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FanFiction: Fan's Right or Copyright Nightmare?

By Fero in Media
Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 12:24:38 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

Do fans have this right?

As an author of FanFiction I've always been curious about the line that is drawn on this subject, about whether or not what we're doing is right. About the authors that forbid fanfiction of their characters, or authors that even send out lawyers to stop you, or the authors that even take an active interest in what you're writing.

The best way to explain fanfiction to someone that has never seen or heard of it before is this: writers who go see movies, or watch tv shows and they like the characters. They sit there and think and think and one day they write a story featuring the characters. These stories range from Gen(General), which is acceptable to all audiences, to Slash and Femslash, which are written about homosexual couples. Most of what a fanfiction writer writes is based off of subtext; long glances, vague lines, places where we can imagine a hidden meaning. The Lost Boys was quite famous for the subtext that implied a sexual relationship between the two brothers in the movie.

Most fanfiction features a header which lists Author, Title, Email Address, and almost always, a Disclaimer. The disclaimer is the part that gives you the right to do what you're doing, technically.

It disclaims, something along the lines of, "Forever Knight, characters, situations, and so forth, do not belong to me. They belong to Rysher Entertainment. I am not making money off of this.". This is a very basic disclaimer, though, depending on the author they can get as long and wordy as you like, even making jokes. I used to have a disclaimer worded exactly like the 'Rules of Fight Club'. Basically you give up the rights to the characters, and tell everyone where the characters really came from.

Even with this bit of legalism some authors dislike the idea of their characters being toyed with. Anne Rice is quite famous for this, and her website should still have that message archived.

Most recently is the whole 'Harry Potter Porn' issue. All of the adult level reading material is clearly labeled, and usually hidden behind some sort of warning page, that requires you to click an agreement that you are old enough and legal to read it. Having been surfing recently I've found that many websites, hosting Harry Potter have changed the spelling to something along the lines of 'H*rry P*tter', probably in an attempt to hide from lawyers and J. K. Rowling.

I've always felt that fanfiction was a form of flattery, an author showing their appreciation of your character building skills by using them in their own work, with the use of a disclaimer. Without the use of the disclaimer the work is nothing more than stealing.

The question is, is fanfiction a fan's right? If something is produced as mass media, shown on large screens all over the world to thousands of audiences, can someone really say 'no. i forbid you to do that with the thing that i mass produced.'. Or is it up to the copyright holders to tell each and everyone of us what we can do, especially when we're not making a profit off our work?

And yes, there is a lot of bad fanfiction out there. More often than not what is hosted on fanfiction.net is pure garbage, but every once in a while you find something that actually works well. Most of what you're seeing is practice; amature writers are practicing characterization. They learn a character, they learn how the person acts, and walks, and talks and by the time they've written their first fifty pieces of utter trash they know what they are doing. They put their bad work up, get it critiqued, and learn what to fix. Writing is a learning process.  In fact, as I remember, Susan Garrett, an author who writes official novels for many tv shows such as Buffy, Forever Knight, and possibly Highlander as well, was on a fanfiction mailing list with me for Forever Knight. She eventually became good enough to get the attention of the real writers, who brought her in to join them.

As for pairings none of us care for; well, it can't all be sunshine all the time. I'm sure there is something out there that you will like, and if not, so what? Someone else might like it, and beyond that its all a matter of free speech. Someone once said, 'The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with.'


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FanFiction: Fan's Right or Copyright Nightmare? | 125 comments (117 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
my take on fanfic (4.45 / 20) (#1)
by rmg on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 06:11:20 PM EST

you know, to me, it's not anyone's business what people on the internet jack-off to... i mean, if people get off on natalie portman/x files cross-over bondage erotica, you know, whatever. these companies that run around trying to shut these fanfic sites down are only hurting themselves. they are alienating their real fanbase.

to me, there is no greater demonstration of fandom than composing pornographic fanfic. for example, just last night, i was watching knight rider, and i was really taken with david hasselhoff's (read: huge manly chest) performance, so i wrote a little hasselhoff/diff'rent strokes/kikaider piece and posted it to my favorite furry message board.

i mean look, no true fan of x files can honestly say he didn't masturbate to a picture of david duchovny once or twice. this is even more true for anime series (though i would argue that kenshin from rurouni kenshin is a pushing it a little -- too girly).

anyone who tells you they haven't fantasied about the dukes of hazzard encountering a la blue girl-style tentacle monster is a liar, or not a real fan of the show. fanfic is the logical conclusion of true fandom.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks

hahahahahahhaha (1.50 / 6) (#4)
by jvcoleman on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 06:38:42 PM EST

Most fan fiction is just as steeped in commercialism as any "official fiction"; LOL, if these people had a chance to suck Rick Berman's dick they would pay money for it and buy the special edition video too...

or... (4.09 / 11) (#5)
by VoxLobster on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 07:29:32 PM EST

FanFiction: A total literary embarassment?

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar

legally no, morally yes... (4.22 / 9) (#6)
by joto on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 07:38:52 PM EST

Legally, there is no way you can write fan-fiction, unless it's parody. Morally, you should of course be allowed to write about any fictional character you would like. If you ask a random sample of people, I think you would find very few that would have any moral (not legal) reason for you to e.g. not make your own Indiana Jones movie.

That being said, I've never seen any fanfic that didn't suck beyond belief. Who are the idiots creating this crap? Have they no life? Even the worst of K5 fiction crapflooding is better than your average startrek fan-fiction.

legally: theory yes, practice no (4.00 / 1) (#80)
by riptalon on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 07:26:58 PM EST

I'm not so sure that this is true. I think this is another case of lawyers taking the law and stretching it way beyond its intented scope. Copyright is supposed to be a limited monopoly on the expression of ideas. Note the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. You can copyright as string of words expressing some ideas (a book) but what you get is a monopoly on copying that string of words or a reasonable subset of them. The copyright gives you no rights to the ideas expressed by the words, just the words themselves.

The section of law pertaining to obtaining monopolies on ideas is called patent law and it only applies to useful ideas, not fiction. The ideas in fictional works are not protected in anyway by copyright law. Unless the fan fiction is actually copying large chunks of the original work verbatum, copyright does not apply. The only possible legal problem that might be thrown in the way is trademarks. If some trademarks have been applied for with respect to a fictional work then their use in fan faction might cause problems.

Of course even in that case it shouldn't really since the intention of trademark law is to regulate naming of companies and products and so if you are not selling you fan fiction the law should not apply. All this being say just because legally you are in the right doesn't give you much comfort it a corporation sics a pack of lawyers on you and you could never afford to even think about fighting the case.

[ Parent ]
Well, if that was true... (none / 0) (#98)
by joto on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 11:51:54 AM EST

If that was true, why do we call the latest copyright extension the "mickey mouse" act?

There have been a few cases of popular fictional characters popping up in other works, e.g. there are some James Bond movies that are "unauthorized". But in general, it seems that fictional characters are protected by copyright laws.

Feel free to try the following experiment, and see what happens. Make a moderately succesful story/cartoon/movie/whatever using one of Disney's famous characters (not Pocahontas or Robin Hood, which already are in the public domain), make some money out of it, and see if you win the forthcoming lawsuit. I doubt it.

[ Parent ]

Corporate propaganda? (none / 0) (#101)
by riptalon on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 02:15:40 PM EST

I doubt Disney or someone like them would ever lose such a case either but winning and losing in court rarely has anything to do with what was intended when a law was written. If you look at actual copyright law it is pretty explicit that ideas are not covered:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work

Various people (and their media allies) work very hard to distort the public perception of copyright law and introduce "feature creep" as it were. Why go to the trouble of changing a law if you can just convince people it means more than it does?

[ Parent ]
In that case we must agree to differ... (none / 0) (#102)
by joto on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 06:23:04 PM EST

There is no point in looking at law only by stating what is written down verbatim. All western democracies divide the power granted to the government into executive, legislative, and judicature. Most people consider this to be a good thing.

For this reason, many laws are intentionally made vague. It is up to the courts to decide how the law should be interpreted in specific instances. In some cases, this can become very hard, and the court must decide upon a policy, which creates a precedence for later cases.

One such case is obviously fictional characters. I am not a lawyer, but it seems pretty clear that the courts have long since decided that fictional characters are protected by copyrights. It is possible that this was not what was intended originally (and I am inclined to think so myself), but it matters little. Once this is decided by the courts as a precedent, it is as good as law, untill the law changes.

Part of the problem with copyright law is that it is governed by international agreements, and therefore it is not up to the US government (or any other government) to change it back to "what was originally intended". It seems the international agreements pretty much work in only one direction at the moment. If somebody wants to strengthen their copyright law, that is ok. If somebody wants to loosen them up (such as many asian and african countries), it creates turbulence. For this reason, it seems the only way to get back to sane copyright laws is to lobby for international changes. Too bad none of us seems to be as good at that, as Disney.

