“They Painted Beautiful, Plunged Creative”

Annie Proulx has complained to the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, among others, about how much she hates all the "Brokeback Mountain" fanfic out there. So The Guardian in the UK decided to see just how bad the fanfic is and published excerpts from ten of the very worst.  Here are a couple of examples:

4. Ask, and Thou Shalt Recieve, chapter 8: You Checkin' Me Out, Cowboy?
" Jack wasn't bad at giving directions. He was awful."

[…]this is trailed by the author with the tantalising line:
"another one of those where Jack survives his attack … but perhaps,
it's not for long. Warnings: Rape"

5. The Chill Hour
"They painted beautiful, plunged creative. The kingfisher, silent, did not remove his belt."

A nice short one, this. Unfortunately it's quite difficult to know what's going on.

6. Memories
"Good mournin' to ya to cowboy."

fabulously named DracoPotterMalfoy-JackEnnisDelMar adds the ingredient
all Brokeback Mountain afficionados have been crying out for. No, not
gratuitous sex (although there will be some of that in the final draft,
apparently), but amnesia.

Fanfic Makes Proulx Regret Writing “Brokeback Mountain”

Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx has complained before about the misery  "Brokeback Mountain" fanfic has caused her and now she's doing it  again, this time on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

"I wish I'd never written it," Proulx says at
her home five miles outside town, looking out enormous windows onto the
river and the limestone cliffs that define her property.

Not because of the people of Saratoga, a town she doesn't think much
of. Not even because the word "brokeback" has been misappropriated, as
in, "Hey, you're not goin' brokeback on me, are you?"

It's all the manuscripts, screenplays and letters sent to her by men
who rewrite or serialize her story, adding new characters, endings and
even successive generations.

Her frustration has been building for a while. She told the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that "Brokeback Mountain' has had little effect on my writing life, but is the source of constant irritation in my private life."

She lamented that  "remedial writers" are constantly sending "ghastly manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the
story to me, expecting me to reply with praise and applause for
'fixing' the story…they know nothing of
copyright infringement, that the characters Jack Twist and Ennis
Del Mar are my intellectual property."

UK Prosecutors Target SickFic About Real People

There's a whole sub-culture of fanficcers who get off writing fantasies about famous people having sex with one another and others. You know, stuff like Leonardo DiCaprio giving Jude Law an education in male coupling or the Spice Girls re-enacting their favorite sex scenes from "The L Word." The authors of this kind of SickFic argue that because they are writing and distributing stories about fictional sex between "public figures," it's okay. Well, prosecutors in the U.K don't think so. They think it's obscene and a violation of the law. The Register reports:

The legal world is buzzing at the announcement last week of the
prosecution of 35-year-old civil servant Darryn Walker for the online
publication of material that Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
believe to be obscene.

This is the first such prosecution for written material in nearly
two decades – and a guilty verdict could have a serious and significant
impact on the future regulation of the internet in the UK.

The case originated in summer 2007, when Mr Walker allegedly posted a work of fantasy – titled Girls (Scream) Aloud – about pop group Girls Aloud. The story describes in detail the kidnap, rape, mutilation and
murder of band members Cheryl Cole, Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola
Roberts and Kimberley Walsh, and ends with the sale of various body
parts on eBay.

The piece was brought to the attention of the Internet Watch
Foundation, whose remit includes the monitoring of internet material
deemed to be criminally obscene: they in turn handed details over to
the Police.

The case goes to trial on March 16, 2009 in Newcastle. Other newspapers report that Walker wrote the story under the pseudonym "Blake Sinclair" and posted it on Kristen's Collection, SickFic site that also includes a "Real Person Fic" about raping and mutilating Britney Spears.Article-1066435-02DF55C700000578-300_468x286

I'm sure that the Organization for Transformative Works, which thinks that writing and distributing this kind of swill is a God-given "fannish right," and Dr. Robin Reid, the creative writing instructor at Texas A&M who writes and champions "Real Person Slash" (her favorite SickFic fantasy is Viggo Mortenson and any male actor in Hollywood) will be watching this case very closely. A conviction could lead to a long overdue crack-down on this garbage.

