Fanfic Hypocrisy

You gotta love the hypocrisy and idiocy of fanficcers. It seems the "fanfic community" is in an uproar because some fanficcer stole from another fanficcers work. Author John Scalzi sums up the laughably inane situation nicely:

Let’s remember one fundamental thing about fanfic: Almost all of it
is entirely illegal to begin with. It’s the wild and wanton
misappropriation of copyrighted material (I’m sure there is fanfic that
features public domain characters, just not nearly as much as there is
of, say, Harry Potter fanfic). Copyright holders may choose not to see
it, or may even tacitly encourage it from time to time, but the fact of
the matter is that if you’re writing fanfic, you’re already doing
something legally out of bounds. And, really, if you’re already wantonly violating copyright, what’s a little plagiarism to go along with it? Honestly. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I recognize this attitude probably won’t sit well with fanficcers,
but this is really an "honor among thieves" sort of issue, isn’t it? If
you’ve already morally justified intellectual theft so you can play
with Harry and Hermione and Draco and whomever else you want to play
with, I’m not entirely sure how one couldn’t also quite easily justify taking juicy chunks of other people’s text to play with as well.

[…]Out in the real world, I take plagiarism rather very seriously, but
then, out in the real world, I take appropriation of copyright
seriously as well. If fanficcers want me to oblige their outrage about
fanfic plagiarism, I suppose I would have to ask how it is essentially
more serious than the appropriation of copyrighted characters and
settings, and how if I must criticize one why I am not also therefore
obliged to criticize the other.

(Thanks to Jim Winter for the heads-up on this).

21 thoughts on “Fanfic Hypocrisy”

  1. Ah I read somewhere else that the good old CC debate is back… been going around the fandom communities for as long as I’ve been in fandom.

  2. “Let’s remember one fundamental thing about fanfic: Almost all of it is entirely illegal to begin with.”
    Scalzi loses any credibility he has with a stupid statement like that, least of all because he is stating opinion as fact, but even more so because he’s just plain wrong. There have been no decisive precedents in legal proceedings regarding fanfic so far, and 17 U.S.C. 107 provides fairly clear ground rules for what a person must do to stay within the law.
    As far as I’ve ever heard, there have not been a great number of people that have crossed those lines, which typically amount to financial gain and damage to potential markets. At worst, the jury is out on just how much of fanfic is legal and how much is not. At best, the overwhelming majority of it is legal so long as it doesn’t damage the market and takes no financial gain.
    But that is just addressing copyright, which is fairly set on the side of the fanfic authors. You want to address trademarks as well? It gets even better for them.
    Elizabeth Weise, in her article in USA today, cites Janes Gingsburg in the following:
    “there’s extensive precedent for non-commercial use of trademarks by fans. ‘ Nominative fair use’ allows the descriptive use of someone else’s trademark as long as the use doesn’t suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder. That’s certainly covered by the disclaimers plastered over every Potter fan site.” — (
    You can get pissed at them all you want, but you cannot take liberties with reality and stand the high ground at the same time.

  3. Fanfic is Not Illegal

    If there is anything that will get me riled up, it’s authors playing lawyers. Lee Goldberg and John Scalzi are fighting the good fight against fan something.
    Everybody knows that Lee Goldberg has it out for people who write fan fiction…

  4. How about talking about something you actually have any knowledge about John and Lee?
    The Fanworld is in an uproar because a fanfic writer named Cassandra Claire appropriated not only ideas, but whole paragraphs or even pages out of commercially published books by several writers (and first claimed them as her own, then only very hesitantly gave credits when caught by a few readers) as well as quotes from popular TV shows like BtVS, Black Adder etc.
    Now she intends to go pro, has a three book deal with Simon and Schuster and it seems that there’s something or other fishy in her planned for publication (this fall or next spring, dunno) trilogy as well. Sheesh.

  5. Gee. You had a really good opportunity to talk about the evil of fanfic here and you blew it.
    Cassandra Claire plagiarized from PRO-writers, not fanficcers. That’s what all the fuss is about.