[ Parent ]

Internet != USA (none / 0) (#118)
by paranoid on Tue Jul 29, 2003 at 03:28:03 PM EST

In some countries writing fanfic is legal, because copyright laws vary greatly. I am sure that a sizable proportion of fanfic authors (although still a minority) lives in such countries. Distribution of such legit fanfic is probably legal, because the copyright to this derivative work is owned by the fanfic author (characters are not his, the story is). Just my 2 yuans or tugriks.

[ Parent ]
Fan Fic is retarded (4.36 / 11) (#7)
by Psycho Dave on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 07:49:06 PM EST

Of all the great things the interet has given us, it has also become the perfect breeding ground for things such as fanfic and slash. I shouldn't even have to denounce "erotic" fanfic. Harry/Ron, Kirk/Spock, Scully/Buffy...buy a new video game if you have this much time on your hands people! Just the thought of some greasy, unshaved, overweight nerd typing shit like this out at four in the morning, his orange, Cheeto stained fingers occasionally drifting from the keyboard to the bulge in his soiled boxers, to give his pee-pee a quick tug is about as repulsive as I can conjure. GET A FUHQING LIFE!

I even look down on people who write just normal fanfic. Come up with an original idea for chrissakes. Sure, in my eighth grade creative writing class I wrote out a short story with quite a striking similarity to "Blade Runner" (only without the meditiations on what it is to be human, I mostly just wanted to blast psychotic androids with a mini-gun). But at least I took rudimentary steps to create a world of my own, instead of just jacking the entire plot thread of Star Trek. Do you really think they'll let you write for the show the more you spam them with your inane scripts?

While there is room for derivative works in fiction (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, The Wide Sargasso Sea etc.) most nerds are advised not to try it. There's a big gulf between Hamlet and Jane Eyre to the X-Files and Ranma 1/2.

Yes they will (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by godix on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 07:58:44 PM EST

instead of just jacking the entire plot thread of Star Trek. Do you really think they'll let you write for the show the more you spam them with your inane scripts?

Star Trek did exactly that. Explains the rather erratic quality doesn't it?

"I think you're right"
- Rusty speaking about godix
Hey, it's my damned
[ Parent ]
Star Trek... (2.00 / 1) (#11)
by Psycho Dave on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 08:07:58 PM EST

is off the air. Not even geeks can bring themselves to watch Enterprise. And even if they did produce a fan script, it probably wasn't the one where Riker taught Data the concept of cornholing ("Could use more lube, sir.")

While I think normal fanfic is a waste of time, slash needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. (figuratively. I don't believe in making any laws restricting it.) J.K. Rowling shouldn't even worry about some retarded story about Hagrid buttfucking Harry while he eats out Hermione. She's the richest woman in England, and the other guy is a fat ass who can't get a date. Don't need the courts to show who's on top here.

[ Parent ]

Actually (5.00 / 2) (#12)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 09:23:01 PM EST

Replace "fat ass" with "middle aged woman." Seriously. I don't know if they get dates or not, though. There's some teenage girls in there too.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

I guess you're right.... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by Psycho Dave on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 10:57:00 PM EST

A guy would just photoshop Gandalf's head onto some Tom of Finland type artwork. Fat housewives on welfare with too many cats are the one's who are into writing "erotic fiction" while stuffing their face with ding-dongs.

Thanks for the clarification...

[ Parent ]

Actually, fan fiction predates the net (4.00 / 1) (#94)
by Karmakaze on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 09:35:29 AM EST

You really can't blame the net for fan fiction.

Scary little fans were writing on typewriters and mailing photocopied versions to one another long before the net was a phenomenon.  Some of them still feel that print 'zines are the only true home of fan fiction...

It's probably also useful to know that most fan fiction 'writers' are female.

Ever notice how porn shops aimed at a mail audience have all those videos with 'girl on girl action'?  And then you notice that a lot of 'erotic fan fiction' features slash, or 'boy on boy action'.  Wonder if there's a connection there?
[ Parent ]

Who does the work belong to? (4.00 / 2) (#13)
by bigbtommy on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 09:44:11 PM EST

Fair use includes the right to parody and literary criticism. Surely if I write an article which states that "It would certainly make it more interesting if [Tolkien had made Frodo and Arwen had sex|Rowling had made Harry and Ron gangbang the troll|Orwell lightened up and wrote Mills & Boons novels]" then the law makes no distinction between that and going on and producing a piece of "criticism" in fictional form that shows what would happen if Harry and Ron found that troll and got sexy with it.

If it is fair use to write a plot summary as part of a review, then an author can't own a patent on all stories with their plots in. I mean otherwise Tolkien's estate would be able to sue people for breaking his patent on "Having a narrative story form featuring a mixture of mythical creatures including but not limited to: dwarves, elves, halflings, goblins, orcs, dragons, wizards etc." and Rowling would be able to sue for "Producing a narrative story form featuring a school setting and/or the use of magic spells to further the narrative."

My further opinion here.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up

Fan Fiction (2.57 / 7) (#15)
by United Fools on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 11:49:08 PM EST

The star ship Enterprise is on route to Star Base 1 for repairs after a battle with the Kill-gons. Along the route, the engine misfunctions and accelerates the ship toward the Sun. Despite the heroic efforts of the crew, the ship's course cannot be changed. The ship goes too fast and enters the core of the Sun before the crew can jump ship. All crew members perish in the diaster and will be forever remembered in the history of the Star Fleet.
We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
sad, sad (3.00 / 4) (#17)
by idea poet on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 01:10:12 AM EST

I only respect originality. There is nothing wrong with admiring the creation of others - even if you think the worlds others create - a lot. To then recycle that into your own version of what you see is not only unoriginal, but also a little sad. Why not create your own characters, worlds, plots?

Go Fanfic! (4.50 / 4) (#18)
by Russell Dovey on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 01:40:58 AM EST

The way I see it, in this society it's a miracle that people create ANYTHING without financial reward any more, even if 90% is godawful wish-fulfilment. Creativity and imagination should be encouraged in any form, and fanfic allows a lot of those who are too dumb or lazy to improve themselves with an act of creation.

It's not too hard to find good fanfic. Just look at an awards site.

And to weed out the shit, all employers/dole providers should mandate that the prospective employee/dole bludger submit, with their emailed resume, a copy of all fanfic they have previously written. The slash would dry right up.

Incidentally, speaking of wish-fulfilment trash, we're all guilty. Ah, young love. (I go by elaurian in places.)

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

It is original (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Tau on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 08:37:48 AM EST

The world and characters may be preserved, but the situation the characters face is an original one. I'm personally a big fan of Final Fantasy fanfiction. For those who aren't familiar with this series, it's a series of Console RPGs (there's been about twelve so far and counting) by Squaresoft which are set in different worlds, although the style is similar (eg the battle system is the same throughout, most of the spells are always the same, there's always some summoned monsters that remain the same, there's always chocobos [some made-up cross between a roadrunner and an ostrich], there's an airship, and so on)

The point is that once every game in the series finishes, you never hear from the characters again. FF games have an incredible amount of work put into the characters and plot (well... I'd say VI and VII were the only ones with very good characters but whatever) and that makes it ripe for fanfiction authors. You polish off the final adversary, watch the ending sequence, then THE END comes up and you lose the characters you've become attached to over the course of playing.

Then you shrug and find some decent fanfiction about that game and watch someone's idea of how the story would continue. Slash isn't all there is to the concept, and moreover I think this image gives fanfiction a really bad name.

[ Parent ]

You're that close-minded? (5.00 / 3) (#73)
by cpt kangarooski on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:39:19 PM EST

So you're saying that you don't like nearly all the plays of Shakespeare? Or virtually all of Disney's feature-length cartoons? Or Virgil's Aeneid? You didn't like Mourning Becomes Electra? Or Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book seems to have been well-received, but you didn't like that either? The Three Amigos and A Bug's Life didn't appeal to you? My Fair Lady wasn't enjoyable? I know that the length of Paradise Lost is a little overwhelming, but it was good, wasn't it?

I wonder if you like even official sequels.

After all, it's a bit lazy of George Lucas to go and make The Empire Strikes Back, instead of doing something all-new. He's using the characters and situations he already created as a crutch. ('Course, I liked that movie better than the original) Only respecting originality shouldn't really hinge on whether you're person A or B, should it? Or whether you're authorized by person A. It's the actual output that is important, right? Meaning that unoriginal sequels are just as bad as unoriginal fanfic.

Meh. I think there are plenty of good derivative works. I've seen plenty of 'em too.

Of course some -- perhaps most -- will still be crappy, but that's not because they're derivative so much as it's because of the author and his skill and investment (not fiscal) in the work. And this holds true regardless of whether a work is original or derivative. Many a craptastic original work have I seen too.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

your comparison (none / 1) (#111)
by idea poet on Wed Jul 23, 2003 at 10:39:40 PM EST

Oh come on. You must be joking if you suggest that fanfiction compares with work that is of a derivative nature. Of course most literature and cinema is recycled from work that has gone before it. But to compare George Lucas making films of an episodic nature, compared to his fans shooting fanfilms in their backyards on a Hi8 camera is rather silly.