Annie Proulx Says No to Fanfic

Author Annie Proulx, who wrote BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN,  tells the Wall Street Journal that the fanfic ripped off from her work by "remedial writers" is a "source of constant irritation."

There are countless people out there who think the story is open range
to explore their fantasies and to correct what they see as an
unbearably disappointing story. They constantly send ghastly
manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the story to me, expecting me to
reply with praise and applause for "fixing" the story.  […] They do not understand the original story, they know nothing of
copyright infringement—i.e., that the characters Jack Twist and Ennis
Del Mar are my intellectual property

Defamer comments on all the insipid BROKEBACK fanfic.

We can see Proulx's point; after all, it somewhat dilutes the gist of
the original story if a sequel just happens to involve Ennis Del Mar
meeting the slain Jack Twist's identical twin (coincidentally, also
gay!). When will the internet accept that Proulx's simple, elegant tale
simply can't be done justice by a poorly written Livejournal follow-up?

(Thanks to Sue for the heads-up!)

Potter Fan Tries to Cast Spell To Free His Book

The Detroit Free Press reports that the publisher and author of the "Harry Potter Lexicon" aren't giving up trying to make a buck off of Harry Potter — even though a judge has barred publication of the book. Now they are seeking to publish the book without the copyrighted content that the judge determined was lifted from Rowling.

Roger Rapoport, a Muskegon publisher, and Steve Vander Ark, a Grand
Rapids area librarian and author, expect their attorneys this week to
file a notice of appeal preserving the men's right to continue the
legal battle for their Harry Potter book.

U.S. District Judge
Robert P. Patterson Jr. ruled Sept. 8 that the book violated Rowling's
copyright and blocked its publication.

In a 60-page opinion,
Patterson said the work quotes too directly from the Potter books and
dwells too much on a pair of books written by Rowling to explain
aspects of the wizarding world she created.

Rapoport and Vander Ark are considering whether they could edit the book to pass the judge's muster.

Court Rules in Rowling’s Favor

Deadline Hollywood reports that a New York court has ruled in favor of Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling in their lawsuit against RDR books, a publisher attempting to cash in with an unlicensed, unauthorized Harry Potter "lexicon" that drew heavily from Rowling's work. The Judge determined that the book, which he barred from publication, did not qualify as "fair use" and violated her copyright.

J.K. Rowling today issued the following statement: "I took no pleasure
at all in bringing legal action and am delighted that this issue has
been resolved favourably. I went to court to uphold the right of
authors everywhere to protect their own original work. The court has
upheld that right. "

The New York Times reports that Steven Jan Vander Ark , the creepy fan (pictured on the left) who wrote the book, still lives in a dream world. He told the Times that he'd like to have a chat with   Rowling some time:

“I have been a huge fan of
the Harry Potter series and Ms. Rowling for 10 years; that’s not going
to change,” Mr. Vander Ark said by telephone on Monday from his home in
Brighton, England. “We had a disagreement about the definition of a
particular book. It was a legal disagreement. I would rather that it
wasn’t personal.”

[…]For now, however, Mr. Vander Ark has his sights on his next Harry
Potter project: his book “In Search of Harry Potter” is scheduled to be
released next month. It is a memoir of his travels to locations similar
to the ones described in the Rowling books.

You might wonder why I think he's creepy…beyond the fact that he tries to look like Harry Potter and actually believes Rowling would want to chat with him. Here's an example from the trial, as reported by the Times.

Like a true fan, Mr. Vander Ark treated even Ms. Rowling’s
assertions that he had made mistakes as wonderful revelations rather
than embarrassments.

When [David Hammer, the lawyer for RDR Books] told him that Ms. Rowling
had testified on Monday about the etymology of “Alohomora,” an
unlocking spell, Mr. Vander Ark — who had been sequestered during her
testimony — blurted, “Oh, really?”

In her testimony, Ms. Rowling
said Mr. Vander Ark’s link between the spell and the Hawaiian “aloha”
was “errant nonsense,” explaining that it actually had come from West
African dialect.

“That’s exciting stuff for someone like me,” Mr.
Vander Ark said from the witness stand. “Did she happen to mention
which dialect?”

Any day now this goof is going to tattoo a lightning bolt to his forehead…if he hasn't already.

