“We Are More Emotionally Attached”

Fan fic writers have no deadlines, networks/producers/actors to please,
and often have a better grasp on the characters and their history than
the tv writers usually because We Are more Emotionally attached.

The incredible stupidity of that blog comment tells you all you need to know about fanfic writers…and the tenor of the "discussion" on NPR’s OPEN SOURCE (the comment above comes from their blog). The radio show did a terrible job yesterday exploring fanfic —  and I’m not
just saying that because it was 45 minutes into a one-hour show before
the bewildered host remembered I was there. 

I think that the guests and listeners on both sides of the fanfic debate would agree that the host was woefully unprepared for the discussion.  He didn’t have a grasp of what fanfic is and seemed to be stumbling around blindly in search of a point or an angle (something his producers should have prepped him on more thoroughly beforehand). He was unfocused and, therefore, so was the discussion, which is why I’m not at all surprised by his baffling "post-game analysis" of the show on the OPEN SOURCE blog:

The poverty of fanfic is its confinement by television and what seem
the limited stock of Star Trek characters—and the bodies of Charley’s
Angels. But the courage of readers who, all along, have been
reimagining outcomes and dialogue and motives is awe-inspiring. I guess
it is just as well that we waltzed right past all those confounding
lit-crit riddles of post-modern textuality. Naomi Novick tried to tempt
us with a sweeping dismissal of authorial intent, and I cheerfully let
it go.

What is he babbling about? I was on the show and I can’t make sense out of it. By the way, I was the only fanfic naysayer invited to participate (and then only included in the discussion as a brief after-thought).  He spent the bulk of the show talking to the two dimwits who felt there’s no difference between a modern retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and STAR TREK mpreg fic (for one thing, the authors the fanficcers are ripping off are still alive)  So it’s no surprise the host ultimately comes out in favor of fanfic…or at least his blurry notion of it.

Common sense about music makes me wonder why any of it should be
copyrighted. Music is not something human beings own; it something
people love, make and do every hour of the day, socially and alone. So
much of the music I love is recreated: like Brahms’ transcription of
Bach’s Chaconne for left-hand-only at the piano, or Chucho Valdes’
reconception of Chopin’s Preludes as jazz. Up with imitation, then, and
the geniuses who can make it original.

31 thoughts on ““We Are More Emotionally Attached””

  1. I followed the link, thinking I might find something intelligent at the other end. I didn’t, and decided I would exercise my First Amendment rights on the matter. Hah! Apparently one must register with the Democratic Party and have a secret decoder ring to do so. So back I come.
    The basics on fanfic are this: It’s stealing. It is out-and-out theft.
    A Writer takes time and energy to create a character, and along comes this snot-nosed, pimple-covered, horny whatever, to tell the Writer what should come next in the form of fanfic.
    It’s theft. And I personally don’t think a Writer should have to stand for it. If, however, a Writer wants to give pimple-wonder permission to train-wreck his writing, that’s another matter entirely.

  2. Does this guy know anything about music licensing? Sure, anyone can have their own take on Chopin, it’s in the public domain. That doesn’t mean you can re-record the entire Rolling Stones catalogue without giving Mick Jagger a whole heaping pile of money first. If I’m reading this right, he’s saying we should do away with intellectual property laws entirely. Brought to you in part by the NEA.

  3. What is up with NPR lately, anyway? A couple of days ago on Morning Edition they started off a fluffy little story on self-publishing with a long intro about libraries in danger of closing–a topic I was really interested in, esp. since two of the libraries they mentioned are in my area. But the only link between the intro and the story was a very weak comparison between the library that wants someone to donate 500 copies of the latest Harry Potter book and the poor self-published POD author who sells his books one at a time. I felt like I’d been cheated of an actual story.

  4. Let me clarify my comment above: the story I felt like I missed was the one about the libraries, which never got another mention. 🙂

  5. I thought the jazz analogy was an interesting one, actually.
    I contemplated calling in because I’m fascinated by the midrashic angle of fanfiction — though that conversation might not hold much appeal for those interested in discussing copyright, since God doesn’t seem to fret much about ownership of Torah. 😉

  6. Well the reporter in the elf=publising story had a vanity book of her own, which pod-dy is going to review. It’s clear they had no knowledge of the cult this fanfic is. I mean it’s really an underground phenomenon. And more myths about Democratic media is it Hess? I’m sure that’s the only website that requires registraion. I must have missed that scoop.

