Fanfic Survivor

Novelist Lorraine Bartlett writes on her blog about her early experiences in fanfic.

I’ve never been ashamed of my writing roots.  I started out writing
classic Star Trek stories when I was a teenager.  These days fanfic has
a seedy reputation and, sad to say, rightly so. […] Back in my day, distribution of these stories was small.  A big
print run was 200 copies.  Now millions of people worldwide can peek at
badly written fan stories from franchises that are still hot.  I can’t
say I blame the writers/producers for objecting. 

It was while she was a fanficcer that she discovered what it feels like to have your work stolen though, ironically, her work was also copyright infringement.

A "fannish" person removed the names of the authors
from the stories in one of my zines (and my story as well) and sold
hundreds, possibly a thousand copies of that fanzine at professionally
run SF/Fantasy conferences.

That was my first taste of what copyright infringement feels like.
I complained to the conference organizers, but since our stories were
quite blatantly copyright infringement themselves, we didn’t have a leg
to stand on.  Still, I hated the fact my work was stolen.

13 thoughts on “Fanfic Survivor”

  1. Fanficcers not only steal from others but from themselves. The humblest of genuine authors enjoys a deep sense of fulfillment that cannot be shared by Fanficcers, who depend on characters wrought by others. Deep within, Fanficcers know they are parasites, and nothing they have achieved equals the accomplishment of anyone who wrought a story without crutches. So they have stolen their own joy of creation and can have little pride in what they did.

  2. It was Star Trek fans like myself that brought the franchise back to life. We kept the idea of the show alive until Paramount figured out how to squeeze new life out of it.
    I didn’t consider myself a parasite. I still don’t. But I also respected the wishes of producers who said, “Don’t touch my franchise” or don’t write/publish “slash” about my characters. Sadly, many people fanficers didn’t–and still don’t.
    As I said, most of the shows I wrote about weren’t even still in production when I wrote about them. (Tell how my short story hurt the producers of “Pulaski the TV Detective?”)

  3. Money, baby. Your hypocrisy is showing. You whined in your blog about the “thousands” of copies that were sold of a fanzine that stole your work. Was it the artistic theft that pissed you off or the lost money? You also proudly tout that you sold your fanzine and made money off of other people’s characters:
    “Did I make money on these fanzines? Yeah, enough to finance the next issue and buy another used mimeo or electrostencil machine every few years. (I eventually had three mimeos. They take up a LOT of space in the basement, but our knees aren’t what they were and they’re too heavy to get up the basement stairs to toss out.) And most of the shows I wrote about were off the air by the time I caught on to them. Our stories kept the characters alive until syndication and TVLand brought them back from the shadows.”
    I love how you justify your theft with the outrageous claim that your copyright infringement “kept the shows alive.” Give me a fucking break. They were never dead. It’s this ridiculous, over-bloated sense of power and entitlement that make fanficcers so unsympathetic to the mainstream (as well as creators of the work the fanficcers steal).
    TVLand pays studios for the right to rerun the shows. The original writers receive residuals on the characters they created. That’s how it works. What you were doing was copyright infringement and was in no way responsible for anything except lining your pockets.

  4. These fanficcers don’t get it. People shouldn’t even have the audacity to get angry when their work is stolen. This is so funny. So you’re whining because your stolen work was stolen from you. That’s rich! Then you have the nerve to “judge” other fanficcers work by calling it bad fan fiction. If you’re such a good writer you should rely on your own talents to come up with your own characters and setting.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by another author’s work. I have been. You can even write them for practice, but the main thing you are NOT to do is use them for profit. That’s copyright infringement in every sense of the word. That’s even worse.
    I’ve said it once before, some fan fiction is actually good based on the Harry Potter world and when I read them, I think to myself well if you just removed Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s name. This can be your own story. They create everything themselves, except for the characters and the setting.
    So with that being said, it’s good that you’ve given up this, but you have no right whatsoever to be angry when fanficcers are doing exactly what you did. And if you aren’t ashamed of what you’ve done, then neither should they be.

  5. Dear Mr. Wheeler:
    Are the considerable number of professional authors of Sherlockian pastiches parasites for employing Conan Doyle’s characters and mileua? How about all the authors of Lovecraftian fiction?

