Romantic Times Magazine on Fanfic

The Romantic Times magazine featured an article this month on fanfic, covering both sides of the debate, though largely favorable towards the practice. But they note:

Writing fan fiction is a violation of copyright law. But many fanfic writers are either unaware of or unconcerned with this fact. Often they’ll slap a short disclaimer at the top of the story, disavowing ownership of the characters used and consider the matter handled…

Attorney-turned-Romance author Julie Kenner says… “for our purposes as writers, copyright serves to protect our words. But when someone is using, say, Stephanie Plum in fan fictio, they probably aren’t quoting any of Janet Evanovich’s language and they think they are they’re clear of infringement. But the 9th Circuit and the 2nd Circuit — both leading courts with regard to intellectual property law — have found protection for the characters themselves under certain judicially defined parameters.”

And those little disclaimers? Ain’t gonna hold water in front of a judge, Kenner says.

Published authors reactions to fan fiction vary….Laurell Hamilton, Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon firmly believe this practice is both legally and morally repugnant and have, in some cases, hired attorneys to fight fan fiction sites with cease-and-desist actions.

Author Meg Cabot who, by the way, doesn’t mind fanfic, recounts an interesting anecdote:

“Another reason I don’t read fan fictions is because I know an author who, justifiably, freaked out when she read a fic where the writer had one of her characters get graphically and brutally raped. You could see how that would be disturbing and put you off writing anything for a while.”

Even authors who approve of fanfic have hesitations:

Both Rowling and Cabot write for children, who sometimes don’t fully understand the distinction between a published work and fan fiction — especially if they stumble upon a sexually explicit fic or one that talks of Harry whispering sweet nothings in Ron’s ear.

To say nothing of the Harry and Ron “male birthing” stories…

27 thoughts on “Romantic Times Magazine on Fanfic”

  1. Thanks to livejournal ( I’ve found the site I was looking for. It’s this one: and in particular see for at least one opinion which appeard to be contrary in parts to that you’ve quoted. There is so much there and in the accompanying faq that I’m wary of pulling any particular quote out, but it does seem to me that the situation is rather more fluid than you and David seem to believe.
    And, of course, the situation in the UK is quite different – as I understand it, UK law may leave fanfic writers in a slightly stronger position than than that of the US.

  2. Interesting link… obviously when speaking of a complex legal issue like this, they are purposefully vague — but the bottom line seems to be pretty clear that fanfic nearly always involves copyright infringement (which is what you’d expect).
    The key points made:
    “A plaintiff must meet certain requirements in order to show that a FanFic author copied protected expression. In order to prove copying, it must be shown that the fan fiction author copied the work (either through direct or indirect evidence), and some of the copied elements are protected and that the “audience” of the work would also find similar elements. Since FanFic authors generally do not deny that characters and settings are borrowed (“copied”), as seen in their disclaimers, it is likely that copying will be found.”
    “Strictly speaking, disclaimers do not absolve an infringer from liability.”
    “Most FanFic works are not straight copies of another work; rather they are works that are often inspired by some book, movie or TV show. Therefore, most FanFic authors are worried about whether they have violated an author’s exclusive right to reproduce or prepare derivative works, rather than distribution. In defense of their works, FanFic authors will often try to argue that their use constitutes fair use.”
    “The most important defense for fan fiction authors is “fair use.” Under this doctrine, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. It is also possible for authors to create parodies (and perhaps satires as well) from protected works under fair use.”
    Most fanfic, by definition, involves copying the proprietary elements (usually the characters) or copyrighted works. Since most fanfic is not parody, nor commentry or criticism, it’s unlikely to fall under the category of Fair Use.
    The only real recourse for a fanfic author is to claim that the work is done solely for educational purposes — but then the fact that the work is distributed would seem to invalidate that argument.

  3. And then, of course, the author or copyright holder would have to bring an action, get it to court, and win.
    I don’t know about you, but I’ve an infinite number of things I’d rather be doing than bringing a costly action against someone who (chances are) has no money with which to pay damages even if I win, for merely the satisfaction of being proved right, despite the fact that it’ll be apalling publicity. Against that hiding to nothing, cutting off my toes with shears starts to look attractive.
    And I’m rather concerned that you’ve used so many of their words when a link or indication of where to find the information would have done – though I will draw the line at a reference to motes and beams.

