I received this comment from "GMW:"
If we take the published author view then I hate to say it but Mr. Lee
Goldberg, according to this you have no talent for writing because you
are using a preset universe and characters. You do write fanficiton
with legal ability to get it published for money. In my mind that is
the only thing separating you from a fanficiton writer. Has writing the
‘DM’ and ‘Monk’ novels helped you in writing your other novels? If yes
then why can’t it help others? If no, then why do you write them?
1) I didn’t just wake up one morning, burning with the need to write DIAGNOSIS MURDER fanfic and then sent it out a
publisher, hoping to sell it. They came to me. I would never consider writing a book about characters I didn’t
create unless the creator/rights holder asked me to. Why? Because the
characters aren’t mine.
2) I was an executive producer and principal writer of the DIAGNOSIS
MURDER TV series for many years and was approached by the studio and
publisher to write the books. In many ways, I shaped, guided, and
"controlled" the characters long before I started writing books about
them. This makes me a rarity among tie-in writers. As far as I know, there isn’t anyone out there writing fanfic about the shows they wrote and produced.
3) I was writing for the TV series MONK for several seasons when the
creator/executive producer of the show approached me to write the
books. I not only continue to write episodes of the show, but I write
the books with the executive producer’s full consent and creative input. How many fanficcers are also writing for the TV shows they are ripping off?
4) To date, I have only written tie-ins based on TV shows that I also wrote and/or produced. Again, that makes me a rarity among tie-in writers.
5) These are licensed tie-in novels, written under the contract with
the rights holders, who have full control over how their characters and
"worlds" are used. This is true of all tie-in writers…and no fanficcers.
6) I wrote my own, published novels long before I was approached to
write any tie-ins (in fact, they got me the tie-ins) and continue to do
so. My recent book THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which got a starred
review from Kirkus and was favorably compared to Hammett and Chandler,
is currently nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Novel.
What I do isn’t comparable to fanfiction — which is using someone
else’s work without their consent or involvement and distributing on
the Internet. I don’t do it as my personal artistic expression — it’s
a job, one that I do to the best of my ability.
Like a fanficcer, I am writing about characters I didn’t create and that are not my own. But, as I said before, unless approached to do so, I would have absolutely no interest or desire to write about someone else’s characters. Why? Because…and let me repeat this…
the characters aren’t mine. I didn’t create them. They don’t belong to me. I much prefer to write totally original work and if I could make my living only doing that, I would.
Write all the fanfiction you want to for practice — just don’t post
it on the Internet or publish it. Or if you do want to post it, ask the
creator/right’s holder for permission to do so first. How hard is that?
What I have yet to see any fanficcer explain why they
won’t to ask the creator or rights holder for permission before posting
and distributing their work. Or why fanficcers adamantly refuse to
follow the expressed wishes of creator/rights holders (for example,
Rowling has approved fanfiction based on Harry Potter as long as it’s
not sexually explicit…but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from writing and posting Potter slash, disrespecting her and her wishes ).
I know the answer, of course. Fanficcers are terrified of officially being told NO… and identifying themselves in case they decide to blithely violate the author’s wishes anyway.
218 thoughts on “Am I a Fanficcer?”
I don’t know why people have so much trouble telling the difference between fan fiction and licensed tie-ins. It seems pretty bloody obvious to me. Of course, I’m not a fanficcer …
The problem comes when people say that you can’t learn anything about writing by writing fan fic. That fan fic writers are just hacks because they don’t create their own characters/settings.
When things like that get written on the blog of someone who makes a living writing about other people’s characters and settings, whether on books or TV, it causes confusion. And this happens whether Lee says it or not.
Obviously, the fact that Lee has permission to write about the characters makes a huge difference. But when people degrate the quality of the writing based on the fact that the writer didn’t create everything from scratch, that’s where the confusion comes from.
I degrade the quality of the learning, Mark, not the quality of the writing. In the quality issue, it’s sort of algebraic from the learning issue.
The views expressed by the readers of this blog in their comments to my posts often do not reflect my opinions on a particular topic.
Unfortunately, I am often credited elsewhere in the blogosphere with comments that I never made…but were, rather, comments left here by readers of this blog. There’s little I can do about such inaccuracy and carelessness…so I ignore it (though I suspect some bloggers are doing it on purpose just to be inflammatory… as if there isn’t enough that I *have* said that they can use against me!).
Obviously, I don’t think writing about characters you didn’t create makes you a hack (I am, after all, co-founder of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writer…www.iamtw.org). There are a lot of terrific tie-in novels out there and I like to think that the ones I write are pretty good, too.
But I do believe that the vast majority of fanfic is hideous, masturbatory crap and that writing it is not the best way to hone your writing skills…even if a very small number of fanficcers have gone on to commercial success with their original work.
I’m probably the “published author” to whom GMW objects. I feel that fanficcers betray our literary tradition, betray the authors they steal from, betray copyright law, betray readers, and worst of all, betray themselves.
I don’t feel that way about people who write stories under license. Such people are actually entering into a collaboration, and the resulting story is the product of the creator of the character and the licensed author. Collaboration has a long and honorable literary tradition. For instance, Alexandre Dumas, Pere, had a virtual writing factory in which he polished up the work of his staff and published it. There have been many fine works resulting from collaboration throughout literary history.
My comments weren’t clear. I know you don’t feel you are a hack. 🙂 I was trying to say that people commenting on your blog often get mistaken for your opinion. And that’s where the confusion lies.
I almost didn’t comment. I’m so tired I’m not thinking straight. (And you don’t even want to know what my work day has been like.) I should have listened to my initial instinct instead of making a confusing post.
Mr. Goldberg wrote:
“What I have yet to see any fanficcer explain why they won’t to ask the creator or rights holder for permission before posting and distributing their work. Or why fanficcers adamantly refuse to follow the expressed wishes of creator/rights holders ([example redacted for brevity] ).”
I think you’re phrasing the question wrong. The question isn’t why don’t they do this, it’s why _should_ they? Since fan authors are not making a profit from their hobby, as long as they aren’t otherwise hurting the copyright holder’s ability to profit from their work, why should they feel any obligation to abide by what the copyright holder wants? They may be violating the copyright in the sense that copyright is a monopoly, but as long as those two conditions are met they aren’t really violating the spirit of the copyright.
If fans want to extend the courtesy of honoring the author’s expressed wishes on the subject then that’s all well and good. But I don’t see any reason they should feel _obligated_ to do anything further once they’ve made sure that their writing activities don’t affect the copyright holder’s ability to profit from their copyrighted material.
Lost Erizo’s last comment, Lee, is perhaps the most revealing glimpse yet into what you called The Fanfic Mind.
“as long as they aren’t otherwise hurting the copyright holder’s ability to profit from their work, why should they feel any obligation to abide by what the copyright holder wants?”
It’s called respect. It’s called honor. It’s called being a decent, considerate, ethical and caring human being. Apparently those basic values, which civilized society holds in high regard, are beyond the grasp of the fanfiction community.
A writer creates something unique, magical, and wonderful that entertains and enlights you…and instead of honoring and respecting that person for what they have given, you piss all over them instead, showing total disregard for their feelings, their effort, and their imagination.
I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a reasonable rebuttal to those who are pro-fanficcers rights above even the rights of the copyright holders. I cannot think of one. In truth, you are right. Fan fiction does no financial harm to the creator of said work (usually, though I can’t imagine sexually explicit Harry Potter work is going to create any new church-going fans).
What about banner ads on the websites that host fan fiction? Or the hosting company that hosts it? Someone makes money on fan fiction, and that someone isn’t the author. It should be.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I thought of a reason after the first paragraph, thus explaining the second one.
I need to go to sleep now. It’s late.
“It’s called respect. It’s called honor. It’s called being a decent, considerate, ethical and caring human being. Apparently those basic values, which civilized society holds in high regard, are beyond the grasp of the fanfiction community.”
Excuse me, what bullshit! The author writes something and gets paid for it. When I buy their book they’ve been renumerated for their effort. From then on there’s nothing they can do to prevent me reacting to the text in whatever form I see fit. I can burn the book, re-sell it or give it away as a present. I can think about the content, talk about it with my friends or write a critical essay about it and publish it on amazon.
But perhaps I love the characters and settings in the book? Perhaps it fires my imagination, so that I write a story about the characters’ fates after the book has ended? And perhaps I share that story with likeminded people on the net for free.
If you want to stop me sharing my imagination, what will be next? Will I be forbidden to write something critical about your book?May I not even think about it? Shall I be condemned to just consume without any reaction to anything? – I think not.
Therefore, if you don’t want reactions of whatever kind to your creative effort – don’t put it out there. Because, if you do you have to accept the fact that you’ve abandoned control. There will be reactions – from harsh critics to enthusiastic fanfic – and you cannot command their form or direction. So, take your money, be glad of it and leave us the heck of it alone.
Kete, for heaven’s sake. You bought the book. That gave you the right to have a copy of the text in your house. It didn’t buy you any further rights. You are seriously misinformed if you think that the price of a book is high enough to buy a stake in the characters when it comes to publishing them in a public forum like the internet. All the price of the book buys is the physical object, not the stuff contained therein. That’s why, for example, the things you’re legally allowed to do to the book such as burning and giving away do NOT include photocopying it and selling your copies, which I hope you’ll concede is definitely against the law. You have freehold on the book, but leasehold on its contents.
“Kete, for heaven’s sake. You bought the book. That gave you the right to have a copy of the text in your house. It didn’t buy you any further rights. You are seriously misinformed if you think that the price of a book is high enough to buy a stake in the characters when it comes to publishing them in a public forum like the internet. All the price of the book buys is the physical object, not the stuff contained therein. That’s why, for example, the things you’re legally allowed to do to the book such as burning and giving away do NOT include photocopying it and selling your copies, which I hope you’ll concede is definitely against the law. You have freehold on the book, but leasehold on its contents.”
If you think you’ve contradicted me, anonymouse, you’re sadly mistaken. Please note what I said above: I can destroy, re-sell or give away the book I bought as I see fit. What I cannot and do not do is profit from it in any way, shape or form. Which I do not do by writing fanfic and sharing it for free with those people who like to read the stuff and make a considered decision to do so by clicking the respective links. I DON’T PROFIT.
But you cannot take away the ideas and images you as a writer have put into my head and which I’ve made mine by devouring and digesting them. (Yeah, yeah, I know: target for some puerile jokes here, but who cares.)
And if I want to expand on the ideas and images I’ve now in my head, there’s nothing anyone can do to hinder me. Of course I could name the character you named Paul, Saul instead, and let the whole story play out not in today’s California but in last century’s England, and claim I’ve all made it up myself without giving you any credit (isn’t something like that what just happened to Lewis Perdue?). And as LP’s law suit shows, there isn’t anything you can do to hinder me, even if I sell the stuff. Instead I tell my readers that I’ve expanded on your characters and universe and give you all the credit – can’t say fairer than that.
No one thinks you are profiting financially, that’s not the point. And while no one is suggesting you don’t have the right to -think- what you like about a book, the right to -circulate- spin-off works based on it in a public forum is completely different, and gets into the world of business, profit or not. After all, I’m free to think that a law-abiding citizen is a degenerate crook if I wish, but if I publicise that view, then the law of free speech stops and the laws of slander and libel take over. Free speech is a right bounded in by other rights; the point people are making here is that the right to control your own creation should be final word on the subject in this case.
I don’t think you’ve really answered my point. Sorry I was snappish before, I’ve been having a bad morning, but to get back to it: Your earlier post suggested you have a Customer-is-King belief; all I was trying to suggest is that the price of a book only buys certain defined rights as to using it. Fantasising about it is certainly one, but producing derivative work is another, and the right to the former doesn’t automatically give you the right to the latter.
“No one thinks you are profiting financially, that’s not the point. And while no one is suggesting you don’t have the right to -think- what you like about a book, the right to -circulate- spin-off works based on it in a public forum is completely different, and gets into the world of business, profit or not.”
Well, this is where we don’t agree. Profiting financially is the sole reason behind any copyright law as far as I interprete it and up to now no court has contradicted me. Also, fanficcers certainly see their communities as kind of private, though they’re on a public medium, because you only go there if you have business there, namely you either want to post your fic or you want to read fic posted by others.
“I don’t think you’ve really answered my point.”
Same is true for you. You didn’t answer my point here: As soon as I ingest an idea it becomes mine, because how do you suggest to get it out again?
“Your earlier post suggested you have a Customer-is-King belief; all I was trying to suggest is that the price of a book only buys certain defined rights as to using it. Fantasising about it is certainly one, but producing derivative work is another, and the right to the former doesn’t automatically give you the right to the latter.”
Nonsense. I’m forbidden to produce derivative work for mercenary purposes – which I agree to and don’t do – but as a hobby? to share with friends? as a form of reacting to and interacting with the source text? I’m free to do whatever I like.
I’d like to answer your point, but it’s difficult, because all you’re doing is issuing flat assertions and flat contradictions. I’ll try, but after this I’ve got things to do, so this is my last post on the subject.
To me, the suggestion that an idea becomes yours as soon as you ingest it is simply false. Analogy: a patented trademark image doesn’t become yours because you’ve seen it; food you’ve eaten doesn’t become yours if you took it without permission – hard to get back is not the same thing as rightfully owned.
The suggestion that you can do something in a public place and call it private just because it feels that way to you isn’t logical. Analogy: if you sit in a bar with your friends and make offensive remarks, the barkeep is within his rights to stop you if other customers are disturbed; saying ‘this is our private table’ doesn’t mean it’s okay.
I don’t think that the fact that something is not for profit should be the determining factor. The fact that a court case hasn’t determined this yet is a negative proof, which doesn’t work. The issue is ownership, not money. Robin Hood had the best of intentions, but he’s still called the prince of thieves, not the prince of wealth redistribution.
That’s all I have time for, so I’m off.
I think the idea of an anonymouse is cute.
There is a clear leitmotif evident in the apologies for fan fiction. It is that moral or ethical standards, or cultural standards, have little validity and can be ignored.
Fan fiction writers choose to operate in a nether world below the lowest rung of legitimate literature, and by doing so betray themselves. Who knows what they might achieve if they were to set their sights higher.
Civilization, which depends on ethical and cultural understandings, will survive them, but their hopes of producing any literature worthy of admiration are almost nil. You can’t put fan fiction on a resume and hope it will win you honor.
“To me, the suggestion that an idea becomes yours as soon as you ingest it is simply false. Analogy: a patented trademark image doesn’t become yours because you’ve seen it; food you’ve eaten doesn’t become yours if you took it without permission – hard to get back is not the same thing as rightfully owned.”
Why are you – again – as so many others have before you – comparing ideas to trademarks when – even under the most illogical law – they aren’t?
Your analogy limps. Fanfic sites aren’t public bars where everyone sits and consumes their beer. An archive or fanfic site owner can rightfully assume that only people interested in fanfic would go there. I mean, if you stumble into a peep-show because you can’t read the signs or something, you’ll sound pretty dumb complaining about nude people doing bawdy things.
“I don’t think that the fact that something is not for profit should be the determining factor. The fact that a court case hasn’t determined this yet is a negative proof, which doesn’t work. The issue is ownership, not money. Robin Hood had the best of intentions, but he’s still called the prince of thieves, not the prince of wealth redistribution.”
When you start an argument by citing copyright law and are shown that fanficcers aren’t infringing on this law you cannot suddenly change your argument and say that this isn’t the point. I mean, you can and in fact you did, but it does nothing for your line of argument, you know. Chose a line and stick to it.
“That’s all I have time for, so I’m off.”
Me, too.Off to the movies seeing “Crank”.
“I think the idea of an anonymouse is cute.”
Not mine, though. It’s a common expression on F_W. Credit where credit is due.
“There is a clear leitmotif evident in the apologies for fan fiction. It is that moral or ethical standards, or cultural standards, have little validity and can be ignored.”
Apologies? What apologies? I don’t apologise for writing fanfic, because I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. That your moral, ethical and cultural standards differ from mine doesn’t mean yours are necessarily right.
“Fan fiction writers choose to operate in a nether world below the lowest rung of legitimate literature, and by doing so betray themselves. Who knows what they might achieve if they were to set their sights higher.”
I have no idea what I could achieve in writing original fiction and I’m not interested in finding out. Financial regards, nasty deadlines…. thank you very much, but I can live without those. All I sometimes want is persuing my hobby, tapping away on my keyboard.
“Civilization, which depends on ethical and cultural understandings, will survive them, but their hopes of producing any literature worthy of admiration are almost nil. You can’t put fan fiction on a resume and hope it will win you honor.”
First, let me express my extreme relief that I’m not doing everlasting harm to civilisation as we know it. Gasp!
Second, I don’t pretend to produce literature (in that I differ radically from many pro-writers of my acquaintance….) and don’t hope for anybody’s admiration. If someone likes my story, that really is enough for me, thank you very much.
Third, here you’re wrong if you think that for instance Cassie Claire’s over hundredthousand hits on her webite haven’t had the smallest influence on her publisher’s decision to offer her a book deal, imo.
Fourth, how about coming over a little less pompous, gramps?
Apology: 1. A formal justification; defense. 2. expression of regret for a wrong.
Richard Wheeler is one of the most respected and honored authors of western literature in the world today. The last line of your previous comment, sadly, is indicative of the lack of respect fanficcers show authors… which is the only reason I didn’t delete it. I want people to see fanficcers for who they really are.
Fiction Alley – http://www.fictionalley.org is making money off fanfiction. It’s a tax-exempt 503(b) organization. Uncle Sam is footing their bill.
I believe Heidi Tandy is on the board of the non-profit. Supposedly, it’s for educational purposes. They teach young people to write fanfic. Also, they like to get together at expensive conferences like Nimbus and talk about Harry Potter stuff. Somebody is getting paid administrative fees for that non-profit. Fiction Alley has thousands of members. There’s money coming in.
Pretty good deal, eh? And Fiction Alley hosts sexually explicit fanfic, of the type JKR isn’t happy with. A double slap in the face.
“Richard Wheeler is one of the most respected and honored authors of western literature in the world today.”
Lee, he writes *Western* for heaven’s sake. Hardly what I would call literature. And I’ve never heard of him before coming to your blog.
“The last line of your previous comment, sadly, is indicative of the lack of respect fanficcers show authors… which is the only reason I didn’t delete it. I want people to see fanficcers for who they really are.”
Why would I show any respect to a guy I don’t know and who, in my book, hasn’t done anything deserving of my respect? As far as I’m concerned he isn’t more of a blimp on my screen than you or anybody else, sorry.
Just because a court hasn’t YET ruled on the financial infringement issue does not change the law as currently written.
That law, as far as I understand it, states that copyright is the right to “copy and distribute” the work (including derivative work, which fanfic is, as far as I understand it) of a creator. Whether such copying and distribution is for profit or not is not mentioned in the law.
What part of that law does fanfic NOT violate?
Or, perhaps, quote the applicable section of US copyright law and provide a more complete interpretation.
Um. Hi. I’ve been lurking for these discussions for a while, and I’d like to add my .02, even though it’s not exactly on one side of the fence or the other. Y’see, I grew up in the heady days of Star Trek fanfiction (yes, the 60s and 70s) and I thought about many a story about my beloved Spock inside my own head. But I never felt able to get the character right, because he wasn’t mine, and I never dared write any of my teenaged imaginings down. I thought that it must take a very good writer to take someone else’s characters and remain true to their conception. So I read what little fanfic was available to me (I’ve never been in fannish circles much, until very recently) and thought it was very cool, but didn’t think much about whether or not it was legal, or okay with Mr. Roddenberry or anything like that, because, y’know, I recall Mr. Roddenberry writing a *footnote* in his novelization of the first Star Trek movie about the slash fic, which said (to the best of my recollection) “It’s kind of funny that people think Jim and I are like that, ’cause we’re not, we’re best friends, but that’s humans for you.” So it seems to me that Mr. Roddenberry was aware of it, but didn’t let it twist his knickers. And as he was the *creator* of Kirk, Spock and all of the others in the original and Next Gen shows, I suspect he just was happy they were getting lots of fan attention, enough to support new shows and movies long past the usual sell-by and forget date for tv shows.
Anyway, move forward to 1990 and my introduction to the internet. And I found fan fiction. Oh lord yes. And y’know what? As a reader, it made no difference to me whether or not it was showing, say, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy having sex with a kinkajou (no, I’ve not seen that, but it sounded kinky enough!) — if I thought it jibed with my interpretation of the character, I’d read it. If it didn’t, I hit my back button. The better stories (in my opinion) would add to the impression I had of the character, and often, I would seek out and become a fan of the show/book series BECAUSE I had read something that intrigued me. I’d want to know how the fan fiction writer saw that in those characters, and go look for myself. And so I have bought lots of books, watched many TV shows I would not have originally thought I’d want to see, and all because I sampled a bit of fan fiction about it.
Now, I have gotten involved a bit more with Harry Potter fandom, simply ’cause I joined a role-playing game where I have been playing Draco Malfoy. Before that, I would NEVER have had a shred of sympathy for that character, but I’ve grown to enjoy finding ways to play him and make him sympathetic at least to me.
I don’t see where this has harmed my buying and reading of the texts by Ms. Rowling. It certainly hasn’t given any problems to my reading them to my grandchildren and encouraging them to play “Harry and Snape and Draco and Ron etc.” with the Legos…
I’m not saying that I think that one shouldn’t respect the wishes of the writer, because it is a matter of respect for the person who originated the ideas, but I do not see the harm (as a consumer) to the writer in me finding out that there’s something out there that I just might like, and all because I happened to find someone’s rather interesting fan fiction about it.
Twila (who does wish someone would teach all the fan fiction writers about *please heaven* grammar and spelling, however! As a copy editor, it burns our eyes, yes it does.)
Kathy Kune wrote: “It’s called respect. It’s called honor. It’s called being a decent, considerate, ethical and caring human being. Apparently those basic values, which civilized society holds in high regard, are beyond the grasp of the fanfiction community.”
And Richard wrote: “It is that moral or ethical standards, or cultural standards, have little validity and can be ignored.”
Difficult to know where to start with this one; once again someone conflates the legal position of copyright infringement with the moral position. Once again, I repeat my question and perhaps Kathy or Richard will answer since nobody else wants to bite, and once again I use the example of Kipling.
Kipling’s work was in copyright until 1987, as the old 50 year rule was then in force. His work came back into copyright in 1996 when the law changed. It goes out of copyright again next year.
The question is, why was it not ‘decent, considerate, eithical’ to write fanfiction about his work until 1987, and what suddenly changed? What (other than the legal position about which there is no point arguing until a case has been brought) changed again in 1996 and changes again in January?
To reiterate. as Kathy and Richard posed the question in moral terms, this is an ethical, *not* a legal, question.
G. T. Karber wrote, “What about banner ads on the websites that host fan fiction? Or the hosting company that hosts it?”
My experience is that most (not all, but most) fanfiction is held on websites and archives that do not carry banner ads. Usually this is because the host is also owned by fans and run on a non-profit basis, often supported by subscriptions.
“Anonymous” wrote: “Supposedly, it’s for educational purposes. They teach young people to write fanfic.”
Er…no. I think I might have enjoyed the one I attended more if they had.
Ms. Kune wrote:
“It’s called respect. It’s called honor. It’s called being a decent, considerate, ethical and caring human being. Apparently those basic values, which civilized society holds in high regard, are beyond the grasp of the fanfiction community.”
There’s two problems with this line of argument that I’d like to address.
One, consideration (or politeness) is not the same thing as ethics. I realize you listed them separately, but you’ve assumed that consideration and ethics would dictate the same end behavior and that is not always true. It’s possible to be ethical while being rude and it’s possible to be polite and considerate of someone’s feelings while engaging in morally reprehensible behavior. I generally try not to conflate the two. There is also a difference between respect and admiration for a work and respect and admiration for its author. I think some of Harlan Ellison’s early work is absolutely brilliant. I also happen to think (based entirely on reports, I’ve never met the man) that Mr. Ellison is a narcissist who seems to enjoy belittling anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him. I couldn’t care less what his opinion is about me and anything I do. There are other authors who I respect greatly as people and would bend over backwards in order to accommodate. I do, however, feel obligated to stick to my own system of ethics. I think it’s perfectly ethical to write fanfiction of whatever genre as long as the fan writer doesn’t hurt the copyright holder’s profits. When an author expresses an opinion about fanfiction, I do try to take their feelings into account out of courtesy (regardless of my feelings about them personally), but I don’t feel obligated to do so.
