I think it’s immoral, I know it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf.
May 4, 2010 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Fan Fiction and Moral Conundrums : Diana Gabaldon, author of the bestselling Outlander book series, takes on the legal and moral issues of fan fiction. She's got a lot of people to convince.
posted by desjardins (189 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
It never even occurred to me that anyone would take this position. According to her logic, it's immoral to think about a book when you're not reading it.
posted by cmoj at 11:11 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


She's gonna end up in some dire straights in so many bad stories it's not even funny.
posted by The Whelk at 11:14 AM on May 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


OK, my position on fan-fic is pretty clear: I think it’s immoral, I _know_ it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters.

Oh, grow up.
posted by empath at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2010 [32 favorites]


It's not illegal or immoral.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


Fan fic is free word-of-mouth marketing. It's free brand management between releases. It builds and maintains a community and market for your product. Hold your nose and enjoy selling more books, because many authors can't anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on May 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


This strikes me as a bit clueless. Plus she clearly doesn't understand the impetus behind slash fiction.
posted by Ber at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2010


It's not illegal or immoral.

No, but it's universally shitty. I don't blame her for the "barf" comment.
posted by Ratio at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


If nothing else, I _wish_ someone would _teach_ her about the handy _formatting_ tools that Blogger features [g]!
posted by COBRA! at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Diana Gabaldon is walking past my garden, where I am airing my terrapin, Jetta.

'Hello Diana,' I say. 'What are you doing in Dusseldorf?'

'Attending to certain matters,' she replies.

Diana Gabaldon walks inside my house and sits down on my couch. We talk urbanely of various issues of the day. Presently I say, 'Perhaps you would like to see my cling-film?'

...
posted by boo_radley at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [75 favorites]


Actually, the situation she describes at the very end pretty clearly is illegal, even if it's supposedly being used for charity; as far as the rest of it, I don't know enough about copywrite law to argue one way or the other.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010


Well, she's wrong several times in the first graf, so…

Diana Gabaldon sat down to write a scathing essay. This, she thought, this would finally teach those vile imitators, those putrid corrupters of her characters…
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


I predict a sharp increase in barf-inducing Outlander-based fan fic in the near future.
posted by DU at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Copyright even. Damn it.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010


I would not have guessed from her blog that she is a writer.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [24 favorites]


Whelk's right - by even faintly suggesting that she doesn't want stories about her and her family, she shows she doesn't understand the depths and depravity of the crazy RPF people. (I do, because I dated one.)
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2010


OK, my position on fan-fic is pretty clear: I think it’s immoral, I _know_ it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters.

Wow, that's pretty crazy.

By the way, what exactly makes Fanfic illegal? I mean Obviously I know that you can't just take popular characters and reuse them, but is it actually copyright law that protects characters, or trademark law? And if it is trademark law, then does it still apply to fanfic, which isn't written for profit?

Wikipedia has this page on the legality of fanfic, which indicates copyright can be used. The case they cite is this one which was about someone writing an unauthorized movie script, which is a fairly different scenario (The author was trying to sell the script back to the studio)

But I also wonder, isn't there a difference between taking a character like superman and drawing or portraying him in video and simply writing about superman?

---

But all of that said, the idea that fanfic is immoral is pretty bizarre. Just because something bothers you, that doesn't make it immoral.
posted by delmoi at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2010


Let's ask Neil Gaiman what he thinks:

As long as people aren't commercially exploiting characters I've created, and are doing it for each other, I don't see that there's any harm in it, and given how much people enjoy it, it's obviously doing some good. It doesn't bother me. (I can imagine a time and circumstances in which it might. But it doesn't.) (04/08/2002)

Good enough for me.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm torn about this. I understand why she doesn't appreciate people essentially taking her characters and ideas and presenting them as their own "work." For me, Edith Wharton gave the most compelling descriptions of how her characters essentially wrote their own stories for her -- I'm sure that seeing them play out their lives in someone else's work would have felt as if her children had been kidnapped and raised by others.

Having said that, of course this "fan fiction" is essentially an example of the truism that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It helps to make Gabaldon more of an icon to those who like her work (and I admit she's a guilty pleasure of mine) and of course to sell more books.

I would be very much opposed to legislation that prohibited this type of fan fiction . . . or limited Gabaldon's right to criticize it.
posted by bearwife at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, how on earth does one go about the process of copyrighting characters?