Every artist is influenced by what has gone before. The true genius of creativity lies in creating a fresh perspective in the manipulation of themes and structures in literature or cinema.

[ Parent ]

No joke (none / 2) (#112)
by cpt kangarooski on Thu Jul 24, 2003 at 07:30:32 AM EST

You must be joking if you suggest that fanfiction compares with work that is of a derivative nature.

Fanfiction IS work of a derivative nature. Works are either chiefly original or derivative, though pretty much everything is derivative of something else, e.g. early "Star Wars" drafts were close rip-offs of Akira Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" and the hidden compartment gag is lifted from "Sanjuro."

But to compare George Lucas making films of an episodic nature, compared to his fans shooting fanfilms in their backyards on a Hi8 camera is rather silly.

Not at all. Both of them are 'stealing' from his earlier work, and arguably doing it badly. One just has a massively larger budget and is the person that did the earlier work. (though those fans can often pull off better special effects than Lucas did back in the 70's)

Every artist is influenced by what has gone before. The true genius of creativity lies in creating a fresh perspective in the manipulation of themes and structures in literature or cinema.

And why is it impossible for this to be done by people using Hi-8, but entirely possible to be done with super-high-end digital cameras?

Fans can offer fresh perspectives. In fact, given how many crappy original works there are, I'd say they do it just as often as anyone else.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

As a pedantic StarWars nerd (none / 0) (#116)
by Spendocrat on Sat Jul 26, 2003 at 06:18:41 PM EST

I feel compelled to point out that the story of the three movies was written all at once and only broken up into three movies because it's so long.


[ Parent ]

Yeah, I've heard that (none / 0) (#121)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Jul 30, 2003 at 03:40:47 PM EST

But IIRC there were some pretty major changes that happened all throughout. ESB didn't become the movie we recognize until fairly late in the game. And the early treatment and drafts still read for all the world like "The Hidden Fortress."

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
A more controversial issue is, (3.00 / 4) (#19)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 02:40:08 AM EST

do fans have the right to create the works known as "slash" or "lemons"?

These are both terms used by fanfiction writers to indicate graphic, adult, and possibly pornographic use of the original story material in a fanfic. Slash usually has more of a connotation of romantic wish-fullfilment fiction (like a man who writes a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic in which a character oddly similar to himself becomes romantically involved with the heroine), whereas lemon often has the connotation of burlesque or pornographic interpretations of the original (like someone writing a Star Trek: TNG parody where Q sexually abuses Captain Picard).

As fans of the online comic Penny Arcade might remember, a recent strip satirizing American McGee's "Strawberry Shortcake" character was removed after the company which owned the copyright on the material gave Penny Arcade a cease-and-desist. (It took me a great deal of work to hunt down the original, but a lengthy googling for "penny arcade strawberry shortcake" eventually worked.)

To some, this would fall under the definition of fair use and parody. AFAIK, Penny Arcade did not contest the issue, out of a desire not to waste loads of their money on a court case. Unfortunately, this sort of thing shows that there is some precedent for the owners of copyrights on certain intellectual property being able to squelch uses of it which they consider "inappropriate" by various arbitrary criteria.

Yes, there is a lot of bad fanfic. I've read a few "Mary Sue" Star Trek fanfics that made me groan. I've even written a few fanfics, though I don't consider them of good enough quality to show anyone else. :-P I guess it's up to personal preference, but in the realms of lemon, slash, and parody, there's an ongoing legal struggle over what rights a fan has to use of the intellectual property he has enjoyed receiving.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Strange distinction (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by bigbtommy on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 06:18:29 AM EST

So authors allow ordinary fanfiction but not Slash. Why? Surely, it's either fair use or not fair use. As long as it doesn't fall under Ginsberg speech in the US then they are allowed to do what they want with the characters.

Why can't people seperate these two issues - they are so simple!
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]

Not really (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by JahToasted on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 10:00:12 PM EST

If they wanted to they could stop ALL fanfic, its in their legal rights, as they own the copyright. To do this would be very stupid though. Pissing off your biggest fans isn't gonna make you money. So they allow it, but if something is really distasteful, they put a stop to it. Seems pretty reasonable to me.
"I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames" -- Jim Morrison
[ Parent ]
You are very confused. (4.80 / 5) (#44)
by it certainly is on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 05:48:51 PM EST

PA parodied American McGee's style of taking something cute and innocent and making it dark, brooding and gothic.

They parodied American McGee. It was he who was the target of their mockery.

They attempted to parody his work by taking a "cute and innocent" thing and making it dark, brooding and gothic. Any "cute and innocent" thing would have done, but they chose Strawberry Shortcake™

Strawberry Shortcake was not created by American McGee. She was a cartoon character from the 1980s. Her intellectual property rights belong to the American Greetings Corporation, who use her in their greetings cards. They own the trademark on the character's name and likeness.

PA were NOT parodying Strawberry Shortcake. They were NOT parodying American Greetings Corp. If they had been, they could have claimed "fair use" of the trademarks for parody purposes. But they were NOT targetting Shortcake or her corporate masters. So they have NO special use rights.

The special rights to use trademarks and copyrights in parody is to protect the right to freely criticise the trademark/copyright holder. They can't use trademark/copyright law to censor your criticism. If you're not criticising them directly, then there's no special reason to give you free use of their material.

Without special rights given to parody, PA require AGC's permission to use the character's name or likeness. Furthermore, AGC couldn't just leave the cartoon alone; they have to defend against all unauthorised use of their trademarks, or they will lose those trademarks.

The same thing happened when "fridgemagnet" wrote a sweary guide on how to wash dishes and called it "Cleaning the Fucking Kitchen for Dummies [a reference for the rest of us!]", using the "for Dummies" trademark and the distinctive trademarked and copyrighted front cover of the Dummies books. He was not parodying the Dummies series. He was just taking their catchy title and using it to add immediate familiarity to his rant. There's no fair use provision for that under the law. If he had been parodying the Dummies series or the trademark owners directly, he would've been fine. For example, I can say "Suing The Shit Out Of Trademark Infringers for Dummies [a reference for the rest of us!]" with impunity.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

I stand corrected. Thanks for the info. -nt (none / 0) (#58)
by Kasreyn on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:35:11 AM EST

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Gagging of fair use parody. (4.00 / 1) (#93)
by brain in a jar on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 08:12:07 AM EST

The defence that you are carrying out a parody might work some of the time, but its far from bombproof. I heard of a case where a disgruntled wal-mart employee set up a website call wal-martsucks.com or something similar to vent his spleen at said corporation.

In the end they were able to force him to take it down, not by claiming slander, or that anything he said on the site was untrue, but by claiming trade mark infringement. I suspect that parody will get you round copyright law, but that trade mark law is a tougher nut to crack. Which provides corporations with a bit of censorship power which they really should not have.

That said it could be that the case would have been thrown out in court and the kid was just too poor to pay the legal fees, seems quite likely. But then that was probably part of the plan.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

Huge industry in Japan (5.00 / 6) (#20)
by nicebear on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 02:40:36 AM EST

There's an interesting article about fanfic's legalities by (law professor) Lawrence Lessig here. He says that much of it probably is illegal. Fortunately, few companies are stupid enough to sue their most loyal fans.

hehehehehe (3.50 / 8) (#21)
by Matt Oneiros on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 02:58:03 AM EST

I have a transexual friend who writes gummy bear fanfiction.

Not the candy, the old tv series.

Just thought I'd share.

Lobstery is not real
signed the cow
when stating that life is merely an illusion
and that what you love is all that's real

Doh! (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by Danse on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 04:15:51 AM EST

Now I have that damn song stuck in my head... thanks.

An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
They can bounce like kangaroos... (even Tummy!) (none / 0) (#30)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 08:46:54 AM EST

...with Gummy Beary juice! (Gummy Beary Gummy Beary Juice...)

I watched that show when I was like four or five. Now my memories are both dredged up and ruined.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Oooh, oooh, I can imagine it now, Gummi vs Smurf (4.33 / 3) (#43)
by it certainly is on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 05:07:27 PM EST

Ma Bear is sub-MILF quality, but the blonde one that always gets captured could be pretty hot, especially if she teamed up with Smurfette (another token female) to do some raging dyke carpet munching in front of the lads. Then Papa Smurf could get his big cock out and start banging Toadie, who if I remember correctly was always dressing up like girls.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Hi. (4.37 / 8) (#22)
by tofubar on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 04:09:11 AM EST

Friends don't let friends write fanfiction.