Second, you assume that all fan writers are in agreement on what is the best approach vis a vis author’s wishes, as if “fanficcers” were a monolithic group with a common set of standards. My own informal survey (resulting from 15 years of lurking on fan sites) says that fan opinion runs the gamut from “the original author’s opinion is irrelevant” to “I absolutely will not read/write anything that doesn’t have the original author’s explicit permission”, with others who take just about any opinion in between those extremes. I don’t assume that Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Ellison are similar in their opinions or behavior just because they are both recent authors who’ve written for TV. It would be nice if you and the others in these threads would stop making similar assumptions about fan writers.
“A writer creates something unique, magical, and wonderful that entertains and enlights you…and instead of honoring and respecting that person for what they have given, you piss all over them instead, showing total disregard for their feelings, their effort, and their imagination.”
I don’t happen to think that writing a piece of derivative fiction “piss[es] all over them”, rather it’s far more often intended as an expression of admiration for and joy in the source material. Everyone interacts with the source material a little differently, and some are inspired to write their own material as well. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find many examples of fan authors who’s intention is to dishonor or hurt the original author (with the possible exception of really biting parody which, by the way, is not excluded under copyright).
But my preferred method of expressing my admiration may be different from yours. Have you never gotten a gift you didn’t like, or a favor that you didn’t ask for and might have preferred to do without? Those are the annoyances we put up with as a price for living in a society that includes people whose tastes and opinions differ. But it doesn’t mean that the person who gave you the gift/favor did it out of disrespect for you or disregard for your feelings.
Kete is accurate: I have no reputation outside of my field. And yes, western fiction is the least prestigious branch of literature and virtually defunct. And yes, such reputation as I may have has no bearing on the validity of my comments. But I do stand by my observations, which may be considered my generation’s understanding of worth.
Kete, ignorance is no excuse. It’s just ignorance and not something you should bandy about with pride. I don’t read westerns but I am educated enough to know that Richard S. Wheeler is equivalent to Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov in the world of western literature…which has a much longer and richer history than science fiction. To shrug him off with such disdain shows not only the depth of your ignorance and arrogance but also your profound disrespect for those who are older, wiser, and more experienced than you. You should be embarrassed and ashamed of yourself but you are not wise enough or humble enough to realize it.
“And I’ve never heard of him before coming to your blog”
Of course you hadn’t. If you had looked though you’d find Mr. Wheeler was an editor at a big city newspaper for many years before taking to western fiction. He’s forgotton more than a “fanficcer” will ever know.
As miss snark would say, “climb on the cluetrain for Chist’s sake.”
“I don’t happen to think that writing a piece of derivative fiction “piss[es] all over them”, rather it’s far more often intended as an expression of admiration for and joy in the source material.”
I’m sure that’s how Rowling feels when she reads stories about Harry Potter giving blowjobs to Snape while getting it up the ass from Ron. Admiration and joy. Right. That’s exactly what the fanfic author has in mind.
The first anonymous stated that Fiction Alley is a 503(b). This is incorrect. Fiction Alley is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. They claim education as the basis for 501(c)(3) status.
Interesting way to side-step some of the copyright issues and be allowed to profit via utilization of a legal loop-hole.
I’m roasting marshmellows in the heat coming from my monitor screen… I’m truly impressed that this argument escalated from a post about fanfic and into an argument about honor, decency, the entire human race, Harry Potter, and dubious sexual escapades.
Even my two cats are sunning themselves in the radioactive glow emanating from the screen.
I’ll just keep my opinion to myself on this one. And have a marshmellow. 😀
Anonymous responded to my previous comment:
“I’m sure that’s how Rowling feels when she reads stories about Harry Potter giving blowjobs to Snape while getting it up the ass from Ron. Admiration and joy. Right. That’s exactly what the fanfic author has in mind.”
Well, explicit Harry Potter threesome slash isn’t really to my taste either, but tastes and opinions differ. And you should note that I said “admiration for and joy in the source material” – not for the author. Some people find characters they enjoy and are inspired to write erotica. Good or bad, that’s their reaction to the material. It doesn’t follow that they are writing it with the intention of hurting the original author. Most would be shocked and surprised to discover that the original author was even aware of their work (though that is more a result of the rapid expansion of internet fan activities than a realistic expectation of obscurity).
Nor do I believe that Harry Potter porn is particularly representative of fanfiction in general, any more than I think that Mr. Goldberg’s work about an octogenarian doctor/amateur detective is representative of all of western literature for the past twenty years. Fanfiction has been written based on everything from the Bible to the works of Jane Austen to Star Wars to, and I kid you not, Tetris. It’s been written in every style and every genre. Slash and explicitly adult material (not all slash is explicit) is only a fraction of that material. But those are distinctions that few of the people commenting on this blog seem willing to make, since blanket statements indicting all “fanficcers” for the perceived sins of a few seems to be the the preferred method.
Geez, people, I am GERMAN! And Westerns aren’t really a mainstream type of fiction here. Mostly they’re sold as penny zines at supermarket cashiers and tobacconists at train stations – items to be consumed and thrown away like yesterday’s newspapers. So, forgive me for not knowing a guy who isn’t even translated into my language. Also I didn’t tend to read many American newspapers when I was younger (nor do I now), so that Mr Wheeler’s prestigious career in that field was entirely hidden from me.
How many of you know any German writers – other than perhaps Brecht, Grass and Böll? And Patrick Süsskind doesn’t count, because “Das Parfum” has just been made into a movie.
“I would seek out and become a fan of the show/book series BECAUSE I had read something that intrigued me. I’d want to know how the fan fiction writer saw that in those characters, and go look for myself. And so I have bought lots of books, watched many TV shows I would not have originally thought I’d want to see, and all because I sampled a bit of fan fiction about it.”
Absolutely right, Twila! Same with me. I now own tons of DVDs of TV shows I never watched on TV and wasn’t interested in, just because I stumbled upon ONE fanfic that made me go, “Huh?! Interesting! What was the source material like?”
If I had stumbled upon some Wheeler fanfic – maybe I would have heard of him before…. 😉
Anonymous2 wrote: “Interesting way to side-step some of the copyright issues and be allowed to profit via utilization of a legal loop-hole.”
I thought a 501(c)(3) was non-profitmaking. How are they profiting if it’s non-profitmaking?
And if you’re claiming that they are, in fact, profiting from it, wouldn’t the logical thing to do be complain to whatever agency in the US deals with that sort of thing? Rather than make unsupported allegations about it on a blog?
“I thought a 501(c)(3) was non-profitmaking. How are they profiting if it’s non-profitmaking?”
It’s easy to make large sums of money without claiming a profit, per se. A 501(c)(3) organization cannot make a profit, but can take in as much money in donations as they like. The way this works is that administrators are paid, often very, very well. 501(c)(3) organizations frequently spend a great deal of money this way. Remember the various outcries against the Red Cross’s administrative overhead expenditures post 911 and post-hurricane Katrina? That’s a prime example. It’s not illegal, and I’m not intimating that it is.
However, the majority of fan fiction writers insist that they do not profit from their fan fiction. In this particular instance, setting up a 501(c)(3) has allowed for a legal loop-hole.
“And if you’re claiming that they are, in fact, profiting from it, wouldn’t the logical thing to do be complain to whatever agency in the US deals with that sort of thing? Rather than make unsupported allegations about it on a blog?”
I believe these questions were addressed in my response above. As I stated, it is a legal loop-hole. I only sought to clarify the comments of another poster, not to claim illegal activity. Although the legality of fan fiction, unless the author has given express permission or the source material is in public domain, remains a point of contention, that was not my point. I apologize if I misunderstood the purpose of commenting on blogs. Perhaps I was mistaken to believe it is a forum to express thoughts and share information.
The only German writer I’m familiar with is the little guy with the funny mustache who wrote “Mein Kampf.” Looked a bit like Chaplin. I think of him often when I read Kete’s posts.
Hans Magnus Enzenzberger
Erich Kastner (sorry, no umlaut on this computer)
Hugo Von Hoffmanstahl
Heinrich Von Kleist (my favorite)
Erich Maria Remarque
W. G. Sebald
That’s off the top of my head. And no, I’m not German. I’m merely not ignorant. And I didn’t have to “stumble on” any Hans Magnus Enzensberger fanfic in order to discover what a great writer he is. I merely had to look around at the world. Which is a lot easier to do when your head isn’t stuck up your ass.
“I don’t happen to think that writing a piece of derivative fiction “piss[es] all over them”, rather it’s far more often intended as an expression of admiration for and joy in the source material.”
Actual urine can be intended the same way.
Okay, guys, kudos to Bill Rabkin for being so widely read! Otherwise as you’re starting again with Hitler-comparisons and juvenile vulgar language I’m out of here. Thanks for the “discussion” and to Lee for maintaining such a “balanced” forum.
Dear Bill Rabkin,
I’m happy that you’re so grounded in German literature — but I can tell you that I, for one, do not “have my head stuck up my ass”. I have a degree in literature, I work as a copy editor, I *am* widely read in genre fiction (primarily sf/fantasy, mystery, romance, but I don’t scorn the occasional Western) but I’m not fond of the current “literary” scene, so I can’t tell you much about who’s hot on that front. On the other hand, you want an opinion on a “classic” writer pre-1900, I’m your woman. So, yes, I like to read fan fiction. It’s fun. I enjoy it as a consumer (yes, I am one of those odd people who READS it but does not WRITE it). I really would like to know Mr. Goldberg’s and other writers’ comments on what wrong I am perpetrating upon them and their creativity, if I buy their books and I recommend them, if it so happens that I found that there was a book out there I might enjoy via fan fiction? I know my local bookstores are not going to carry every book out there, nor is my local library, so I use this channel to help me feed my habit of a book a day. (Yes, I am a severe book-a-holic. Yes, I am trying to cut down. However, since I spend a lot of money at the bookstores, I would think authors would WANT my kind to find out about them so they could have me glom their whole back catalog. Maybe not. Maybe they’d be ashamed to have someone that enthusiastic interested in their books.)
BTW, Mr. Goldberg, just as a datapoint, I saw the latest Monk paperback at Borders and acquired same — which I only did because I thought it might be interesting to try some of your writing.
On second thought, Bill, none of the writers you mention is a genre writer like Wheeler. And you aren‘t going to compare his significance to Goethe and Schiller, are you?
Your Western is perhaps best comparable with what is called „Heimatroman“ in German in that it describes a certain region/landscape and how it shapes those born to it and/or inhabiting it. As we in Germany don‘t have a „wild west“ those stories mostly play in the mountains or on the sea shore.
Famous classical writers for these genre would for example be Ludwig Ganghofer and Luis Trenker for the mountainuous region and Hans Leip for the sea. Ever heard of them?
Kete: You might add Carl May to your list. I understand he wrote remarkable westerns there in Germany. The American western is indeed a humble literary form. And yet it is the only branch of American literature to have gathered three Pulitzer Prizes: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, by Robert Lewis Taylor, The Way West, by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., and Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. At its margins are two more Pulitzers, for Laughing Boy, by Oliver LaFarge (the story of a Navajo man in transition) and The Town, by Conrad Richter (the story of a town shedding its frontier roots). Once in a while a western bursts free of its genre straitjacket and blooms into a novel of breathtaking power and beauty; the sort of story that makes the heart sing.
Richard, Bill Rabkin mentioned Karl May on his list. He is not undisputed in Germany, as we seemingly cannot decide whether we should love him or should be ashamed of him. He’s mostly considered a writer for children/young adults. I personally hated his pompous style and the “I know and can do everything”-attitude of his heroes when I was a kid, but as an adult I have learned to appreciate his powerful imagination (after all he wrote about countries and people he had never seen), although I don’t feel tempted to read his work again.
Thank you for letting me know about those books you mentioned. I think I’ve heard about “Lonesome Dove”…?! Was it made into a movie, perhaps? Anyway, perhaps I’ll give one or some of them a try when I’ve finished my Patrick O’Brian. 😉
As far as I’m concerned, it’s not REALLY a good discussion until someone threatens to leave the message board and never return.
And then, of course, is only gone for 5 minutes. 🙂
That’s what the internet is all about!
No, David you’re absolutely wrong. Give the lady credit. It was 2 hours. 12:59 and then returned at 2:45. Kete, don’t threaten to leave every time someone doesn’t agree with you. It’s not fair. It’s like admitting defeat in a debate.
Anyway, you can’t change Lee’s mind. No matter how many articles you post. As a reader, I respect his opinion as well as yours. And you do make good points on your posts.
But, it’s not like the guy is disrespecting you personally. Now, as for my opinion I’ve read fan fiction and I see nothing wrong with it unless someone is profitting from it and doing sexually explicit stuff. But, I do feel that some of this fan fiction is REALLY unnecessary. Some of this stuff is actually really really good, so good in fact that all they need to do is create their own characters and settings. Sometimes, all they need to do is change the names and it’s not even close to the book they’re fan ficcing. I don’t understand the need to use someone else’s characters names. I for one have never written fan fiction and don’t see the need to. Changing a name of a character or place names (setting) can’t be that difficult can it. They have a really good site called seventhsanctum.com. It’s there for a reason. Also, it’s a good idea to check and make sure the names aren’t from some famous book by putting the name in Google.com.
I want to add more. The reason why I said that I find that “some” of the fan fiction is really unnecessary is because the bad writers you can see why some of them fan fic. The work is so horrible. You can tell they don’t have the greatest skill to pull off their own work so they latch onto someone else’s world.
The good writers create a cool story with a different world and sometimes different characterization that is nothing like the book and they just used someone’s characters names when they could have just changed it.
But, what is really the funniest I read is when someone says “This is the based on so and so’s book. Don’t you dare steal my work or I will hunt you down and sue you. LOL! Too funny!
I have not seen my characters appear in fan fiction, but I know that I would feel violated if they were to appear. It would be like having intruders in my house. I would also feel alienated from my character, because whoever uses my character alters the person I created. I believe most authors who have seen their work thus abused find the experience painful.
I also believe that anyone who shoplifts a character really damages himself. That person’s growth is stunted. That person is compromising his or her integrity, and endangering his or her reputation. But worst of all, shoplifting a character is really a betrayal of one’s self because the person who does it is not trying to be all that he or she can be.
I know this is slightly off-topic, but since the legality of fanfiction has been talked to death on this on this blog, I thought I’d take a slightly different approach.
I was just wondering what people, especially those against fanfiction, thought of the study of fan theory in academia. Consider Henry Jenkins’ analysis of fan activity as an attempt to regain folk/oral storytelling and remove storytelling from corporate contrl. Or arguments that fans are some of the most critically engaged and active consumers of media. Granted arguments also take into account other fan activity such as fan art, fan films, conventions, etc, but fanfiction is a large part of the study.
So I guess I was just wondering if fan thoery is something you “buy”? Taken out of the legal discussion, is fan activity, especially fanfiction, something you see as culturally significant and, therefore, worthy of study?
David, as you’re obviously not even able to differentiate between days I’ll spell it out for you: I didn’t threaten to leave (like forever), I just said on Saturday that I was fed up with the quality of the comments on this blog, when finding the anonymouse’s comment comparing me to Hitler.
Certainly what counts as an ad hominem attack, but accepted here, as it was only directed at me – whereas when I express my suspicion that dear old Chadwick is in fact a female, this gets deleted pronto.
Then, on Sunday, a thought struck me that I wanted to communicate to Bill Rabkin, so I did.
“But, it’s not like the guy is disrespecting you personally. Now, as for my opinion I’ve read fan fiction and I see nothing wrong with it unless someone is profitting from it and doing sexually explicit stuff. But, I do feel that some of this fan fiction is REALLY unnecessary.”
Diana, you very graciously accept some fanfiction which doesn’t contradict your moral and quality standards and that’s really nice of you. However, even those people who write stories you don’t approve of have the right to express themselves creatively in whatever way they like. Pray, who died and made you the judge?
“I have not seen my characters appear in fan fiction, but I know that I would feel violated if they were to appear. It would be like having intruders in my house. I would also feel alienated from my character, because whoever uses my character alters the person I created. I believe most authors who have seen their work thus abused find the experience painful.”
Richard, I can understand the emotional conflict, but don’t you see that when you “birth” a character and then introduce him to your readers via your storytelling he/she gets a life of his/her own? And, of course, the text I read and the character I perceive is not the one you’ve written. It’s the one you’ve written filtered through my personality. The only thing to counteract that would be a telepathic sharing, perhaps. Did you never have the feeling that the story you told was *not quite* the story you had in your head? Same problem. Words are powerful tools, but still not able to precision drill out that which is – finally – unspeakable.
“I also believe that anyone who shoplifts a character really damages himself. That person’s growth is stunted. That person is compromising his or her integrity, and endangering his or her reputation. But worst of all, shoplifting a character is really a betrayal of one’s self because the person who does it is not trying to be all that he or she can be.”
We had this before. You know, I for instance, don’t want to be a professional writer. I’m a retiree living comfortably and don’t see any need to undergo the stress of trying to make money off what I consider a hobby. But still I sometimes feel a need to react or even interact with something that I read.
So, for example, when reading Rowling I felt very uncomfortable with her tratment of the Slytherins in general and Draco Malfoy in particular. This lead to the question how the story told in Harry Potter would look in his view, which then made me write it down. I started re-telling HP from Draco’s POV, because that was something that interested me. I’m quite sure I’m not an artist, I’m not producing literature, I just try to get insight in something that bothers me. And when there are a few people who like to follow me there, why not? Why should I stop my processing of her text just because JKR might not agree with my Draco?
You seem to respond in a negative way and I see why people respond the way they do to you. You want people to respect your posts, but you always attack someone for being sarcastic or belittling you. I was very respectful in your opinion up until you said, “Pray, who died and made you judge?” I even reread my post so it wouldn’t seem like I was attacking you. Pray, who died and gave you the right to steal someone’s universe and post it on the internet!
I never said I was a judge. Who do you think you are coming on someone’s blog trying to change his opinion? And who do you think you are coming at me this way by being a smart ass?
You can type argue till your fingers and mouth fall off. Fan fiction is theft period! I know I wouldn’t want anyone to change my characters and have them do horrible things. Pretty soon, JKR is going to get tired of this and so are other authors. For your information, creativity is something that YOU come up with not latch on to someone else’s work!
Diana, first you said,
“Now, as for my opinion I’ve read fan fiction and I see nothing wrong with it unless someone is profitting from it and doing sexually explicit stuff.”
and when you find I don’t respond the way you like me to you change it to,
“Fan fiction is theft period!”
So, just because someone doesn’t react positively to your arrogant attitude “of finding nothing wrong when not doing sexually explicit stuff” you join the anti-fanfic camp. Well, good-bye and good riddance! You are where you belong, surely.
No, I am saying it’s okay to practice, but not post it all over the internet. I stick to what I said. I said in my post from the beginning that I was not 100% against it.
I’m just saying that it is not what JKR intended for her characters. And who are you to call Draco YOUR Draco, now that’s arrogant. Good bye and good riddance, please, who died and made you Fan fiction camp god. I stated my opinion and if you don’t like it tough!
Another thing, it was you who snapped me up. I saw NO problem with the entirety of your first post to me until your very last sentence. I was just stating my opinion and had 100% respect for your other opinions. And I don’t care if you agree with me or not.
RE: Kete. Can we all please agree to stop feeding the troll until she learns some manners? It’s only encouraging slanging matches, and there are more interesting things to discuss here.
Diana wrote: “Fan fiction is theft period!”
Fanfiction, if it is anything (a matter still open to question) is copyright infringement.
I remember having this discussion well over a year ago on this blog: copyright infringement isn’t theft. It’s copyright infringement.
It’s not abuse of trademark, it’s not piracy on the high seas, it’s not failing to stop at a red light, it’s not robbery, it’s not failure to follow local laws on the abuse of dangerous waste, it’s not allowing your dog to foul the footpath and it’s not theft.
Copyright infringment is a very specific legal concept, and theft is another, completely different, legal concept.
Interesting question, Rommel – people keep going back and forth between whether it’s a legal or a moral/ethical issue. Are we actually qualified to say anything sensible on the legal issue, not being lawyers? (Or at least, I’m not.) I just wonder whether Diana means ‘theft’ as a legal term, or whether she just means it’s taking-something-you-shouldn’t-take-which-your-ma-always-told-you-not-to, ie moral rather than legal. Diana?
I won’t comment on your reaction to how it would feel to you if someone used your characters. Your feelings are your own, and emotional responses are not always logical. However, you also wrote this:
“I also believe that anyone who shoplifts a character really damages himself. That person’s growth is stunted. That person is compromising his or her integrity, and endangering his or her reputation. But worst of all, shoplifting a character is really a betrayal of one’s self because the person who does it is not trying to be all that he or she can be.”
How is one compromising one’s integrity if one is not doing anything unethical? Under your ethical code, using other people’s characters is apparently verboten, but that is not an ethic I share. Neither does it appear to be shared by our host, Mr. Goldberg, although he draws a hard and fast line at obtaining authorization from the copyright holders. Many of my favorite bits of (perfectly legally) published literature use characters, settings and plots which are derived from earlier works – the works of Shakespeare, Robin McKinley’s retellings of common fairy tales, the fairy tales themselves, much of Neil Gaiman’s work…- the list goes on. I agree that it would be wrong to profit from someone else’s work while it is still under copyright protection (although we could quibble over the length of that protection), but honoring the spirit of copyright is not the same as keeping one’s hands off the material altogether.
You, and others here, seem to be making another assumption as well. By saying that using someone else’s characters is “really a betrayal of one’s self” you’re making the assumption that much of the fan writers sense of self is tied up in what is essentially a hobby. By saying that “the person who does it is not trying to be all that he or she can be,” you are assuming that they _want_ their writing to be more than it is. There are some fan writers who are trying to turn professional, but they are a small fraction of fans. There are also professional writers who write fanfic on the side as a hobby, but they are an even smaller fraction. The vast majority are people who are doing this for fun, relaxation, and in order to share with other fans. Ms. Diana said in a previous comment “Sometimes, all they need to do is change the names and it’s not even close to the book they’re fan ficcing. I don’t understand the need to use someone else’s characters names.” For most fan writers, getting their writing out to an audience that doesn’t share their fascination with that particular universe is simply not the goal. Sure they could change the names, rework the story, try to publish it. But why would they necessarily want to remove their hobby from the context in which they are enjoying it and turn it into a job? One of my favorite fan writers is an oceanographer in real life – should she drop her career in order to pursue her fiction? Why on earth would she do that? Reworking a story in order to remove any ties to the original universe also can also remove the writer’s motivation in writing it in the first place – sharing it with other fans of the same universe.
You quoted Richard Wheeler: “I also believe that anyone who shoplifts a character really damages himself. That person’s growth is stunted. That person is compromising his or her integrity, and endangering his or her reputation. But worst of all, shoplifting a character is really a betrayal of one’s self because the person who does it is not trying to be all that he or she can be.”
You wrote: “How is one compromising one’s integrity if one is not doing anything unethical? Under your ethical code, using other people’s characters is apparently verboten, but that is not an ethic I share. Neither does it appear to be shared by our host, Mr. Goldberg, although he draws a hard and fast line at obtaining authorization from the copyright holders.”
I agree with Richard AND I agree with you.
I think that shoplifting a character does damage you as a writer. Richard is saying it’s unethical, illegal, and a betrayal of yourself as an artist. How can you be respected as an author if you don’t respect the creative rights of other authors? He’s right.
I have no problem with people who write fanfiction as some kind of practice at adopting different styles and voices… as long as they don’t publish it in print or distribute it on the Internet. Keep it in your drawer or share it privately with your writing group.
Richard Wheeler never said that writing about other characters is wrong in and of itself. If he did, I would have to respectfully disagree.
I don’t believe that writing about characters you didn’t create undermines your integrity as a writer…as long as you are doing it with the permission and consent the rights holder.
Most TV Writers make spend their careers writing about characters they didn’t create…but are doing so often with the active participation and “leadership” of the writer who didcreate the characters.
And there are scores of writers penning westerns, sci-fi and tie-ins using characters and universes they didn’t create — but with the consent of the creators or rights holders.
You wrote: “By saying that using someone else’s characters is “really a betrayal of one’s self” you’re making the assumption that much of the fan writers sense of self is tied up in what is essentially a hobby.”
I believe you are taking Richard’s words out of context. But even so, the “hobby” is a violation of copyright and, ethically, violates the creative rights of the author. An author’s sense of self IS often tied up in their work…and by “stealing” it, you are trampling on something very intimate.
I agree with Lee about licensed use of characters. That is called collaboration, or joint authorship, and it has a long and honorable tradition in publishing and screenwriting. Also, the parties retain their integrity and grow in the process of interactive creativity because they are willing partners, not hijacked ones.