To judge from the advice she gives, all that really matters is the character's name:
Write anything you want, using Jamie Fraser, Edward Cullen, Harry Potter and Dr. Who….and then change the characters’ names before you post it. Simple. Find All: “Jamie Fraser”. Replace with: “Joe Kerastopolous.” No problemo, all your own work, and any praise you get is duly earned.
So that's that, then. Terry Brooks is safe.

posted by kipmanley at 11:23 AM on May 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Write anything you want, using Jamie Fraser, Edward Cullen, Harry Potter and Dr. Who….and then change the characters’ names before you post it.

On behalf of the ancient Romans, I sue thee, Diana.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I ever wrote a story that a stranger found interesting enough to write any kind of story- even pornography-based on it, I would be thrilled.

I would not be thrilled if that person sold it, though.
posted by empath at 11:25 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Going to war with your most devout fans is a bit stupid.
posted by aught at 11:25 AM on May 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


Damn, beaten to the punch by Boo_Radley. Does Harper Lee know what you're up to, Boo?
posted by klangklangston at 11:26 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This comes across as extremely whiny. It must be so hard to have a large enough fan following that people want to write tributes to your characters for free.

Additionally: Ever heard of parody? Explicitly protected speech.
posted by zerolives at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Someone should copyright the word 'stealing' so people can't use it in ways it was never intended.
posted by digsrus at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Briefly:

1) "Well, see, this is where 'illegal' comes in.' — legality insufficiently maps to ethics and/or morality. She ought to know better.

2) "Suck it up, guys." — <clipped_nasal_accent>Oh, I have no response to that.</clipped_nasal_accent>

3) "Of course you enjoy positive feedback; so does anyone who writes anything. The question is—are you getting positive feedback because you’re a really good writer…" — I was not aware that Ms. Gabaldon had been elected to the dogcatcher role of making sure that positive feedback was also valid and approved feedback.

4) "... just do it with characters that are no longer under copyright." — which flies shrieking and gibbering smack into the face of the rest of her arguments.

5) "... Well, again—who _doesn’t_ like being in a group of people with common tastes, interests, and ambitions? But so far as I know, almost all popular authors have groups of online readers who like to discuss their books, characters, etc.—and I don’t know any author who doesn’t value and encourage such groups." — utterly missing the point of the fan-fic community, that it is peer-based, rather than a bunch of folks swirling about a particular author. Workshopping, surely she has heard of it.

6) "Weeeelll…let us just say that there’s a difference between someone dating red-haired men, and the same someone trying to seduce my husband." — Yes. And there's a difference between drawing a clever analogy and being correct.

7a) "If I whipped books out once a year, they wouldn’t be the _same_ books." — that would be true if it took a decade to write one. So?

7b) "... Giving people intriguing possibilities is one of the hallmarks of good fiction ..." — evidently, communicating beyond one's own imagination, though, is where that ends.

7c) "... it’s not like you don’t have anything else to read, while you wait." — Translation: find a different author. And she's making a good case for it.

Her reasons, where they approach relevance, are sabotaged by those in the cohort who do not. Overall, it comes off as "Mine, mine, mine!" #4 is especially telling, suggesting that the issue is, overall, the internal horror of the author who must confront what someone else may have done with their sacrosanct creation. Defile the temple if you must, but after I am dead, please.

Good luck, Diana. Better writers than you have tried and failed.
posted by adipocere at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


I can imagine feeling a little ill if I were, say, Jo Rowling and I spent too much time on the internet.

But at the same time, I think there's a reason she doesn't talk about this extensively. Badmouthing your most devoted fans, no matter how weird they are, is not a great marketing move.
posted by gracedissolved at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2010


bearwife: " I'm sure that seeing them play out their lives in someone else's work would have felt as if her children had been kidnapped and raised by others. "

I believe that this sentiment is what separates level-headed people from crazy cat people
posted by rebent at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I stopped writing fan fiction when I was 12, but I have friends who do and they have fun and mostly keep to themselves about it.

Which brings up my next point: I find it's kind of hard to stumble onto fan fiction unless you're looking for it. It's usually off in places like LJ communities or fanfiction.net. So that makes me wonder -- does she go out looking for it just to complain about it? I'm sure some fans send her some stuff, but I don't know how hard it would be just to say "Good for you, but I'm not interested."