Hi. (1.00 / 1) (#36)
by rmg on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 01:13:51 PM EST

Friends don't let friends let friends write fanfiction.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Hi. (5.00 / 7) (#39)
by ktakki on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 03:00:54 PM EST

Friends don't let friends let friends write Friends fan fiction.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

Hi. (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by rmg on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 03:36:15 PM EST

Friends don't let friends let friends write Friends/La Blue Girl crossover fan fiction.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Hi /nt (1.50 / 3) (#45)
by grouse on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 07:30:57 PM EST

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs
[ Parent ]

Hi. [nt] (1.40 / 5) (#53)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 12:53:19 AM EST

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Hi /nt (1.40 / 5) (#57)
by grouse on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:30:48 AM EST

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs
[ Parent ]

Hi. [nt] (1.40 / 5) (#59)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 10:37:47 AM EST

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

You are a chef. [n/t] (2.66 / 6) (#62)
by it certainly is on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:06:43 PM EST

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

i don't read enough mrgoat to know the right reply (1.50 / 4) (#63)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:11:15 PM EST

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

It's "I am a chef." (2.20 / 5) (#64)
by it certainly is on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:12:58 PM EST


kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

ten fore, good buddy [nt] (1.50 / 4) (#65)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:20:48 PM EST

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

I am a chef. [nt] (1.50 / 4) (#66)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:21:08 PM EST

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Hi (none / 1) (#113)
by ckaminski on Thu Jul 24, 2003 at 10:23:39 AM EST

Ah, but friends DO let friends write Friends/Overfiend crossover fan-fiction.  

[ Parent ]
My views (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by skim123 on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 04:46:09 AM EST

While fanfic may be technically illegal, I think it is pointless to try to stop it - it will continue so long as lonely, fantasy-prone nerds exist. While law suits may succeed in driving it off of popular fanfic Web sites, it cannot complete abolish its existence, unfortunately.

Perhaps a better approach at abolishing fanfic would be to encourage the populace to "do their homework" and find out who in their neighborhood are fanfic authors. Then, their assignment is to incessantly make fun of these people, and perhaps snip the TV cable coming into their homes.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

define "fan fiction" (4.71 / 7) (#26)
by DJ Glock on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 04:47:14 AM EST

all of the "fan fiction" i have read (on accident) were furry and slash stories so intensely perverted that i was almost compelled to submit them to the queue.


Thanks guys (3.20 / 5) (#28)
by godix on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 08:24:56 AM EST

So far this topic has given me the following story ideas:
Q raping Picard
Harry and Ron gangbang the troll
Riker teachingt Data the concept of cornholing
Dukes of Hazzard in the La Blue Girl universe

Keep those great ideas flowing. I'll be submitting them to the fiction section once I get the stories written. Thank you all.

"I think you're right"
- Rusty speaking about godix
Hey, it's my damned

More Slash madness... (3.00 / 5) (#32)
by bigbtommy on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 09:48:19 AM EST

Gerhard Schroder/Ari Fleicsher
Michael Knight/Donny Osmond
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]
Decent ideas (none / 0) (#49)
by godix on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 10:52:53 PM EST

Gerhard Schroder/Ari Fleicsher

That one is just too unbelievable, even for a slash fanfic. I could see the others happening though, thanks for the help.

"I think you're right"
- Rusty speaking about godix
Hey, it's my damned
[ Parent ]
CowboyNeal (none / 0) (#106)
by wiredog on Tue Jul 22, 2003 at 08:24:50 AM EST

and Hulver

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]
OMFG!!! (4.66 / 3) (#38)
by rmg on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 02:40:36 PM EST

how're the duke boys gonna get themselves outta this one?

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

I love fan fiction... (4.46 / 13) (#31)
by reklaw on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 09:12:25 AM EST

... and here's why.

Sometimes I feel guilty about sleeping for a whole day. I might feel like I'm wasting time on the Internet or playing video games when I should be doing work. I might wonder why I'm bothering to turn up to college when there are only two lessons in the day and I'll end up just loitering for the rest of it.

Yes, sometimes, I feel like I'm wasting my time. But then I can go and read some fan fiction, and I feel better again. It's an enormous release to know that however much time I may be wasting, I'm nowhere near as sad as these fuckers.

The Geek Hierarchy (5.00 / 5) (#37)
by it certainly is on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 01:36:09 PM EST

As seen here.

As you consider yourself less geeky than Fan Fiction writers, that must make you an Amateur Science Fiction Writer, a Science Fiction Literature Fan, or a Published Science Fiction Author. Which is it?

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

I suppose... (none / 0) (#40)
by reklaw on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 03:02:45 PM EST

... I'm a science fiction literature fan if I'm any of those things, although only in the very loosest sense -- 99.99% of it seems to be sheer crud.

Then again, maybe I'm just not geeky enough.
[ Parent ]

I love that chart (none / 0) (#46)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 07:59:32 PM EST

I'm way over to the left and also around the middle somewheres.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

I don't know what a furry is (none / 0) (#108)
by nebbish on Wed Jul 23, 2003 at 06:53:36 AM EST

Can I move higher up the hierachy as a consequence?

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

google reveals... (3.00 / 1) (#114)
by canadian ice on Thu Jul 24, 2003 at 07:11:10 PM EST

this... Gah... take a read, now you'll know what it is too.
I wish I'd never googled and learned more than I'd seen on somethingawful.com

Beer Bottles don't break if inserted correctly...

[ Parent ]
Yikes (2.00 / 1) (#115)
by nebbish on Fri Jul 25, 2003 at 07:25:11 AM EST

That's the stuff of nightmares. There's a short scene in Kubrick's film of the Shining involving two fancy-dressed party goers at the Overlook engaged in acts like that.

Need I remind you that that's a horror film?

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

Just change the names (3.00 / 2) (#33)
by Score 5 Demented on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 10:08:23 AM EST

That would fix the problem, as most settings are pretty much based upon their names.

If you really wanted to be smart you could "encode" the fiction with a series of aliases for all the recognisable names.

That said, fan fiction is not my cup of tea. I prefer authors who don't reuse the same world in every novel and actually make up new characters and settings.

Yeah really (4.50 / 2) (#48)
by JahToasted on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 10:09:12 PM EST

It seems that writer is making life difficult for himself by writing fanfic over making up something new. They are giving up the ability to adjust the setting, change characters around, etc. Why?

I guess it probably doesn't matter much, since from what i've heard fanfic sucks. I guess the writers feel that if it doesn't have a recognisable brand stuck to it, no one else would be interested. And they're probably right.

But I have a lot more respect for shitty original work than i do for shitty fanfic.
"I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames" -- Jim Morrison
[ Parent ]

It provides a structure in which to write (4.00 / 1) (#85)
by pin0cchio on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 10:26:35 PM EST

It seems that writer is making life difficult for himself by writing fanfic over making up something new. They are giving up the ability to adjust the setting, change characters around, etc. Why?

For the same reason it's easier to write "a sonnet" rather than "a poem, twelve to sixteen lines in length" or "a haiku" rather than "a short poem". The appropriated fictional universe provides a structure in which to write a new story.

[ Parent ]
Tradeoffs (none / 0) (#96)
by Cro Magnon on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 10:36:49 AM EST

On one hand, everyone knows who Captain James T. Kirk is, while nobody knows (or cares) who Capt. Carter (who I created 5 minutes ago) is. OTOH, if I write Kirk out of character, I'll have people griping about it. I don't have to worry about it with Carter, since however I write him is in character.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
A better title would have been... (4.25 / 8) (#34)
by zipper on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 10:16:28 AM EST

"FanFiction: Fan's Right or Godawful?"

Fanfiction is subject to the same copyright rules as everyone else. Unless it falls under fair use, like a parody, it's a violation. Regardless of the spirit it's done in, at the very least you're polluting the brand, at the worst, defaming it.

This account has been neutered by rusty and can no longer rate or post comments. Way to go fearless leader!
Brand vs. copyright (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by BlowCat on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 11:01:31 PM EST

I think brands are regulated by trademark law, not by copyright. And what's illegal in "polluting the brand" if it's not a registered trademark?

[ Parent ]
I love fan fiction (4.40 / 10) (#42)
by Urpo on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 03:56:35 PM EST

Not because it is fun to read (it isn't), but because I like to imagine the people who create it.

"Fuck owning the director's cut DVD," says this new breed of haemorrhoid-laden überfan. "Let's write twenty years' worth of sequels using the characters, locations, and atmosphere of the original, without ever evolving any of these elements."

Fan Fiction is fun to read not because it has interesting characterisation and fascinating plots itself, but because it hints at a far more profoundly interesting character and plot - that of the clearly deranged author, who's awful life provides an extreme pathos to any work of Fan Fiction. The author's character and story seeps into the work as a fascinating subtext.

There are two fundamental camps of fan fiction: the obsessive and the masturbatory. The former is mainly composed of people who look like the guy who owns the comic book store on The Simpsons. Their stories are meticulously correct in terms of both history and technology. They write 50,000 word stories starring Boba Fett from Star Wars and you can be sure that every little detail, down to the last hip-holstered laser-blaster, will be perfect and true to the source.

At the other end of the spectrum is the masturbatory stuff. Though it is usually straight-up wank material, there is also a lot of poetry and love stories (something Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fan fic writers are especially fond of). If you want to read about Han and Leia lying around in bed together, probably post-coitally, or about Transformer robots Megatron and Soundwave sucking each other's dicks, this is the sub-genre to go for.