I don’t think that I took Mr. Wheeler’s words out of context. His post didn’t make any qualifications to his statements regarding authorized vs. unauthorized work, and if he meant to make that distinction, I really think he should have said so. If that’s what he was implying by calling it “shoplifting,” well I took that as a pejorative description of all using of other’s characters. Mr. Wheeler has since clarified his remarks to include authorized material. But many of the works that I described were derivative of material in the public domain, and thus were definitely unauthorized. You have, in the past, made an exception for material in the public domain, but you haven’t actually explained why that is? If you are going to fall back on copyright law, well copyright law has a very specific justification – and moral rights of the author to control his or her ideas is not part of that justification.
You wrote: “How can you be respected as an author if you don’t respect the creative rights of other authors?” This may be true, except that you have not made a persuasive argument that someone who is not making a profit off of their fanfiction is, in fact, showing “[dis]respect for the creative rights of other authors.” Their “creative rights” are their right to profit from their ideas. A fan writer who takes care not to violate that right is not violating their “creative rights.” Under US law, and this is something that I agree with about US copyright, the author has NO moral rights to their ideas, only to the exclusive right to profit from those ideas for a limited time.
I am not responsible for the original author’s misunderstanding of what their rights are, only for respecting those rights that actually exist. If they are hurt by that, that’s a shame, but we are all subject to hurts and annoyances every day that are caused by other people’s perfectly legal and appropriate activities. That is a part of life. As I’ve said before, I (and other fans) may, out of courtesy, curtail certain activities in order to avoid offending an author’s sensibilities. But I think there is a big difference between choosing to extend a courtesy and being morally obligated to do so.
Let me refine my comments in terms of motivation. It is a difficult challenge to generate a full-textured character separate from the author’s self. That is why so many storytellers never get beyond first-person writing. If your motive in appropriating a readymade character is to dodge the challenge of creating the Other, the fictional self that is not one’s own self, then indeed you are failing to reach toward the best in you; failing to try to achieve the best that you can do or be. That’s what I mean about stunting your growth or betraying yourself.
Inringement is theft of protected intellectual property. Bifurcation won’t change this.
You wrote: “‘If your motive in appropriating a readymade character is to dodge the challenge of creating the Other, the fictional self that is not one’s own self, then indeed you are failing to reach toward the best in you; failing to try to achieve the best that you can do or be.”
I don’t believe that “dodg[ing] the challenge” is the motive behind most fanfiction. Many fan writers do experiment with different methods and styles to improve their own skills, and work with other fan writers to improve their writing. But my impression is that developing one’s skills as a writer is at most a secondary benefit of writing fanfiction, not the primary motive. Those who want to write original fiction do so, but usually for reasons that are somewhat different from their reasons for writing fanfic. Often the primary motives behind fanfic are to explore or expand an interesting universe, interact with the original text, imagine the history or backstory of a character, or work through one’s own reactions to the characters and plot, and to share those reactions with other fans. That’s why so much of media fanfiction consists of “missing scenes” and “post episode” stories. In my opinion, it is that interaction with the original text and with other fans that makes it fanfiction, even if the end product is not recognizable as such (as in Ms. Diana’s example of the story that could be published as original fiction if the names were changed). Most fan authors are well aware of the difference between using a character and inventing one (thus the widespread excoriation of the “Mary Sue” phenomenon in badfic). The assumption that they aren’t aware of this is simply condescending and shows how little awareness or understanding critics really have of fan activities.
On a personal note, and this fact may have been lost over the course of multiple threads, I myself don’t write fanfiction. I do, however, read quite a lot of it, and have followed and occasionally participated in many fandom conversations about these issues over the years.
I think Rommel’s point (and Rommel, please correct me if I’m wrong) is that by calling infringement theft, one is conflating real property with so called intellectual property. They are not the same thing and they do not have the same protections under the law. Theft deprives the true owner of the use of their property. Infringement may deprive the copyright holder of partial profits, but leaves the original work intact. Theft is a criminal act. Copyright infringement is, at most, a civil offense. Conflating the two just leads to misunderstandings and hyperbole.
I wonder how many fanfic writers list this activity on their resumes, or tell employment officers about it when applying for a position. I also wonder how many deliberately conceal this activity from current or prospective employers. That is, I wonder how many tacitly acknowledge that what they are doing isn’t right.
Mr. Wheeler wrote:
“I wonder how many fanfic writers list this activity on their resumes, or tell employment officers about it when applying for a position. I also wonder how many deliberately conceal this activity from current or prospective employers. That is, I wonder how many tacitly acknowledge that what they are doing isn’t right.”
I could also wonder how many people include their favorite sports teams on their resumes or tell potential employers that they spend all of their free time playing on-line poker or RPGs. How many men would like to admit in public that they like to knit or quilt and how many women will admit to their co-workers to being Nascar fans. I know people who make no secret of their fan activities (even to the point of being obnoxious) and I also have co-workers who guard their privacy even to the extent that I was surprised to learn their family was still alive. The fact that people don’t always share every aspect of their personal lives or hobby activities with their employers or their private information with the internet at large is not proof in and of itself that they are ashamed of themselves. Some may wish simply to avoid harassment from judgmental people. Some simply want privacy or anonymity and don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.
I’ve never been employed because I’ve been self employed all my life – but do you have to list your hobbies hen applying for a job??? I never asked anyone who wanted to work for me.
Hi Lost Erizo,
You’re making a distinction between law and ethics, which is fair enough, but – correct me if I’m wrong – you’re saying that ethics are determined by an individual moral code. And as fan fic doesn’t conflict with your personal ethics, that makes it okay.
I have a problem with this argument: if one’s ethics are entirely self-derived, what’s to prove that they’re sound? After all, a hitman can say it’s unethical to kill people who aren’t on his list, and refrain from doing so, but that doesn’t make him an upright and good person in anyone’s eyes but his own. And in this case, there’s another problem: if someone writes fan fic based on the work of an author who bitterly objects, then his ethics are in conflict with the ethics of the author who believes it’s wrong. They can’t both get what they want. So what then?
Not calling you a hitman, just suggesting that saying one’s ethics allow for something isn’t necessarily the end of the story.
And if the author bitterly objects, then ethically speaking, does a fan have the right to distress another person because not upsetting them would interfere with their hobby? If my neighbour enjoys playing loud music at midnight and sees nothing wrong with it, does the fact that he’s knowingly keeping me awake not factor into whether he’s an ethical person? I know that being an author involves bumps and slights, but does that mean fans should knowingly add to them? Of course, there’s no law against being callous, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t right to disapprove of it.
Ethics, by their very nature, are a personal code. They may or may not coincide with a moral or otherwise socially accepted code. However, I believe that in general they should have some logical justification. I have perfectly selfish reasons for believing that it’s wrong to go around killing people, ie. I don’t want to be arbitrarily killed myself. In addition, as a matter of faith, I do believe in equal rights. In that case, my rights are protected only to the extent that they begin to infringe on someone else’s, including the right to life. That means that my rights are by necessity somewhat curtailed, otherwise I would need to go and become a hermit (not something I want to do).
This particular ethic vis a vis copyright was not developed in a vacuum. I happen to agree with the justification for copyright given in the US constitution. It is to the benefit of society in general to encourage people to be creative and develop new creative works and technologies. The profit motive is a reasonable way to encourage that. The way the law has been written, copyright is a legal monopoly that doesn’t recognize distinctions between for-profit and non-profit derivatives. I happen to think that is inconsistent with the original intent of the law, and the recent expansion of the concept of “fair use” and exceptions for parody would seem to indicate that I am not alone in that opinion, although it has certainly not been resolved in detail.
I acknowledge that writing fanfic may indeed be copyright infringement and there may be legal repercussions for writing it, but I would no more feel ashamed for it than I would in violating any other law that I thought was wrong. I may sometimes obey laws that I disagree with because I am unwilling to pay the price of civil disobedience, but that is a pragmatic decision, not an ethical one. There are also cases where I may feel that the price for knuckling under to an unjust law is too high, in which case I would be willing to pay the price of disobedience.
In the example you gave, it would indeed be rude to blast my neighbors with music at all hours of the night. It may even be illegal since many communities have ordinances prohibiting such behavior. And it is certainly a case where my right to listen to music I enjoy would be infringing on my neighbors privacy. But that’s not entirely comparable to fanfic. A more apt comparison would be an argument that the mere existence of music you don’t like is so offensive to your sensibilities that I shouldn’t be able to listen to it or share it with my friends at all, even in a public park in the middle of the day, at reasonable volume. Just because there are things that you don’t like, doesn’t mean that you are justified in imposing your esthetic or other sensibilities on everyone else, even if you have the legal power to do so.
The copyright holder is not required to read someone’s fanfic – they have the ability to simply ignore it. And most fans try to make that as easy as possible by clearly labeling their work as derivative and housing it on sites and archives that are clearly for fanfic. I don’t think it’s being callous when most fans are clearly trying to make reasonable accommodation to the author’s wishes. Some fans clearly do stupid things, like shoving their work in the author’s face at conventions or trying to make a profit off their work, but a few examples of wrongdoing are not a good enough reason in my mind to indict an entire community.
So now fanficcing is just a hobby. Upstream a bit you gents were celebrating the sale to a NY publisher of two books based on a Jane Austen character. And celebrating the commercial possibilities in fan fiction. Just a hobby indeed. Nothing related to one’s career. Hmmm.
Copyright infringment is a Tort not criminal law indeed. That doesn’t make it allowable because it doesn’t carry a jail sentence for the infringer. My statement on bifurcation stands on firm legal ground. It’s an illegal act for which an economic remedy is in order.
“but I would no more feel ashamed for it than I would in violating any other law that I thought was wrong.”
All’s well in lost erizo-land then. Unbelievable.
I take it you’re not an admirer of Henry David Thoreau.
“So now fanficcing is just a hobby.”
I think it’s clear from the examples that have been presented that one can turn fanfiction into a career if one is careful to limit oneself to material in the public domain or to only working under license, but that doesn’t mean that those examples represent more than a small fraction of fan writers. According to that WSJ article it’s also possible to parlay a fanfiction hobby into a writing career if one runs into the right editor. But a few examples of fan writers turning pro doesn’t say much about the motivations of the majority of fans, even if it suggests that there may be more opportunities for this now than in the past. I’ve said before in this blog that the only real reason to present examples of professionally published fanfiction is to demonstrate that not all fan writers are talentless hacks, nor is derivative writing inherently unethical.
Yes, fans like to trumpet when one of their own makes a success of their writing. We also tend to cheer when our friends get a new job or a degree or have a baby or get married – but those events don’t generally make it into the national press.
And I know you can’t tell from my online handle, but I’m not a gent, I’m a woman.
Actually I am but this defiles his name.
“We also tend to cheer when our friends get a new job or a degree or have a baby or get married – but those events don’t generally make it into the national press.
And I know you can’t tell from my online handle, but I’m not a gent, I’m a woman.”
What a surprise? A woman fanfictress like Rommel. I think the “We” says it all. We women thieves sisters in arms and all. A defender of stolen crap by a writer of it. Yawn. Such blatant shillery.
By the way Thoreau wrote his own stuff. He learned from Emerson but he didn’t steal his work. What part of that don’t you youngins git?
Ey-up, I had to scroll up to see your post. To answer your question about the don’t do because ma or whatever it was you said. LOL! No, not that kind. I’m simply talking about the characters names. The world creations too, but mostly the names. Theft of the character’s identity.
Like for example there was a porn star using the name Tyra Banxxx. And we know the only reason why she choose that name and it wasn’t in a positive way. IMO, of course. Maybe not the the men. LOL!
And say for instance if someone wrote about a character name Mandy Williams. And say someone makes her a faithful wife and then someone takes her and say let’s make her unfaithful and go with 5 men. (No jokes, please) I feel when people change things around of that magnitude that is NOT respecting the author’s original works. I feel that if a person is going to model a universe the least they can do is create they’re own characters. I’ve seen people use the Potterverse and use their own characters, no Ron, Harry, or Hermione mentioned. But, that’s just my opinion. The fan ficcers can do what they want. I never ever said they shouldn’t do it. I can’t tell them what to do. It is the original author’s responsibility. It doesn’t affect me in any way.
Also, I want to point out that someone named Ashley posted and asked a question about theories and studies on fan fiction. I don’t know how to answer, but I wanted to point it out, because her message got caught up in a little argument. And plus this is just a little debate, it’s not like fan fic killed anybody.
By the way, Mark. I get it. 🙂
You say you’re a Thoreau fan, but you apparently didn’t understand him. “Civil Disobedience” was a strong influence on some of the arguments you were mocking above. You should read it. You might find it enlightening. I wouldn’t normally bring it up in a conversation about fiction, but Ey-up asked a more general question about ethics, and it is certainly relevant to my own ethical code.
The “we” above referred to fans, not fan writers (since I do not write fiction), but neither is an exclusively female group. I only included the fact that I’m a woman because Mr. Wheeler had made a remark that indicated a misapprehension about my gender. I didn’t mention it before because I don’t think it’s relevant to the validity of my arguments. The fact that you do and that you felt the need to mock me or Rommel on that basis does not invalidate our arguments. However, it doesn’t speak very well of you.
If you’d like to make some arguments that consist of something more than misogynistic abuse, I’d be happy to address them. But I won’t hold my breath while I wait.
“I don’t think it’s being callous when most fans are clearly trying to make reasonable accommodation to the author’s wishes.”
I have yet to see a case of a fanfiction writer making any effort to determine, or abide by, an author’s wishes. Do fanfiction authors ask for permission (as Lee suggests)? Of course not, that would be too much bother. The author of Harry Potter said she was okay with fanfiction — she just doesn’t want people to write sexually explicit fanfic based on her work. Fanficcers are doing it anyway. You see that as a reasonable accommodation to her wishes? I don’t. She said no. They should stop. Period. But fanfiction writers don’t care what the author wants. That is unreasonable. That is callous. Their arrogance and total disrespect for others is quite disturbing and reflects poorly on them as human beings.
Hi Lost Erizo:
“In that case, my rights are protected only to the extent that they begin to infringe on someone else’s”
But that’s the whole point about the ethics-of-fanfic debate. People who don’t approve take the line that the right to distribute fanfic infringes on the author’s right to control their own ideas. And, since the author is the one whose work is the foundation of the whole edifice, I personally think that fans ought to show some appreciation for the fact that, in an author’s fictional universe, they’re on the author’s turf, and should respect the author’s rights, rather than trying to establish their own in conflict with the author’s. I’m not talking about the US Constitution – I’m not American, so I don’t have it by heart, for one thing – but just about general decent behaviour. As I see it, the only way to allocate rights fairly is to say that fans have the right to write fan fic if they want, but not to publish it on the Net or in zines without the author’s permission. That respects people’s right to do what they want in private, but also respects the author’s right to be in charge of their characters. That’s why I used the loud music analogy; it would be unreasonable to object if you couldn’t hear the neighbour’s music, but putting fan fic out in public is turning the volume up. Saying ‘you don’t have to look’ isn’t a reasonable argument if the author is upset at the very idea; it’s like saying ‘you don’t have to listen’ if someone is spreading insulting lies about you behind your back. It’s happening, it’s connected with you, and you want it stopped whether it happens under your nose or not.
” don’t think it’s being callous when most fans are clearly trying to make reasonable accommodation to the author’s wishes.”
If the author wants them to stop and they won’t, that’s not a reasonable accommodation at all. It’s doing what they want in contravention of what the author wants. It’s only a compromise if both parties have agreed to it; making an adjustment of your behaviour, thinking ‘well, that’s fair’ and carrying on without consulting the other person isn’t a compromise.
You didn’t add ‘killing is wrong because it hurts people’ to your list of reasons for not being an assassin. I’m saying ‘fan fic is wrong if it upsets the author’. If it doesn’t, that’s another matter, but don’t, or shouldn’t, your ethics include a resolution not to cause unnecessary pain?
My last post went up at the same time as Kathy Kune’s; our points seem to overlap. Hi Kathy.
And Mark, please don’t make misogynistic remarks, Lost Erizo’s right about that. I’m a woman too. I’m disagreeing with her. Gender isn’t the issue here.
We could take a census of the fan writers here from the threads and see how it pans out.
And I was reading Thoreau before you were born as I’d bet Mr. Wheeler was too. Try to show a little respect. I don’t accept pretzel logic from anyone and nowhere does it seem to be quite so rampant as in this ludicrous fan fiction cult. Deal with it. You are what to do and advocate.
Ms. Kune and Ey-up,
“Making reasonable accommodation” is not the same thing as meeting any and all demands. You both have set up a false dichotomy – either fans bend over and do exactly as they are told or they are being disrespectful and callous. There is a middle ground to be had, whether you accept it or not. I don’t read Harry Potter fic, so I’m not familiar with the practices at places like Fandom Alley, but it is my understanding that the majority of Potter archives have taken steps to segregate adult material, password protect it, or otherwise put additional warnings on it. Back when Babylon 5 was on the air, it was well known that Straczynski read the fan forums. He asked that they keep fic away from him because of potential legal conflicts if someone’s fic was too similar to something that went on the show. Fans policed themselves and cracked down on anyone who posted fic to a forum that Straczynski was likely to inhabit, and in fact mostly moved all the fic to mailing lists for that reason. It’s accepted practice among most fans to keep fanfiction off of forums where the published authors are known to participate with the understanding that the authors themselves could get into legal trouble if they read it and it is the fans responsibility to avoid that. Fans of the Pern universe have bent over backwards to meet the demands of an author who not only keeps changing her mind as to what is acceptable, but tries to micromanage the content of the fic. The majority of fanfic is clearly labeled as such and is housed on ghettoized archives that are easy for the copyright holders to avoid unless they go looking for it.
If a teetotaler goes into a bar, are the drinkers inside responsible for offending him? I think I’ve explained why I think your loud music analogy is skewed. You are allowed to expect privacy and to a reasonable ability to control your environment when you are at home. But if you go into a public park you need to make allowances for other people to also enjoy themselves. And if you go into a dance club you should expect to find loud music. It’s easy to find a bar – but you can control whether you go inside or not.
Ey-up, re: the Constitution, you were asking about what my ethical argument was based on (“if one’s ethics are entirely self-derived, what’s to prove that they’re sound?”). The US constitution may not control copyright law internationally, but it represents the basis of the law for many of us here, and it has certainly helped shape my thoughts on the subject. It is also based on the same theory as copyright in the UK and some of their associated commonwealth countries. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail since this was hashed out extensively in the previous threads but at its base is the argument that you cannot own an idea. The law guarantees authors the right to profit from their ideas for a limited time, but they don’t own them. I think the author’s rights are already allocated fairly – they have the exclusive right to profit from the idea. But fans aren’t asking to profit, only to use. Beyond the copyright holder’s profits, I think other people’s rights have a role.
I didn’t add “killing is wrong because it hurts people” because not only do I think that is implied by “I believe in equal rights” but I was trying to use the minimum example necessary to demonstrate the point that ethics need to have a logical basis that extends beyond the fact that something is the majority opinion. My post was already tl;dr and I didn’t think the point needed expanding.
Why should there be a ‘middle ground’? You’re right, I do think fans should do as the author says, at least when it comes to using the author’s characters. They’re free to express opinions however they like, but when it comes to fan fic, if the characters are entirely the writer’s creation, then that just isn’t negotiable. It’s like a pickpocket saying, ‘Tell you what, I’ll give you half your money back, can’t say fairer than that.’
I personally don’t think the law supports your views, but as I said above, I’m not a lawyer, so I think it’s unwise to cite points of law that you’re not an expert on. I’m still talking ethics here. And I don’t think it’s ethical to help yourself to other people’s things, Constitution or not, if they say you can’t. I don’t think it’s ethical either to try to haggle about it if you’re asked to stop.
Incidentally, in both the Rowling and Straczynski examples you cite approvingly, the fans as you describe them were doing exactly what the author requested. That’s not middle ground. That’s doing what you called ‘bending over’. Which, if that’s what they did, is entirely ethical and proper of them, and I commend their good manners.
Lost_erizo wrote: “You have, in the past, made an exception for material in the public domain, but you haven’t actually explained why that is?”
This is the point I was originally making in my post well above the distraction about whether Richard is a well-known writer, and I return to it again. Kipling – why would it be ‘moral’ to borrow from Kipling after 1987 (when he originally passed into public domain) until 1996, suddenly ‘immoral’ again after 1996 (when the law changed) and what morally changes again in 2007?
When I originally made this point Lee said he’d answered it – but I don’t believe he did. He had to return to the legal issue. It’s not the legal point I’m asking about, but the moral, ethical one.
I expand this a little, why would it be a worthwhile **creative** exercise to borrow from Kipling between 1987 and 1996, and after 2007, but not at any other time? Because it appears to me that that is the logical extension of the point Richard is making here.
Richard also said, “It is a difficult challenge to generate a full-textured character separate from the author’s self.”
But why is it less difficult to create a fully textured character when you’re using one – a minor character, say – in someone else’s work?
I wouldn’t call someone like Tolkien’s Erestor or Diamond of Long Cleeve fully rounded characters as they were created by him – Erestor has four lines in Lord of the Rings, all of which appear to have been put in to make Gandalf or Elrond look clever. And Diamond of Long Cleeve is a name in the Appendix. But I’ve read excellent fanfiction stories featuring both. Though not together, thankfully.
Lost_erizo asks: “I think Rommel’s point […] is that by calling infringement theft, one is conflating real property with so called intellectual property.”
Partly. I also object to the misuse of language involved in calling a thing something it isn’t – I don’t mind hyperbole, but that kind of thing leads to misuderstanding.
I’m charmed, by the way, that Richard thinks we’re young. I don’t know about lost_erizo, but I’m well on into middle age and Kete’s already said that she’s retired.
Kathy said, “The author of Harry Potter said she was okay with fanfiction — she just doesn’t want people to write sexually explicit fanfic based on her work.”
To be strictly accurate, in the famous letter from her lawyers to a particular website, JKR said that she wanted sexually explicit work not to be available to children. Fans (generally) met her request by putting the explicit works on password protected areas of websites so that children could not access it easily.
Thus she got what she specifically asked for, if not what she precisely meant, as lost-erizo put it, a reasonable accommodation. As there have been no further letters to such websites (that I know of) the matter rests there for the time being.
While the characters may be entirely the copyright holder’s creation, they don’t own them. You can’t own an idea. They have the exclusive right to profit from those ideas, but they can’t own them unless they don’t share them, and then the idea lives and dies inside their head. Once you share an idea it takes on a life of its own. We can go back and forth on this forever but THAT point isn’t negotiable, it is simply fact. Your pickpocket example doesn’t work unless when I’m done taking your money you still have the same amount of money in your pocket, intact. Ideas can replicate and evolve as they are passed around, but as long as they are written down the original idea still exists in its original form. My use of the idea doesn’t change that. Your analogy doesn’t hold up.
Writing fanfic IS expressing an opinion. Most of the fanfic I read is written as a way of reacting to the texts, resolving issues the fan writer has with the text, drawing attention to issues that they take particular interest in, or imagining how a character would react to a different situation. Some people react to a text by analyzing it, writing opinions, reviewing, whatever. Some people write fanfic. There are other reasons people write fanfic, but critique of the text is certainly one of them.
I have never said that fanfic wasn’t illegal. I think if an author decided to sue a fan author, they would probably win. I am not a lawyer either. But laws don’t exist in a vacuum – there has to be some justification for them, otherwise it is our obligation as citizens to see that they are changed or revoked. The justification for US copyright is one I support. I also happen to think that penalizing non-profit use of copyrighted material (other than actual copying) is inconsistent with that justification. That is a logical and ethical argument, not a legal one.
In the Straczynski example, he made a reasonable request and fans made the accommodation. In the JKR example, she actually requested that they remove the material altogether. The fans have taken steps to segregate it and place warnings on it, but they haven’t removed it entirely. Some authors have said that they absolutely would not allow fanfic, and fan writers have tried to take steps to make sure that it isn’t shoved in their face. I call that middle ground.
Slice of Sci-Fi’s Voice Mail show for episode #75 has an interesting little discussion about fan generated marketing (i.e. fan films, fan art, fan fic, etc.) at the 45:00 mark. Of course, this raises the issue of fan generated material being used as free marketing by the money grubbing corporate overloards holding the copyright. But THAT is a topic for another day, and another thread.
A voice mail of mine is played in the first fifteen minutes. (I’m recommending non-gory horror films.) Just in case you’re interested in hearing the soft, melodious sound of my voice. 😉
The show is available for download at http://www.sliceofscifi.com, of course.
Once a character has been created from scratch by an author it ceases to be an “idea” becomes his “expression” of that idea and thus is protected by copyright law. These fan writers are lifting protected expression. Get your own ideas and express them. Then they’ll be yours to abuse any way you want. Until then you’ve got a tempest in a teapot here regardless of age, gender, skill or anything else that varies in a population. It’s basic.