  4. Oh dear. You are taking this rather seriously, aren’t you? By all means – if you wish to -sue-, then do go ahead. I’d love to see the £100/phr lawyer look at you when you explain that you’d like to bring action against the anonymous authors on the internet who are degrading your work.
    Oh, and as I’ll add this into the equation.
    The internet is ‘public domain’. As you’ve so -politely- put it, whether books/shows/movies are public domain is a grey area. But public domain, with a disclaimer attached, firmly removes fanfiction from the area of illegality. As the definition of plagarism I posted said, claiming the work of another as one’s own is illegal. Posting said work on a forum on the internet is not, particularly when it comes under the heading of ‘fanfiction’.
    My dear Mr Goldeberg, I’m beginning to think you don’t have much to do with your day, if you continually banter points back and forth with those who are laughing in amusement at your shoddily put together arguments.

  5. She’s rather mouthy for a kid, isn’t she? 🙂
    Alice, your argument is fallacious. The internet is not public domain in the copyright sense, nor is publishing something to it free from copyright concerns. This is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be stated.
    Rommel, you can break the law all you want, but just because you aren’t punished for it, doesn’t make it right.
    Now, alas, I must get back to my story where Sydney Bristow and Jessica Fletcher engage in a torrid tryst with Buffy.
    I’ll be publishing it with a disclaimer, though, so everything is okay. 🙂

  6. Mouthy I may be, but substantiated I am also. My point in that argument was that the internet is a grey area – and that this, added to the idea of anonymous posters, plus the disclaimer and everything else – merely adds to the fallaciousness of your -own- argument.
    And of course it’ll be fine. I’m sure your principles are -dying- for a good break.

  7. I write fanfics set in the Harry Potter universe.
    Quote: “A spokesman for Rowling’s literary agent said she was “flattered people wanted to write their own stories” based on her characters.”
    I write G or PG rates stories. It is my form of escapism. I started after reading JK Rowling’s position on this, and am complying completely re: her requests of fan fiction writers. I don’t think I am stealing anything that I haven’t been allowed to play with.

  8. Anne, did you read the legal discussion above and refer to the website that your brethren posted? Clearly disclaimers do not matter, nor does the fact that it’s published to the internet.
    I apologize for the “mouthy kid” comment. That wasn’t necessary.
    As I believe I said in another thread, though, I admire your passion and your adherance to your principles. (I disagree with you, but that’s neither here nor there.) I’d be pleased to read your original works one day.
    I believe that part of the essence of all good writing is passion. I hope you will take advantage of that. I feel in my gut that you have a great deal of original creativity that is dying to spring forth.
    And please don’t think I’m being sarcastic, because I am not.
    Good luck with your writing!

  9. Then there is the entire practicallity of sueing fanfic authors in the first place. It alienates fans and is far from cost effective. Even if you somehow prove that fanfiction is, as you put it, ‘amoral’, it is still impractical to actually do something about it. It would be like a police force actually, actively enforcing sodomy laws.

  10. If the ‘Anne’ comment was addressed to me, then my name is not Anne.
    // Anne, did you read the legal discussion above and refer to the website that your brethren posted? Clearly disclaimers do not matter, nor does the fact that it’s published to the internet.//
    Nope. But the practicalities of this legality make it impossible. I mean, where are you going to find a lawyer who’d take -on- this case?!
    //As I believe I said in another thread, though, I admire your passion and your adherance to your principles. //
    Good. I admire my principles too. I defend them.
    //I’d be pleased to read your original works one day.//
    And you will. In the future. For now, I’ll happily direct you to fanfiction that’s well executed. By me.
    //I believe that part of the essence of all good writing is passion. I hope you will take advantage of that. I feel in my gut that you have a great deal of original creativity that is dying to spring forth.//
    Very reason I write fanfiction. Because I can’t -not- write.
    And thank-you. Some measure of calm instilled in that post is necessary after the diatribes of previous ranters.

  11. //Very reason I write fanfiction. Because I can’t -not- write. //
    Poppycock. If you’re writing because you can’t “not write,” you’d create something of your own. That’s what writers do.
    Believe it or not, I wasn’t born with a book contract and a TV gig. I had to work for it. I had to learn my craft. How did I do it? I wrote.
    I started writing stories when I was seven years old and I kept writing because I couldn’t “not write.” Not once did I write fanfic. Not once did I steal someone else’s characters. I learned my craft by doing what writers do… I WROTE. Writing is more than laying down words… it’s creating characters. It’s creating plot. It’s creating place. When half that job is done for you, as is the case with “fanfic,” you aren’t learning your craft at all.
    If you were a writer, you’d write. You’d also respect your fellow authors and not steal from them.