All fan fiction falls into one of these two categories. It is rarely original or imaginative, but as I said, it can be interesting anyway if you want to read something that provides tiny reflected glimpses into a deranged mind.

Which category do you fall into, Fero? I would guess the "wank-material" category, perhaps boosted into romance territory. They are the only ones who claim their writing has literary merit; the others are too busy tryign to throw off their Aspergers syndrome to feel any need to boast, reach out, or claim what they do is good, never mind write about lurve.

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.

I think you meant to say "luv." (none / 0) (#51)
by toy on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 11:49:18 PM EST

My buddies

[ Parent ]
I've actually read some well-written fan fiction. (3.71 / 7) (#52)
by la princesa on Sat Jul 19, 2003 at 11:55:57 PM EST

A key point that many are missing is that there are categories of fan fiction which do take the characters and put them in a whole new plot setting, with fascinating characterisations.  There is a rather sweet little fanfic story that uses a touch of The Master and Margarita to inform a wistful story about Mulder's life with a wife after Scully dies in the line of duty.  One has Mulder and Scully, in a slightly related to the X-files sense, but the story itself is something wholly original.  Conversely, there are stories that are wish fulfillment-- 'My life with blar Character or pop star'.  Even a few of those manage to be interesting.  

And of course there are the ones in which the character or pop star (there is fan fiction about british pop stars; duran duran's put out a zine of the best written stuff and sometimes the band read it, weirdly enough) is set in some parallel world where one will see only the most minor of references to the series or pop life.  Those in some ways are the most interesting, because they tend to go in directions utterly unrelated to anything in the TV show or pop band's public personae.  

And sometimes one has a case, as in Sliders where the fan fiction 'my idea of an episode' stories were generally more interesting than the actual episodes.  This is an anomaly, however.  I fully agree that most fan fiction is stupid.  However, invoking Sturgeon's Law, there is rather a lot of good stuff floating around that just reads like a good story, whether one cares or knows about the source material or not.  I wouldn't tar it all with the same brush, not when the good stuff shows love and care and genuine artfulness and craft.    

<qpt> Disprove people? <qpt> What happens when you disprove them? Do they disappear in a flash of logic?

Yeah, I agree (5.00 / 3) (#72)
by cpt kangarooski on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:27:09 PM EST

I've seen plenty of fanfic that managed to be superior to the original source material. Of course it is very much outnumbered by the crappy fanfic, but there's more crap original literature than good original literature too.

And everyone's taste differs.

I don't see it as harmful. I mean, did people get all pissed off at Virgil for writing the Aeneid? It is essentially a fanfic based on Homer's Odyssey and Illiad, viz. so the Greeks won, but what happened to the Trojans next?

There's nothing inherently wrong with stock characters and situations. They can be used either to continue existing stories or to contrast with them. Both hinge on the audience being familiar with the original material.

I've just seen too many good examples of this to discount it all. Probably other people have too, but they don't realize it.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

Fan fiction scarred me for life (4.50 / 4) (#54)
by livus on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 12:55:13 AM EST

..well not really, but put it this way - I am glad that I wasn't still young and impressionable* when some inner demon of curiousity led me to check out The Dark Crystal fan fiction, only to discover that it was about being fisted to death by Skeksi.

Seriously, the reason that someone may not like you fucking with their characters isn't necessarily to do with whether or not you're making money from it. As I see it it's comparable to slander laws.

There are some characters (well, namely boy bands, Harry Potter, and Xena) who I can't see without associating them in my mind with what they "do" in the fevered pornographic imaginations of their more psychotic (and all too often pedo) fans. I can definately see the point of the anguished authors, writers, and performers.

Thatsaid, I'm all for it; anything that unintentionally hilarious has to be good.

*I doubt that a disclaimer on a geocities homepage is really preventing the under-18s from experiencing the full glory of Scott Evil Vs Fox Mulder with Brittney Spears, let's face it.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

+1, Someone may post some Olsen Twins slash (4.00 / 3) (#55)
by El Pollo Diablo on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:20:43 AM EST

And hopefully it'll be some that El Pollo Diablo hasn't already jerked the merkin too.

If a double-decker bus crashes into us
To die by your side, such a heavenly way to die.
And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us
To die by your side, the pleasure, the priviledge is mine.

How about a cross-fanfic (5.00 / 2) (#56)
by it certainly is on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:06:14 AM EST

El Pollo Diablo from Curse of Monkey Island meets Diablo the chicken from Goats

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

-1 (5.00 / 3) (#60)
by Back Spaced on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 12:13:36 PM EST

Could have stimulated some interesting discussion on the nature of intellectual property, but hasn't.

Bluto: My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Otter: Better listen to him, Flounder. He's pre-med.

rmg's oxymoron of the week: (3.50 / 2) (#68)
by rmg on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 03:38:18 PM EST

"interesting discussion on the nature of intellectual property"

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Try this. . . (2.00 / 1) (#61)
by Pop Top on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 12:19:38 PM EST

Lady and gentlemen,

We invite you to read the attached passage of what is commonly called FanFiction. The boundaries of copyright law are fairly well defined, except there is this annoying doctrine called "fair use." The following piece has been written to further my investigation into public opinion on the proper boundaries of the fair use doctrine.

Please read the following passage about two much loved characters, Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock and then answer a few short questions about law and public policy:  

(a) Does this piece constitute "fair use" under current law?

(b) Should this piece constitute violate "fair use" under current law?

(c) Were you simultaneously attracted and repelled by the images you read?

Thank you for participating in this public service.

The attached bit of FanFiction was previously deleted by angry spider-bots unleashed by the almighty American media moguls. Sorry. Make up your own Kirk/Spock fantasies and enjoy.

"I don't like" shouldn't mean ban (3.50 / 4) (#67)
by afternoon on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 01:50:49 PM EST

Who cares if fanfic is horrible, 90% of everything is horrible.

If people want to do it they should be able to, just as they should be able to look at pictures of stars being idiots in Heat magazine and they should be able to do terrible karaoke renditions of Britney songs.

Freedom of expression means encouraging people who will only say stupid or hateful things, because everybody needs to exercise their right to be alive.

This doesn't help the author resolve the issue of whether fanfic is legal or not. I believe it should be fair use, but I suppose the crunch comes when the publishing starts, even with a disclaimer. I do however see this as a bit of a no-brainer for a judge. What's required is class suit from a stack of fanfic authors against Anne Rice. Then we'll see.

The true problem lies... (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 05:36:35 PM EST

In what is publication, and what is not.

Were this 1980, it would all be very clear, very easy to decide. The guy writing fanfic on his electric typewriter is engaging in fair use. The guy getting 10,000 copies produced to sell at comic book conventions is infringing.

Fast forward to 2003 (Or any year after 1994)...

The guy writing fanfic in M$ Word, is he infringing yet? Is he only infringing when he uploads to his Geocities free homepage? Why should it be wrong for his own writing to be available on his homepage? He's certainly not profiting, for instance.

It's gotten very fuzzy, even for me. I can see how making files available on the web is *like* publishing, but also why it's unlike it. It makes it available to thousands of people, just as publishing would, but when we used to use that word, we meant something in addition to that... publishers either had an agenda to push (political groups giving away free pamphlets) or were out to profit (Rowling selling Hairy Pothead books). Web publishing seems to meet neither of these criteria, or at least not consistently enough for it to feel like "publishing" to me.

This being the case, maybe legal wrangling over definitions isn't the best approach to a solution. Perhaps we'd all be better off, if some judge decided this on the merits of how much would be lost to the world (seems to me a great deal), and the fanfic authors (significant, if more modest than to the world) if prohibited, vs. how much would be lost to the authors (hardly anything, and certainly nothing that an accountant could prove).

Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

Why writers might object (4.00 / 2) (#69)
by pms101 on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 03:46:11 PM EST

Not meant as a troll! Honest - there's just no other way to put some of this.

There are several possible angles to consider:

Anne Rice, in general, has the most wonderful plot ideas but the most abysmal storytelling skills I've encountered in the modern world. Besides the usual fanfic, there have been discussions about an underground contest for the best rewrite of a chapter of an Anne Rice novel.
In her position, I'd hate the idea of other people redoing what I was paid millions for and doing it better. Or maybe she's just an artist ;-)

Lucas / Roddenberry / etc. invented characters and a universe for them to live in. Maybe it's not complete or perfect, but it works. If everyone starts writing their own versions and spreading them around, we wind up with Luke Skywalker sleeping with half the galaxy (all sexes), which is (hopefully) unacceptable to parents and has to color normal peoples' view of him. And if Han Solo saves Captain Kirk from Certain Doom, that's cool but it creates chaos in 2 universes for everyone else. If someone wants to write a story like that, why not invent a few new names as well? What's the value of a name, unless you want to trade on someone else's fame? If no one would read your story unless it had a famous character in it, what does that say about the story?

Rereading that, I guess I'm saying that people should either create their own universes or respect the rules of the one they live, to include relativity, quantum mechanics, and the established histories of recognizable characters.