“Kete’s already said that she’s retired.”
Damn. And I thought “she” was one of the minority men fan writers. Wrong on that one.
“Once a character has been created from scratch by an author it ceases to be an “idea” becomes his “expression” of that idea and thus is protected by copyright law. These fan writers are lifting protected expression.”
Once again you are conflating owning a copyright with owning the actual idea. A character is a specific expression of an idea, yes. The original author owns the copyright on it. They don’t own the idea or the specific expression of it unless they keep it in their head. Owning a copyright means owning the right to profit from it for a limited time. You can’t own an idea. I’d like to see you try, it would be amusing.
Mark wrote: These fan writers are lifting protected expression. Get your own ideas and express them.
I have to ask, Mark, why does the paucity of invention you seem to be claiming for ideas you haven’t invented yourself not apply to works like “Wide Sargasso Sea”? Or any works where the basis for the work is out of copyright? If so, what about “The Wind Done Gone” (or whatever it was called)?
Does the passing of 70 years place some kind of “inventiveness” mojo on borrowed ideas and characters? And if so, how and why did it move from 50 years?
J.K. Rowling gave one of her ‘Site of the Month’ awards to Immeritus, a fan site which has NC-17 slash fiction, though it’s locked to non-members. So I can’t say she feels the horror you do on her behalf over coming across slash.
I have to say I get the giggles when I see fanfiction writers comparing stories about Mr. Spock getting blowjobs from Dr. Who to the “Wide Sargasso Sea.”
I’m baffled by Rommell’s inability to grasp that the ethical and legal considerations are inextricably linked. And if he doesn’t get that, he doesn’t understand morality or the tenets of ethical behavior.
There’s a huge difference between fanfiction and writing a modern take on a Shakespeare play. For one thing, Shakespeare is in the public domain, which makes a huge legal and ethical difference. And he’s DEAD.
Artistically speaking, a reinterpretation of HAMLET as a detective movie is also not the same work. The author is reinterpreting an accepted work of art that has become part of our culture long after it was originally published and performed. The original author (in this case, Shakespeare) is long dead and past caring financially or artistically, as are the members of his immediate family. The same can’t be said of the vampire Lestat or Harry Potter or Kinsey Milhone… Rice, Rowling and Grafton are very much alive (as are their immediate family) and their creative works are legally protected.
I haven’t been participating much in this discussion because I’ve talked this subject to death… and others are making many of the same points I would have made and far more eloquently.
And, frankly, I’ve really enjoyed seeing such a lively discussion on my blog without having to be a part of it myself. The discussion has also been surprisingly civil and informative — on both sides of the debate.
For what it’s worth, I agree with most of what Kathy Kune, Diane, Richard Wheeler, Ey-up, and the last anonymous commenter have had to say.
What’s amusing is watching you twist in the wind. They own the charcters you claim are OK to pilfer and manipulate onward usually in unreal and bizarre ways that the author would be unlikely to employ, without the authors’ permission. Apparently they can copy this expressed idea under the guise of it being just an idea once they have it. Freakin unreal pretzel logic by someone who knows jack about law, especially intellectual property.
I’m genuinely curious: if, as Mr. Wheeler suggested, fic writers “choose to operate in a nether world below the lowest rung of legitimate literature, and by doing so betray themselves,” then what does that say about fic writers who go on to acclaim for their original, published fiction? In particular, I’m thinking of Lois McMaster Bujold, who’s a Hugo-winning author, and who used to write Star Trek fic. Naomi Novik, who writes the Temeraire series which has just been optioned by Peter Jackson, wrote fanfiction in the past. Does the fact that someone wrote fanfiction previously negate any of their later work?
Dear God, why don’t you just let it go? Do have so little to do in your life that you can afford to spend countless hours obsessing over fanfic? If you put even a tenth of the effort you spend on this tired argument, you could end world hunger, single-handed. It’s a hobby, like knitting or stamp collecting. No one is publishing their little Sailor Moon stories, they aren’t listing it on their resumes under “Employment History”, they aren’t claiming to have publishing contracts (except for Cassie Claire and no one likes her anyway), and they sure as hell aren’t doing it to spite the author.
Look, some authors, like JK Rowling, encourage it. Some, like Anne Rice, do not. Neither author has found herself on the unemployment line because of it. I do agree that a true writer who wants to make writing their career should focus on original stories. No argument there. For those who want nothing more than to peck away on their computer for a few hours’ entertainment and for no profit whatsoever, fanfic isn’t hurting anyone.
To be perfectly honest, yours and Richard’s arguments come off like nothing more than sour grapes. You, dear sir, need to find a hobby of your own before you fret yourself into an early heart attack over something pitifully inconsequential.
“And if he doesn’t get that…”
But why are they all women? What’s wrong with this crowd? Why is this?
Who is krista addressing?
“Wind Done Gone” is protected under parody. It’s the only legal angle to use.
Mark said: But why are they all women? What’s wrong with this crowd?
Probably some horrifying confluence of hormones, hysteria, and emotional excess. Fanfiction is a bit like the vapors that way, a plague of the weaker and less intelligent sex. The poor dears probably haven’t any idea how horribly wrong it all appears to strong, wise men like yourself.
“Dear God, why don’t you just let it go?”
Because it’s fun?
“Do you have so little to do in your life that you can afford to spend countless hours obsessing over fanfic?”
Thankfully, yes! 😉
“To be perfectly honest, yours and Richard’s arguments come off like nothing more than sour grapes. You, dear sir, need to find a hobby of your own before you fret yourself into an early heart attack over something pitifully inconsequential.”
In Lee’s case I can – partly – understand his dislike. As a tie-in writer he does directly compete with fan authors who’re writing for the same shows and it cannot be excluded that a number of potential readers may turn to free fan fic rather than buy his books. Especially as he fails to understand their communications to him as a marketing tool which could help him shape his writing into a form that would let him sell more books, instead of having to try selling the remainders on his blog.
In Richard’s case I think he’s talking about something he’s never experienced for himself, but has just heard terrible things about. Someone ought to point him in the direction of some decent fic.
“Probably some horrifying confluence of hormones, hysteria, and emotional excess. Fanfiction is a bit like the vapors that way, a plague of the weaker and less intelligent sex. The poor dears probably haven’t any idea how horribly wrong it all appears to strong, wise men like yourself.”
Bwahaha! Someone should research the influence of the moon phases and the female hormonal cycle to the output of fanfic.
Let’s gross out the male population of this blog with grrrrl power! Hm, well, with old crone power in my case, perhaps….
Mark wrote: “But why are they all women? What’s wrong with this crowd?”
I’m slightly baffled by the idea that there’s something ‘wrong’ with a crowd that’s a majority of women. Perhaps Mark can explain?
I don’t, however, accept the argument put forward by the anonymouse above that the legal and the ethical are inextricably bound up here.
One reason for that is the changes in the law around copyright; I find it hard to accept that there was anything other than a profit motive on the part of (probably) large corporations behind the move from date of author’s death +50 years to author’s death +75.
I specify large corporations because I’m not aware that the families of dead writers were fighting for the change – Lee has said in the past that most books stop selling after a very few years. For some reason the name “Disney” is in the back of my mind.
The issue about the aesthetic of fanfiction misses the point. If someone can write “Wide Sargasso Sea” then, presumably, someone could write a novel just as good about some minor character from another book, whether it’s the book about what Heathcliff did during his time away from the moor, what Dumbledore experienced as a young wizard, or Aragorn’s adventures as a ranger in the southlands.
I don’t see what the ethical difference is between the situations – and for the avoidance of doubt, I accept that one is out of copyright, one by a dead writer but not yet out of copyright (2048 by my calculations and under current law) and one alive, and that most fanfiction is probably copyright infringement.
The extension of copyright law is not something I agree with, but I do think ficking an unwilling author is unethical, and Disney’s behaviour is too often used to cloud the issue. It’s not the fault of living authors that copyright law has changed, so they shouldn’t have to suffer for it. The difference is basic: a living author is around to be upset by fic, Charlotte Bronte isn’t. The extended copyright period is a grey area ethically, but if the author is very much alive, then Disney has nothing to do with it. But people do sometimes raise Disney, whose behaviour is unethical, as a means of tarring authors who don’t want fic with the same brush, as if wanting to control your copyright within your lifetime was tantamount to changing the laws of the land for personal profit. It’s not fair to use guilt by association that way when they’re in completely different camps.
I’d ignore Mark. I know, I said myself he should stop making remarks about women, but from everything else he’s done, I think he’s just trolling. Never mind him.
I’d say there’s likely to be an aesthetic difference between ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and a Harry Potter fic because Rhys had a much better source material to get to grips with. The majority of fan fic doesn’t batten on to great works of literature. Possibly a very inventive writer might come up with something marvellous to do with Dumbledore, but really, they’d have to add so much of their own to make it sophisticated art that they might as well begin by writing a story of a generic wise old wizard and skip fan fic altogether.
It’s also worth pointing out that ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is by no means the only book, or even the first book, that Jean Rhys wrote. She had numerous other works published before that. She’s not an author who got her start in fan fiction, she’s an original author who decided to tackle Charlotte Bronte having first learned to write for herself. Fan fickers who try to start the other way round are on shaky ground if they use her as an example.
“Possibly a very inventive writer might come up with something marvellous to do with Dumbledore, but really, they’d have to add so much of their own to make it sophisticated art that they might as well begin by writing a story of a generic wise old wizard and skip fan fic altogether.”
You talk as if one had a choice in where and what way the inspiration strikes one. AFAIK inspiration to write something (or create art) is much like love in that it is totally unpredictable. Many a fic writer would perhaps like to write something original, but feels compelled to write about a TV show or a book like Harry Potter, because there’s something in it that just wouldn’t let them alone. I personally have written three 500 page original novels (resting securely on my HD and not intended for publishing in my lifetime) before I started to write fan fic in LOTR. I don’t know what made me do it – I could have written a fourth novel just as well – but unfortunately I had an idea about what happened when Frodo was at the Sammath Naur and voilà! my first missing scene fan fic was born.
You could explain why it is that women are defending this thievery? Why is that? Is it something hard-wired that allows them to just cast aside established rules because they happen to want something? I’m no troll since I’ve posted here for a long time under my real name so “whoops there goes another rubber tree plant.”
I draw to your attention this:
After reading the essay Rommel linked to, I do feel validated in that I could very well argue that my above mentioned Frodo fic was a critical commentary on Tolkien’s work in that it said, “look, I’ve read this story and this is how I understand the main character and think he would act in a situation not realised in the book. What do you think?”
Perhaps Tolkien, where he around to read my fic, would say, “Abysmal! You’ve got it all wrong!”
But that doesn’t really matter. I did my best with my admittedly limited powers of perception. Whether it’s wrong or right for anybody else, this is what *I* took from the text.
Mark wrote: “You could explain why it is that women are defending this thievery?”
Women make up by far the large majority of active fans of works which inspire fanfiction (just as men make up by far the large majority of sports fans), and thus those who participate in such discussions are likely to be women. Think of it as being like taking a straw poll of people at the Selfridges perfume counter, then wondering why most of your responses are from women.
Ey-up wrote: ” I do think ficking an unwilling author is unethical”
On the whole, so do I.
Usually, where an author has made an unequivocal statement that they do not want their work used in that way, most fans will abide by that request – in general, archives do not usually accept stories in fandoms where the author has made such a request.
Rowling, in my opinion, confused the issue around her work by having her lawyers state that she had no objection to ‘innocent’ fanfiction by ‘genuine’ fans. Clearly people have different interpretations of what is “innocent” and who is a “genuine” fan.
Ey-up: “The majority of fan fic doesn’t batten on to great works of literature.”
Why should fans wish to write about great works of literature? That’s where I field the ‘customer is king’ argument – I don’t think it’s possible to say that people ought to write about [insert name of important book] rather than Harrry Potter or Lord of the Rings. The bottom line is that they don’t want to and no-one can make them want to.
My experience is, as Jenkins puts it, that ‘fan fiction emerges from a balance between fascination and frustration. If the original work did not fascinate fans, they would not continue to engage with it. If it did not frustrate them in some level, they would feel no need to write new stories’
That blend of fascination and frustration may, rarely, come from works of great literature (which is why I fixed on the “missing” information about Heathcliff as one possible example) but it is more likely to come from something a bit more modern, something they are watching or reading on a daily or weekly and discussing with their friends in the schoolyard or round the water cooler or online with other fans. Realistically, most people who read Wuthering Heights will not engage with it to the degree they might engage with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
And that’s without the issues of fanfiction being a form of critical commentary which Henry Jenkins discusses in his post to which I gave the link (if it doesn’t work, try adding ‘tml’ after the ‘h’ at the end).
I’m not saying anyone has to write about great literature. You said it should be possible to write a book as good as ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ spinning off from anything; I’m just saying I think it would be more difficult if the original source was less complex and intelligent than ‘Jane Eyre’.
As far as when inspiration strikes: saying that a fanfic idea wouldn’t leave you alone is just one way of saying that you really, really wanted to write and post it. But really wanting to do something doesn’t prove that it’s ethical. After all, if something is both unethical and boring, it’s unlikely anybody will do it. People only ever do unethical things because they want to.
Ey-up: “I’m just saying I think it would be more difficult if the original source was less complex and intelligent than ‘Jane Eyre’.”
I think you’d be surprised; my experience is that the opposite applies, a very good source text produces very little good fanfiction, sometimes, as in Babylon 5, very little fanfiction full stop.
I’ve certainly read Harry Potter fanfic (not often but then how often does a book come out like “Wide Sargasso Sea”?) which is both complex and satisfying. In a very few cases more so than the Harry Potter books themselves – which I find both derivative (Murphy, Yolan and Wynne Jones all did it first and Wynne Jones better) and pedestrian.
In my experience is is very much harder to find really good fanfic about Lord of the Rings – the ‘bar’ is that much higher and the failures that much more obvious.
Hmm. You may have a point, but I still think that if you’re using characters from an existing series, it’s hard to see why they’re worth the effort artistically if they were all crudely done to begin with. I know Bertha Rochester was a sketch-in, but the characters that surrounded her were complex and intelligently done. If all the characters are stock types, then I really wonder why you don’t just write an original work that feels better to you than the thing that narked you in the first place. That way, you start with a clean slate.
Also: please don’t flame me to death, because I’m not saying this against anyone personally, but – if your absolute favourite ever work of fiction is Harry Potter or Babylon 5, then that suggests that your taste is not overly subtle. And writing is always an expression of your taste. I think that if you’re a really good writer, of the ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ calibre, then you’re unlikely to be writing Potter fic at all, because it’s not the book that gets you most excited. I mean, I like Rowling’s work, but still…
Okay, I’m going to go and hide now till the shouting and accusations of snobbery stop. Just to forestall them: yes, I am being elitist. If we’re talking about quality, you have to be; some things are better than others.
“if your absolute favourite ever work of fiction is Harry Potter or Babylon 5, then that suggests that your taste is not overly subtle. And writing is always an expression of your taste.”
Of course it is. But who said that only people of “good” taste are allowed to express themselves in writing? And who’s going to decide that?
As there are huge differences in quality between professionally published fiction, so’s the case with fanfic.
And funny enough, even the most absurdly bad fic has people who like it, because it triggers something in them, touches them emotionally or they like the basic idea or something.
As you cannot decide who’s got to write what, you also can’t decide who’s allowed to read and like it.
“I’m baffled by Rommell’s inability to grasp that the ethical and legal considerations are inextricably linked.”
I (lost_erizo, not Rommell) do believe that ethical and legal considerations are linked, because laws are an attempt to codify the values of a society and balance the needs of that society against the rights of the individual. Laws have to have some ethical or moral theory or justification – otherwise they are just arbitrary rules. However, the opposite is not usually true – laws do not determine ethics. The length of copyright is arbitrary – it could just as easily be limited to say, fourteen years from the time of publication, much like patents. But the justification for copyright is not.
You used the example of re-imagining Hamlet as a detective story – how is that substantially different than a piece of fanfic? Shakespeare has long been part of the cultural milieu, but then so has The Jungle Book, which, as Rommell has repeatedly pointed out, has jumped in and out of the public domain multiple times in recent years. One could even argue that The Jungle Book has a greater penetrance in the culture than Hamlet since most of us are introduced to it as small children while many people will never read Hamlet unless required to do so in school. Both authors are dead and so is everyone who ever knew them. Yet if I had posted a fic featuring Shere Kahn a year ago it would have been illegal.
The public domain exists because the law recognizes that not only can you not claim ownership or control of an idea, but no idea is truly original. All authors draw on their cultural history, literature and language in their writing and their own contributions become part of that common culture once they publish it. We all recognize that these contributions benefit society and so we protect a person’s ability to profit from their contributions as a way of encouraging them to create more. But they _do_ become part of the culture. Others in this thread have expanded on this in their discussions about the role of the doctrine of “fair use.” If creative works belonged exclusively to their authors, there would be no fair use – any unauthorized use at all would be a violation of the author’s property. But that is not the case.
” The original author (in this case, Shakespeare) is long dead and past caring financially or artistically, as are the members of his immediate family.”
The life of the author didn’t play any part in the original formulation of copyright. In England and later the United States it was 14 years with an option of a single 14 year renewal. So a work could very well have fallen out of copyright within the author’s lifetime. What happened to the author’s sensibilities then? Copyright is a legal monopoly, and both the legal and ethical justification for it is economic. It’s an incentive. The author is not protected from public criticism, censure, or parody of their work. In other words, their feelings don’t enter into it. Their financial interests do. Copyright protection has been expanded beyond the author’s death because it is recognized that leaving an estate to one’s heirs is as much of a financial incentive as one’s profits during life – but that doesn’t make it any less of a financial incentive.
When it comes to issue of the quality of fanfic and its source material, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to the question of whether it should be allowed. Either a practice can be accepted or not, but your personal aesthetic considerations aren’t really my concern. You may have other moral reasons for objecting to smut, for example, but whether it’s derivative smut or original smut really shouldn’t enter into it. Does anyone really want to set someone up as the arbiter of what is acceptable and what is not based on someone else’s aesthetic or religious sensibilities? I think it is a bad idea to try to control literature based on it’s content for the same reason I think it’s a bad idea to try to control the content of political speech. It’s never a good thing when ideas are suppressed or stifled.
I also don’t think Mr. Spock/Dr. Who crossover porn is particularly representative of the majority of fanfic any more than The Wide Sargasso Sea is – they both represent extremes. The majority of published literature is of middling quality. It’s generally better than what you find on the internet because it’s been filtered through an editor and the worst of the slush pile never makes it to print. Fanfic is much the same. A few pieces are brilliant, some is very good, the majority is so-so, and there is a lot of complete crap at the bottom of the pile. As both Rommell and Ey-up pointed out, the majority is written based on source material that is mediocre – mostly because these are the things that inspire people to fill in the gaps. An intriguing idea that is poorly executed is more likely to result in discussion and analysis than a brilliantly executed one. That doesn’t mean that really well done piece can’t inspire reactions or analysis, just that there is less room for criticism (in the sense of finding fault), and criticism of the source is often a motivation for writing fanfic.
This is actually an old and venerable discussion in most fan circles – why do some shows/books/movies inspire devotion and others of equal or better quality don’t? Why do some works with huge fan followings have almost no fanfiction and others with relatively small followings inspire huge amounts of fanfic or fanart? There’s actually quite a lot of material available on the subject if you look for it.
Hi Lost Erizo,
I wasn’t suggesting that quality affected whether or not it should be allowed, I just was interested in quality as a side issue. The discussion had wandered a bit. That’s all right, no? 🙂
Can you recommend any of the material about why some things inspire more devotion than others? I’d be interested to read it.
So it’s strictly author and fame envy thus the need to play in other people’s sandboxes and women are particularly prone to fall into this sort of aberrant behavior. Got it. Damn shame really. It cheapens everyone concerned.
Ey-up: “if your absolute favourite ever work of fiction is Harry Potter or Babylon 5, then that suggests that your taste is not overly subtle.”
Oddly enough, when you ask people who write fanfic what their absolute favourite book/film/TV series is, it will very often not be the source about which they write fanfic but something completely different.
For the record, my favourite book is “The Persian Boy” by Mary Renault. I’ve never written fanfic (would it even be fanfic, given that the characters are historical?) because it doesn’t need it. TV series: “I Claudius” – likewise, the characters are (mostly) historical, and I’m not sure it would be fanfic. Film would be “Brief Encounter”, and though I suppose it would be possible to write fanfic on it I don’t know that anyone ever has.
Lost_erizo may be able to recommend other things, but I have a feeling that Jenkins in “Textual Poachers” has some sections on why some things inspire fanfic, and others don’t. Constance Penley in “Enterprising Women” may have something about it, too, but her book is rather dated now. Not sure about Pugh, but her book is called, “The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context”.
Lost_erizo is right, though. I’ve attended at least three discussion panels on the subject at different conventions. The upshot of all three discussions was that fanfic abounds when the source has glitches in canon which writers want to discuss, explain or fill and when it has unexplored backgrounds of interesting main or side characters.
Slash fans will often glomp onto shows with ‘girlfriend of the week’ for the leading man, close shots of male leads in proximity, and especially when the actor cast as the lead is *not* cookie-cutter handsome. (As an aside, where do they get the guys in some shows? Is there a plastics factory outside Birminham producing them?)
What I can see happening is Fanfic, as the Internet becomes more privatized, getting collected into authorized arenas that have copyright holder oversite. There the copyright holders will then charge Fanfic writers a “Posting Privlege Fee” so that their material can be uploaded onto this authorized website (the webmasters of said site having paid an authorization fee, unauthorized sites will either be shut down or banned outright from provider networks that are affliated with the copyright holders – AOL banning unauthorized Potter sites because it is an affliate of Time/Warner, the studio that produces and distributes the Harry Potter films) then everyone can read it…for a fee, of course. 😉 Everything for a fee. Ah, the glories of capitalism!
A fanfiction site within Harry Potter which might be to the taste of some of the fanfic-supicious here would be the Sugar Quill, which respects Rowling’s wishes regarding fanfic.
No Snape giving Dr. Who a blowjob there.
~~ “then everyone can read it…for a fee, of course. 😉 Everything for a fee. Ah, the glories of capitalism!” ~~
I don’t like that idea: paying to read fanfic. Nope, not one bit.
I think that ALL fanfic sites should require login names and passwords connected to a legitimate email address so that authors with publishing deals in the works can say (and prove): “I don’t read fanfic and I didn’t read _that particular story_ that the fanfic author claims I plagiarized …”
-I think that ALL fanfic sites should require login names and passwords connected to a legitimate email address so that authors with publishing deals in the works can say (and prove): “I don’t read fanfic and I didn’t read _that particular story_ that the fanfic author claims I plagiarized …”-
An article in, I think, the Romance Writers Report made a particular point about this. It recommended than an objective third party moderate a writer’s webpage message board and that, if Fanfic was allowed, that the writer be locked out of that area. Writers actually reading the Fanfic based on their work is a BIG legal no-no, because the very issues of copyright and plagarism that are discussed and dismissed in endless circles hereabouts come into play. Just as writers are encouraged to never, ever read the original writings fans ask them comment on. Writers don’t want to get sued and have their livelihood taken from them.
-I don’t like that idea: paying to read fanfic. Nope, not one bit.-
You already are, in a manner of speaking. We all PAY for internet access, no? 😉 Just as I, and countless other bloggers, are PAYING to be posted on the Internet. As soon as the corporate overlords find out a way to dig deeper into the wallets of fans and web surfers, they will. It is only a matter of time.
An optimist I am not. 😀
I think there’s an interesting misapprehension about a few things here.
For one, a lot of fanfic is about things that cannot and or will not happen in what we call ‘canon’. They are explorations of ideas and concepts and yes even relationships that the orginal text didn’t go into, can’t go into, won’t go into. This applies the strongest to television mediums.
There was a suggestion that fanfic can somehow hurt tie in novels. I say that anything attached officially to the source and therefore probably has guidelines for what can and can’t happen (i.e. seriously maim the main character) doesn’t have to worry about competing.
You’re talking about canon or secondary canon. Things that fanfic writers LOVE. They absorb it, they memorize it, they quote it back to each other. Canon is what makes fanfiction go round.
I write fanfiction, but for years (approximately ten) I only read it. Why did I read it? Because it did things I wanted that I knew the source material would never do. Did this dimish my love for the source material? Did this make me less likely to spend money on it? Hardly. I probably bought more/watched more/read more than I ever would have without my trusty internet connection.
Fanfiction has also introduced me to shows and movies and books that I would have otherwise either not known about, or possibly skipped entirely.