  7. The basics on fanfic are this: It’s stealing. It is out-and-out theft.
    Er…no. If it is anything, it’s copyright infringement.
    We’ve had this discussion three times before: fanfiction is to theft what copyright infringment is to taking and driving a vehicle witout the consent of the owner. They are not the same thing, they are very different things.

  8. Okay, what I don’t understand is this: who cares?
    I’m a writer. Why should I care what a bunch of idiots do online with characters based on mine? I could write a million words about George Smiley having sex with dogs, but that doesn’t affect Le Carre at all–nobody thinks that -his- George Smiley has anything to do with what some asshole on the web writes. I’m sure there are a dozens of Harry Potter Boinks Hermione stories online: does this affect JK Rowling at all? I honestly don’t get this. I’m not saying fan fiction is valuable, or has any redeeming features whatsoever, I’m saying it’s irrelevant.
    I’m thinking there’s a good explanation for the offence people take at fan fiction (and I’ll admit I’ve only read a -very- few snippets), because Lee’s a smart guy, but for the life of me I can’t see why I’d care. You want to write a story in which Jason Bourne is transformed by alien technology into a nympho Geisha? Knock yourself out. This has absolutely no impact on Robert Ludlum (well, and wouldn’t even if he weren’t dead–I’m not sure I agree that his death changes the moral probity of writing stories using the names of his characters) or on the Jason Bourne he wrote.
    Do we even accept that movies based on novels, for which novelists are (sometimes!) paid, have some -lasting- impact on those novels?

  9. I’m with Adam on this one. A lot of fanfic is god-awful, grade-school level tripe, and would probably be in a spiral notebook in the back of someone’s closet at their Mom’s house if it weren’t for the ‘net. No one’s going to make a dime off it, and no one is ever going to mistake it for the real product. Probably fewer people will actually read a given piece of fanfic than live in my tiny little town. It’s a goof. So, I ask this with real curiosity and not rhetorically: Why get so exercised about it?
    As for the argument that “it’s theft”: well, no, it isn’t. If something is stolen from me, I don’t have it anymore. If someone writes a fanfic about one of my characters, I don’t lose the ability to write about them. Not for a day, not for an hour, not for a minute, so I think the analogy of the joyrider above is also faulty.
    Copyright infringement I can agree with, but it’s on a truly de minimis level.

  10. The incredible stupidity of that blog comment tells you all you need to know about fanfic writers…
    Oh, for heaven’s sake, Lee, stop generalizing! I agree, that blog comment was rather stupid, but you’re on a dangerously similar pattern of thought assuming that because you’re published, you “understand” writing as a whole better than anyone else, fanwriter, unpublished, self-published, etc.
    The basics on fanfic are this: It’s stealing. It is out-and-out theft.
    No, James, it’s not. It’s not even copyright infringement.
    You can gripe about it all you want, and your assessment of the quality may be absolutely correct, but the bottom line is, there’s not a goshdarn thing you can do about fanfiction. Take a fanwriter to court and you’ll lose. It’s not infringement, and your rights as a copyright owner or writer don’t extend to controlling EVERYTHING that EVERYONE does with your ideas.
    The whole point of intellectual property is that ideas cannot be possessed.

  11. assuming that because you’re published, you “understand” writing as a whole better than anyone else, fanwriter, unpublished, self-published, etc.

    Um, Jocelyn, I’ve never said that. Nor would I.

  12. Um, Jocelyn, I’ve never said that. Nor would I.
    Then why did you post that one little comment tells “all you need to know fanfic writers”?
    You, Tod, and James Hess are perfectly entitled to opinions about fanfiction and fanwriters, but my objection is to passing them off as facts.
    Fanfiction is an extremely complicated issue, fanfiction writers are an extremely diverse group of people, and it’s frustrating to keep seeing these generalizations about them.

  13. <>
    Only once… at least while I was on the show. And her comment was basically that the copyright issues are complex and an issue debated in fandom.

  14. “The whole point of intellectual property is that ideas cannot be possessed.”
    What ever happened with Harlan Ellison’s suit against James Cameron for ripping off ideas for the “Terminator” movies?

  15. I don’t know the case, but I’d guess that what Cameron probably got his hands on was either the published or unpublished expression of Ellison’s ideas.
    The closest you’ll ever get to possessing an idea is an author’s right to “first sale” of an idea that hasn’t been published yet. And even then you have to prove that the alleged infringer actually did get his hands on some expression of your idea, either verbally from you or some unpublished item that contained the idea.
    Once you’ve published, fair use comes into play.