It does come across as very whiny and immature. And someone please teach her some basic HTML.
posted by darksong at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2010


I've been following the LOLWUT over on FandomWank, and they pointed out quite a few things that make Gabaldon seem truly clueless:

1) She herself was inspired by other works; she has stated that her male protagonist is named after Jamie in Dr. Who and the actor who plays him (Frazer Hines) and shares some of his physical characteristics. See, published writers are derivative like this, but those icky fanficcers are derivative like this.

2) Her books are apparently pure smutty porn, to the detriment of its clunky time-travel wish-fulfillment plot. So her Mary Sue PWP is fine, but not fanfic Mary Sue PWP. Okay, then.

How porny? This porny: "I was lame and sore in every muscle when I woke next morning. I shuffled to the privy closet, then to the wash basin. My innards felt like churned butter. It felt as though I had been beaten with a blunt object, I reflected, then thought that that was very near the truth. The blunt object in question was visible as I came back to bed, looking now relatively harmless. Its possessor [Jamie] woke as I sat next to him, and examined me with something that looked very much like male smugness."

And that's only the part they found clean enough to print on the book's Amazon.com page.

Word to the wise, authors: if someone on the Internet loves your stories enough to want to play around in them, to want to write adventures set in its world, to spend time thinking about the characters and story long after the book is put down or the movie is over, this is a huge frickin' compliment. Having fanfic written about your work is a sure sign that you are actually entertaining! It's also free publicity for your work! Be happy!

But don't be like Gabaldon and be an insecure idiot.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2010 [20 favorites]


Tangential link to blog post fisking parody claims re: Downfall; many of the concepts discussed there apply here as well.

Short version: Fan fiction is unlikely to be explicitly fair use, however, it is also very unlikely that an author could do anything but prevent its distribution. Damages would be negligible for the vast majority of cases.
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


She's wrong on the law. Yes, fan fiction is derivative work and publishing it can infringe on your copyright. However, failing to defend your copyright does not make your copyright go away. She's not going to lose her IP rights because she failed to send some fan a takedown order (unless she has actually trademarked her characters, which is different). Since she's written for Disney, which probably has trademarked their characters (I don't know, but I presume they have) maybe that's where her misunderstanding of the law is coming from.

Personally, as a writer, fan fiction is a problem I'd like to have.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:33 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I like her books, but that was an idiotic, over-the-top reaction to what is a non-commercial artistic expression. So you don't happen to like that particular expression? That's okay, I hate what people have done to the character of Robin Hood over the last century. Just don't read it.

Part of me is sympathetic -- she's so attached to her own characters, and she feels like they have been used against their will (which is her will) -- and considering the issues of rape and abuse in the series, sexual fan-fiction using Outlander characters is a damned creepy idea.

But just generic g-rated fan-fiction? What harm does it do if I am inspired to write a story about a ten-year old passing through the stones instead of a 28-year old? Or a black person passing through the stones into Virgina of 1772? Or, god forbid, write some turgid story of Jamie solving a murder with the help of Claire inventing anti-virals and someone else playing bagpipes? (yeah, that doesn't make any sense, but hey -- neither does most fan fiction). The only one I'm hurting is my readers.

As for her comparison -- it's considering creepy and stalkerish to write porn about your neighbours, because they are real people. Her characters are not real people -- they are fictional characters. And complaining about the graphic nature of some fan fiction -- well, she really shouldn't call the kettles black, since the books are pretty explicit and her main male character could have stepped off of a Playgirl shoot. I'm not saying he isn't also an interesting character with some internal life, but he could also be part of an analysis of the objectification of men in romance fiction.

tl;dr: She should have more bacon with her beans. And I'm off to finish that story I started when I was eight about a little hobbit girl who has to save the Shire...
posted by jb at 11:36 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fanfiction - its not immoral, its likely not illegal, and your digestive issues are not our problem.

Not that I write fanfiction. All my musings in other people's fantasy creations stay strictly in my head. I have a low embarassment threshhold. But I don't see any compelling argument - including in Ms. Gabaldon's 'essay' - to suggest that others shouldn't.
posted by sandraregina at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been following this elsewhere on the internets recently okay, on fandom wank and one of the most entertaining (to me) issues I've seen raised is that her apparently unconscious correlation between fanfic about her family members and fanfic about her book characters seems to point to an amusing and probably unintended admission about the blatant Mary Sue-ish nature of her characters.