Lastly to address the idea that fanfiction can be turned into original fiction by merely replacing the proper nouns.
It’s fairly obvious some of you aren’t writers. And by that I mean, that you don’t have this insatiable and irrepressable urge to write and share and make people feel things with your stories. Some days the ideas (fanfiction and original) just crawl under my skin and it’s all I can do vomit it out on the page. I have ideas everywhere I go and the days that I am unable to be creative, I feel stunted and depressed.
The story I may want to write in fanfiction will often times not be able to work outside of the original universe, not only that, but it will lose a lot of it’s impact. It will not be the same story. Yes I use fanfiction to hone some skills, yes I see it as a way of getting to be a better writer. BUT IT IS NOT THE SOLE REASON THAT I WRITE IT. Nor do I think that it should be. There are a million ways to be creative or artistic in this world and to tell me that I have to limit my ideas or my medium of expression very upsetting.
You’re saying that my creative expression is wrong unless I chose to pick a body of work that no longer falls under copyright law and then attempt to make money off of it.
Why is it always about money? I feel like (even the pro authors here) have lost the idea that imagination that, DAYDREAMING is a good thing.
PM Rommel and lost_erizo are both right on about the reasons people write fanfiction. Almost everyone I know who writes fic based on some form of media does so in order to answer “what ifs” that will not be addressed in canon. I write fic about Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter because I want to know why the ultimate pureblood snob is on his knees before a half-blood who’s demonstrably insane. Rowling is never going to answer that question, because Lucius Malfoy in canon is a 2-dimensional villain in a kid’s book. So I took my theories and wrote them down in the form of a story. It’s not a replacement for canon, and it’s not intended to be.
Mark: Who is krista addressing?
Lee and anyone else to whom it might apply.
Kete: Because it’s fun?
That it is, but sadly, it irks me to read this level of incomprehension.
“In Lee’s case I can – partly – understand his dislike. As a tie-in writer he does directly compete with fan authors who’re writing for the same shows and it cannot be excluded that a number of potential readers may turn to free fan fic rather than buy his books.”
The thing is, I do understand his position, even though I don’t necessarily agree with it. I understand that he’s passionately against fanfic and fanfic writers. There is no argument that he can present that will put an end to the writing of fanfic. The concept of writing a story using another’s characters predates all of us and there’s not a damned thing he can do to end it.
I do disagree that he’s directly competing against fanfic writers. If so, I must’ve missed that aisle at Barnes & Noble. Reading fanfic does not replace reading a book. Oh, it may for a few, definitely, but the vast majority of readers in his market probably aren’t fanfic readers.
Furthermore, he’s in more danger of alienating his potential readers by his willingness to lambast them with such venom. He’s his own worst enemy.
“In Richard’s case I think he’s talking about something he’s never experienced for himself, but has just heard terrible things about. Someone ought to point him in the direction of some decent fic.”
Amen. I have to admit that I’m baffled by the stubborn unwillingness to even try to understand the motivation that prompts someone to write fanfic. It’s not money, it’s not a desire to hurt the source author, it’s not because we’re wimmin folk and don’t know how to play in the big boy’s sandbox. I write fanfic and have for the past 30 years. I’ve not made one dime off it nor do I want to. Not all fanfic writers want to be professional writers. I already have a full-time job and I don’t have time to devote to the creation of original fic when all I want to do is amuse myself and my friends. It’s a stress-reliever, it’s how I unwind and spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Lee, Richard and assorted others are so blind to this that it just leaves me shaking my head at the sadness of it all.
You wrote: “In Lee’s case I can – partly – understand his dislike. As a tie-in writer he does directly compete with fan authors who’re writing for the same shows and it cannot be excluded that a number of potential readers may turn to free fan fic rather than buy his books. Especially as he fails to understand their communications to him as a marketing tool which could help him shape his writing into a form that would let him sell more books, instead of having to try selling the remainders on his blog.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve been “against” fan fic LONG before I wrote tie-in novels. In fact, a crazed fanfic writer is one of the major characters in BEYOND THE BEYOND, the remaindered book you mentioned, which I wrote in the early 90s. I didn’t start writing tie-ins until 2004.
As for your suggestion that I should use fanfic as “market research” to “shape my writing,” let just say that is among the dumbest ideas I’ve heard.
My MONK books are selling very, very well…so well, in fact, that they will be debuting in hardcover beginning with book #4. I really don’t feel the need to consult with the MONK fanficcers out there for advice on how to write (nor do I feel the need to consult the DM hurt/comfort fanficcers, who think I should have Steve whipped and his Daddy weeping over him and covering him with tender caresses. I sell tens of thousands of copies without their sage advice).
Wow, this thread is amazing. You’ve started something. Lee, if you had ads on this particular page, you’ll be a billionaire before this year is out. I think this discussion is going to go on forever.
Imagine attacking a selling and produced writer in Hollywood and beyond with this drivel from amateurs. Unbelievable. One thing is certain: these “folks” will continue to be wrong until pigs type in the stall.
“Can you recommend any of the material about why some things inspire more devotion than others? I’d be interested to read it.”
Ack, that’s a hard one – I’m summarizing my impressions from 15 years of lurking in fandom discussions, and I don’t have a good enough memory to say where I saw it discussed last. This issue crops up at least once every six months to a year in the fan forums I lurk in – good places to look for summaries of what is being discussed in fandom are Metafandom and Fanthropology (both communities on Live Journal – http://community.livejournal.com/metafandom/, and http://community.livejournal.com/fanthropology/) but you’ll have to wade through a lot of other stuff that may or may not interest you.
The books that Rommell recommended are all a good place to start. Henry Jenkins has written at least two other books on fandom, in addition to Textual Poachers and the essay linked above, all of which are available on Amazon. There’s a book I was interested in checking out called ‘Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet’ by Karen Hallekson and Kristina Busse – I haven’t read it yet so I can’t tell if it’s very good or addresses the issues you’re interested in. Matthew Hillis and Camille Bacon-Smith are two other authors to keep an eye out for (although Bacon-Smith is somewhat controversial among some fans). Both write academic analyses of fandom.
I hope that helps.
“That it is, but sadly, it irks me to read this level of incomprehension.”
Most days it irks me, too. But sometimes, when I need a good fight to vent some of my irritation that has accumulated over the weeks, I’ll go here and participate in a fanfic discussion. I find Lee’s blog very therapeutic. 😉
“There is no argument that he can present that will put an end to the writing of fanfic. The concept of writing a story using another’s characters predates all of us and there’s not a damned thing he can do to end it.”
Amen and thank god for it!
“I do disagree that he’s directly competing against fanfic writers. If so, I must’ve missed that aisle at Barnes & Noble. Reading fanfic does not replace reading a book. Oh, it may for a few, definitely, but the vast majority of readers in his market probably aren’t fanfic readers.”
I didn’t mean compete in any financial sense. But competing for readers’ attention I do see. I know for a fact that there are many DM fans who read his tie-ins *and* read and/or write fanfic. Sadly, when they try to tell him what they’d like to see in the next book, he can only mock them instead of understanding that where this one reader came from there are probably a lot more who just don’t make the effort to write to him. There’s only so many hours in a day and I’ve heard many people say that they’ve turned away from published literature entirely, because they don’t find the level of emotional impact they desire. I have to admit that the first one or two yers after discovering fanfic I stopped buying books for a while, because I was so overwhelmed by the number of fics on offer that I read something like 24/7 to get through the majority of them. Thankfully I’m back on track now.
“Furthermore, he’s in more danger of alienating his potential readers by his willingness to lambast them with such venom. He’s his own worst enemy.”
That’s absolutely true and there have been posters here telling him they wouldn’t buy his books anymore and more of those out there in the messageboards, LJs etc. where the shows he writes for are discussed.
“I have to admit that I’m baffled by the stubborn unwillingness to even try to understand the motivation that prompts someone to write fanfic…..when all I want to do is amuse myself and my friends. It’s a stress-reliever, it’s how I unwind and spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.”
Perhaps they envy us the fun of it all? That we’re having fun with something they *have* to do to make a living?
“Imagine attacking a selling and produced writer in Hollywood and beyond with this drivel from amateurs. Unbelievable. One thing is certain: these “folks” will continue to be wrong until pigs type in the stall.”
Well gee Mark, it’s interesting to hear you use the word attack, when throughout this blog you are the one who hasconsistantly posted offensive, deliberately provoking, rude and dismissive comments often having very little to do with the actual discussion taking place.
You learn new and interesting things everyday.
As for the assertation of drivel, that’s a lovely and grand generalization. I think you have a problem distinguishing between experience and proffession. There are many fanfiction writers out there who are proffessional writers be it in fiction or nonfiction. Who have just as keene a grasp on understanding how to tell a story as proffessionals. Have you read some of the crap that’s on the bookshelves these days?
Thanks, Lost Erizo, I’ll have a look. Nice of you – let’s be an example of friendly behaviour across the divide! 🙂
‘It’s fairly obvious some of you aren’t writers. And by that I mean, that you don’t have this insatiable and irrepressable urge to write and share and make people feel things with your stories.’
Amireal: for the record, I’m one of the people arguing against the right to fan fic, and I actually am a writer. Now, I don’t have a personal stake in the fan fic territory, as, though events may prove me wrong, I don’t think I’m the kind of writer that gets ficked. (My first novel came out recently.) Even if I was, I’m not sure if I’d mind if someone asked me politely – at one point when I was writing my first novel, a friend of mine did a little skit on it, and I was tickled rather than offended. It’s the determination of fans to trample over the authors’ wishes that bothers me. And understanding the creative urge is the reason why I think unwanted fic is unethical, for the following reasons:
– I know how much work goes into writing a finished piece from scratch, and it’s more than anyone who’s never tried it can imagine. Anyone who puts that much work into creating something has my absolute respect as controller of it: they’ve earned it.
– I know how the creative urge feels, and yes, it’s strong. I also know it’s perfectly possible to write something down and not show it if people would be hurt as a result. Wanting to write something isn’t a divine right.
– I know how much easier it is to think of things to do with someone else’s characters, because I’ve brainstormed with other friends who write. It’s so much easier that, to me, it sounds outright cheeky to call yourself a writer if you only ever use other people’s material.
– Nobody warns a new writer about fan fic. Hence, the argument ‘you automatically agreed to be ficked by getting published’ is totally unreasonable; it’s possible a writer had no idea.
– Aggressive fan fickers are a scary bunch. They seem to take the line that they have the right to support the characters against the author, which to the author sounds crazy. But if the author says that, fans attack them. It’s not nice to make people who’ve entertained you feel like they’ve stumbled into a war zone.
– Some fans seem to take the attitude that the author merely ‘discovered’ the characters and presented them to the world, as if they were cleaning out the attic one day, and lo and behold, there they were. Would that were so, but it’s just not true. It’s a lot more work than that. Not nice to refuse to give the author full credit.
– Some fans seem to think it’s wrong that authors get paid, or that it somehow cheapens their work. We’ve all got to live. But more than that, payment is recognition that you done good. Condemning that is like calling someone a show-off for winning a prize. It’s mean.
– Fans who think they ought to decide how the author acts are a very discouraging audience. A discouraged author is not someone who can write at the top of their game. That doesn’t benefit the fans either.
– Authors are people. Aggressive fans seem to rank them with multi-national corporations, but actually they’re just individuals. Often nice individuals. They’re not very big. When fans gang up, it’s ten thousand to one.
I could go on, but I think I’ve talked long enough… The main point is, the fact that you feel an urge to write something down doesn’t mean you’re entitled to publish it on the Net. As I said in an earlier post, wanting something doesn’t prove it’s right. You can always write it out if you have to and refrain from posting it. And if the price of posting it is making the person who worked so hard to write the fiction you were so entertained by feel like you hate them, then it would be nice of you to respect that.
So, Ey-up, fanfic is bad because when we disagree with the author it makes him or her feel ‘picked on’.
You don’t need fanfic for fangeeks to disagree with and “gang up on” authors. It appears to be near-universal opinion among the regulars at the three Artemis Fowl message boards I visit that Artemis’ newly introduced love interest in the most recent book is a Mary-Sue, or has too many Mary-Sue like traits. This is out-and-out discussion, not fanfic, generally the fanfic is gentler to her, merely writing her out somehow, usually so that Artemis can be paired with one of the well-liked, established female characters (I haven’t seen any post-TLC slash yet, so it really is only hetfic). I’m quite sure Eoin Colfer *would* feel picked on if he read the discussion about Minerva, but we’re entitled to our opinions, aren’t we? Or are only people who are paid to do it entitled to criticise authors?
Fan discussion definitely falls under copyrights’ fair use provisions (so I fail to see how anyone could call it wrong), and it can get pretty picky, down to discussing whether the author should have used the word ‘Nikes’ in one sentence in one book or if ‘sneakers’ would have been better.
“I could go on, but I think I’ve talked long enough… The main point is, the fact that you feel an urge to write something down doesn’t mean you’re entitled to publish it on the Net. As I said in an earlier post, wanting something doesn’t prove it’s right. You can always write it out if you have to and refrain from posting it. And if the price of posting it is making the person who worked so hard to write the fiction you were so entertained by feel like you hate them, then it would be nice of you to respect that.”
Why would you even know about fanfic written about your work unless you go looking for it? And if you go looking it’s your fault if you find things you don’t like, from an unfavourable review to fic. Fanficcers normally post on their own websites/LJs or on special archives. Why go where you aren’t wanted anyway if you won’t like what you may find? If you just ignore it, it can’t offend you.
Amireal was saying it’s impossible that anyone could understand the creative impulse AND be opposed to unwanted fan fic. I was simply using myself as a counter-example. I’m giving other reasons than lack of sympathy for the creative urge why somebody might take a personal decision that fan fic isn’t okay if the author objects.
Of course you’re entitled to your opinions. Negative reviews aren’t picking on someone, because they’re not criticising the author personally, just their work, which is absolutely fine. It’s on a different order from demanding that the author themselves change their stance on something in the real world.
“If my neighbour enjoys playing loud music at midnight and sees nothing wrong with it, does the fact that he’s knowingly keeping me awake not factor into whether he’s an ethical person?”
which lost_erizo refuted.
But what if said neighbours are talking about you? Not in raised voices, but perfectly calm and quiet within their own four walls? And what if you press your ear to the wall, straining to hear what might offend you? Who’s to blame then? Them or you?
“Furthermore, he’s in more danger of alienating his potential readers by his willingness to lambast them with such venom. He’s his own worst enemy.”
I can’t tell you, exactly, how many readers I have, but I have sold hundreds of thousands of paperbacks. There hasn’t been a mass exodus of readers or a plunge in sales since I started this blog…quite the opposite, in fact. My sales keep increasing. So there goes that theory, Kete. If I “lose” the fanfic writers of MONK or DM, or have lost them already, both the books and my career will survive just fine.
Kete wrote: “I know for a fact that there are many DM fans who read his tie-ins *and* read and/or write fanfic. Sadly, when they try to tell him what they’d like to see in the next book, he can only mock them instead of understanding that where this one reader came from there are probably a lot more who just don’t make the effort to write to him.”
That simply isn’t true, Kete. I get fan mail from DM readers all over the world and have incorporated many of their requests in the books (For instance, I received tons of mail asking me to have Steve solve a case on his own, which I do in THE DOUBLE LIFE (coming in four weeks). I have received tons of email asking me to bring back Carter Sweeney, who shall return in THE LAST WORD in March. And I did what we couldn’t do in the series, I brought back Jack in THE SILENT PARTNER and explained why he left, something fans have been asking me to do for years). What I haven’t done is indulge the sexual fantasies of an itsy bitsy minority of DM fans who want to imagine Steve beaten, shirtless, and everyone comforting him…or to have Steve and Jesse become lovers.
And yet somehow the DM books have lasted for several years and eight novels any way…
Yes, Ey-Up, I agree with you that one can be creative without ever wanting to use other people’s work. I personally consider fanfiction and other fanworks (like fanart, filking and vidding) to be the creative component of fangeek behaviour, so of course non-fangeeks aren’t going to be writing fanfiction, they aren’t so emotionally involved with the source text that they feel the need to be creative *with the source text*. As for criticism not attacking the author, obviously you haven’t stumbled across any discussion or essays by the batshit-insane brigade of Harry/Hermione shippers. Believe me, that’s criticism of the author, not just the work. I’ve seen discussion that seriously suggested that JKR deliberately put Ginny with Harry and Hermione with Ron to hurt them. As I said about Minerva from Artemis Fowl, usually fan discussion is much more pointed than fanfiction when it does criticise the author.
Hm, Mark, somehow I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. You really do agree with ME???
“That simply isn’t true, Kete. I get fan mail from DM readers all over the world and have incorporated many of their requests in the books….And I did what we couldn’t do in the series….What I haven’t done is indulge the sexual fantasies of an itsy bitsy minority of DM fans who want to imagine Steve beaten, shirtless, and everyone comforting him…or to have Steve and Jesse become lovers.”
Well, then I stand corrected, Lee. Sorry. What I can’t understand though is why you wouldn’t accommodate the not as itsy-bitsy tiny as you think minority and give them their shirtless wounded Steve. While I agree that him falling in love with another male character would not suggest itself in something as mainstream as DM, I do think it perfectly appropriate to have him wounded in the line of duty, him being a policeman, if that makes his fans happy. And that his father would worry about him would be perfectly natural. So, where’s the problem?
Re: aggressive fans.
This has come up in multiple posts above so my response is not aimed at any particular person in this debate.
I’ve used this quote before, but I think it’s one of the best general explanations since Sturgeon’s law (used without permission – apologies to veejane).
“Unfortunately, fandom is full of crazy people and poorly-informed people, because fandom is full of people.”
–veejane on John Scalzi’s Whatever: “Follow-up on Crimes of Fanfic”
Self important arrogance and aggressive behavior is not unique to fan writers, nor to fans in general. It can be scary for authors when it comes from fans because it’s concentrated on _them_, but that is one of the unfortunate prices of celebrity (even if it’s small ‘c’ celebrity). Does that make it right? Certainly not, but it’s the aggressive behavior that’s wrong, not the fanfiction or the fact that they are fans.
Does anyone really believe that face-painters or football hooligans represent the majority of sports fans? Then why do they believe that the, as Ms. Holden put it, “batshit-insane brigade” is representative of most fan writers?
There’s a difference between taking legitimate umbrage at someone who gets up in your face and makes demands on you, and ranting about the mere existence of criticism even if it no one is drawing your attention to it. All fans are not responsible for the behavior of a few fen. There’s also a difference between criticism of the work and criticism of the author – I think people on both sides of this debate would do well to stop conflating them.
Comment 151. Amazing.
Kete wrote: “What I can’t understand though is why you wouldn’t accommodate the not as itsy-bitsy tiny as you think minority and give them their shirtless wounded Steve. While I agree that him falling in love with another male character would not suggest itself in something as mainstream as DM, I do think it perfectly appropriate to have him wounded in the line of duty, him being a policeman, if that makes his fans happy. And that his father would worry about him would be perfectly natural. So, where’s the problem?”
For one thing, Kete, I don’t care what you deem to be appropriate for the books. It’s my call.
Second, I am not a stenographer.
Third, writing books is not akin a DJ taking requests for which song to play on the radio. It’s my creative expression. I am telling the stories that I want to tell, that inspire me. I am not answering a check-list of fan requests.
Fourth, I’m not doing it because I don’t want to. It doesn’t interest me. I have already written the Steve-injured scene that you describe. I did it in a two-hour DM episode (“Retribution”) and had Mark practically sobbing over his dying, shirtless son. Been there, done that, won’t be doing it again.
I write the stories I want to tell and that I think the majority of the fans might like to read. If I am wrong, they won’t buy the books. So far, I’ve been right.
Ey-up wrote: “Negative reviews aren’t picking on someone, because they’re not criticising the author personally, just their work, which is absolutely fine.”
Fanfic isn’t doing anything to the author personally, either. If the author and the author’s work are separate entities that mean even extremely harsh criticism of the plot, the themes, the characters, and any number of things having to do with the text itself is okay, why isn’t fanfic, which has no more to do with the author than a critical review?
and also “It’s on a different order from demanding that the author themselves change their stance on something in the real world.”
I don’t think any significant percentage of fanfic writers are demanding the author change their stance on anything. Maybe some of them just feel, to varying degrees, that their creative reaction to a text has little to do with any proprietary feelings the original author might have about ideas that cease to belong them alone once they’re shared?
And seriously, no one has a right to not have their feelings hurt.
A parodist who makes (generic) your heartbreaking work of staggering genius into a skit on late night tv and a fanfic writer who’s taken a character you’ve written to be asexual and put them in obsessive lust with their barista could probably hurt your feelings about equally. But apparently the only legal difference between those two examples is that one is legally protected as free speech, and the other… well, afaik (which admittedly may not be very far) hasn’t got any legal precedent one way or the other?
Should a fanperson’s creative impulse be restricted when a parodist’s isn’t? It is to me enough to say fanfic writers do it out of love of the source, and that their expression of that love has nothing to do with what the original author or anyone else thinks is tasteful, proper, or “right”.
Hi Happy Medium,
‘why isn’t fanfic, which has no more to do with the author than a critical review’
Fanfic does have more to do with author than criticism, because it usurps the author’s right to be the one who writes about their characters. Characters are more personal than the opinion the public holds of you. Authors never claim to be the only one who has a right to an opinion about their work, but to be the writer of their own characters, that they can expect. Criticism, including parody, is saying something ABOUT the author’s work; fan fic is doing something TO them. (Sorry for caps, but I can’t do italics here – I don’t mean that as shouty as it looks.)
‘And seriously, no one has a right to not have their feelings hurt.’
True, but everyone has a responsibility to be a respectful human being.
‘It is to me enough to say fanfic writers do it out of love of the source’
Motivations ultimately matter less than actions. I heard that someone once sent Clive Barker a severed cat’s head in the mail. It was probably done as a tribute by someone who loved his work, but I do not think it was a good idea.
Good point about the lunatic fringe, Lost Erizo, but it’s really the fringe that I’m talking about; I have the suspicion that the ordinary nice fans are more prepared to be respectful of the author’s rights. If the lunatics and the nice people get conflated, it probably happens when they’re propounding a similar philosophy, albeit with different degrees of ranting – in which case, they have put themselves in the same camp. And I agree with you about conflating the author and their work. 🙂
Kelly: ‘I’ve seen discussion that seriously suggested that JKR deliberately put Ginny with Harry and Hermione with Ron to hurt them.’
If I was JK Rowling, I’d be too busy laughing my head off to be hurt by THAT suggestion. Where do they say that? Please tell me! I would so love to see it.
Ey-up wrote: “Fanfic does have more to do with author than criticism, because it usurps the author’s right to be the one who writes about their characters.”
Um, but anyone writing anything, fanfic or criticism or “Teal’c is soooo hott!” is ABOUT the characters, or some other aspect of the text. And *does* an author have the right to be “the one” to write about their characters? Really? And there’s only an exception if it’s making fun of them, or analyzing them? What is the difference between writing “I wonder what would’ve happened if…” on a message board, following it up with a discussion with other fans about it… and writing your musings as a story?
and also: “Criticism, including parody, is saying something ABOUT the author’s work; fan fic is doing something TO them.”
Fanfic isn’t doing anything TO the author’s work any more than SNL does anything TO 24, Harry Potter, or Chris Matthews. It has no effect on the original work whatsoever.
(And I think most fanfic IS saying something about the original work, even if it’s “only” OMG Draco Malfoy is teh smex, here’s 89897 words detailing exactly why!
Just because it’s not coming from a literary critic doesn’t mean what commentary it IS making isn’t valid in its own way. Valid only to teenaged girls, maybe, but I’m not gonna say it doesn’t have as much of a right to exist.
One of my very favorite works of fanfic is an alternat universe that made one small thing happen differently, changed one character just so, and spun out events from there into a universe that could, mmaaaaybe, have been a pretty good original fantasy novel, but would not have resonated with me and its many other readers nearly as strongly if I wasn’t reading with a hundred episodes of canon in my head, catching dozens of moments when *this* was unexpectedly familiar, and *this* was heartbreakingly different.)
and also: “True, but everyone has a responsibility to be a respectful human being.”
I guess the problem here is that I find nothing inherently disrespectful about fanfic, and none of the arguments I’ve read have said otherwise, because they seem to be coming from a place that puts such an emphasis on ownership of *ideas* that I react instinctively with a “No way!”
and also: “Motivations ultimately matter less than actions. I heard that someone once sent Clive Barker a severed cat’s head in the mail. It was probably done as a tribute by someone who loved his work, but I do not think it was a good idea.”
And fandom as a whole reacts pretty much universally with a “What are you DOING, you IDIOT?” when a fan does something that brings a fanwork to the attention of a creator, or an actor or writer involved, if it was not specifically invited.