  12. “Rommel, you can break the law all you want, but just because you aren’t punished for it, doesn’t make it right.”
    David, just because you can be sued for something does not make it morally wrong. All sorts of things are morally wrong but not illegal – in my country foxhunting would be one example.
    Further, you seem to be conflating civil and criminal law, which are entirely different things. Any claim of copyright violation would have to be pursued as a civil action, with all the costs that implies.

  13. Mr Goldberg – I fail to understand how you -can- be a writer. Clearly you cannot approach a point from another angle, or debate logically, or – Dear me. Your friend Mr Montgomery seems to have more knowledge of what he is talking about. So I’ll lose the long winded reparte, which is clearly structured and so on and so forth, because you’re acting like a fangirl on sugar, who is -whining-.
    We are NOT stealing. Unless we are told by the author, ‘No, you can’t do that’, we’re allowed to write fanfiction. You cannot break a law until it is set up. JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King – writers who feel that others can -learn- through writing. So you’re one of the Anne Rice brigade – fine and dandy. Just stay off fanfiction sites and you’ll be happy, won’t you? Suggesting you do something proactive seems to have gone straight over your head.
    And to the slur on myself, Mr Goldberg – I’ve been published in literary magazines. I’m writing two books for children’s fantasy. I get writer’s block and I write fanfiction to clear it. If I’m thinking of introducing a new concept, I use fanfiction to work through it. A friend uses fanfiction to gauge popularity of characteristics in original characters. We -learn- from fanfiction before writing our own – I’ve already gone through and explained how and why. You don’t seem to be listening, and honestly, it’s like arguing with a five year old. Total absence of logic.
    I’m a writer, but I have a life outside writing that takes up about twelve hours of my day. Sometimes, I -am- being tired and lazy by playing in someone else’s universe. But it helps, I prepare myself for better original. You have the time and ability to go ahead and create your own work, I occasionally do so. This is a personal example, so please, I know it’s a strategy of yours, but don’t twist my words.
    Just…get over it. Seriously. You cannot attack us on the basis of -other people’s work-. It does not belong to you, therefore it is not yours to defend. You -can- defend yours. But somehow, D:M isn’t -that- popular in fandom.
    I pity that you ran across a squicky slash fic. *shrug* It happens. But being brattish about it, and starting arguments with fanfiction writers – there are more of us out here in the wide blue nowhere to defend ourselves than you could imagine. We will argue our corner, and we have various ‘real’ writers to back us up.
    So far, your argument has been conjecture, opinion and subjectivity. (Oh, and the random stats and websites that you threw in – something I’m highly familiar with). I’m a debater competitively, but it doesn’t take one to see that your argument is inherently flawed.
    When you rebutt our points, I’ll be happy to upgrade my argument to a level I’m more comfortable with. Y’know, when you actually argue -back- and all.
    Good day.

  14. //Mr Goldberg – I fail to understand how you -can- be a writer.//
    You know, I sometimes feel like that myself. But still, he gets half my paycheck every week, so go figure!

  15. //You know, I sometimes feel like that myself. But still, he gets half my paycheck every week, so go figure!//
    So to be a writer you have you get paid?
    Well, damn, all that stuff I’ve written for English class throughout the years must mean I’m just a… putter-together-of-words, not a writer… how crazy… Wow.

  16. Someone here, or in a comment on one of the other fanfic posts, asked me about my experience with fanfic while I was a writer/producer on SEAQUEST.
    Here’s the link to an earlier posting on my blog about that experience…
    Or you can read the novel I wrote, BEYOND THE BEYOND, that was inspired by my SEAQUEST encounter with some crazy fanfic writers…

  17. Legally, no-one can do anything about fan fiction, except the original authors, see Anne Rice. So, if you want to destroy all fan fiction based on your writing, then go and write something original, then forbid people from writing fan fiction on it.
    Or, you know, just quit wasting your precious time and energy on something so futile. Sort of what like you want fan fic writers to do, innit? You know, stop writing fan fiction and do something _worthwhile_? Yeah, like whining about fan fiction you can’t do anything about is worthwhile.

  18. If I can steer just one aspiring writer away from wasting his time on fanfic… and concentrate instead on writing something fresh and original of his own… then the time spent in this discussion has been worthwhile.

  19. And if we fanwriters can persuade you that we are NOT the essence of evil, and neither is fanfic in general, than we have accomplished a great deal indeed! 😉
    Our invitation to speak with the PPC stands.