  6. “You gotta love the hypocrisy and idiocy of fanficcers. It seems the “fanfic community” is in an uproar because some fanficcer stole from another fanficcers work.”
    Maybe you should do your research.
    CC stole from published authors, and claimed the work as her own, or used such words as ‘inspiration’ when she lifted paragraph after paragraph of text. Changing only names and the odd word.
    She stole from TV programs to such an extent that there are people around the internet attributing Buffy quotes to her rather than the original show. Same with Blackadder and other shows.
    If people praise her for witty dialogue that belonged to another author/writer, she accepts the praise rather than pointing out it’s not her witty dialogue.
    She was caught out some time ago, and has, in the past five years, failed to write a proper disclaimer, and to cite her quotes. Only recently, however, has the full extent of how much she as copied come to light. I use the word ‘full’ lightly, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that it hasn’t all been documented. She has profited from this fanfic, getting ipods and laptops from fans, and now a book deal.
    When a fanfic writer writes fanfic, they are often said to be playing with some one else’s toys.
    She is not just playing with some one else’s toys, she is stealing their toys, and claiming them as hers.
    Surely, you do not agree with this sort of behaviour?
    Even if another fanficcer steals from another fanfic and claims it as their own it is still very low. There may not be any law to cover it, but still! When fanficcers write fanfic, they rely heavily on the fact that the reader knows what books they are writing about. If they don’t the fic will make little sense, so they aren’t claiming the characters etc as their own, or credit for creating the world in which their characters exist.
    Some one who plagiarizes relies heavily on the readers not knowing where they have taken the work from. While a fanfic reader knows the universe in which these people are writing, they do not know every fic out there.
    Some fic writers put a lot of work in to their fic. If some one steals that fic, the original creator of the universe still gets credit for creation, but the fanfic writer doesn’t get any credit for their research or writng skills. Note: credit is just ‘ZOMG! That was so good, please update soon!!!11!!’ Not money, just feel good comments, and sometimes constructive critism so they can improve their writing skills.
    Fanficcers are just having a bit of fun, and not making any money. Often a big and lively fanbase does more for books and shows as fans tell each other about things, new shows/books by the creators. New merchandise that some fans would never have heard about. Fans involved in multifandoms will often bring new fans over into new fandoms. Squashing fandom, which relies heavily on thngs like fic and fanart, will only damage their shows/books popularity.
    Fanfic may be a grey area in law, but fandom has it’s own ‘rules,’ which if you don’t follow, there is usually some sort of backlash. This is to some what protect themselves from the law. Fandom will lash out if some one tried to sell their fic. Fandom did lash out when some one tried to rewrite HBP, because Harry and Hermione didn’t snog, and so on. Other ‘rules’ exist just becuase it’s rude to do certain things.

  7. Sara said, “but the fanfic writer doesn’t get any credit for their research or writng skills.”
    Why the fuck should they?

  8. Uh, the fanfic author didn’t steal from other fanficcers. She plagiarised from published authors and TV show scripts. I’d say that that is something else entirely.

  9. I am not a fan author myself, and others have pointed out your factual errors vis a vis the fandom plagiarism charges.
    Fanfic, for the most part, is not plagiarism. It is derivative, but then so are the following published works:
    “Goliath” and Sandman (as well as others) by Neil Gaiman
    Scarlett by Alexandria Ripley
    Rosencranz and Guidlenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
    The StarWars tie-in novels by Timothy Zahn
    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
    Zorro: A Novel by Isabella Allende
    Foundation’s Friends, a compilation of short stories in Asimov’s Foundation universe by Orson Scott Card, Harry Turtledove, George Zebrowski and others.
    The Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen
    The Vampire Hunter D series by Hideyki Kikuchi
    This is by no means a comprehensive list.
    The difference between these works and the majority of fanfic is that they were either published under licensed copyright, or the original material had moved into the public domain. What you personally may think of the literary quality of these works is irrelevant – it is an accepted and marketable genre of writing. Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s work as your own – is not.
    As writers of fiction which is derivative of copyrighted material, the majority of fan writers are entirely aware of their tenuous legal and ethical position and as such are very careful to give credit where credit is due. They are also part of a self-policing community which is what the current kerfuffle is all about. You may have a point when it comes to copyright infringement, but in my opinion it’s both overly harsh and factually incorrect to call it hypocritical for them to point out and try to stop plagiarism.