  6. I think there are still certain codes of conduct that you have a write to object to, whether it’s fanfic or original fanfiction. What happened to the girl in this article is the equivalent of if I were to take the DM episode “Murder Can Be Contagious,” wrote it into story form instead of script or transcript form, and then posted it on and say I wrote it. Now I could take the basic storyline of Murder Can Be Contagious and change something, ie. what if both Jesse & Mark were infected, what if injecting Mark did develop an antivirus but it didn’t work till after Jesse died, etc. and that would even be somewhat legit – I’ve seen that used as an exercise in writing & English courses several times where you took an existing story and modified the ending. But not changing a thing – I don’t think so.
    Fanfic disclaimers always state (at least, every one I’ve seen) always identify that the author does not own the characters unless there are original characters they put in and specify as such, and only lay claim to the story plot itself.
    I have seen people on pull that stunt a couple of times, where they take a story and copy it and then post it as their own. Thankfully the site is really good at cracking down on it and those people usually get banned and “their” story is taken down.

  7. Mr. Winkler: yes they are parasites, feeding on Conan Doyle’s characters. Any writer who incorporates characters not his own in a work of fiction is parasitic, living off the work of the originator. However, a contractual arrangement with the originator, as in the case of tie-in fiction, is at bottom a collaboration of authors rather than a parasitical arrangement.

  8. Dear Mr. Wheeler:
    “However, a contractual arrangement with the originator, as in the case of tie-in fiction, is at bottom a collaboration of authors rather than a parasitical arrangement.”
    If the original author and the tie-in writer don’t actually work together on a derivative work, it is in no way an actual collaboration. “New” novels by Robert Ludlum, now dead for several years, continue to be published. The existence of a contract and monies exchanged between the executors of Ludlum’s estate and the ghost writer does nothing to remove what you believe is the taint of artistic parasitism. The contract does nothing to legitimize the artistic nature of a tie-in or other derivative work.

  9. “Mr. Winkler: yes they are parasites, feeding on Conan Doyle’s characters. Any writer who incorporates characters not his own in a work of fiction is parasitic, living off the work of the originator.”
    Anyone here want to inform Nicolas Meyer he’s a parasite?
    I sure as hell don’t.

  10. I haven’t seen anyone in this thread point out the key distinction in this story. What the publishers of that fanzine did to Ms. Bartlett was not copyright infringement – she didn’t have any copyright protection for her work. What they did is plagiarism. They removed the author’s names and published it as their own.
    It’s not terribly surprising that people made this mistake since Ms. Bartlett made it herself, but there’s a big difference between writing something derivative, but new, without permission vs. slapping a different name on a work, therefore deceiving your audience and and denying the actual fan-author both credit and blame for their work. One is a legal distinction relating to commerce and unique to a juristiction, the proper application of which can be debated. The other is dishonest in any context.

  11. Any writer who incorporates characters not his own in a work of fiction is parasitic, living off the work of the originator.
    Lovely to know that Geraldine Brooks’ “March”, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Literature is the work of a parasite.
    Great. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to find that one out.

  12. I’m a fanfiction writer myself. As is common and expected practice, I acknowledge the ownership of the canon that I’m using, right there on the first page. I don’t claim their work as my own. That’s not the same thing at all as copying someone else’s work, changing the author’s name, and claiming it is yours.
    Yes, writing and distributing fanfiction is a violation of the copyright laws. Despite some of the rhetoric that has been sen here, however, it is not stealing. If I steal your TV, you don’t have a TV anymore. If I write a story using your characters, you still have those characters, you still have your story, and you still have the income you make from your writing. You’ve lost nothing and I’ve gained nothing but some egoboo. Nor can fan writing “destroy” the canon. All the bad Harry Potter slash in the world (and there is a lot of it, and most of it is very, very, very bad) does not change one word of what JKR has written; if anything, it makes me appreciate it more.
    There are some significant issues with fan works. There are some massive issues with those entitled headcases over at OTW. However, name-calling and insults will solve none of those. They only drive away the people you most need to reach. Sharing a nice cup of venom with a few like-minded individuals may feel good, but is it accomplishing your goal?


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