  20. Aaaaahhh. I get it now. I completely and utterly understand.
    How unutterably patronising.
    //If I can steer just one aspiring writer away from wasting his time on fanfic… and concentrate instead on writing something fresh and original of his own… then the time spent in this discussion has been worthwhile.//
    *sigh*. I really feel that my valuable skills as a debater are being wasted.
    You seem to think you’re on a crusade. Writing bad books about fanfiction – which are only going to interest those who *write* fanfiction, and infuriate them that some arsehole who gets a check for writing shows that are considerably less popular than the Buffy phenomenon, or LOTR scripts – and trying to ‘convince’ us to follow the right ‘path’.
    Y’know, I’m rather reminded, to use hyperbole, of the nineteen fifties. Where those who were gay, or lesbian were introduced to ‘re-aligning’ camps, where they were taught to be heterosexual. Those doing it were convinced they were right. They were determined. Sexuality was wrong-wrong-wrong.
    Yeah. Hyperbolic it may be, but it makes a point. Similar to Dickens’ arguments, actually. (And no, I’m not being facetious).
    //wasting his time//
    This is the major point of your argument. Tell me, Mr Goldberg – I would call you many, many more derogatory terms, but this has been going for three days, and I’m rather impressed that my ‘oh look at the idiot’ call to arms on the PPC board has spurred my colleagues into far more voluble defence than I could ever write. Therefore, I’m bemused someone of your age could get this far without learning to put words together.
    Anyway. The point. Tell me, do. What do you do in your spare time, Mr Goldberg? Let me put a scenario before you.
    You’re a talented, well-read young person. You attend school from eight in the morning until four thirty in the afternoon. You take, say, an hour of dance class after that, then piano practise, then you do homework. You’re tired, and want to do something fun, but are loathe to sit in front of the ‘idiot box’ – sorry, have I insulted your livlihood? I *am* sorry – and you’ve just finished re-reading Harry Potter.
    So instead of working through the brain-numbing plot hole in your original, the one where you really need eight hours, a sketchpad and a large metal pan to hit yourself with to solve, you decide to write fanfiction. Perhaps something intrigued you, that made you think about a certain situation. Perhaps the author has left a hole in their work.
    (Side point – JK Rowling herself has left considerable plot holes in her books. Fansites have picked up on them – and she’s subsequently edited the books in new editions to change them. She’s also got on her website answers for those people who have pointed out said holes. Check it out. It’s a real life writer, Mr Goldberg! – oh, and that would be html lingo)
    We believe, firmly, that fanfiction is NOT a waste of time. It’s a hobby, like reading a book, watching tv, playing a video game. Our point is also it’s a beneficial hobby, to ourselves, through increased knowledge of grammar, spelling and plot -IF AND ONLY IF!!!- we want to write original LATER – will help. We also believe that we’re not desecrating the original work, and will mock, with increasing amusement, those who we deem failures at loving the original creation.
    I’m PPC, GAFF, Deleterius, and so on. I spend a good part of my evenings mocking bad writing. I beta-read for some seriously good fanfiction writers. I am beta read. For your reference, Deleterius is a livejournal community who search out sues, and destroy them. The name is, I believe, a fan joke at the bastard-Latin spells that JK Rowling writes. I could be wrong there. GAFF – well you’ve met us, haven’t you? PPC – they’ve cordially invited you to a discussion with purists. And you’ll find some of the most literate minds in the Tolkien fandom there. Those who are the past masters of fanfiction. Oh, and I’d love you to meet Miss Cam, or HonorH.
    You’re not -going- to convince us. This is a love of ours, close to our hearts. We’re writers, Mr Goldberg. We love what we do, we write because it gives us pleasure, we enjoy getting feedback, and we work hard at it, trying to improve our writing skills.
    I mean – bloody hell! Step into your typical high school in America, and ask how many of their thirteen year olds are writing books. Ask how many are seriously good writers, who can write blank verse well, and write short stories that are publishable.
    I know – possibly five on speaking terms, through the PPC. There are far, far more in fandom.
    Ask how many sixteen year olds spend their time writing original novels, as well as having a better grasp on grammar and spelling than their teachers. Ask how many break out in hives at the mistakes made between ‘their/they’re’ or ‘your/you’re’.
    I know too many to count.
    How many adults do you know, Mr Goldberg, who have enjoyable, life-fufilling careers? I imagine many. Do they have dual passions, possibly? Could one be a wine-conisseur at the same time as working long hours as, say, a doctor?
    Fanfiction is like, the bit on the side for these people. They like it, they can write passionately, sensitively, insightfully – and then there’s Real Life, which takes up too much time for them to bother writing original. They don’t want to quit their jobs to write original novels, or maybe they can’t. Maybe they have children, and low-income jobs that they have to hold down because life kicked them in the arse, and screwed them over. Maybe fanfiction, for them, is a way of escapism, being active, instead of passive, in something that has inspired them.
    I know people with stories similar to those, from all walks of life in fanfiction. I’ve met someone who lives in my old town, who went to my old school, who I’d never have met if it hadn’t been online. I’ve met a Yale student, who has taught me creative writing better than my school teachers, who are focused on the hoops I’m forced to jump through.
    As you’ve seen, sir, fanfiction is also about community. We’re a bunch of people, come together through our passion. If you check out the PPC board, you’ll see cries for help, and support, celebration over achievements in life, and writing. Fanfiction isn’t just about fanfiction writing. It’s about learning that there are millions of others with unfinished novels, who love the life you do.
    For me, it’s about finding my niche in the world. I’m not going to bore you with tales of angst about life, but suffice to say, in fanfiction you can find coherent, understanding individuals who are well-aware what life brings.
    I’m very, very unhappy that our arguments have failed to convince you. That the lawyer on our board has been ignored. That our debate has been of such an advanced level that it is laughably compared to your weak side. I pity you. Because we’re the people who matter. You might get a paycheck once a month. Ya-bloody-hoo. We get what matters in life.
    I also pity you because your side appears to have deserted your fanatical viewpoint. Mr Montgomery has conceeded points on our side, we’ve conceeded his. But you, you’re not budging from your close-mindedness.
    As it stands, those you’ve met – we’re literate, and opinionated people, who happen to share fanfiction in common. Some of us can write better than that which gets published, but there’s not a market for what we write. Some of us will be the next big thing on the shelves in a couple of years time, and that which we present will be a complex and well-loved piece of work, that inspires people.
    In fanfiction, you learn not to be satisfied. You learn that generic, bland tales are not to your liking. That when you write, it has to have levels, and subtext, and foreshadowing and so forth, to satisfy you. Fanfiction may be the lazy part, but it teaches you NOT to be lazy in your original.
    I can only shrug, sigh, and bid you good day, Mr Goldberg. You’re too blind to see what we’ve attempted to show you. And I’ll get back to essays for Cambridge, competitive dance, and the maps I’m drawing for a novel. Because ultimately, fanfiction is a piece of my life, but only a piece. It’s a hobby. And I have other demands on my time.