Disclaimer: I haven't read any of her books. I am somewhat tempted to. Please advise.
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


An' I'ma jus' sayin', but I've written fiction with stories that I've swiped from real live people and just changed their names—I tend to think that's more "immoral" than fan fiction.
posted by klangklangston at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2010


Diana, given that Gaiman and JK Rowling have no issues with it wouldn't it be wiser to hang out with the cool kids rather than take this direction. Even JRR Tolkien envisioned other artists expanding on his mythology with poems, songs, art, and gasp...stories. Not that Tolkien ever imagined Frodo getting buggered by Boromir.
posted by Ber at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Gabaldon is a very successful hack, which I don't begrudge her*, but sniffing about fanfic somehow diluting her, uh, art is really cutting off one's heaving bosoms to spite one's ripped bodice, as it were.



*at least now, since I'm no longer a bookseller who has to shelve her stuff.
posted by emjaybee at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I found the first Outlander book at my parent's beach house and read it last summer. It's basically slash fiction already... lots of kilts being lifted and throbbing manhoods engorged by battle.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2010


Okay, we all seem to agree here. Can one of the mods close this thread up, or can someone go call a troll?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Write anything you want, using Jamie Fraser, Edward Cullen, Harry Potter and Dr. Who….and then change the characters’ names before you post it. Simple. Find All: “Jamie Fraser”. Replace with: “Joe Kerastopolous.” No problemo, all your own work, and any praise you get is duly earned.

Ha, she called the Doctor "Dr. Who."

Fandom fail, Diana.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


or can someone go call a troll?

I GOT HERE AS FAST AS I COULD LOL
posted by Damn That Television at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2010 [29 favorites]


From Wikipedia:

J.K. Rowling... said she was "flattered" that people wanted to write their own stories based on her characters... Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has put links on her website to fanfiction sites about her characters from the Twilight series.

Honestly, as long as the fanfic isn't written for profit, that's how to handle it. It's a good community-building exercise among your fan base that can only lead to more sales for the author.

Yes, probably 99.9% of fanfic is awful and I know I'd hate to see my characters in the novel I'm working on used for the purpose. But when you're an artist or a writer, you have to accept that your work takes on a life of its own in the minds of those who enjoy it and are invested in it. They'll analyse it and day dream about it and assign meanings to it you never would have expected and will find very unsavoury, and if you can't accept that, then you had better keep your manuscript in a shoebox in your closet. Gabaldon complains that she doesn't want her "intimate creations" used as part of the written fantasies of others anymore than she'd want herself or her family members used in the same way, but what she's failed to grasp is that when novels sell in the millions the characters in them cease to become "intimate creations".

The best thing for her to do is to realize Jamie and Claire really have taken on lives of their own and that she cannot completely control them, and resign herself to cleaning up any outright for profit use of her body of work. And to learn to reserve the underscore for its proper use.
posted by orange swan at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


btw -- her books are not smutty porn. Yes, there are sex scenes, and yes, they are not censored (it isn't Sesame Street). And -- the quoted one aside, which is an anomaly -- generally they are quite tasteful.

But if you read them for porn, you'd be very disapointed -- there are several hundreds of pages of plot and character development and all of that pesky literature stuff. Also, the books deal pretty starkly with rape and rape-survival -- it's not at all sexy, it's sickening. Kind of a huge turn-off.

For anyone interested: the Outlander series is a time-travel historical/fantasy adventure series -- with more emphasis on the historical than the fantasy -- which began in the historical romance genre but immediately subverted that genre's normal conventions and which with the second novel became something altogether different. I'd say that it would appeal more to history buffs than pure fantasy people, and the history is meticulously researchered.
posted by jb at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


JK Rowling actually actively embraces her crazy-ass fanfic writing fans, to the point that the founders of one of the major sites (I forget which one, whatever) were at the big reading-in-the-castle event for the release of Deathly Hallows.

I don't even know who this Diana woman is, honestly, but as an author, you do not go around crapping on all the people who are out there buying your books and encouraging others to do so. It's stupid. Even if you do hate them, even if it DOES make you sick, suck it up. I highly doubt you're ever going to get a conviction, given that censoring other peoples' writing for pleasure is pretty much not going to happen (in the context of fanfic being legal, not in the context of LJ freaking out and getting rid of a bunch of it, which is another issue).
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:46 AM on May 4, 2010


ratio: No, but it's universally shitty.

Good to know you've read every piece of fanfiction ever written, in every fandom, on every single site, blog, and archive on the internet, and in all of the zines ever published.

I suggest you familiarize yourself with Sturgeon's Law.
posted by tzikeh at 11:48 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can one of the mods close this thread up, or can someone go call a troll?