There is a difference between acting out towards a creator out of a misguided/unbalanced/pathological understanding of appropriate behavior, and creatively engaging a text in a way that doesn’t… well, that doesn’t actually involve the creator, or change their creation in any way. Seriously.
The disclaimer at the end is hilarious.
Hi HM. I don’t think I made myself clear.
-When I say the author is the only one who writes about the characters, I mean the author is the only one who gets to use them in a story.
-When I said fanfic does something to authors, I meant to authors, not to their work.
-The Barker thing was just an example to show that motivation doesn’t automatically make an action okay. The trouble with arguing by analogy is that people tend to get too literal about any example you pick, so let me try it without analogies: if somebody does something that is bad for good reasons, while it doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person, it doesn’t automatically mean their action in itself isn’t bad.
-You said that fanfic doesn’t involve the author in any way. That’s the whole problem. Saying that the characters can be used in a way that actively excludes the person who created them is an enormous, incredible implication, and not necessarily a good one.
Do you really think ‘No way!’ is a respectful response to someone trying to make a serious point? Let me give another example and hope people won’t be too literal. A while ago I went into a mosque that was open to the public, because it was pretty and I wanted to look at the architecture. Unfortunately, I wandered too close to a prayer area that was men-only. At this point, a gentlemen came up and asked me politely not to go any further. He explained why the area should be separate, and in the course of his explanation, said several things about the proper relationships between men, women and prayer that, like you, I instinctively and immediately disagreed with. Nothing cataclysmically offensive, but his underlying assumptions made something in my head yell ‘No way!’
But I didn’t go into the men-only area, saying, ‘Well, if you don’t like me being here, you don’t have to look.’ I didn’t say, ‘I don’t see anything wrong with me going in, so I’m going to.’ I didn’t say ‘I’m not doing this is a disrespectful way, I just love the building, so that’s okay, isn’t it?’ I didn’t say, ‘If you didn’t want me in that room, why did you open the building to the public?’ I was on his turf. It meant a lot to him. It was something vitally important in his life. So I said, ‘Excuse me,’ heard him out, kept quiet when he said things I didn’t personally agree with, and went away. Because whether or not the place was technically open to the public, it was created by him and his, and I felt I owed him the respect of doing as he wished while I was in there. And that wasn’t about him asserting his rights, it was about me trying to live up to my responsibility to be a decent and civil person.
Doubtless a couple of people will post saying, ‘yes, but that’s different for this and that reason’, so bear with me. It’s a very basic point. If you’re on someone else’s patch, you ought to be prepared to make some concessions. And however many livejournal boards fans set up, fan fic takes place on the author’s patch. If the author doesn’t mind, then great, knock yourselves out. You’re invited. But courtesy sometimes involves swallowing your own opinion and conceding someone else’s.
I understand that most writers are very emotionally invested on their characters (when I write original fiction, I’m certainly invested in mine) and are naturally averse to the idea of sharing (or having someone else make money off their work, natch), and I’ve heard enough lectures on copyright law while studying for an MLS to know that publishing a story containing another modern-day author’s characters would be illegal, but I have a hard time understanding why so many people seem to find fanfic unethical/immoral as well. To me, it seems like a natural outgrowth of traditional Western literary culture. People have been writing things based on or inspired by other writers’ works for as long as the novel has existed (the unautorized sequels, spin-off, and parodies of Sammuel Richardson’s “Pamela” alone could fill a page).
I have read professionally published prequels/sequels/retellings based on “Dracula”, “Pride & Prejudice”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, “Little Women”, “Jane Eyre”, “Moby Dick”, the Iliad, Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, “Beowulf”, and the list goes on and on. What makes, say, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Caroline Nelson Douglass’s Irene Adler mystery novels (or, Hell, Virgil sitting down to write his own unauthorized sequel to the Iliad) any different in an ethical sense from a fan writing a “fifth season” continuation of Starsky & Hutch, or her own version of what the next Harry Potter book might be like?
We all know it’s different in a legal sense, thanks to current copyright laws, but why is writing someone else’s out-of-copyright characters (frequently in ways the original author would never have done himself) deemed morally okay, while writing about 20th/21th century characters is immoral, disrespectful, unethical, and Just Plain Wrong?
I could write filthy musketeer-on-musketeer orgies based on Alexandre Dumas’ books and gleefully publish them in a gay porn anthology, and nobody would bat an eyelash (except maybe to goggle at my poor taste), but type up a PG-rated story based on Monk and show it to a friend and suddenly I’ve committed a thought crime?
Because with out-of-copyright stuff, the author isn’t around to tell you not to or write further works.
Can we avoid the phrase ‘thought crime’?
1. It isn’t appropriate; if you break copyright laws, then that’s an actual crime, not a thought crime.
2. The phrase is one Orwell created to describe the tyranny of a brutal dictatorship. We’re talking about law and ethics in a civilised democracy. It’s unjust hyperbole.
Incidentally – not talking about fan fic here, but copyright violations in general, as a general point of interest – have you read Nicholas Nickleby? Dickens was continually having knock-offs and dramatisations of his work pirated without his permission. It drove him crazy. There’s a whole sequence in Nicholas Nickleby where our hero gets into a debate about the rights and wrongs of the case with a book pirate.
Interesting discussion. But rather jammed into the book, and doesn’t really improve it artistically. For the benefit of the readers, it might have been better if pirates had failed to piss Dickens off enough that he started ranting in his novels.
Possible conclusion? If a fan base annoys an author badly enough, it may skew their judgement about what to put in their work. Which is bad for fans who want them to write at their best. I really doubt JK Rowling failed to pair Harry and Hermione just to annoy her fans. But if you get enough lunatics bothering you, I wonder whether it might start to be tempting.
(Based on your DM reply to Kete, Lee, presumably you don’t fall into this category. :))
Now, Lee, would you please chose one line of argumentation and stick to it?!
Either you have accommodated readers’ wishes in the past, as you said before – then excuse me for not understanding why you wouldn’t for the h/c fans – or “it’s your call, you’re not a stenographer, it’s your creative expression, you’re telling the stories you want to tell, that inspire you and you’re not answering a check-list of fan requests.”
What will it be now?
“I have already written the Steve-injured scene that you describe. I did it in a two-hour DM episode (“Retribution”) and had Mark practically sobbing over his dying, shirtless son. Been there, done that, won’t be doing it again.”
See, that’s something I can understand.
“I write the stories I want to tell and that I think the majority of the fans might like to read. If I am wrong, they won’t buy the books. So far, I’ve been right.”
Well, you’ll never know if you couldn’t be still more successfull paying even *closer* attention to the show’s fans requests.
Ey-up, I think we’re coming from such completely different points of view here that this may forever keep going in circles, but I’m trying to be a bit more understandable myself.
Ey-up’s points: “-When I say the author is the only one who writes about the characters, I mean the author is the only one who gets to use them in a story.”
This seems to be an opinion, not a fact.
“-When I said fanfic does something to authors, I meant to authors, not to their work.”
I do not see how fanfic does anything to authors.
“-The Barker thing was just an example to show that motivation doesn’t automatically make an action okay. The trouble with arguing by analogy is that people tend to get too literal about any example you pick, so let me try it without analogies: if somebody does something that is bad for good reasons, while it doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person, it doesn’t automatically mean their action in itself isn’t bad.”
But I haven’t read any argument here that deals with the fact that you’re taking fanfiction (or the posting thereof) as… inherently wrong? Motivation doesn’t automatically make any action okay, but it seems that it would have some bearing in making a neutral action “okay” or “not okay”? (And, actually, even if someone was writing fanfic because they hated something and got a huge thrill out of ridiculing it, I wouldn’t find it “not okay”. I have nothing against people on Television Without Pity who grow to hate the show they’re recapping.)
“-You said that fanfic doesn’t involve the author in any way. That’s the whole problem. Saying that the characters can be used in a way that actively excludes the person who created them is an enormous, incredible implication, and not necessarily a good one.”
I think it’s a great one. Because, frankly, once a text is published an author has no control over what people think or feel or say about their work. And those characters, those settings, they may be copyrightable, but my understanding of copyright (which is totally not a lawyer’s one), is that it is primarily concerned about giving a creator control over who profits from their work or things derived from it, so as to enable them to earn a living. It doesn’t say anything about owning the *ideas*. And it makes exception for certain /kinds/ of derivative work.
I mean, does or does not parody exlude the original author at least as much as fanfic? Does or does not critical commentary that concentrates on subtext the author did not consciously include do the same thing? HOW does fanfic affect an author any more than these other, apparently more accepted, forms of creative reaction to the original work?
“Do you really think ‘No way!’ is a respectful response to someone trying to make a serious point?”
I thought I was pretty clear about it being a gut reaction, and not specifically a response to you?
I’m snipping your example, if that’s okay. It was getting a little unwieldy to quote it.
I see what you’re trying to say, and I disagree with it and I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at explaining why. I’m probably going to be taking this “too literally” for you, but I’m trying to explain my response within the framework you gave me.
You say “I was on his turf.” Now. Maybe I’m too idealistic in a way that doesn’t work in the real world, but I don’t see fanfic as intruding on an author’s space in such a way as to make your analogy very applicable as anything but a “Hey, if someone’s saying something you disagree with with all your heart, but being polite about it, be polite back.” Which… depending on what they’re saying, I *would* go “Okay.” and walk away, or I’d call them on their bullshit.
And this tangent is getting away from me, but… In order for an author to be offended or hurt by a fan-something, they must be aware of it. Would you have reacted differently if this gentleman, say, went to a local showing of models made by amateur architects, and demanded you remove your model of his mosque because you put a tiny figure of a woman where women wouldn’t be allowed in the real place? Maybe you wouldn’t. But maybe some people think that their creative work (whether or not they meet anyone else’s criteria for “art”) shouldn’t be hidden away because someone, even someone who feels they have a proprietary interest in its inspiration, could be or is offended by it.
“Doubtless a couple of people will post saying, ‘yes, but that’s different for this and that reason’, so bear with me. It’s a very basic point. If you’re on someone else’s patch, you ought to be prepared to make some concessions. And however many livejournal boards fans set up, fan fic takes place on the author’s patch. If the author doesn’t mind, then great, knock yourselves out. You’re invited. But courtesy sometimes involves swallowing your own opinion and conceding someone else’s.”
I guess the problem is that people keep saying writing (or maybe more accurately, posting on the internets) fanfiction is intruding in an author’s space, but I’ve never seen any explanation or persuasive argument as to WHY. You seem take this as, if not fact, then a belief that all decent people should have. I don’t. In my view, the author’s patch extends as far as their mind, their text, and, when it comes to profit, their copyright.
And in a later post Ey-up also said: “If a fan base annoys an author badly enough, it may skew their judgement about what to put in their work. Which is bad for fans who want them to write at their best.”
I’m sure I’m missing the point here, because you seem to be holding annoying fans responsible for the creator’s behavior. No fan, no matter how whacked out or even outright creepy, can MAKE a creator change their work. (And if all it takes is annoyance to spur a creator to changing their original vision, how sacrosanct can it be?)
In response to Ey-up and bouncing off what HM said, above, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again since I don’t think Ey-up was part of that discussion.
I would see fan fiction more as a part of a fan writers’ attempt to build up a personal dialogue with the source text: clearly there are some tropes, some stories, which the source text is not telling (and is not designed to tell) which the fans want to hear. The original author is extraneous to that – they are not a party to the dialogue.
I’d also add that it’s also often a dialogue between fan fiction writers – much fan fiction is written both in response to the text, and also in response to what other fanfiction writers have written.
While fanfic writers continue to acknowledge the original creator(s) as the holder of the copyright on the original text – which remains unchanged – I’m not sure why you would wish to prevent or stop this dialogue happening.
A dialogue with the source text seems entirely healthy to me, whatever form it takes, indicating a “connection” with the ideas the original writer put forward, with the source text.
Perhaps it could be said that some kinds of critical connection – literary criticism for example – is legitimate, but fanfiction not. It seems to me, however, that it is not ‘in the gift’ of the author or original creator to make the decision about how readers or viewers connect with the text. (Well, you can try, but it won’t work in the long term.)
Not allowing various forms of interaction around a source, it seems to me, is tantamount to treating the audience as an unthinking mass and refusing to allow those who want it that critical connection. I believe that’s possibly what the person meant when they used the term ‘thought police’.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with analogies. They can be very illuminating if they are chosen well, even if they can’t prove anything on their own. I happen to think that the analogy we were discussing (loud music) illustrated my position better than it did yours, but that is a factor in that particular analogy, not analogies in general. If I thought that my position could be disproved easily, I wouldn’t be in this debate. I have considered many arguments against amateur derivative writing and (it should be obvious at this point) I think that given a few economic conditions, it should be allowed. However, I’m not so impressed with my own logic that I don’t think that others may have good points to make or that I couldn’t be persuaded to change my position by the right argument – that’s why I’m here. But so far, no one has made that argument. Ironically, I was probably more sympathetic to the other side before getting into this discussion. Thank you for solidifying my position 🙂
What I see happening here is people still don’t GET that there’s a difference between so called “Intellectual Property” and real property. Part of the problem is the terms have been deliberately conflated, but also I don’t think you quite get what I mean by that difference. The “property” in intellectual property is not the creative work itself – it’s the economic monopoly, the copyright. Let me give you an analogy (!). Fishing quotas are bought, sold, and traded just like any other property. If you own a fishing quota, you don’t actually own any fish – you own the right to go out and catch some, within limits. You own your gear (which allows you to catch fish) and you own any fish you actually catch, but you don’t actually own a portion of the fish stock – that belongs to the nation who’s waters you’re fishing in. It’s not a perfect analogy – ideas aren’t fish just waiting to be caught. But neither are fishing quotas monopolies, and a copyright is. This is much clearer in the literature surrounding other types of intellectual property. Rarely does anyone talk about “owning” an invention. Thomas Edison didn’t “own” the light bulb. He did own the patent on it for a while.
I’m sorry if this offends people, but once an idea is “out there” it has a life of it’s own. It becomes part of the literature and the common culture. It’s no longer just the “author’s patch.” They created it, but they drew on that same common culture and literature in order to do it. We acknowledge the author’s contribution by giving them the exclusive right to profit from it, but that’s as far as it goes. We get to incorporate it into our thoughts, react to it, criticize it, or reject it – the author has no control over that. If you want to assign him some sort of moral rights, go ahead, but as far as I can tell that is some sort of religious belief and I am not required to share your religion. I may feel moved to extend greater courtesies to an author who I admire or who’s work I admire, but that is my choice – otherwise I only feel obligated to extend them the courtesies I would to any other person. No more, and no less. I don’t feel it is doing an author a discourtesy if I admire thier work so much I feel inspired to explore it. You hold a different opinion, but a difference in opinion as to what constitutes courtesy does not make either of us immoral.
You are right, if I walked into a mosque, I would cover my head, remove my shoes and stay out of the area that is restricted to men. That is just showing respect. But once I leave the mosque I am within my rights to discuss why I feel those practices are wrong, even if my opinions would offend faithful muslims. I am also within my rights to drink alcohol, wear skimpy clothes and disobey my father (I’m an adult). But the “restricted area” for authors is the literature _market_. I wouldn’t try to get a piece of fanfic published professionally without the permission of the copyright holder. If I thought, or was told, that a piece of fanfic I had control over was threatening the original author’s financial interests I would remove it, regardless of whether I thought that I had a realistic risk of getting sued. I wouldn’t go into a forum frequented by the copyright holder and present them with fanfic, because I wouldn’t want to risk that they would get accused of plagiarism. But that is entirely different than refraining from reading or writing fanfic altogether.
I haven’t read Nicholas Nickleby – I happen to find Dickens’ writing style really annoying, sorry – but if I remember correctly from what I’ve read in secondary sources, Dickens was upset about people reproducing his actual work without paying royalties – not that they were writing derivatives based on his characters. I would absolutely agree that that is wrong – no one should have been selling his actual work without paying him. But is the violation of his financial interests that I think is wrong – that was his living. That was a consequence of how copyright law was applied at the time – there were no international agreements honoring another countries copyright laws. It was a flaw in the application of copyright that the US presses took unfair advantage of. Just as Disney and the software companies are taking unfair advantage of the way that copyright is applied today, as well as swinging their weight around to get the actual law changed in their favor.
Sorry if that’s all tl;dr. I usually try to limit the size of any given post but y’all have covered a lot of ground in the last day or so and I’m limited in how much time I can spend on line. 🙂
re: Bill Rabkin
Since you’re so proud of your lack of ignorance, I thought you’d like to know that while all the writers you mentioned wrote in German, quite a few of them aren’t in fact from Germany.
Peter Handke, Robert Musil, Hugo von Hoffman(n)stahl, Ilse Aichinger and Ingeborg Bachman(n) are all Austrian, Franz Kafka was born in Prague, then part of Austria-Hungary, Friedrich Durrenmat(t) Swiss and Paul Celan born in Romania. And why mention Hannah Arendt in this context? I mean, if you’re going to include political thinkers, why not Marx and Engels too? Surely a worldly man, such as yourself, knows of those two.
Wasn’t snipping at you particularly on the analogies thing, Lost Erizo, it was more a general point. Sorry if I inadvertently offended you; I just meant I’ve never seen anyone convince anyone else on this subject by using an analogy, here or elsewhere. Hope I haven’t solidified your position by proving the ‘other side’ are just a bunch of bastards! And I think everyone who’s arguing for fanfic has made some good points; they haven’t changed my mind either, but it’s good to hear intelligent arguments from both sides.
(I think you’re right about Dickens; again, it was more an interesting side-note than an argument to support any particular point. Hey, this thread isn’t long enough.)
One point that several people have raised (too many to say hello to you all, so consider yourselves greeted): that an idea has a life of its own once it’s ‘out there’. This is a major contention, and it’s one I disagree with, but for complicated reasons that I’ll try to explain but might garble because it’s difficult to express, but I think important. I’m sure y’all will pick up fuzzy thinking and make me refine my ideas.
Here we go:
How can an idea have a life of its own? Ideas are a process that takes place within the human brain. They can’t exist outside the body any more than a heartbeat can; ideas need to have hosts.
This is why I disagree when people say an idea has a life of its own. It presents everyone involved in the handling of the idea as passive agents. They’re not; they’re active. That’s how the idea exists, through human activity. There’s never a point when an idea is in the ether: it goes directly from brain to brain.
Anyone disagree so far? If not, read on, as this is what I extrapolate from that first principle:
If an idea is put in public, it can settle, with slight variations throughout, in a number of different brains, potentially thousands. But fans haven’t plucked a character out of the ether, they’ve been handed it directly from the author. Which means it hasn’t gone through a stage when some kind of de-author-isation process takes place. Author-fan. No cleansing passage through ‘culture’ en route. That’s why I keep talking about personal responsibility; fans are much closer to a living author than they claim. Just one degree of Kevin Bacon. And they aren’t the ether, they’re active agents.
There are, to my mind, two ways to remove the author. One is the passage of time, as their work passes through brain after brain and the dead author fades from view. Hence my view that a dead author and a living author are two different propositions, and that there is an ethical soundness to the idea of ‘out of copyright’.
Two: reconstitution. If you mulch down the idea into your subconscious and general knowledge, then grow a new idea out of the compost, then you’re being influenced, using common culture and good luck to you. This doesn’t happen with fan fic. The characters are undigested. (Mixed metaphors, but never mind.)
There’s a third option that seems to be getting proposed here, which is that a communicative and involved fan culture rapidly builds up around a given work, and starts playing around with it. To my mind, saying that this de-authors a work is trying to force along a process that has to happen organically. The author is still there. He or she has spoken to all of them directly.
And that’s why I say there’s something wrong with unauthorised fan fic. Now, bear in mind that I’m talking from the position of a writer who is in no way involved in fan fic, apart from having opinions about it, and part of what I’m saying comes from an instinctive sense of what, for a writer, is good practice. But to me, the problem with fan fic is that it claims something has happened by fiat, because the fans and the fans alone have decided it’s happened, which normally involves either decades going by or new writers putting in a lot more work. It’s conceptually violent, and rushed, and imposing something on a work of art that it isn’t yet ready for.
Ooh, I bet a lot of people will disagree with that. Anyone agree with any of it? Anyone? It’s been days since anyone but me posted a detailed argument against fan fic (except Lee on DM), and I’m getting lonely.
Having said all I have to say on the subject, here and elsewhere, I have just been lurking. But I will step in long enough to say that I agree with you 100%, Ey-up.
Ey-up wrote: “If you mulch down the idea into your subconscious and general knowledge, then grow a new idea out of the compost, then you’re being influenced, using common culture and good luck to you. This doesn’t happen with fan fic. The characters are undigested.”
I think I can see what you’re getting at, though I disagree.
The reason that I disagree is because I’ve read a lot – and I mean a *lot* – of fanfic which takes the ideas and characters put forward in the text, sieves it through sometimes only the individual fan’s culture, sometimes through the whole culture of fannish conciousness and then, from that, producess something else, something which transcends both.
The process may appear ‘rushed’, but I’m not sure that speed makes it any the less valid.
I don’t know how much fanfiction you’ve read, Ey-up, but it sounds to me as if you’re assuming all fanfiction is of a particular type or genre, that all of it uses main characters and it’s just not so.
It would be useful to know, therefore, what you imagine fanfiction to be, what you think it’s about, and what sort of stories exist – I’ve said before in these debates that I could recommend some excellent work, but that the writers of those probably don’t want the exposure which might ensue and I point to the “Dr Robin Reed” business for why I take this line.
Ey-up wrote: “But to me, the problem with fan fic is that it claims something has happened by fiat, because the fans and the fans alone have decided it’s happened, which normally involves either decades going by or new writers putting in a lot more work.”
That assumes that the fanfic writers supplant the actual authors as a legitimate source of canon, which is a very, very, very rare thing.
There’s a very clear distinction between professional and fan-work. Even legitimate extensions of the author’s work, such as the Star Wars Extended Universe or film adaptations of novels, are often treated as separate universes with their own separate continuities. So unless fan ideas are actively incorporated into legitimate canon, the two spheres never intersect in the way you’re suggesting.
In fact, there’s only one example I can think of off the top of my head – Sulu’s given name in “Star Trek” was filled in by the fans, because he never had one in the original show, and was then subsequently adopted into canon (It’s Hikaru, by the way).
Thank you Chadwick my friend!
Hi Rommel: no, I don’t read much fan fic, I’m more interested in it as a phenomenon. I have to say, though, that I’ve read a few things that came highly recommended and thought they were very poorly executed, so I’m not dead keen. However, I imagine that the majority of it is bad because the majority of any kind of writing is bad, but there’s probably some clever and able people involved; I’d expect that some of it involves major characters, some of it involves walk-ons, some of it steers close to canon, some of it takes issue with canon, some of it is alternate universe, some of it is gleefully unfaithful, some of it is parodic; not all of it is sexual fantasies, but some of it is … Actually, a very good friend of mine is a sometime fanficker, and we’ve had some entertaining debates on the subject, so I’m not quite as ignorant as I might be. Though if you have more things to tell me, I’m happy to hear them.
Chenile: no, it doesn’t. I’m talking about the right to write about characters at all, not the right to have final say on what ‘really’ happened to them.
Here’s another point I’d like to raise. People have been making a case that fan fic counts as a dialogue between reader and text, which is good for society because it encourages free exchange and diversity of thought. I’m all for dialogue. But do you think that covers all of fan fic? And if not, where do you draw the line?
Let’s take an example which can be seen on this blog – hurt/comfort. There’s a Starsky and Hutch example Lee posted earlier, and the requests he mentions he’s had for DM h/c.
Now, unless I very much miss my guess, the primary attraction of hurt/comfort is that it appeals to the sexual and/or personal fantasies of fans. And here’s the thing: fans are projecting them onto two completely different shows, which have little in common with each other. And yet, there’s a striking similarity in the h/c. The fantasies have more in common with each other than they do with the shows they’re grafted on to.
All sorts of other fantasies get projected as well, often with little if anything in the text to support them. Slash comes to mind; I think it would strain credulity to argue that the primary motive of someone writing slash is to explore the sexual politics implied in a particular work, rather than a yen for two fine men with their underpants off. And the reason those fantasies are there, similar in content despite the tremendous diversity of the original texts, is that they’re brought there and tacked on, according to the pre-existing fantasies of the fans, rather than in response to the text.
If fan fic is dialogue, that’s a comment delivered by somebody who hasn’t taken a blind bit of notice of what their interlocutor was saying, because they’re too busy mulling over their favourite obsession. That doesn’t encourage diversity or free exchange of ideas; it’s incredibly homogenous. It’s turning everything from cop thriller to sci-fi epic into raw material for the same fantasy. Is that really a free-debate, critical engagement with the work? I mean, really?