  10. I’m really glad that you guys can tell the difference between plagiarism and “breach of copyright”. I thought that a guy like you, Lee really should understand the difference and I honestly thought that you didn’t. But maybe you do. Phew.
    Although to say that “Almost all of (fanfiction) is entirely illegal to begin with”, demonstrates a misunderstanding between public law and private law. Only a copyright holder has the right to bring an action in this particular area of copyright law. If the copyright holder has no problem, then, uh.. whether you like it or not, there is no question of breach.
    And apparently you got your facts wrong too. Awesome 🙂

  11. Um, Micah, speaking of getting your facts straight: Lee was quoting John Scalzi…and the quote you are clumsily attempting to tar Lee with came from Scalzi. Pay attention.
    The point Lee is making is for fanficcers, who regularly violate copyright and trademark, to complain about anyone doing the same is hypocrisy. He has his facts right.

  12. Scalzi doesn’t name any particular fanfic “writer” in his post — how do you know he’s talking about Cassandra? He could be talking about anyone. He’s making general comments about how ludicrous is it for fanficcers to get upset about stealing from other authors when that is the foundation of fanfic.

  13. Is Fanfic Legal?

    Author John Scalzi has irked fanficcers by gasp saying that he believes fanfiction is illegal which, of course, it clearly is. it’s clear that some portion of fanficcers actually seems to believe that writing fanfic isn’t actually copyright infringemen…

  14. It’s disingenuous at _very_ best and a needlessly incendiary outright lie at worst to call “stealing from other authors” the “foundation of fanfic.” I’ll assume that you know the difference between theft and copyright infringement, anyway, and therefore will also assume that you were being a bastard on purpose vis-a-vis your word choice.
    Whether you read fanfiction or not, and whether or not you think it’s a kosher form of literary expression or not, plagiarism is a shitty thing to do in any forum, even one that is unapologetically derivative. It is _never_ acceptable to lift paragraph after paragraph of text from someone else’s work and claim it as your own, no matter the nature of the work or the identity of the author. It is dishonest, and it adversely affects the overall level and quality of creative and academic literary expression. Why do you think that fanfic writers (with the obvious exceptions of jerks like Lee & John are talking about) would feel any differently?
    I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, really, but most of the people who are upset about this thing take their writing very seriously, and it is neither hypocritical nor surprising that they are up in arms about people in their community who have been cheerfully getting away with crimes against good storycraft for years on end.

  15. “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, really, but most of the people who are upset about this thing take their writing very seriously,”
    If fanficcers took writing seriously, and respected authors, they wouldn’t be writing fanfic… at least not without seeking permission FIRST from the author/creator/rights-holder. So John and Lee are obviously right that it’s hypocrisy for fanficcers to get up-in-arms about plagarism when they blithely steal ideas, worlds, characters and settings from others. Shame on you.

  16. “Um, Micah, speaking of getting your facts straight: Lee was quoting John Scalzi…and the quote you are clumsily attempting to tar Lee with came from Scalzi. Pay attention.”
    If you quote someone to make a point, you’re supporting what they’ve said. I’m not sure why you think I wasn’t paying attention.
    My point is that only the copyright holder has the right to pursue an alleged violator for breach of copyright.

  17. One point of clarification:
    Writing fanfic does not violate copyright; publishing it may (IANAL).
    “but the fact of the matter is that if you’re writing fanfic, you’re already doing something legally out of bounds.”

  18. That’s boshit,
    we’re making any money from it, we don’t INTENT to make any money from it
    We’re just having fun…get it?
    hypocrisis can kiss my ass ¬¬


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