Apple products are for fascists, which is the real reason Obama hired Tufte: as long as the boot's cleanly designed his base would love nothing more than to be stepped on with it. What's more, video games can never be art because they're primarily enjoyed by the obese, whose problems are all of their own making; you would know this if your brain weren't poisoned by xkcd and other librul media outlets.
posted by kenko at 11:49 AM on May 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


Also, in honor of Diana Gabaldon, I'd like to share my favorite fanfiction with metafilter: Blue, the NSFW NC17 story of two minor male characters from the Babysitter's Club exploring their sexuality and one another's bodies.

It might be personal porn, but it's world's better written and more intellectually interesting than anything Ann M. Martin ever wrote.

And it's hot.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Well, I think JK Rowling's position is a bit more nuanced. She seems to be in favor of it as long as it's strictly not-for-profit, but successfully took down an attempt to publish an unauthorized fan-created Harry Potter encyclopedia.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not for the first time, I thought to myself "Diana Gabaldon needs an editor."
posted by box at 11:51 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm going to set the world on fire with my Clash fan fiction.
posted by COBRA! at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Oh dear," said Joe Strummer. "I've sprained my rocking hand with but minutes before we go on. This is a pickle."
posted by COBRA! at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


All this Outlander love/hate, and nothing for Lord John?
posted by infinitewindow at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2010


Fan fiction is unlikely to be explicitly fair use

But nothing is explicitly fair use. Fair use is an after the fact defense that relies on a whole bunch of criteria, which are generally in motion in relation to each other.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:54 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Oh no!" complained Mick Jones, the stumps of his teeth glistening..."

... and those bloody Sex Pistols will become the Only Band that Matters! Cor and Blimey!"
posted by COBRA! at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can one of the mods close this thread up, or can someone go call a troll?

Fan-fic authors deserved that tasing.
posted by DU at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plucky Guitar Tech Ken "the ASP!" Piesle was tuning guitars as this happened. He bit his lower lip and cleared his throat.
posted by COBRA! at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2010


Also, in honor of Diana Gabaldon, I'd like to share my favorite fanfiction with metafilter

Oh oh, is this where we all start recommending some good fanfic? Sweet!

Here, have some "Queen of Spades" (NSFW) -- it's James Bond and M, as in Daniel Craig and Judi Dench. You're welcome.

(Okay, who's next?)
posted by Asparagirl at 11:58 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Oh dear," said Joe Strummer. "I've sprained my rocking hand with but minutes before we go on. This is a pickle."

Suddenly another hand closed over Strummer's own. A loose but confident grip -- holding on in what was almost a muscular sneer.

"M-Mick?" Strummer asked. His breath suddenly felt short; his chest tight. Rockers' nerves? Or something else?

Mick Jones squeezed Strummer's hand. Not hard, but enough that Strummer could feel it -- a sweet twinge of pain.

"Don't worry, Joe," Mick breathed. "I've got enough rock for both of us."
posted by Shepherd at 11:58 AM on May 4, 2010 [23 favorites]


"Sirs," Piesle said meekly, "I... I think I know the guitar parts. And I'm not without skill on the frets."

Meanwhile, on the other side of London Johnny Rotten was pooping on a prostitute.
posted by COBRA! at 11:59 AM on May 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


his finger hovered over the shining, luminescent plus sign, the little corners dancing, tempting, would he ...could he ...favorite?
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


OK, my position on fan-fic is pretty clear: I think it’s immoral, I _know_ it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters.

Keep up that stern face, D. The waves dare not touch your ankles, so righteous is your cause.

Because heaven forbid people make any creative use of the cultural environment they exist in without paying for it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Warm Day In February
A Fan Fiction

All Annette did for a few weeks afterward was hang around her place, and I guess I can't really blame her. When I'd come over to visit, she was either sleeping or cleaning her whole apartment, over and over. One time I was trying to get her to go out to lunch, and she told me she couldn't because she needed to scrub and re-tile her bathroom. I joked that all of the obsessive cleaning was reminding me of Marc, and she started to cry. I never brought it up again.

I only got her out of the house a few times before she left for Brazil, and the last time we were together was with Omar at a diner on the edge of Hollywood, I think, some trendy dive called Fred 62. Not only was it the first warm day in February, but Hollywood is usually a few degrees of pollution removed from the heart of downtown, so you could see the sky, too. It was Friday, and I bet we were the only three people in Los Angeles that weren't excited for the weekend.

