSON” because there is a law that prohibits me from doing so.

    I could try and NOT use my own memories, influences and favorites…. Err… Why even bother making a series about that then? That’s like saying I never think of certain songs… Because they are copyrighted. I mean, they are going to be there, or it just won’t be done correctly.

    I could make a parody of said stuff… But, what’s the point? It would not be the same as my actual memories/influences/favorites then, it’s the mental equivalent of tip-toe’ing around something you are afraid of stepping on/in.

    Nobodies really done this idea, though, atleast not like I how I’m trying to do, that’s what really gets me. There’s so much opportunity for creativity and original works made from existing things it’s unbelievable. But we can’t use it.

    Well, that’s my story. And the sad thing is I know I’m not the only person this is happening to as I type this.