  16. Jocelyn, IIRC, Ellison claimed that the idea for the “sodier from the future” in Terminator came from hos short story “Soldier” and that the idea of the supercomputer linking up with all the other supercomputers and trying to wipe out all human life was ripped off from “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”. Having read both stories and seen the Temrinator movies about a dozen times, I find the second claim a little more believable that the first. (I’d be interested to know what D.F. Jones, author of “Colossus”, which is about a computer taking over, had to say). But I’m not about to get into an argument with Ellison, no sir, not the kid, nuh-uh.
    Lee: He won? Was it in court or settled? I do remember seeing a credit for HE on the DVD version of Terminator.

  17. R. Tushnet has this on her blog, post from 6/13:
    It takes a village to raise a child; it takes an interpretive community to create a text.
    It takes an author to create a text. Or a team of writers or whatever to create a TV show.
    I write. I don’t have an interpretive community authoring my work. I’m authoring my work. All by myself in my little office without anybody cheering me on every five seconds. Reviews, subsequent commentary, even parody, hoped for, expected, legitimate outlets for people who like my work.
    People who are fans of Hemmingway discuss the author, discuss the works, they don’t write ‘what if Nick fought the Battle of Bull Run’ scenarios.’ What if WW I never happened?’ That’s because Nick is a character of Hemmingway’s. Somebody he made up out of his own head and put on paper.
    Tom Sawyer without Aunt Polly isn’t Tom Sawyer anymore, it’s something else, something Mark Twain did not write. Want to write that story? Write it. Don’t use Mark Twain’s names, don’t use his setting, don’t use his plot, change it, write it your way – create your own characters and universe and story. That’s called original writing. You’ll do it by yourself, without an interpretive community, or with an interpretive community of your choosing, not with one that’s forced on you whether you like it or not.

  18. I would think by “interpretive community,” she means the various influences upon your writing: the aforeexisting stories/facts/people from which you got your ideas, sources of research you did, etc.
    Oh, damn, she hasn’t got comments. Otherwise I’d suggest asking her to clarify.
    She’s at Georgetown now; I could email her and ask.

  19. Making Light has had several discussions of fanfic and slash.
    Like Squick and Squee!, and Namarie Sue, among others.
    Her thoughts on the subject, paraphrased because I can’t find the specific quote (and I hope I’m getting it right) is “Don’t get between the readers and their reaction to your work.”
    Hope I’m not repeating others’ comments.

  20. Jocelyn, IIRC, Ellison claimed that the idea for the “sodier from the future” in Terminator came from hos short story “Soldier” and that the idea of the supercomputer linking up with all the other supercomputers and trying to wipe out all human life was ripped off from “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.
    Ah, so it was published. Sounds like a straightup commercial derivative work, then. Go Ellison!
    Do you have a link to any info on the case, by chance? (I’m sure I could find it given time, but if you’ve got one handy, you know…) I’d love to see what year this was.
    One of my favorite issues in fanfiction is the “scenes a faire” concept, which is non-copyrightable parts of a story that “could be part of any story of that type.”
    I imagine that twenty, thirty years ago, “the soldier from the future” or “supercomputer taking over the world” might be such a novel concept that you could copyright it. But I’m wondering…has it been used enough now to make it a “scene a faire” for a book/movie/show?
    Just a random musing…

  21. I’m not really a fan of fan fiction, per se, but there’s something about your post that’s bothering me.
    I was on the show and I can’t make sense out of it.
    In my opinion, this speaks more to your attitude about the subject matter than the content of the discussion. Calling the two women who appeared on the show ‘dimwits’ is a personal slur and has nothing to do with the topic; they both seemed to be intelligent, articulate people (as are you), who made arguments you clearly did not agree with (and I sometimes didn’t, either), but I find your dismissive attitude quite troubling.
    Additionally, it appears that Naomi Novik has a series of fantasy novels coming out from Del Rey in both the US and UK next year, so she’s quite qualified to speak on the topic of what a professional writer might feel about her original creations being used in fan fiction. It’s a shame she didn’t do so on-air. I’d be very curious to know her opinion about her work in that context.

  22. Oh, damn, she hasn’t got comments. Otherwise I’d suggest asking her to clarify.
    She’s at Georgetown now; I could email her and ask.

    Go for it. I’m always looking for new material. Considering the main topics of my own writing, this whole fanfic thing is like the gift that keeps on giving.