For the specific objections of one author.. (5.00 / 1) (#74)
by wumpus on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:58:42 PM EST

Head over to rec.arts.sf.written. I believe the thread is called "Harry Potter and the Copyright Lawyer". Terry Pratchet (and I've never seen anything to imply that "he" may be an imposter) claims to never read any fanfic based on his own works. There have been nasty legal fights, the most specific mentioned in the thread was one involving Marion Zimmer Bradley, due to authors writing what is too similar to fanfic.

Authors also tend to object strongly to allowing others to compete with them with their own charecters/setting. Unpaid text on the web is rarely seen as competing.


[ Parent ]

Changing the name doesn't help (4.00 / 1) (#84)
by pin0cchio on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 10:23:27 PM EST

If someone wants to write a story like that, why not invent a few new names as well?

Sometimes "changing the names to protect the innocent" is not enough to stop lawyers. J. K. Rowling wrote a series of novels about a boy named Harry who rides a broomstick. Dmitry Yemets wrote a series of novels about a girl named Tanya who rides a double bass. Rowling's agents still sent lawyers after Yemets's publisher. Rowling's agents won.

[ Parent ]
Stealing? (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by gmol on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 03:58:37 PM EST

Without the use of the disclaimer the work is nothing more than stealing.

I really don't understand that last statement.  If I post a story to some message board and write the author as myself or at least do not intentionally misrepresent who the story is written by, how is that stealing if I am not charging for it?

Stealing.. (4.00 / 1) (#76)
by kitten on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 05:49:53 PM EST

If you write fanfic without a disclaimer, you're misleading and representing the characters and so forth as your own.

So if you write a ten page fanfic about Luke Skywalker's adventures with other Star Wars characters, you have to state somewhere that these characters, spaceships, and whatever else, are not your idea.
mirrorshades radio - darkwave, synthpop, industrial, futurepop.
[ Parent ]
FanFiction is Open Source of literature (4.00 / 2) (#71)
by grzebo on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 04:01:23 PM EST

This genre of writing gives us a glimpse of what would Open Sourced literature look like. As much as I like OS, this is not a pretty view. DOn't get me wrong, I don't think it should be banned, but the signal to noise ratio is far to low for it to be of any use to anyone.

"My God, shouts man to Himself,
have mercy on me, enlighten me"...
Unique to fanfic? (4.00 / 2) (#78)
by TwoPly on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 06:54:02 PM EST

"the signal to noise ratio is far to low for it to be of any use to anyone"

As opposed to the wonderful signal-to-noise ratio found on the rest of the internet ? [Usenet in particular] ;)

I think that fanfiction holds the same problem as the rest of the 'net: it's open communication with low barriers of entry. On the one hand we get rapid and easy access to information, and the ability to distribute information around the world effortlessly. On the other hand there's about 600,000 web journals out there for us to wade through detailing the day-to-day exploits of 14 year old girls and their bestest best friends.

At the end of the day though, the people who invest the time to expand upon the universes/characters/people they write about are some of the most devoted and interested fans. If your goal isn't to have people enjoy your work then you should really keep your movie/book at home in your desk where you can keep complete control over it and how it is percieved.

[ Parent ]

Comparison a little off (4.00 / 1) (#95)
by BushidoCoder on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 10:14:28 AM EST

Its not really the open source of literature. Open Source programs which are written to mimic the functionality of an existing software product are intended to replace that product in some way. Software companies that oppose open source efforts do so for fear that their commercial products will be marginalized or forgotten in favor of the free solution. The only damage fanfic could theoretically do is dillute the trademark, but since fanfic is nonprofit and unpublished, that's very unlikely.


[ Parent ]

Mirror (none / 0) (#119)
by paranoid on Tue Jul 29, 2003 at 03:32:38 PM EST

The same is true for Kuro5hin posts. What does that mean, if anything? :] Almost all fanfiction sites have ratings and reviews. There is nothing that forces you to read stories rated 1 star out of 5. What is important, though is that unlike software, poorly written fanfic stories cannot cause harm.

[ Parent ]
Yet another target for the ©bots n/t (none / 1) (#77)
by texchanchan on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 06:11:43 PM EST

Destroy all fanfic (2.00 / 2) (#79)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 07:04:05 PM EST

In all the history of fanfic, only a single piece could ever be considered good - and it's right here on Kuro5hin: Healing Hands.

All other fanfic should be destroyed - it's just useless fanboy wanking, anyway.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.

Back on topic... (4.50 / 2) (#81)
by Tatarigami on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 07:32:43 PM EST

Since fanfiction is written without any intent of making a profit, the only difference I can see between fanfiction and licenced fiction like novelisations, etc is the issue of editorial control. When you have a series of novels based on TV series X, the copyright owners can review and accept or reject the work based on whether they think the theme, plot, characterisation, etc are appropriate. (I have a pretty strong suspicion the only questions they ask themselves is "How much money will this squeeze out of the fans?", but that's beside the point.)

That said, isn't fanfiction pretty harmless? Most people who write it respect the source and the people who created it enough to deny they're connected in any way. Even when that doesn't happen, it's hard to confuse fanwriting with canonical fiction. (They've heard of a mythical creature called 'spellchecker', but no-one's ever seen one in the flesh.)

I can understand copyright owners wanting to preserve the public's good impression of a title -- the idea of slash fiction makes me a little uncomfortable, and the idea of Harry Potter slash fiction makes me a lot uncomfortable. If that's the case, why not allow fanfiction, but make it clear to the writers that some themes are off-limits? Most fanwriting communities would be happy to comply and can effectively police their own participants.

Disclaimer: I used to write fanfiction based on my favourite anime series, with myself as the villain. I terrorised the heroes with my cunning plots and underhanded traps, and eventually defeated myself through overconfidence and died a prolonged and glorious death. But I'm over that phase now. I swear.

Unworkable (none / 0) (#105)
by alizard on Tue Jul 22, 2003 at 06:46:18 AM EST

I can understand copyright owners wanting to preserve the public's good impression of a title -- the idea of slash fiction makes me a little uncomfortable, and the idea of Harry Potter slash fiction makes me a lot uncomfortable. If that's the case, why not allow fanfiction, but make it clear to the writers that some themes are off-limits? Most fanwriting communities would be happy to comply and can effectively police their own participants.

Place limits on "permitted" content and the owners would have to police them, a bit difficult if they don't know who's doing it. I'd guess that most fan fiction is written outside the fan communities anyway, which rather limits the ability of said communities to police themselves. This also means that permitting the use of their IP for derivative non-commercial works would not solve the problem of needing to pay companies to monitor unauthorized use on the Net.

Better to license the content in a manner that makes it clear that the copyright owner takes no responsibility for the content.

The other reason I suggested in my post above that studios require people who want a license to use their "universes" in fan fiction is so that they can put together workable license agreements with proof that the fans who want to use them have actually signed them.

and the idea of Harry Potter slash fiction makes me a lot uncomfortable.

If it's made clear that Rawlings had nothing to do with it and by virtue of the terms of the license agreement, has no control over it, I see no possibility that it could harm the use or even the image of the commercial product.

If a kid clicks on a Harry Potter link and finds Mr. Potter committing acts of bestiality in a piece of fan fiction... all I can say is ... "Welcome to the Internet", if a child is young enough to make the question of psychological damage a realistic one, what the fuck is he doing using an Internet-connected PC without close adult supervision?
"The horse is dead. Fuck it or walk away, but stop beating it." Juan Rico
[ Parent ]

sort of workable (none / 0) (#107)
by Tatarigami on Tue Jul 22, 2003 at 04:35:24 PM EST

Place limits on "permitted" content and the owners would have to police them, a bit difficult if they don't know who's doing it.

The reason I suggested this, and policing by fanfiction communities, is in the hope that authors and publishers would see it working for the main part, and develop a bit of trust for the fans. I realise there would always be a few people on the fringe who would take it too far, but as long as it's clearly seen that they're breaking the rules and refusing to co-operate, they can be dismissed as isolated weirdos who didn't take their ritalin today.

[Harry Potter slash fiction]
If it's made clear that Rawlings had nothing to do with it and by virtue of the terms of the license agreement, has no control over it, I see no possibility that it could harm the use or even the image of the commercial product.

If a kid clicks on a Harry Potter link and finds Mr. Potter committing acts of bestiality in a piece of fan fiction... all I can say is ... "Welcome to the Internet", if a child is young enough to make the question of psychological damage a realistic one, what the fuck is he doing using an Internet-connected PC without close adult supervision?

Well, I agree that we shouldn't have to play babysitter to the Western world's kids, but on the other hand we do realise their parents are being negligent and there's the potential for harm. I'm not saying we should be denouncing and suppressing edgy fiction, but putting up a few warnings on the page, or encouraging writers and audience to distribute it privately among themselves is easy enough.