Fred's only gets busy at night, so there was space enough for me to request a booth at the way back of the joint, which I guess defeated the whole purpose of getting Annette out in public. She and I had milkshakes, and Omar cheerily pushed around a cheeseburger and talked about the Lakers. Officially, he didn't know that anything was wrong, or even that anything had ever been wrong. To this day, he still thinks Annette left to go live with a cousin.

I remember reading an authorless snippet of writing once, called "The Elephant in the Room." Basically, it used an elephant as a metaphor for the corpse at a funeral: it's this big fucking thing just sitting there, and everyone is there to look at it, since that's the whole purpose of the event, but no one will even acknowledge that it's there. It would be too uncomfortable to talk about a corpse at his funeral, you know? Yeah, it was a shitty poem, but it got its point across.

Now, I don't know if it was exactly an elephant that was sitting there in the booth with us at Fred's, but it was still pretty damn large and the whole purpose of the afternoon was to talk it away, now and forever. Or away for just a little while. Or at least make sense of it. I wanted to, I guess, and I assumed she did too. Whenever I'd clear my throat to talk, she would look at me with eyes pleading from within her hooded sweatshirt. That's when I first noticed how pale and thin she'd become.

Right there, I could have helped. I could have looked the fucking elephant in the eye and asked Annette how she was feeling, or how the procedure went, or if the police had any leads, or really anything at all. Anything personal, anything to get her talking, anything to let her know that I cared. But instead of that, I was a fucking pussy and talked about movies with Omar instead. Instead of helping, I talked Sophia fucking Coppola and drank my chocolate shake. Omar was oblivious, and I was no better.

Now she is gone and it kills me that I just let it slide. I remember all of us standing up, me dropping down a nice 25% tip, and our party walking outside. It was a sudden change from the shady interior, and the LA sun smacked of failure as I realized, with the actual fucking sunshine marking my epiphany, that I would never get a chance to help her again. It was too late to talk about it, any of it: the rape, the abortion, the aftermath. The meal was over, and everyone was silent for a few seconds. We were just kids, standing in the hot pacific Friday. We were just kids, kids that didn't know what to say and couldn't say it, even if we knew what "it" was. We were just kids, Omar, Annette and I. Just kids, just three kids, just three w-wild and crazy, w-wild and crazy kids.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sid Vicious looked on in approval. "Oi, Johnny," he said, "we sure have those Clash gits against the wall, don't we? They'll never know we set up the rockin-hand sprain. Also," Sid leered, "nice poop.
posted by COBRA! at 12:02 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ahemhemhem. As an award-winning fanfic author, whose work has been source of inspiration to hundreds of peers, I must say that I do identify a little bit with her attitude. My stories, ideas, characterizations, hell, even my titling conventions have been ripped off and taken on a life of their own. It chaps my hide. Then I remember, oh wait, this is fanfic, I'm playing, I'm sharing, I'm not making a single cent, and oh yeah, none of this was originally my idea anyway, and I wrote it all to amuse myself and others. This thought process takes about five seconds.

Thank god the creator of my little corner of fandom actually approves of fanworks. I feel like creators who don't approve have straight up forgotten what it's like to play. How long has it been since this woman played a game of make-believe? She probably gets extremely upset during games of Telephone.
posted by Mizu at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2010


"But nothing is explicitly fair use. Fair use is an after the fact defense that relies on a whole bunch of criteria, which are generally in motion in relation to each other."

Well, no, there's quite a bit that can be considered explicitly fair use by any reasonable person. Like my quoting you right above this, for criticism and comment. That the vast majority of reuse of copyright is not tested in court to determine it as fair use does not mean that it's not fair use.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it weren't for fan fiction, I would never have known about Commander Riker's love affair with Wesley Crusher!

You know you want to search for "gay fanfic sttng" now. Just wait until you get home...
posted by jardinier at 12:06 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Arguably, my two sock puppets, Astro Zombies 2 and 3, are an example of fan fiction. They're characters, rather than merely being assumed names for online conversation, and not only are they borrowed from the world of The Astro Zombies, by filmmaker Ted Mikels, but they actually claim to belong to that world (as do I, sometimes, which, to an extent, makes me both a creator in fan fiction and a character in my own fan fiction.)

Illegal? I'd be hard-pressed to imagine the case. Immoral? Not especially. At least, I don't think so.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:06 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If fan fiction was banned I'd never have read about Jack Bauer wrestling The Undertaker
posted by dng at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2010


At least, I don't think so.