Don’t worry about offending me – I never take anything that happens in an internet debate to heart unless it is an obvious personal attack. The majority of the time, hurt feelings are the result of misinterpretation stemming from the lack of subtlety that voices and facial expressions could add to a conversation. I try to assume that people are arguing in good faith with ideas, not people, until proved otherwise. Believe me, my everyday conversations are nowhere near as formal as my writing here.
“How can an idea have a life of its own? Ideas are a process that takes place within the human brain. They can’t exist outside the body any more than a heartbeat can; ideas need to have hosts.”
In the interests of saving space I won’t repeat your arguments – everyone can read up-thread if they want to see them.
I think you’re getting into circular arguments. The existence of a creator doesn’t mean that the creation doesn’t have an independent existence. Of course an idea has no meaning without a person to host it. But once you release an idea from your own brain by writing it down it has an existence separate from you. You can no longer control it completely. You can try – you can limit who you share it with, keep it to a small circle of friends who agree to keep it amongst themselves – but even they are going to be influenced by it and have reactions to it to some extent. I suppose you could actually destroy it before anyone else gets to see it. But if you publish it you are inviting complete strangers to share it, and you can’t expect to control it after that. The author could drop dead the same second the book gets sent to the printers and that wouldn’t change the text he wrote. I will have my own reactions to and interpretations of a text regardless of whether the author has been dead for a century or is sitting on the other side of the room from me as I read. The fact that I take something from the text that the author didn’t intend is irrelevant as long my interpretation is actually based on the text. The original author’s reading of the text is no more valid than someone else’s.
I don’t know how you can take from that that I think that either authors or readers are passive agents. If anything I view readers and fans as more active participants in the process since they aren’t just passively receiving the text, as some here have argued they should do (I think it was Mr. Saxelid who argued several threads back that professional authors should tell fans “Look folks, we create it, you just enjoy it, and that’s all.”). I don’t think that a text needs to be digested through some arbitrary number of minds or amount of time before it becomes part of the culture. I don’t think that the sheer number of fans devoted to a work somehow “force along a process that has to happen organically” because I don’t think a work needs to be digested beyond all recognition before anyone else can use it. And I REALLY I don’t think a work should ever be intentionally “de-authored” as you put it. The original author should _always_ get credit for their work regardless of how long they’ve been dead. But credit is not ownership or control. The fact that they deserve credit for their contribution does not imply that an author can control how people process a text even if they are still alive and kicking.
And no matter how much a work penetrates or influences the consciousness of a culture, unless it is lost through malice, accident, time or mistranslation, the original work is still there for new readers to enjoy in it’s original form. No number of derivative works can change that.
Old horse being beaten.
If you write any kind of work based on another’s work, (whether you have permission and/or you are paid for it) you’ve got no talent.
Come up with your own damn worlds.
How’s that for the other side of the coin?
That’s the flip I keep getting. You know what it really is? It’s an avoidance of all the crap a real author has to go through to get published. These are “vanity Remorras” and nothing more. It’s a sick cult of fan worship. The headline reads “I’m stupid and online infringing copyrights.” Duh and then some.
Erizo if you put as much time into writing real fiction as you do defending fan fic, you’d probably be a hell of a writer. A piece of advice, kid: quit the arguing about a lost point and go create a viable art form, you’ve got the intelligence, but not the intelligence to leave a time consuming arguement with people who don’t care what you have to say. Just go write.
Jumping in, because this has actually become a good debate.
One thing that hasn’t really been addressed here is the role of community in fanfiction.
I have a friend who didn’t even realize she was writing fanfiction when she got started. She was on a mailing list for a book series, and between books, the fans would speculate about what would happen next. They started by talking about what would happen to characters X and Y in the next book, which evolved to writing snippets about how the readers envisioned things happening.
It wasn’t until the World Wide Web became popular that my friend came across other fan writers and realized they weren’t the only ones to have done this.
You can’t separate fanfiction from the community. Most fanfiction writers are writing not only for themselves, but for their friends. A common tradition on LiveJournal is the “birthday fic.” When someone in the fanfiction community has a birthday, it’s common for her (or his) friends to write short stories with the characters and genres that the birthday person likes.
For most people, fanfiction isn’t a writing exercise or a stepping stone to a professional career (although it can be both.) It’s a form of communication. It’s a way of finding new friends that you weren’t even looking for.
These communities don’t have to be open to the public. Mercedes Lackey isn’t opposed to fanfiction – she’s written it herself – but she requests that fans don’t post it on the web, for fear of lawsuits. (No one can sue her for “stealing their idea” if she doesn’t have access to the idea in the first place.) But it’s much easier for them to grow and thrive if they are public.
Many, many fans do comply with the author’s wishes. Of course some creators, like Joss Whedon, have given the fans carte blanche to do with his characters as they will. Yes, even smut and slash.
Slash stories can be a genuine dialog about the characters, by the way. Not all, of course – it’s frequently written just for the fun of it. But when you have same sex relationships, the power dynamic is no longer defined by gender.
I find it interesting that Lee has no problem discussing Keira Knightley’s nipples, but is offended at the idea of Starsky and Hutch being lovers. Does respect for other people stop when that person is a beautiful woman? Would it be as horrifying if the characters getting it on were a couple of Charlie’s Angels?
The “hurt/comfort” genre may seem odd at first glance, but how many stories/movies/TV shows have one person in a couple being badly injured and the other person taking care of them? It’s a very human instinct to be drawn to these kind of stories.
For the record, fanfiction is not illegal and it is not a crime. If it is in violation of anything (and I personally consider it fair use, but I am not a judge, so my opinion doesn’t count) then it is a copyright infringement, which would result in a civil suit, not an arrest.
“It’s an avoidance of all the crap a real author has to go through to get published. These are “vanity Remorras” and nothing more. It’s a sick cult of fan worship.”
Hmm. All derivative works are written by authors who can’t hack it writing ‘real fiction’ huh?
I wonder how Mr. Goldberg feels about this sentiment.
There appears to be a interesting dualogy of ideas. It’s all crap and it’s all a strange weird hobby or lazy out for authors– unless they have permission to make money off of it.
Well for a little info about legalities try this:
it amazing how the fanfic crowd always returns to the money issue, like it’s disgraceful and wrong. its like they are saying ‘We’re more noble because we’re doing it for love, not money.’ Hmm. I see some jealousy here. Take the money out of it, since it doesn’t really apply, and then what is the fanfic argument? there is none.
“Take the money out of it, since it doesn’t really apply, and then what is the fanfic argument? there is none.”
Oddly, considering that a lot of people bring copyright into play (laws that are specificially about the author getting their money’s worth) and/or say that if you really want to write you should be original and try to get published OR that fanfic is okay to practice the craft for future proffessional writing as long as you don’t put it on the internet.
It’s hard NOT to come back to money.
Also there have been NUMEROUS accusations that all derivative work is crap when there is a LONG AND VARIED history of derivative work. Shakespeare did it. Tom Stoppard did it — TO Shakespeare. Not all derivative work is fanfic. And frankly, not all fanfic is illegal.
That answer why it comes back to money all the time?
And no, taking money out of the equation does not invalidate every argument. Many of the recent comments in the conversation show that even removing money from the conversation does not take away from the arguments presented.
A – I’m not saying hurt/comfort isn’t a basic story, I’m just using it as an example of fans imposing a generic fantasy that’s egregiously inappropriate to the text, that’s more about their personal preferences than about any kind of dialogue. I used it because there’s a couple of examples on this site, but other quirks and kinks would do. Same for slash – my point was that it’s hard to apply the ‘fic is dialogue’ argument to something so far removed from the text. As you say, it’s written ‘just for the fun of it’, and fun that has to do with the author’s foibles that they’re imposing. Which is hard to square with ‘fic is dialogue’.
You mentioned community. Now, I’m not a member of a fan community, but as I’m basically arguing that fan fiction is fine if the author’s okay with it but not if he or she isn’t, can you answer me this: do you think it’s healthy for a community to be based on the exclusion of its chief resource provider? Fans tend to emphasise that the author isn’t part of their community, so they don’t get a vote. So, if a community builds up around fan fiction despite an author’s requests to stop, is it healthy for the community to run on a refusal to honour the request of the person without whom it couldn’t exist?
And I’m not knocking fan communities. I’ve heard some very nice things about them. If Mercedes Lackey’s fans are respecting her request to tuck fic away, then that’s a nice community. But I just think there’s something fundamentally nasty about a community that thrives on saying ‘to heck with the wishes of the person whose work we’re united by love of’.
Erizo – you seem to be saying that authors can’t control what fans think of their work. Of course not. But many fickers seem to see having an idea for a fic and posting it on the Net as inextricably linked, as if you can’t do one without the other. No one disputes the right to think, but plenty of people dispute the right to post. What I was saying – sorry if it seems circular, I knew it would be a difficult idea to formulate – is that what we’re talking about is human actions here, and those are entirely willed, and not committed by the ‘idea’ but by people.
And no, I don’t think the creation has an independent existence. The creation doesn’t exist, and it fuzzes the issue to say it does. A book is just an object if nobody reads it. There is no creation: there’s the author, and there’s people who have read the author’s book. And there’s an implied covenant between them. The trouble comes when the author and the fans have different ideas about what that covenant is.
When an author is saying, ‘by accepting the entertainment I provided you, you’ve agreed to respect my rights as author’, and fans are saying ‘by getting published, you’ve accepted our rights to fic’, then we’ve got a clash of wills in which both side is convinced that they’re right. Under such circumstances, I think the decent thing to do is to respect the different amounts of effort that people have put in. The author has put far more work into writing the book than fans have into reading it. Yes, they’ve paid for it, but the price of the book again represents a tiny amount of billable man-hours compared with what the author has done. And, say I, the one who’s done the bigger share of the work has the right to ask for a bigger say in the covenant. And the covenant, say I, is between the author and each fan individually, not between the author and the community, because each person absorbs the work individually.
And Dane – I care about what Lost Erizo has to say. I don’t agree with her, but I’m interested. Do you write, Lost Erizo? Do you think whether you do or not has anything to do with your stance on fan fic?
Taking the copyright discussion out of the realm of fanfiction for a moment, what do we do with a situation like Stephen Joyce? The story (in short, but it will make this very long, sorry:)
1. Joyce’s work is out of copyright in Canada, which operates under old copyright laws (50 years from publication, not 50 years from death,) but nowhere else in the world. Manuscript and unpublished work such as letters, diaries, etc. never leaves copyright. (So I guess Canadian students aren’t disrupting the fabric of Western Civ. but everyone else is?)
2. For years the Joyce estate was administered by a trust who were receptive to academic study and public performances of Joyce and so forth. The Joyce estate was typically very generous with granting permission to use copyright material.
3. Stephen Joyce (James’ grandson) is sort of nuts – and he now controls the estate. He’s also fairly jealous, because the grandson of Joyce’s landlady in Paris or something like that discovered a bunch of unpublished work recently, and was paid a large amount for it. S. Joyce wants to profit from James Joyce too, so now asks outrageous fees for things like quoting from Ulysses in a graduate dissertation. Not being a Joyce scholar myself, I think this is often bizarrely hilarous performance art (he shows up at conferences and harangues the participants and writes people absurdly nasty letters and so forth,) but he has legitimately ruined the careers of a number of Joyce scholars. Basically, Stephen Joyce hates academics, and won’t authorize release of non-copyright material. He also has a beef against Ireland, so won’t allow permission for public readings and the like. This doesn’t mean no Ulysses fanfiction (which just seems like it would be really smelly,) it means no performances, readings, etc. of Joyce’s work. No plays based on Joyce’s work. No biographies, etc. that use things like letters. No dissertations or books that quote from letters, manuscripts, or for non-Canadians, Joyce’s books. Beyond this, the problem is that Stephen Joyce, as I said, is nuts – one reason for him not granting permission was that he decided the university that owns the press has a vulgar name for their sports team. Stephen Joyce didn’t write the books himself, but basically does get to control how everyone thinks about them, what gets studied – and there’s many cases of people writing their dissertation or book and Joyce refusing permission at the last moment, making them unable to receive their degree/tenure/etc.
4. S. Joyce actively impedes study – for example, one person created a hypertext website of Ulysses, that would allow students to click on links within the text of the book as they read and see, for example, the actual locations Joyce was talking about, manuscript corrections, relevant diary sections, annotations explaining words, history, Irish politics and so on. For a difficult book, this would have been a great resource. Joyce asked 5 million dollars (on a Canadian academic salary?) for release of the material. Sucks to be you, university students! No learning allowed! He wrote a letter to the academic that included things like “When I’m through with you you might as well become a garbageman, because you’ll never work in academia again.” And basically, since he won’t grant permission for this person to use any material, he actually won’t work again.
That’s already long, and it’s a very short version of the things that go on (it’s like an absurdist play most of the time) – but since we’ve entered this discussion about the morals of copyright and so forth, I’m curious. When we’re not talking about male pregnancy stories written by (horrors!) women in fandom – but about study and performance and appreciation and dissemination of maybe the most important book in the English language, and someone who controls copyright is telling people they’re not allowed to publish studies of it, or help others think about it, or write about the book, or use any other material – is that as legitimate? I think S. Joyce DOES raise some good points about the use of things like personal letters – letters for example that James had begged remain private but that the old estate gave permission to publish (the famous scat letters to Norah), or things like outrageous studies that make James Joyce a pedophile and so forth – but I’m not sure that just because he now controls the estate, it’s “moral” for him to actively prevent scholarship and learning about James Joyce, nor is it “moral” to arbitrarily and deliberately ruin the lives of people on a whim based on capricious dislikes of school mascots and such. Is it “moral” to basically endeavor to stop people thinking about something in any way except the way you want them to? Academic study isn’t about writing buttsex or whatever you find ridiculous about fanfiction – it’s about learning to think and write and appreciate, and making books important (and Ulysses wouldn’t be nearly as important were it not for academics and the canon) – all the things you say you value and that fanfiction denigrates (well, it’s also about tenure.) So does that still make Joyce morally right and academics morally bankrupt?
Maybe everyone here thinks academic study is useless anyway, but the fabric of Western Civilization and so on has definitely been founded in part on Universities – so what’s the morality of this one? The legality, obviously, is on Stephen Joyce’s side, and everyone has to respect that, or risk a large expensive lawsuit.
Ey-up: “do you think it’s healthy for a community to be based on the exclusion of its chief resource provider?”
Well, I’m one fan who’s very suspicious of the proximity of “The Man” the fanworks and fans, so yes – far more than the other way round, in fact. My experience has been that fans who are in fandom in order to get close to the creator(s) or participants (such as actors) are some of the dottiest individuals fandom has to offer and I’m therefore more than a little wary.
The idea that a creator or participant might want to get that close to the fans doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either – my experienece has been that when this kind of thing occurs (and it has) the outcome is usually a poor lookout for all concerned. *cough*Blake’s7fanwars*cough*
Another reason for this is the tendency for copyright and trademark holders to want to control how the work is dealt with and interpreted by viewers and fans. I have to say, one example of this would be the idea of, “fans imposing a generic fantasy that’s egregiously inappropriate to the text,” and “Same for slash – my point was that it’s hard to apply the ‘fic is dialogue’ argument to something so far removed from the text.”
I would argue that this kind of writing, is where the ‘fic as dialogue’ argument applies most strongly. It is not in the gift of the author to decide what is and is not “too” removed from the text. That, it seems to me, is applying a theory of the author as gift-giver to an undifferentiated mass of fans.
Ey-up: “There is no creation: there’s the author, and there’s people who have read the author’s book.”
I could not disagree more,. it’s my opinion – my very strong opinion – that the author is not the text.
Once a text has left the author’s hands and been published it then takes on an existence out of the author’s mind and becomes something ‘other’, something ‘out there’. Each individual reader brings their own perceptions and experiences to their interpretation of the text, or fans (and critics) could not indulge in interminable discussions about meaning. Fandom is one place where those interpretations are discussed, and fanfiction is one of the many methods of sharing those interpretations.
That it’s also a great place where you get to read about two hot guys getting it on is also true – but that’s not all that it is.
That’s the biggest load of horse hockey I’ve ever read. That’s my strong opinion but one backed up by law and universal ethics, not some wild relativistic carte blanche to pilfer original work. At its worst it’s character defamation. Not all opinions are created equal. Some have a foundation in reality.
Hi Stephen Joyce poster. I don’t know the facts of that case myself, but it sounds peculiar to me – I thought academic study came under the heading of ‘fair use’. Anyway, if what you say is true he’s clearly abusing his position in some ways. BUT, even he isn’t trying to control what people think, just what they put in print. I’m not condoning him, but it’s an important distinction.
Also, everyone else, what we’ve been arguing about is fan fic during the author’s lifetime. The Joyce case isn’t applicable.
‘It is not in the gift of the author to decide what is and is not “too” removed from the text.’
When we’re talking about things like slash, I don’t think the author is the only one who’d say it was removed from the text. I’d say it was pretty much any neutral observer. I mean, come on, you’re really stretching common sense if you argue otherwise.
By what stretch of the imagination is the author ‘The Man’?! Sorry, but that really is a breathtaking imputation. It’s a serious fallacy, and I can only think it’s based on one of two things:
1. Fans encounter an author in the same way that they’d encounter a company, through their products.
2. You’re conflating imaginative power with real power.
Listen, please. I’m an author. I know other authors. I’ve worked with authors. They are single individuals with very little power in the real world. In no way do they have the ability to control the world from behind the scenes for personal gain, which is what The Man is meant to do.
The fact that you experience them as an eminence grise who has the ability to control characters within a fictional setting is a purely subjective situation. It does not accurately reflect them. I’m sorry, but if you perceive the author as ‘The Man’ purely because they’re trying to stop you from doing something that you want to do, you’re either using hyperbole to an insulting degree or you have a completely false view of what an author is. Not everything that thwarts you is oppressive. Why are you seeing fans as the victims here?
“do you think it’s healthy for a community to be based on the exclusion of its chief resource provider?”
Yes, I think it is healthy.
Fan communities aren’t ultimately about the source text. They’re about the fans connecting with each other. The source is just the starting point.
Does a creator have a right to tell the fans, “You can’t discuss my work”? To tell them they can’t share ideas and fantasies that are sparked by the creator’s original work?
It’s fair for a creator to ask for those to be kept away from the public eye. (I don’t think a creator *should* ask that of the fans, except in the case of adult material, but that’s a choice that’s up to the creator.)
But is it fair for them to ask these people to not have these thoughts at all? To not share them with their friends?
If the community isn’t about the source text, then why do they have to fick it to be a community? You can’t have it both ways.
They’re not *just* about the source text. The communities come together as fans and evolve into something more.
Suppose a group of people are fans of a minor league baseball team. They start by attending games individually, but when they see the same people there over and over, they start talking. They form friendships. They plan tailgate parties together.
Then the baseball team is moved to another city. There aren’t live games to attend, so what does this community do? Maybe they gather at someone’s house to watch the games on cable. Maybe they play their own games on Saturday afternoons in the park. Maybe they play fantasy baseball together.
People often connect over a common interest, but you can take away the original interest and keep the connection.
Obviously. People can unite over a common interest, then move on past the common interest to remain friends. But fan ficking is in no conceivable way moving past the common interest. The interest is right there. It’s none of the author’s business what fans get up to once they stop ficking, but until that day, the source text is vitally present in every story they post. Saying you’ve moved beyond it while ficking it makes no sense at all.
And for the last time, having a thought and posting it online are not inextricably linked. You can do one without the other. The right to the one does not guarantee the right to the other, and it’s logically absurd to assume otherwise. We’re talking about actions, not thoughts. The next person who says ‘the author can’t control fans’ thoughts’, I’m ignoring.
Ey-up: “When we’re talking about things like slash, I don’t think the author is the only one who’d say it was removed from the text. I’d say it was pretty much any neutral observer. I mean, come on, you’re really stretching common sense if you argue otherwise.”
My point is that it’s irrelevant *who* says that fanfiction writers output is removed from the text. It’s somewhat akin the shop assistant in a shoe shop telling the purchaser that she shouldn’t want her shoes black because brown is the ‘in’ colour this year. The answer is that the purchaser doesn’t care – she wants black shoes and that’s an end to it.
It simply isn’t something that’s any of the copyright holder’s business – how someone appreciates, comments on, discusses or experiences the source text simply isn’t under the control of the writer (publisher, copyright holder, producer) and nor should it be.
Fanfiction writers rarely encounter the author at all – more likely is that they will meet or hear of either representatives of the publisher (in the case of books) or the actors, or the producer/members of the prodcution team (in the case of TV). Don’t forget, most fanfic is based on TV and films, not on books. (Harry Potter is unusual in that respect – there was very little Lord of the Rings fanfic before the films came out.)
I don’t think anyone would argue that publishers/producers are not “The Man” and it was them I was referring to more than authors. Sorry for any misunderstanding.
My experiences of publishers/producers has been that, in general, if they notice fans at all, they view them as an undifferentiated mass with no right to views other than slavering appreciation and gratitude. (A few authors seem to have bought into this, too.)
When they do notice them, they appear to want to control how they see the ‘product’ – and I point here to the experiences of those running Harry Potter conventions. Thinking of the couple of conventions I’ve attended, from the point of view of the attendees it appeared that Warner Brothers exercised an unreasonable influence over organising committees, down to (in one case) appearing to object to discussions of subjects they didn’t like the sound of at what was supposed to be primarily an academic conference.
Ey-up asked, “If the community isn’t about the source text, then why do they have to fick it to be a community?”
Lucy Gillam in her article here: http://www.trickster.org/symposium/symp17.htm makes a much better job of an explanation than I can. The article itself is about fanfiction writers’ and their often difficult relationship with literary criticism, but she does at the end have some very interesting things to say about why fans write and publish fanfiction.
Her thesis is that essentially, fandom is spread around the world, and is a community largely of the written word. Thus, the most visible participants in that community are the writers and without the writers and their output, the community wouldn’t exist. This leads to more people writing than would have otherwise.
I think she has a point; SF fandom depends on its writers in the same way, and in a similar way very many SF fans have original fiction in their bottom drawer – and writers are seen as more successful colleagues.
Thanks for the interesting post, but… What that article says to me is that at least a part of the community is promoting a double standard. Fans are free to express themselves with fic because it pleases them; fans want critics not to express themselves because it might upset them. Fanfic writers are privileged over readers within the community because they can enforce their will with threats, while the community privileges themselves as readers over the writers they’re ficking. That makes me less willing to respect arguments from the community, because it suggests that logic is being bent to serve self-interest.
And sorry, but until a fan has some proof of their talent other than their own aspirations and the positive feedback of a community that forbids negative comment, they’ve got no business considering skilled professional authors their colleagues. I like to sing in the shower, but it doesn’t make me colleagues with Pavarotti.
And no, I don’t know many producers, but I do know publishers. They aren’t The Man either. Do you know how little publishers earn? Presidents are the Man, perhaps; multi-national oil barons, perhaps. A little perspective?
“And for the last time, having a thought and posting it online are not inextricably linked.”
I wasn’t talking about “having a thought.” I was talking about sharing those thoughts with others, which can be done without posting the thoughts online or making them available to the general public.
I think, as a whole, you seemed very closed-minded to the entire issue of fanfiction. If you’d like, I’d be more than happy to point some things out to you.
Over in Japan, there is something called ‘doujinshi.’ A doujinshi is a fan-published manga or novel, using the worlds and characters created by another author. In Japan, though, there aren’t the legal issues there are in America. Instead, doujinshi are encouraged. If a person wants to become a manga-ka (an author of manga), they usually start out on doujinshi.
The manga-ka of the original series like doujinshi. Want to know why? It helps them. Doujinshi is like free advertising for the original author. It just makes their work more noticeable, and in the up-and-now. Really, it’s a two-way street, and the creators and doujinshi writers help each other, in a give-and-take relationship.
Things aren’t the same here in America, I know that. I’m a fanfic author, but I will never, ever try to publish anything that I write as fanfiction. Why? Because it’s just not something you do. The series I write for are not mine, I know that. However, who is anyone else to tell me I can’t think what I think?
After all, Mr. Goldberg, you can’t get into my head and tell me that this is the way I’m supposed to view a scene. Every person will view the same sequence of events in a different way. It’s like the Rashomon effect.
So, why can’t I view things the way I view them? Why can’t I question my interpretation of a character or event? And why can’t I question these interpretations with friends and aquaintances? After all, I’m getting nothing out of this, other than the joy of writing.