[ Parent ]
Once again...nobody owns ideas! (4.00 / 2) (#82)
by Fen on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 08:04:01 PM EST

Ever!  All we do is discover them.  How can anyone talk like some is X's song or Y's book?  It's clearly possible for someone else to independently come up with the song or book.  I don't even see why there is an opposing side.  It's like arguing tha 1+2=4.  You can own a spoon.  You cannot own the song "Like a Rolling Stone".  Sorry Bob.
And Copyright != Ownership (4.33 / 3) (#88)
by opensorcerer on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 01:52:17 AM EST

It's alright to say "nobody owns ideas".  Let's rephrase this in another way and see how it turns out.

"Nobody owns gold".  "Gold is just discovered".  But prospecting is difficult work.  It makes great demands of a person, in time, money and training.  You cannot be a successful prospector unless you invest effort.

Likewise, producing ideas, ESPECIALLY commercially-viable ones, requires effort.  Although not strictly similar in process to prospecting (or any other physical effort), similar demands are put on an author or other sort of artist.  One must have the time to plot, the skill to establish good character and dramatic flow, and so forth.  Writing about interesting characters is HARD.  If it was easy, everybody would be doing it!  Clearly many people have the interest needed to write.  But how few have the actual talent.

The dramatic gold may be there.  But it's a great deal of labor (mentally, and sometimes physically) to dig it out of the earth, polish it up, and present it to the public.  Copyright is intended as the insurance to the author that his efforts will be duly rewarded, IF HE TRIES.  An author that doesn't try to sell his story deserves what he gets; but an author who tries to profit from his labors, and watches his hard work slip away as somebody else makes off with it, has been cheated, as judged by society at large.

"Intellectual property" is a misleading phrase.  But don't let the error of "copyright-industry" terminology persuade you to believe that there isn't some value in the ability to write, and protect that writing from abuse.

Nor do I particularly believe that "Tanya Grotter" is a violation of anyone's copyright, for example.  The idea is clearly derivative of the Harry Potter series, but so what?  Ideas don't spring fully formed from the foreheads of authors; they come based on what an author has seen, heard, or (often) read about.  Harry Potter, and other copyrighted materials, deserve protection of the law not for their inspiration, but for their execution.

Steve Arlo: There aren't evil guys and innocent guys. It's just... It's just... It's just a bunch of guys.
[ Parent ]

autism tangent (none / 0) (#89)
by Fen on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 03:47:18 AM EST

You note that ideas don't "spring from foreheads". All societies prize reacting to external stimuli over internal. Forever we're hearing about people influencing others. Maybe it's related to the belief that people "create" ideas, and there's no way to come up with them yourself...you have to catch it.
[ Parent ]
an island analogy (none / 0) (#90)
by Fen on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 03:53:57 AM EST

Ok, imagine ideas are islands. Anybody with a ship can find them, although it's sure easy to get lost. Now say you find an island...thing is this island is special in that other people on the island do not affect you at all! It's a private island to everyone. Now the "work" you do is like a map. People could find it without the map, but your map sure makes it easier. Now given that giving away the map does not alter your island in any way, isn't it silly to keep it wrapped up? Yes, it's more philisophical than practical, but it shows why the practical needs to catch up.
[ Parent ]
And why would people look for islands? (none / 0) (#91)
by Neolith on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 04:32:34 AM EST

Look, you can look for islands because thats what gets you off, or you can look for islands because you are hoping to enrich yourself in some way.  If your goal is the former, then give away the map, whatever makes you happy.  But if someone is doing it for the latter, its disingenuous to think that they have no reason to not give it away.

[ Parent ]
It's not effort (none / 0) (#99)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 12:03:31 PM EST

Copyright is intended as the insurance to the author that his efforts will be duly rewarded, IF HE TRIES.

No. If that were the case we'd allow a copyright on the phone book too, as that takes plenty of effort to compile and keep up to date.

Copyright is not intended to reward effort; no distinction is made between, say, Ralph Ellison, who only finished one book in his entire life, and Stephen King who wrote two entire books in the time that it took you to finish reading this sentence. The differing amounts of effort invested aren't relevant.

Copyright is intended to encourage the production of creative works that do not infringe on other works (by virtue of being original or legal derivatives), whereupon they will enter the public domain. Ideally we want to get the most stuff into the public domain the fastest, for the least amount of copyright protection. So we might not grant every author any, or much protection, since helping authors is not the intent of the system.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

Fan Fiction by Fanboys (5.00 / 1) (#83)
by dead pixel on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 10:07:18 PM EST

I collect fan fiction written by fanboys, if you have some stories you'd like to submit send them to: president@whitehouse.gov. Thanks

Another objection (none / 0) (#87)
by eann on Sun Jul 20, 2003 at 11:06:02 PM EST

I've often heard the objection that the author and/or other licensing and rights holders for characters, settings, etc., prefer no fan fiction because they want (and legally have) the option of continuing to create their own stories using those characters and settings, and don't want the legal complication of their work being too similar to a fan fiction piece, regardless of whether they actually knew the fanfic existed. Some fanfic authors may be altruistic enough to let it go, but there are those whot would sue, and they could potentially win big. In essence, it's legal buttcovering.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

Don't buy it (none / 0) (#97)
by Control Group on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 10:56:02 AM EST

IANAL (though I played one in a Bus. Law class a while back), but I have a hard time believing even a US court would award damages to a fanfic author if "his" story was "ripped off" by the original author. I mean, if I start making "Berry Fizzing Coca-Cola" for friends, acknowledging that Coca-Cola isn't my trademark but putting it on the bottles anyway, I sincerely doubt I could sue them even if they took precisely my recipe, called it "Berry Fizzing Coca-Cola" and made four trillion dollars off of it.

And in cases like these, it's not even like we're talking about people with the resources to SLAPP the original author. In point of fact, if the original material spawned a significant fanfic following, it's likely to be owned by exactly the sort of organization which is normally guilty of that sort legal hanky-panky.

There may be dozens of great arguments against fanfic, but I don't buy this one as legit. It sounds like the sort of thing a company says to make it sound like they're not just defending copyright for its own sake.

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

Nonetheless, that is the law. (none / 0) (#125)
by vectro on Sat Apr 17, 2004 at 07:35:45 AM EST

In the United States, there is a special class of copyrighted works known as "derivative works". You get a derivative work by taking a work and changing it in some way. Your example of a berry coca-cola isn't a good one, because coca-cola is a trademark, not a copyright. But in the case of fan-fiction, we most certainly have derivative works.

My understanding of the law with respect to derivative works is that you need the permission of both the original owner and the derivative owner to distribute the work. In the case where a television company takes a fanfiction piece and makes a show out of it, they have created a derivative work of a derivative work. In order to distribute the television program legally, the company would need to get permission of the original author (which they presumably have) as well as the fanfiction author.

The "out" here is that if the fan sued the television company, the company could countersue because presumably the fan was distributing their work illegally. It's possible that this second suit would result in the television company gaining rights to the fan-fiction piece, which renders the first lawsuit moot.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

you peeps are keen to mock fan fiction (2.00 / 1) (#92)
by auraslip on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 06:12:14 AM EST

but who among you wrote just as awful poetry in your hate your life teenage years?

The only way I touch fanfiction (none / 0) (#100)
by Canthros on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 02:01:39 PM EST

Has pretty much been Website Number Nine. And even then, I don't read much of it, for fear of breaking my brain.

It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
I wrote an article on this... (none / 0) (#103)
by blisspix on Mon Jul 21, 2003 at 10:19:38 PM EST

which outlines the legal quagmire fanfic writers are in.

I used to read quite a lot of X-Files fanfic, some of it was great. Most of it became redundant when Mulder and Scully actually got together, however. :)

While they're within their legal rights. . . (4.75 / 4) (#104)
by alizard on Tue Jul 22, 2003 at 12:42:15 AM EST

to prohibit deriviative works, they are stupid to exercise them to attack the hardest-core members of their audience.

Piss off enough fans and sooner or later, they're going to get the message "get a life"... and they will stop buying the franchise's products. While the idea behind anti-fan activities is to make sure the franchise keeps 100% of the profits, 100% of nothing suggests that the owners are idiots.

Also, they might be a source of free ideas guaranteed to appeal to the hard core of the fan base during periods where the paid writing staff is coming up dry.

The slow but steady decline of the Paramount Star Trek franchise over the years demonstrates what happens when one protects one's intellectual property agaist one's most enthusiastic customers. Does a fan site with video clips or pictures of the cast really threaten Paramount's ability to make money? Well, only if it's better than the "official" site, but if that's true, the solution is to improve the "official" site, not to shut down the "bad fan" site because they can.

Of course, if one wants to keep a copyright, one has to pursue it aggressively.

What's the answer?

A limited/non-commercial use license that gives fans willing to register with the company unilmited use of characters, etc. in exchange for:

  1. license-free use by the company of any ideas, etc. created by the fan. If the fan doesn't like it, he can make his own universe. However, if a fan consistently creates usable ideas, the company would be stupid not to hire him.
  2. requiring that a short form of the license with a disclaimer stating that the company owning the original property did not create the posted work and has no responsibility for whatever use the fan makes of these ideas on each posted work.