  23. I’m with Adam and JDR on this one. I’ve had access to the www since 1996 and have never looked for nor read any fanfic, nor do I care to. It’s a harmless obsession that’s not going to take a dime out of any established author’s pocket, so who really cares?
    As for Ellison and the Terminator, watching the Terminator the first time did bring to mind HE’s “Soldier” episode of Outer Limits, but the film Terminator really rips is Cyborg 2087, with Michael Rennie.
    Over at this web site:
    Mr. Szonday writes:
    “A cyborg goes back in time to the present to prevent his creation and save the world from a future ruled by machines. Hang on. That’s the plot of the Terminator series. Nope. It’s from Cyborg 2087 (1966); the great (okay, not that great) science fiction epic of the 1960s with Michael Rennie as an improbably cast cyborg who is definitely showing his mileage.
    At least this cyborg is more a merging of man and machine rather than a brain in a robot body. The wonders of low budget necessities!”
    And yes, Colossus: The Forbin Project also came to mind as a previous commentator noted.
    I recall Ellison talking about the case on Hour 25. There was no actual litigation. Ellison’s lawyer of the moment rattled his legal sabers and there was some cash settlement and a credit was added to the end credit roll for the video release of the film.

  24. Terminator-Ellison:
    <counsel-of-record> The actual and final result of my client’s (Mr Ellison) dispute with Mr Cameron is confidential. The notice seen at the end of recent Terminator DVDs is merely the tip of the iceberg. </counsel-of-record>
    The entire dispute is a much more amusing and much stranger event than I think just about anyone realizes. I wasn’t Harlan’s counsel at the time, but I’ve done some review of the files… and it’s the sort of stuff that couldn’t appear in a law-school exam question because even the students wouldn’t buy it. (That, by the way, is rather more extreme than “it couldn’t appear in fiction because nobody would believe it.”) Part of it involves an interview in which Cameron stated that there was more than just “past inspiration” from Harlan’s work; part of it involves the now-defunct den of iniquity known as Carolco, which was quite possibly the least-assiduous keeper of accurate records in the film industry, and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition; and most of it remains confidential.

  25. Naomi Novick, one of the guests on the show Goldberg was on, fires back on her blog:
    “The reason it’s not usually worth talking about the ethics and legality of fanfic is in pretty good evidence over at Lee Goldberg’s blog yet again. I’m very glad that the radio show (still no MP3, sorry) chose to save legal talk for the last section of the show (a deliberate and prearranged plan, despite what Lee seems to think about the host forgetting him). You can’t really have a meaningful discussion with people who violently loathe fanfic a priori and who resort to slinging insults.
    Lee makes a particularly bad spokesman for objections to fanfic anyway because from all available evidence he makes most of his living writing scripts for series television, tie-in novels, and (as my fellow guest pointed out to me) fact books about television shows — things like Unsold Television Pilots, and Television Series Revivals. The first two categories are all about taking characters and settings created by other people and writing new stories with them — fanfic in everything except what Lee claims is the distinguishing point that it is with the full authorization of the creator. And the books in the last category profit off the creations of others *without* authorization — because legally you don’t need to have authorization to report facts. So in the venn diagram of ‘borrowing characters to write fiction’ and ‘use without authorization’, where fanfic writers are in the intersection, he’s got one foot in either camp even while he’s going after the people in the middle.
    For the record, since someone in the comments over there asked sincerely, and I too am sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk about this on the show — I for one would be thrilled to know that people loved my characters and my world enough to want to come on in and play, not to mention that I would be wildly grateful for the free publicity. I would love for people to put up posters and make costumes and invent their own stories and fantasize about my characters. If they did, that would mean I was doing something fundamentally right — that I was creating characters that people wanted to make part of the shared culture by which we communicate with one another. And if enough people feel that way about my characters, I am going to get to keep doing this work that I love. Not only would I not look down upon that kind of fannish activity, I would love to do whatever I can to encourage it.
    Some fanfic writer out there who is having herself a good time with friends, doing creative work, trading her stories around — she is not threatening me. She is not defiling my work, even if her story has (gasp, shock!) sex in it, even if it has content in it that would upset me to read. I won’t be reading any of the fanfic anyway (just not worth the potential legal headaches), so what difference does it make to me? Chances are this fanfic writer bought my books and so is helping to pay for me to keep doing this. The last thing I want is to chase her off — I want her to stay and invite all her friends to join in.”

  26. Yeah, this quagmire looks like fun

    Lee Goldberg is the center of all things fanfic at the moment. He’s virulently anti-fanfic; several posters to his blog on this entry and this entry and this entry and a few others besides (these are just the posts in…

  27. [quote]I don’t have an interpretive community authoring my work. I’m authoring my work.[/quote]
    Yes, but it takes an audience for it to constitute text. It has to be read and meaning assigned to it, otherwise it’s some words on a page and nothing more.
    That’s what interpretive community means.


Leave a Comment