I do. It's why I don't really post here very much anymore.
posted by Astro Zombie 2 at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm with Asparagirl.
From the blurb on Amazon, the author's original hit book "Outlander" actually is fanfic. Girl based on the author travels back in time and shags Scottish Jamie from 1960's Dr Who. All she's done is changed Jamie's last name (which very few people knew anyway) to the surname of the actor who played him. That's even creepier than regular fanfic.
posted by w0mbat at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Back in the Clash's green room, it was worried faces all around. "I don't know, mate," said Mick Jones. "Our songs are mighty complex. I don't think just anybody could step in and play them, even a loyal guitar tech. Sorry, Ken 'the ASP!' Piesle."
posted by COBRA! at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn That Television, if you're not Donnie Jeffcoat you should be.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:10 PM on May 4, 2010


Yes, most fanfic is terrible. When the author makes basic spelling errors in the story abstract, I know I am in for it. 95% of the pieces are an off-key clarion call for greater educational funding, with about 5% suggesting the need for low-cost psychological help. That could be said for the majority of human hobbies.

The most galling part of the piece is the author's short memory and greediness. Does she not remember being unpublished and being desperate for anything but a rejection slip and the hollow cheers of her friends?

If a gaggle of individuals who largely have more aspiration than talent and great adoration than originality wish to put on authorial robes and have a little tea party, with a speck of drama amidst the largely self-congratulatory ring of approval, why not have such a thing? Who is she to deny that small pleasure to those who, in all honesty, will likely never see a dime from their efforts? Does knowing that pseudonymed enthusiasts cavort with the shades of her beloved characters truly diminish her status as a writer?

Something about the piece smacks of those individuals whose personal happiness takes a hit whenever they witness the joy of others. May she be sentenced to two years writing daily drabbles for alt.wesley.crusher.hot.hot.hot.
posted by adipocere at 12:11 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fan fic is free word-of-mouth marketing. It's free brand management between releases. It builds and maintains a community and market for your product. Hold your nose and enjoy selling more books, because many authors can't anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:17 PM on May 4


I know what you are saying, fan fic isn't word of mouth advertising. First, it's the creation of derivative works that you do not control. It is actually changing your brand in a way your don't control.

There was a thread a few days ago about compensating authors in the burgeoning age of ebook piracy. jscalzi's, cstross's, and others' comments in that thread (and in other related threads) gave me cause to go back a reexamine the academic literature on copyrights and rights generally in the digital age, and to think about the nascent attempts to deal with the legal rights problems that immediately arose once content moved or was created online.

My conclusion is this: all the attempts thus far have failed or will be seen to have failed soon. Creative Commons, copyleft, open source, etc. are basically dead ends. At best they allow the creator to re-assert some control after the fact (but as we see in the recent AFP photo case), this hinges on the creators willingness to litigate. As large content providers become more emboldened to search out content on flickr and elsewhere and simply use it as they see fit, in full understanding of the teapot-sized tempest to come later, these attempts to tweak the allocation of rights will be revealed to be inconsequential.

Unlike video, where technological innovative can render lossless playback of pirated content impossible, books and photography can be duplicated and distributed losslessly and no cost to uploaders or downloaders in bandwidth or time.

Given this, I believe there are only three ways to deal with the problems of authors' works being re-purposed against their will while simultaneously financially compensating those authors for their works.

First - and as odious as this is to someone whose browser automatically opens a tab for btjunkie.com on startup - is enforcement. Massive, widespread enforcement. Authors, photogs, etc need to create an ASCAP-like entity on a large enough scale that it can targets uploaders, downloaders, unauthorized derivative work creators, and the like for near-automatic copyright enforcement. Unlike the RIAA, whcih seems to pick and choose its battles, this new ASCAP2.0 would have to be completely ruthless - the ISP of every peer to a torrent of copyrighted material should get a notice the instant it starts downloading, every time it starts downloading. Where names are available, litigation would ensue. This would sufficiently discourage the offending activity. Unlike the RIAA, the enforcement would have to apply equally to downloaders (the peers), not just the seeds, and it would have to be on a large enough scale to support the hiring of programmers and the like whose job it would be to search out all the different avenues of piracy as the pirates evolve and adapt to the enforcement.