If desired, the license could be even be tied to an individual user and signed with a Paramount PGP key.

If a fan cares to create pornographic fanfic that stars Kirk, Spock, Seven of Nine, and a 20th century portable electric drill, no sane human being is going to believe this came from Paramount. If the question of derived work is made moot, I don't see how the "value of the franchise" is threatened by such a work, if anything, getting a good laugh out of a piece of Trek fanfic like the one suggested might put me in a better mood while walking by a pile of Trek movie DVDs and increase the chances that I might buy one.

Was the Star Trek franchise harmed by the Usenet newsgroup alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die or its content? AFAIK, the most harmful thing the many painful deaths and painful kinds of perverse acts proposed for Wesley Crusher on that newsgroup have accomplished is to give Wil Wheaton a few hours of harmless entertainment.

Conversely, if I've just read something here or on slashdot about Paramount attacking some hapless individual whose only "crime" was to be enthusiastic about Star Trek in a "forbidden" way, the odds that I'll walk by a pile of Star Trek DVDs and buy are reduced. To zero.

In the old days, the idea was "take care of your fans and they'll take care of you."

The current industry meme that says "fuck the fans" followed by "why don't we have any loyal customers?" is probably unsustainable in the long run. There is profit in a fan community.

The right kind of non-commercial license given to fans for fan-created works would be an inexpensive way to make the hard core fans happy that could only strenghten the sense of community. . . a community of happy and paying customers.
"The horse is dead. Fuck it or walk away, but stop beating it." Juan Rico

Copyrights don't need to be defended (none / 0) (#120)
by scheme on Tue Jul 29, 2003 at 05:12:05 PM EST

Of course, if one wants to keep a copyright, one has to pursue it aggressively.

I don't think that's the case with copyrights. You can selectively enforce your copyright without worrying about whether it will still be valid. Trademarks need to be defended in order to keep them.

"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein

[ Parent ]
a good HP fanfic (4.00 / 1) (#109)
by illegal eagle on Wed Jul 23, 2003 at 08:46:32 AM EST

AFAIK, JKR allows fanfic, and I'm grateful for that. Sure, there's a lot of dung out there, but you don't get the good things without the bad things.

This story takes place in the Harry Potter universe, but years after Voldemorts final defeat. There's still Prof. McGonagall, but all other characters are new. I don't know the word count, but it would fill a 286 KB *.TXT file.

The author is not in any way related to authors of other fanfic portals like schnoogle.com.

mmh (none / 0) (#117)
by illegal eagle on Mon Jul 28, 2003 at 03:04:39 AM EST

The board software seems to have crashed - again. Well, check out my homepage for a backup of the story!

[ Parent ]
Is this legal? (none / 0) (#110)
by rramir16 on Wed Jul 23, 2003 at 07:57:15 PM EST

I am not sure if this applies, but I recall learning about a Supreme Court case, Orbison vs Someone-or-other. Basically, it dealt with the song "Oh Pretty Woman" written by Roy Orbison. The parody group 2 Live Crew (think Weird Al) made a parody of this song. Orbison's heirs sued, 2 Live Crew won. Does this make fan fiction entirely legal, since it is, in essence, a parody?

Sale is the Key (none / 0) (#122)
by bblaze on Wed Sep 24, 2003 at 04:22:34 PM EST

The big question in my mind is whether or not the fan is trying to sell the fiction.  If all fan fiction were illegal, then you'd have to start going after 5-year-olds who write about Superman.

Tollis lintea neglegentiorum. Hoc salsum esse putas? Fugit te inepte: quamvis sordida res et invenusta est est. - Catullus
Why Are FanFic Writers Considered Losers? (none / 0) (#123)
by vectormatrix on Fri Dec 12, 2003 at 02:30:31 AM EST

I've seen numerous replies in this thread, denigrating fanfic writers even those who aren't writing smut or Mary Sues.

Big franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars have hundreds of novels adding depth to the their respective realities.

If a a fanfic author writes a well thought out and engaging story (it does happen), why is this person considered a loser while a paid writer commands slightly more respect?

During its good years, Star Trek thrived on fan submissions. Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore are two examples of trekkie-geeks who wrote a fanscript for fun (and as a writing exercise) and then went on to make millions within the franchise.

I've heard people ask, 'why not come up with something orginal?' What would suggest that these people exclusively write fanfic content and nothing else?

Many people have blogs containing poetry, personal stories and essays in addition to fanfic. (I suppose many of you would consider bloggers losers as well, failing to realize that kuro5hin is nothing more than an uber-groupblog)

Why must one be ridiculed for having the inspiration to take a story they care about and giving it their own spin? If someone has the urge to write it should be encouraged. Even if its crap, many writers grow and mature, gaining the confidence and practice needed to tackle more ambitious, original writing projects.

I'm always hearing people rave about this kuro5hin and its wonderful community. The content is great, but the adolescent mentality I've seen during my brief visit, rivals that of Fark and AintItCool. And that's hardly anything to be proud of.

Fan Fiction Comment (none / 0) (#124)
by jamesbow on Wed Dec 17, 2003 at 02:40:48 PM EST

I have spent the past sixteen years writing Doctor Who fan fiction, so I have some expertise on the subject. As you can guess, I have a great respect for the hobby, and I see no reason to criticize anyone who is writing a story for small audiences simply for fun. Yes, a lot of fan fiction is amateurish, but that's the _point_. Fan fiction, by definition, is not something that's done for money; it grows out of a love of writing, and out of a love of the story or universe being written about. And, frankly, there are a lot of fan fiction writers who write as well, if not better than, your average professional writer. There are a number of professional writers who got their start in fan fiction.

I've always thought of fan fiction as a literary atachment to a visual medium. That is to say, television shows and fan fiction just designed to co-exist. There is a division in the medium between the program and the fan fiction surrounding it. It helps Star Trek and Doctor Who fan fiction that the fans are adding something that they can't get from the television series. In fan fiction, you don't have to worry about a budget or time constraints; you can look as deeply as you want into the life of a single character, or you could pen sweeping epics. It's not all about sex or relationships or Mary Sues either. When Star Trek and Doctor Who ended, a lot of fanfic was about trying to keep the shows going, at least on the pages of the authors' fan fiction magazines.

The television shows tend to benignly ignore fan fiction authors. In terms of copyright, there is no doubt that fan fiction writers are playing in somebody else's back yard. So long as the writers don't do anything stupid, like try to make money off of the hobby, or take the characters into places the copyright holders don't want them to go, fan fiction can exist with little or no complaint from the copyright holder. The BBC's unofficial policy was to allow everything -- even fan fiction that made a profit -- so long as the "profits" were channelled back only into the making of the product, such activities could be considered "non-profit" and thus legal.

I have noticed that the boundaries between fan fiction and copyright fiction are starting to bleed, however. The BBC's attitude allowed the creation not only of fan fiction stories but fan fiction radio plays (casting new actors in the role of the lead characters). These productions came to be very professional indeed, featuring the voice talents of name actors. Recently, the BBC's open licensing policy has allowed several groups to produce independent Doctor Who radio plays, some of which use the same actors and characters from the television show.

The emergence and popularity of literary fan fiction caught me completely off-guard. Until I stumbled upon Harry Potter fan fiction (which, on fanfiction.net outnumbers Star Trek fanfic 10-1), I had never even contemplated a fanfic fandom around a literary character whose author is still living and producing new material (Sherlock Holmes fan fiction is actually a large professional industry; witness the Mary Russell series).

At first, I didn't 'get' Harry Potter fan fiction; comparing Doctor Who television episodes to Doctor Who fanfic stories was the quintessential apples-to-oranges because of the change in medium, but who could possibly write Harry Potter stories better than Ms. Rowling herself? But, looking into the hobby, I felt the same sense of fun that I found in other fan fiction genres. The size of the hobby is such that Ms. Rowling *has* to be aware of it, but she has generally benignly ignored it... on the condition that fan fiction writers do not take her characters into R and NC-17 territory.

To reiterate, there is no doubt that fan fiction writers are playing in the copyright holder's backyard. For the most part, there is no harm in that, and the copyright holders' benefit by the fan activity generated as a result (fan fiction can receive some credit for the revivals of Star Trek and Doctor Who), but I think fan fiction authors should respect the wishes of the copyright holder, and while I don't think it would be wise for the copyright holder to try and suppress the hobby totally, fan fiction writers have no real right to get snippy if the copyright holder exercises some of his or her rights.

But I think that fan fiction is of value, especially as a writing tool. Fan fiction is not very different from somebody just writing stories just for the love of it. The difference is that there is an audience (however small) willing to read and comment. Fan fiction gave me fifteen years to practise my craft, set up plots, establish new characters and develop my narrative. I see fan fiction as the training wheels of writing. It's not for everybody, but that doesn't mean it's of no value.

FanFiction: Fan's Right or Copyright Nightmare? | 125 comments (117 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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