And yes, I consider myself a writer. Perhaps you wouldn’t ever consider me a writer, since I’ve never been published, but when you stop and look at the published world, can you really say a lot of those authors are ‘real writers?’ I’ve seen very well-written fanfiction, and I’ve seen very poorly-written fiction, so why, Mr. Goldberg, is one so much higher in your opinion, than the other, regardless of actual writing abilities? Is it simply because that story is bound in paper and glue, with ink on the pages?
//What I have yet to see any fanficcer explain why they won’t to ask the creator or rights holder for permission before posting and distributing their work.//
I can only answer this question for myself. I write fanfiction based on manga, and so the original authors are based in Japan. My Japanese isn’t quite as marvelous as I wish it was, and their English isn’t always fluent, so I don’t ask. Of course, they also support doujinshi, so I make the assumption that they, the manga-ka, really don’t mind when I write fanfiction. After all, most people get into a series after reading fanfiction or doujinshi. So, all in all, the manga-ka is gaining a profit for the fanfiction other people write.
One more thing: Please, stop lumping fanfiction writers together with pedophiles. Please. Yes, some fanfiction is absolutely disgusting. Some fanfiction deals with rape, or pedophiles, or anything else you can possibly imagine. Not all, though. Not even most. Such fanfiction is a fringe entity. It exists, but mostly on the outside. That is not the majority of fanfiction.
Ey-up makes a lot of sense. That must be why she is having so much trouble with the German take on what a fan can and should be able to do.
“And sorry, but until a fan has some proof of their talent other than their own aspirations and the positive feedback of a community that forbids negative comment, they’ve got no business considering skilled professional authors their colleagues.”
What about the fans who are published authors? And there are some, don’t fool yourself. Are they allowed to call other authors their contemporaries then?
As for the community of nice that you reference, I think you’re taking some of out it of context and the rest, you’re generalizing immensely.
You asked if fans are really having a dialogue with the text or just feeding their fantasies. You said:
“the primary attraction of hurt/comfort is that it appeals to the sexual and/or personal fantasies of fans. And here’s the thing: fans are projecting them onto two completely different shows, which have little in common with each other. And yet, there’s a striking similarity in the h/c. The fantasies have more in common with each other than they do with the shows they’re grafted on to.”
And later you said,
“I’m not saying hurt/comfort isn’t a basic story, I’m just using it as an example of fans imposing a generic fantasy that’s egregiously inappropriate to the text, that’s more about their personal preferences than about any kind of dialogue.”
In other words, because this is a label which crosses fandom boundaries it must represent fans shoving characters into situations that they normally wouldn’t occupy and so it’s an example of fans serving their own kinks, not the characters. But Hurt/Comfort isn’t a genre, and it’s not even a particularly specific description. It’s a content warning. All of these terms we commonly use to label fanfic – Hurt/Comfort, Smarm, Slash, Het, Rapefic, Deathfic, Crackfic – got their start as archivists’ content warnings so that readers who wished to avoid certain types of content wouldn’t run across it accidentally. It’s like putting a violence warning in a movie review or rating. All of these describe common dramatic themes in all fiction, not just fan generated fiction (fans didn’t invent homoerotica, even if they were the ones to start calling it “slash”). H/C, for example, shows up in almost every TV drama eventually. It shows up on police and medical dramas like ER or the Third Watch on a weekly basis. Saying that fans who write hurt/comfort fic are serving their own kinks is like saying that the writers of CSI who decided to bury the character of Nick Stokes in a box filled with fire ants are serving their own kinks because they are writing Hurt/Comfort and Torture fic (which is how that episode would be labeled if it were a piece of fanfic).
People often want to see their favorite characters in specific situations because of what their reactions to those situations reveal about their relationships and personalities. Imagine an author writes a series of books (original) based around a main character. She introduces a new love interest. Is she serving her own kinks because she is writing smarm or relationship fic? Would that be a bad thing? Or is she exploring the character’s reaction to a new situation? Are fans of the author feeding their kinks because they like what she wrote? What if they do/don’t like it because the love interest is of the same sex? But that character had a het relationship in book three, you say? How can s/he be in a homosexual relationship in book four? Maybe the author has a more flexible idea of sexuality than you, does that make it wrong? Remember, I posited at the beginning of this example that we are talking about original fic. Now imagine the same situation, except the “main character” is from a TV show and the author is a fan writer. What is different about the motivations of either the writer or the readers?
Yes, some of fanfic is done badly. But people on both sides of this debate have already argued that Sturgeon’s Law applies. Just because some people’s interaction with the text is clumsy and amateurish doesn’t mean that they don’t get to have their own reading of the text. Does one need to pass a competency test to write a review of a book and share it with one’s friends? If not, then why should someone need to to werite fanfic? Do only smart people get to have an opinion about a movie? You may not intend to, but you are heading towards an argument for setting up someone as an arbiter of quality and content. Do you really want to do that?
Imagining how characters will react to specific situations includes erotic ones. You said “I think it would strain credulity to argue that the primary motive of someone writing slash is to explore the sexual politics implied in a particular work, rather than a yen for two fine men with their underpants off.” And yet I have read slash which did exactly that, even some that did it without the characters getting naked (slash describes the relationship, not the degree of explicitness). It doesn’t, “encourage diversity or free exchange of ideas” if you only allow ideas you approve of.
On a different note, you specifically asked me about the difference between people keeping their thoughts to themselves and posting on the web. You said “No one disputes the right to think, but plenty of people dispute the right to post.” I think this goes right back to what I was arguing at the very beginning of this thread (more than a week ago!). The original author has the exclusive right to profit from their work. If someone’s fanfic on the web doesn’t hurt their financial interests, then why shouldn’t they post it?
Legally, they are violating the letter of the law, we can for the most part agree on that (I’m not going to rehash what constitutes “fair use.” Not everyone agrees on whether it applies). But they are not violating the principle the law is based on. The ‘covenant’ you spoke of is financial. If published authors think otherwise, then that is evidence that they don’t understand the basis of their copyrights, not that the fans are violating the agreement to their “rights as author”. Their “rights as author” are financial. Period. Those rights are currently structured as a total monopoly because it’s a law that was originally designed in the 18th century when the idea of ‘amateur’ and ‘published’ were considered mutually exclusive ideas. This economic monopoly has apparently led many authors to believe that they have rights that they don’t actually have. That is their problem, not that of their fans. You said “the one who’s done the bigger share of the work has the right to ask for a bigger say in the covenant.” The author has indeed put more effort into their creation than their fans – and society has rewarded that contribution with a generous monopoly. They are already getting a bigger slice than anyone else. You think they should get even more – I disagree, and from what I’ve read of the law (IANAL), at least in the USA, it is on my side when it comes to author’s rights, if not the status of non-profit derivatives.
On the issue of whether the work has a separate existence from the author, I’m sorry, but you are not making sense. Even if the agreement you describe existed (which I don’t believe it does – I certainly never signed on), as you said, “there’s the author, and there’s people who have read the author’s book.” There are people who have read the _book_. There’s a book – it has a physical existence separate from the author. There are the people who have read the book – they have a physical and mental existence separate from the author. They can continue to exist even after the author no longer does. They are separate entities. I don’t know how much simpler I can put it. If some agreement or covenant exists between the reader and the author (and we strongly disagree on what that may consist of) then that only controls how they agree to use the work, not it’s existence.
Ey-up, “What that article says to me is that at least a part of the community is promoting a double standard.”
Which underlines that you don’t really understand that fandom isn’t an undifferentiatted mass.
Not all fans agree on behavioural norms – I think that fanfiction should be subject to critical comment (including literary criticism, remixes, and further fanfiction) in the same way as any other fiction. That view is not universally held among fans for various reasons, one of which has to do with fandom being a participatory culture, and criticism being seen as a rejection.
Equally, I think that fiction (and TV and films) should be subject to the critical commentary that is fanfiction as it is to other commentary such as literaty criticism. That, too, is a view not universally held.
Hi Lost Erizo,
You say you never signed on to the agreement. An author who doesn’t want to be ficked never signed an agreement either. They signed a publishing contract, but there’s no clause about fan fic in there. This is the whole problem in a nutshell: you’re arguing that authors agree to be ficked by getting published, but there are authors who don’t think that they did. As you don’t consider yourself bound by an agreement you didn’t sign on to, why do you think fans entitled to hold authors to an agreement they consider themselves equally unsigned to?
This comes back to what I was saying above: I think there’s a double standard at work in a lot of fan fiction. It’s like the fans who say, ‘We can use copyrighted characters without permission, but nobody should use a fellow fan’s characters without asking them.’ Or, as in that article, which I know from fan friends is not a unique phenomenon: ‘We’re free to comment on the text by ficking it, but other people have to restrict negative comments on our work.’ What I’m seeing is a firm grasp on the rights and privileges of the author when it’s a fan’s own work on the line, or when a fan wants to read another fan’s work, but a swift shift to the other side when the author of the original work wants to assert themselves. I find that undermines a lot of arguments.
And you know what else? It makes for lousy writing. If a fan can clearly see the position of a thwarted author when it’s their own work in difficulties, but can’t see it at all when it’s someone else’s, we’re looking at a severe failure of empathy. And without empathy, you can’t write good characters.
That might be a side note, but I think it’ll have knock-on effects in the law, because there are times when law recognises quality. Calling ‘The Wind Done Gone’ parody was stretching it a bit, but people were prepared to wear it because the book was good enough to be worth preserving. Quality can actually lead whole laws to change. In the obscenity trials for ‘Lady Chatterley’, expert witnesses were produced to argue that the book ought to be freely available, because it was good. And since then, the whole of obscenity laws have relaxed massively. It was quality that turned the tide, because high-quality work benefits society.
I’m not close-minded about fan fic, I’m just clear in my own opinion. I don’t think it’s an inalienable right. If the whole of Japanese manga runs on fan fic and authors are happy with it, fine. Fans who are published authors are in the position to consider other authors colleagues, but in that case they should owe them some professional respect. And yes, I think quality matters. Society benefits most from high quality work. That’s why authors were allowed monopolies in the first place, so they could keep producing work that benefitted society with its excellence. We are talking about an art form here. And really, I think copyright compels creative diversity, which benefits society more. Except that I have the feeling quite a few fans have confused ‘society’ with ‘fandoms’. What’s good for the fans and what’s good for the country aren’t necessarily synonymous.
Which is the problem with a lot of fan arguments. They assume that the best thing in the world is maximum rights to fans and no rights to anyone else. From fan to fan, this ranges from blind spots to outright hypocrisy, but, like assuming someone is The Man because they’re stopping you from doing something you want, it’s too narrow a view of the world.
(And incidentally, the only distinction I’m making is authorial consent. If I cite things like slash, I’m just using them as counter-examples to specific arguments. The only idea I disapprove of here is the idea that fans are the only ones with rights.)
Incidentally, I’m going on holiday so I won’t be able to post after this, I think. Bye for now. Been nice talking to y’all, and thanks for giving me plenty to think about…
“You say you never signed on to the agreement. An author who doesn’t want to be ficked never signed an agreement either. They signed a publishing contract, but there’s no clause about fan fic in there. ”
You are arguing about some sort of agreement that I don’t believe exists on either side. Authors may not be aware of the existence of fanfic. However, they are, or should be, aware that when they publish a book it will eventually fall into the public domain. The only thing that prevents that from happening immediately is copyright – and copyrights are based on a financial arrangement that allows them to profit from their work – not to own it. I’m not arguing that authors agreed to have their work included in fanfic – I’m arguing that no such agreement is required nor is the need for such agreement implied by copyrights. I am not required to receive a permit to speak the language I was raised with. I am not required to get permission to practice my religion. I don’t need permission to participate in my culture. Under current law, I do need permission to profit from someone else’s work, but not to critique it.
Copyright isn’t an unalienable right. It’s not even an individually protected right. In the United States, it’s not guaranteed to individuals – it’s granted by the Congress and defined by international treaties.
“That’s why authors were allowed monopolies in the first place, so they could keep producing work that benefitted society with its excellence. We are talking about an art form here. And really, I think copyright compels creative diversity, which benefits society more.”
This statement made me realize that we’ve been arguing as if “professionally published” were synonymous with “copyrighted.” This is probably at least partially the result of a bias on my part because I think that requiring copyrights to be registered is a reasonable requirement – but it doesn’t happen to be true at present. Copyrights are granted to any specific expression of an idea which is written down – it doesn’t matter if it’s written on a cocktail napkin. It just happens to be easier to prove copyrights in a dispute if something is professionally published – there are more witnesses and evidence. But what that means is that copyright is granted to every last piece of (original) undigestible schlock that anyone produces – not just ones that you judge to be “excellent.”
I think that society needs excellence – but I don’t think that the way to produce that is to control how people think. If something is truly excellent, it will rise to the top of the pile on it’s own – through competition, through word of mouth, through promotion by admirers. That is how professionally published works compete with each other for attention and it is how fanfic competes. However, they don’t generally compete on the same market (except in some few examples).
” ‘We’re free to comment on the text by ficking it, but other people have to restrict negative comments on our work.’ What I’m seeing is a firm grasp on the rights and privileges of the author when it’s a fan’s own work on the line, or when a fan wants to read another fan’s work, but a swift shift to the other side when the author of the original work wants to assert themselves.”
I wouldn’t argue that some fans don’t have silly, even hypocritical ideas (see above where I quoted Veejane). Fans are not a monolithic group any more than professional authors are – they are part of an evolving culture and one that doesn’t restrict membership based on the ability to understand one’s rights. If you had been following the flack over the creation of a constructive criticism community this time last year (the Gilliam article was from 1999) or the more recent kerfuffle over a writing challenge issued by a Stargate Atlantis fanfic community, you would realize that fan opinion on these issues are all over the map. But that crit community still exists and has almost 300 registered participants (that doesn’t even include those who read and comment without registering). That the culture of praise among fans is unproductive and encourages bad writing may be a valid criticism – but it is not an argument for them to stop writing, only to be more open to criticism and to consider the depth of their own hypocrisy. Gilliam pointed out in her article that what I’ve called the culture of praise is very silmilar to the self esteem movement. We can legitimately argue that parents who praise thier children regardless of achievement are encouraging mediocrity, but would you argue that they are immoral or unethical to do it?
Silly, hypocritical ideas are not unique to fans – they’ve been much in evidence among arguments from published authors on this and other issues (and not just on this blog).
I’m sorry, I didn’t see your vacation announcement until after I posted my response to your previous comment. I stand by what I wrote, but it’s hardly fair to address comments to you directly that you won’t be able to respond to. Mea Culpa.
Enjoy your vacation. I really enjoyed our discussion and I look forward to debating with you in future.
I just hope this doesn’t kill the discussion 🙂
“They are separate entities” This has to be the bifurcation of the century. The text and its characters are protected by law. I don’t know what kind of decree these Germans here are under but ours cover anyone infringing anywhere. Any affirmative argument is fallacious concerning fanfiction. It’s a literary crime.
“‘We’re free to comment on the text by ficking it, but other people have to restrict negative comments on our work.’ ”
That’s actually *not* a common opinion in fandom, for the record. The good fanfiction writers accept negative comments as well as positive ones. As a reader, if I know that a writer doesn’t want negative comments, I generally steer clear of their work because it’s probably not very good.
Have a good vacation, Eye-up! Thanks for providing a thoughtful, civil discussion.
“”They are separate entities” This has to be the bifurcation of the century. The text and its characters are protected by law. I don’t know what kind of decree these Germans here are under but ours cover anyone infringing anywhere. Any affirmative argument is fallacious concerning fanfiction. It’s a literary crime.”
Mark, dear, put down the bottle and take your pills, will you?
I’m a fanfic addict, I admit it. I’m also a fanfic writer. Why? Well darn it, the writers make me want to write it. If it is a tv show which is what I mostly have written for than it is over a huge cliffhanger, and the months waiting for the conclusion is hard. I want to write out what I think may happen. If the tv show takes a turn in a direction I hate, I write to try to explain why said characters did those things or read others explanations so I can survive through the bad times. Reading and writing allows me to get over my frustration, and reading others comments helps me not to feel alone in my thoughts.
I have seen my writing greatly improve over the 9 years of writing fanfic with grammar and storytelling techniques. I also like to write poetry and have written a couple short stories that were original works, but eek gods to do the work of finding a publisher and all the turn downs. No thanks. Those that can, a huge congratulations.
I also know of at least one published author who loves fanfic and reads it when she can. Also PR people of a show I write fanfic for belonged to mailing lists where fanfic was posted. Not once did they say don’t write fanfic for our show. They supported it.
For the reasons I read and write above, the creators know that it works that way.
“A writer creates something unique, magical, and wonderful that entertains and enlights you…”
That should read “a GOOD writer creates something unique, magical, and wonderful that enlights (enlightens?) you”, because I wouldn’t read ficton, fan or original, unless it was good and I enjoyed it.
I’d rather read a great fan fiction story than a crappy original story any day,
But that’s my personal opinion and I don’t mind if anyone disagrees with me.
I did have something to ask, and hopefully this hasn’t been brought up yet (if so I apologize): what about the readers? Doesn’t the fact that fan fiction is read by a very large number of people contribute to its existence?
If people didn’t want to read it as much (if not more in some cases) as fan fiction authors wanted to write it, perhaps it wouldn’t be around.
Since it continues endure, and will no doubt do so for a very long time, I’d have to think this is an important factor, one that should not be overlooked.
Well, Toni, from reading this thread alone, let alone all the others on Lee’s blog dealing with fanfic, it should be clear that, at least as far as pro writers here are concerned, readers don’t count for much. They’re like cattel, having to chew whatever is served and be content. And heaven forbid they should say they dislike something and demand that it changes!
“The only German writer I’m familiar with is the little guy with the funny mustache who wrote “Mein Kampf.” Looked a bit like Chaplin. I think of him often when I read Kete’s posts.”
He wasn’t even German you imbecile.
I’m not entirely sure how I came across this, but I’m here now, and this parts gets to me a bit: (for example, Rowling has approved fanfiction based on Harry Potter as long as it’s not sexually explicit…but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from writing and posting Potter slash, disrespecting her and her wishes ).
Slash does not necessarily mean sexually explicit material. I, myself, write it, and I’ve never done anything above a PG rating. My stories and most of the stories I read are as safe or safer than the Harry Potter books themselves.
I realize this isn’t at all what everyone else is debating about, but I’m about tired of the fan fiction debates, and I’m not ready to voice my opinion because the whole thing makes me vaguely angry. I see in no way how it is hurting you, or anyone else for that matter, at all.
“Slash does not necessarily mean sexually explicit material. I, myself, write it, and I’ve never done anything above a PG rating. My stories and most of the stories I read are as safe or safer than the Harry Potter books themselves.”
Very good point, Ch. Of course it’s far easier to rally a great resistance against fanfic among people who’ve never read any when you make it out to be all NC-17/R-rated porn. Or even better, kiddie porn. So that’s what Lee is doing. It’s a demagogical trick, nothing more.
huh, so I was linksurfing and tripped onto this blog. I can’t help but think reading the post and some of the comments that…there a certain defensiveness on the part of the pro-writers and I don’t know why.
For me, fanfic is like singing; I don’t sing all that well, and I don’t sing professionally. But I sing because it gives me joy, I sing because I can’t *help* singing.
I sometimes sing tuneless songs; but most of the time I sing songs made by professional songwriters/artists. And sometimes I do riff and trills and grace-notes to decorate the song because it’s fun to. Because I can’t help it, because it bring me joy. I make no profit from singing, and I sing to other people for karaoke and they sing back their own borrowed tunes.
Will you wish to rail against karaoke bars now, too? For violating the copywrite laws of singers/songwriters?
“For me, fanfic is like singing; I don’t sing all that well, and I don’t sing professionally. But I sing because it gives me joy, I sing because I can’t *help* singing.”
That’s a great example, p! I play the piano and, of course, I do play pieces by well-known composers, being no composer myself. Also, once in a while, we used to gather round with a few friends to do little private concerts for friends and family and so on, again, playing pieces that were not our own.
According to Lee and his anti-fanfic crowd everyone learning an instrument without wishing to be a professional player in an orchestra is waisting their time and one should never ever play anything but what one has composed oneself (hate to think what that would sound like…).
P: No, but there’s a difference. For one thing, music copyright involves an entirely different set of laws, but the primary reason is that, whether or not someone can help imagining or writing down fan fiction stories (debatable), they can certainly help posting them online. There’s a big gap between the two. What most of the antis here are arguing is that while people are free to write whatever they like, posting fan fiction on the internet counts as publishing it, which is very problematic. And while you might find yourself singing without realising it, you can certainly help hitting the ‘upload’ command. It’s not like you fall over and your head hits the mouse button. To that extent, people really can help posting fan fiction online, and saying they can’t is just not the case.
“What most of the antis here are arguing is that while people are free to write whatever they like, posting fan fiction on the internet counts as publishing it, which is very problematic. And while you might find yourself singing without realising it, you can certainly help hitting the ‘upload’ command. It’s not like you fall over and your head hits the mouse button. To that extent, people really can help posting fan fiction online, and saying they can’t is just not the case.”
Of course we can help posting it – but why should we be kept from sharing with like-minded people? It’s not as if the fanfic jumps at you as soon as you open your internet browser. You have to google and really look for it to find it, IOW it’s kept in places for special interest groups where no one *not* interested in this subject easily stumbles in. FF was written and shared looong before the internet existed in photocopied print zines – which I personally actually find *more* questionable as they resemble officially published material far more that net-posted stories.
Yes, but it’s not as if a professionally published book jumps off the shelf and runs up to you on little legs squeaking for attention the minute you walk into a bookstore either; you have to look for it there as well. Plenty of books are difficult to get hold of. The fact that you can’t find something automatically doesn’t mean that it’s any less published.
By crikey, Mr. Goldberg, you’re right. Writing fanfiction is a serious moral offense. Somebody ought to give that evil wannabe Prokofiev what he deserves for appropriating War and Peace like that–I bet Tolstoy would *never* have approved fan opera! The rotten devil!
It seems that Elizabeth Bear had a look at this post as she kind of answered it on her own LJ (matociquala). She’s a pro-writer as are many of the commenters. Seems not every one in the pro area is against fanfic.
Here’s the link:
My goodness. Stumbled across this surfing.
I think some points of law have been ignored.
First, copyright law stands in place, regardless of whether profit is made or not. Look up the criteria for Fair Use, and note that only one of the four treats on competition with the original material. I can infringe on someone’s copyright while not making a dime myself, so that is not a viable legal defense.
//While the characters may be entirely the copyright holder’s creation, they don’t own them. You can’t own an idea. They have the exclusive right to profit from those ideas, but they can’t own them unless they don’t share them, and then the idea lives and dies inside their head.//
False. Specific characters–Mr. Spock versus the smart scientist alien “type”–are protected under copyright.
//For the record, fanfiction is not illegal and it is not a crime. If it is in violation of anything (and I personally consider it fair use, but I am not a judge, so my opinion doesn’t count) then it is a copyright infringement, which would result in a civil suit, not an arrest.//
Fan fiction has never been ruled on in a U.S. court, so whether it’s infringement or fair use is as-yet undecided. (Penalties for it are in the forms of fines.)
For every well-informed website with the point of view that fan fiction falls under fair use (chillingeffects.org), there is another with well-informed opinions that fall on the other side of the argument: http://www.whoosh.org/issue25/lee1.html
Clearly, legally, fan fiction is gray area. Therefore, much of whether fan fiction is attractive or off-putting to individuals must rest with the expressed attitudes of fan-fictioneers and fandoms. This is the stumbling block for me. For context, I’m a casual fan, who does not participate in any “fandoms” and who does not write fan fiction, whether online or in private.
What turns me off from fan fiction is first the shrill and appropriative tone of defenders of fan fiction. “I like it so it’s mine!” or “I know more about [insert character] than anyone! Including the author!” That is, in two words, tiresome and egotistical. Second, fan fiction tends to be crap. I’ve surfed the ‘net enough to have found some, and it’s remarkably difficult to find anything worth reading, whether because of poor grammar or just bad writing. Of course 90% of everythiing is crap, but there’s little QC in fan fiction–that’s just how the internet works: anyone can post anything. Finally, the wish-fulfillment aspect (whether in the form of obviously out of character sexual fantasies or other equally ridiculous exploits) makes many stories plain embarassing to read. I don’t doubt that there are some fantastically written pieces of fan fiction out there, but wading through the crap, and dealing with the attitudes prevalent in fandoms makes it difficult to justify the trouble of finding it for someone like me who lives outside of fandom.
I’ve read way too much opinionated bs from Goldberg that demeans other authors’ work in order to exalt his own. I refuse to ever read another piece of fiction or watch another TV show or movie he’s had a hand in writing. Sorry to be critical, but turnabout is fair play.