UPDATE: A reader reminded me of these examples of Vander Ark's creepiness and cluelessness  from the New Yorker:

Last summer, at a “Harry Potter” convention in Toronto, a fan named
Steve Vander Ark made a similar mistake when he dared to compare
himself to Joanne (J. K.) Rowling. “It is amazing where we have taken
‘Harry Potter,’ ” he said to a crowd of dedicated “Potter” fans. Many
readers dislike the epilogue in the final book; Vander Ark urged them
to disregard it entirely, and even invented his own spell to do so
(“expelliepilogus”). “Jo’s quit, she’s done,” he told the audience.
“We’re taking over now.”

[…]From the witness stand, Vander Ark directed beseeching glances
toward Rowling, who was sitting a few yards away, but she slowly shook
her head. After several hours of intense questioning in front of his
idol, Vander Ark broke down and cried.

“I really wish we had had a different kind of meeting,” he said
later. “There were a couple times I kind of gave her a half-smile. She
didn’t smile back.”

Attracting the attention, and the wrath, of his hero is a surprise for
Vander Ark, who at the age of fifty maintains the air of a serious
child, with a mushroom-cut head of hair parted in the middle. A
self-described “massive ‘Star Trek’ fan,” he wrote a book, in the
nineteen-eighties, called “The Complete Encyclopedia of Star Trek the
Next Generation Season One,” and sold forty copies.

That's 40 more than he's going to sell of his Harry Potter Lexicon.

Fanfiction Friction

The July/August issue of the Literary Review of Canada features an extensive overview  of the controversies  — legal and artistic — surrounding fanfiction in the U.S. and Canada. The article is written by copyright lawyer Grace Westcott, who is Vice Chair of the Canadian Copyright Institute, and she does a very good job of presenting the arguments on both sides of the issue.  But there is one unique, Canadian wrinkle to the debate:

it’s hard to see a case for fan fiction as fair dealing under Canadian
law. Besides, there are the author’s moral rights to consider. The US analysis
of fan fiction makes barely a passing nod to moral rights. No wonder: in the US
the notion of moral rights is fairly slight. (And a media corporation cannot
have moral rights; it’s strictly a personal right.) But in Canada, and much of
the rest of the world, an individual author has the moral right both to be
credited as the author (or to remain anonymous, if he or she chooses) and to
have the integrity of the work protected. That integrity is infringed if the
work is, to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the author, distorted,
mutilated or otherwise modified, or associated with any product, service, cause
or institution.

Obviously, a moral right that a work not be “distorted, mutilated or
otherwise modified” poses a serious legal impediment to the fan fiction writer.
It is a significant fetter on the fan’s freedom to rework the canon without this
act being viewed as an attack on the artistic integrity of the source work and
ultimately on its author’s reputation. After all, an author may well feel that
something he or she has spent years researching and writing is a finished work,
not a literary buffet or a cultural spare parts counter for others to rummage
in. An author may object to distortions of his characters when they are
appropriated to the divergent narrative sensibilities of fan imaginations.

She concludes:

So where does all this leave fan fiction? It may be that its shadowy
status – largely tolerated, but legally vulnerable – leaves it just
where it ought to be, in a healthy state of tension between fans and
authors. Because the fact is that fan fiction has so far been able to
operate as a tolerated use, if not a fair use. Both parties have good
reasons to accommodate the concerns of the other. No one wants to crush
a fan; and fans don’t want to damage their favorite author’s livelihood
or reputation. Fan fiction, particularly under Canadian law, and in
view of authors’ moral rights, requires the author’s forbearance, and
probably deserves a degree of that. There is a danger, in this balancing game, in taking a militant stance.
What is needed is a kind of digital civility, an online code of respect
in engaging with cultural works that recognizes and addresses authors’
rights and legitimate concerns. This, together with the recognition
that fan fiction comes from basically ‘a good place’, should encourage
authors, media owners and fans to develop a code of fair practices to
define what’s fair in fandom, to allow fans to engage creatively with
the works they so sincerely admire.

Poking a Sleeping Tiger in the Eye?

Lately, fanficcers seem intent on testing how far they can claim "ownership" of their work before the authors/rights-holders of the original media properties take legal action (just look at the Organization for Transformative Works or the Rowling dispute).