  21. //Writing bad books about fanfiction – which are only going to interest those who *write* fanfiction, and infuriate them that some arsehole who gets a check for writing shows that are considerably less popular than the Buffy phenomenon//
    Just to correct the record here, while Buffy may have been a much better show than Diagnosis Murder — and I certainly think that’s the case — DM, at least in America, had at least five times the audience of Buffy, a substantially greater audience even in the 18-49 demographic, and outlasted Buffy by a year. (We will not discuss Angel’s ratings, which never reached Buffy levels…)
    Just because you like it more, doesn’t mean it’s more popular. It does certainly have a bigger support in the fan universe, but I suspect that would also be the case if we compared Buffy to ER, CSI, or Law and Order, the three most succesful dramatic franchises of the last decade.

  22. Not going to answer my points, Mr Rabkin? Do you -not- know literate thirteen year olds who can write well? Do you not know many people who have written because it’s escapism and they like it? Do you not have a community based on friendship, support and yes, fanfiction? Hmm. Wonder why you don’t appear to be winning the argument.

  23. //If you’re writing because you can’t “not write,” you’d create something of your own. That’s what writers do.//
    Why this repeated insinuation that writing fan fiction is not creating something original? Surely the very act of writng is the creates something original: Your words, from your brain, onto your page. Where’s the lack of originality in that?
    And, as for the argument that writing fanfic is a waste of talent that people need to be diverted from, may I draw your attention to the new series of “Doctor Who”, beginning on the BBC next year? At least one of the writers on that series, Paul Cornell, began his writing career writing “Doctor Who” fan fiction, amongst other articles, for fan magazines, and his since become a well-respected professional writer, both for TV and in print. The fact that he is now working professionally on a series which he began in the amateur leagues for should, I hope, be an indication that this has in no way been a waste of Mr Cornell’s talent, nor that the “Doctor Who” producers are subtly encouraging those immoral fanfiction writers to carry on commiting what you obviously see as such an offensive act.

  24. For the record, I have no side but my own. And I concede nothing! Other than my desire to have a doughnut. 🙂
    Speaking of young writers… Lee’s own daughter (who I think is 10 or so) already writes her own books. Check back in the blog to see the story. It’s a great one. 🙂


Leave a Comment