But now there is a new wrinkle. For many years now, a group of ardent STAR TREK fans have been producing STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES (aka STAR TREK: PHASE II), their own, hour-long version of the original series. Original cast members like George Takei and Walter Koenig have "guest-starred" on the web-broadcast episodes and FX experts from the various "real" STAR TREK series have donated their talents to the project. So far, Viacom/Paramount has turned a blind eye to the project, presumably since it’s a "fan production" and nobody has tried to make any money off of it.

That could change.

I just got my 2007 Nebula ballot from the Science Fiction Writers of America and among the movies & TV shows vying for the Script award is "World Enough and Time," an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES written by Marc Scott Zicree & Michael Reeves that "aired" on 8/23/07.

Here’s the problem. The  Nebula Rules state that to be eligible for the award that it must be "a professionally produced audio, radio,
television, motion picture, multimedia, or theatrical script."
But the fans behind STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES have claimed repeatedly that what they are doing absolutely isn’t a professional production, it’s just for fun, the video equivalent of fanfic:

cost of the production is being paid out of pocket by the producers/crew. Yes,
it is expensive, but we’re fortunate to have many talented people donate their
time and money for a worthy cause and a once in a lifetime trip around the
galaxy! We in no way make money from this show and we all volunteer our time,
effort and our own money to bring these shows to the internet. If you desire to
help us in that capacity, please see "How can I donate" below

[…]Due to copyrights, there are no stations broadcasting our episodes.
Star Trek: Phase II is a web-series. The episodes are available for
ANYWHERE, WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND IS AN ILLEGAL COPY. We cannot and do not make any money from the episodes. We ask you to inform us if you find anyone selling our work.

If they are now claiming to be a professionally-produced program, it puts their "fan" status in doubt…especially if they are now hiring writers…and it could bring Viacom/Paramount crashing down on them.

There’s no question that all the other nominees in the Script category were paid for their screenplays. The inclusion of the script by Zicree & Reeves among the nominees (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE  PRESTIGE, PAN’S LABRYNTH, etc.) suggests that they were paid for their work, too. If they were, that’s a big no-no… and would also seriously undermine the claims by the producers of STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES that they are just doing the Internet equivalent of putting on a show in the barn for their friends.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.  Could Zicree & Reeves’ submission of their script for a Nebula spell the end of STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES…?

UPDATE:  I’m not plugged in to the SF scene so I had no idea that a controversy about this was already raging. See the comments section for statements from Marc Scott Zicree, who says he was paid for the script so it’s a professional job, and ST:NV producer/star James Cawley, who emphatically maintains that his show is not a professional production and should not have been nominated. It will be interesting to see how this affects the future of ST:NV, not just with Paramount but with SAG, DGA, and WGA…

It’s Just Pathetic

The Diary of a Mad Editor tackles the fanfic issue. He says, in part:

[…]fan fiction isn’t a bad thing just because the writing’s
bad – it’s bad because it also undermines the integrity of the original
work […]Clearly, though, there is a difference between what Goldberg writes and what some acne-faced turd on Quizzilla.com or FanFiction.net writes.

[…]See, Goldberg’s
writings are licensed by the original creators of the characters he
writes about whereas fan fictioneers are infringing on the original
authors’ copyright.
One form of writing is done by professionals for commercial purposes
and the other is done by delusional amateurs purely for love/self-love.
Here’s the problem — now the fanfic losers want copyright protection
extended to their “original” creations.

He believes that if the efforts by the Organization of Transformative Works to extend copyright protection to fanfic are successful, it could have a wide-ranging, negative impact on all writers.

If fan fiction receives legal parity with original work, it would
create a wave of frivolous lawsuits in which any author of fan fiction
could claim that the original author stole their ideas. As a writer, I
cringe at this very thought. Giving derivative works that kind of
legitimacy would destroy any value intellectual property protection has
for writers.

I think he sums up the fanfic issue pretty concisely when he says:

A 14 year old kid writing fan fiction is unfortunate but forgivable,
but when you’re 30 and still writing it, it is just pathetic. If you
want to be taken seriously as a writer and have full copyright
protection and all that good shit, write something original and worth