The second approach requires the creation of some gating mechanism on content viewing on devices. For example, if music can only get on an iPod through iTunes and the itunes store, then enforcement isn't as necessary (I understadn that at present pirated music can be loaded onto an ipod through itunes - this would have to change). Likewise, if a Kindle or iPad would only allow ebooks to be loaded onto them via the respected authorized stores (or even competing authorized stores like B&N), then there's similarly no need to worry. Apple is successfully doing this with apps - only Apple-approved apps can be loaded on iphones via iTunes, and that has rendered app piracy non-existent (clumsy jailbreaking aside). If creative content is treated like apps, where the accessibility of the content on the device is tied to the purchase of the content from the authorized store, I think you could similarly minimize piracy (though probably not eliminate it completely).

Of course, you'd still be able to access pirated books on pdf's or HTML fan fic on the web browser. But if the ebook user interface and experience on the device (think iPad e-reader) is sufficiently superior to the web or pdf document viewing experience, I think that this will discourage the viewing of this content enough to render it negligible.

The third approach is a surcharge or tax on internet connections, computers, internet-capable devices which then goes into a pool to be redistributed among authors and content producers according to some proportionality formula.

The end result will probably be a combination of all three. Certainly the devices are trending towards more vendor control - you can't even write your own apps for the iphone without paying $1000 for the dev kit.

I don't really see any other way through this legal mess that doesn't result in writers working for next-to-nothing.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with Asparagirl.
From the blurb on Amazon, the author's original hit book "Outlander" actually is fanfic. Girl based on the author travels back in time and shags Scottish Jamie from 1960's Dr Who. All she's done is changed Jamie's last name (which very few people knew anyway) to the surname of the actor who played him. That's even creepier than regular fanfic.


I have to say, I am always kind of amazed when authors manage to pull this off in published works. I've read blurbs of a few (seriously, I've stumbled across 2 or 3 within the last month) upcoming YA novels recently whose plots or characters sound lifted from Dead Like Me (one even has a reaper named Mason!). I sometimes still enjoy these works (though, hell, I enjoy BSC slash), but I always wonder at the fact that no one seems to notice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:14 PM on May 4, 2010


If you don't want the proles to get their grubby little fingers all over your pretty characters, don't publish them. Keep them safe in your head, where no one can enjoy them but you.
posted by nomisxid at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


From the blurb on Amazon, the author's original hit book "Outlander" actually is fanfic. Girl based on the author travels back in time and shags Scottish Jamie from 1960's Dr Who. All she's done is changed Jamie's last name (which very few people knew anyway) to the surname of the actor who played him. That's even creepier than regular fanfic.

The worst of it is, she actually suggests that right in the middle of her essay. Just change the names on all the characters and your fanfic is gold in her terms. Yeah, like that will really work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:23 PM on May 4, 2010


"I know it's a big job," said Ken "the ASP!" Piesle, "but I really think I could step up. I have to. We can't let those no-good Sex Pistols win!"

"Give me a guitar and I'll do you proud. You have to believe in me!"
posted by COBRA! at 12:31 PM on May 4, 2010


The second approach requires the creation of some gating mechanism on content viewing on devices. For example, if music can only get on an iPod through iTunes and the itunes store, then enforcement isn't as necessary (I understadn that at present pirated music can be loaded onto an ipod through itunes - this would have to change).
Obviously there's a big push to do that now. But why would people in the content industry be able to convince people in the tech industry to go this way? What difference does it make if the iPod gets locked down when anyone can buy an mp3 player for 30 dollars that plays everything? The iPad currently isn't locked down for content, you can view pirated PDFs on it, and people are working on DjVU viewing apps. If apple tried do lock it down, people would just move to other devices.

No one has been able to build a video copy mechanism yet that hasn't been cracked.

In any event, the idea that the book industry would ever spend money going after fanfic is absurd. It's not costing them any money. Individual authors might get squicked out, but they can't afford to go after infringes, and publishers are not going to be interested in enforcement.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2010


PhoBWanKenobi, over the years I've known more than a few fic writers who aspired to be published authors. What's always struck me is that the people who manage it, manage to get paid for it, seem to change far less of their stories than the people who try and try and never succeed. I guess it's some combination of luck, publisher blindspots, genre-based markets, and unchecked editor nostalgia.

But a lot of fanfic works in an entirely different spectrum of quality from "literature". So much of it is straight up terrible when judged by the same measures as one would an actual book, and so many people never realize that fanfic is not a book and never will be. It exists to scratch an entirely different itch. The stuff that gets slightly changed and published is normally the stuff that never quite fit the fanfic rubric of quality in the first place. It's always a little too involved, a little too explicit or obsessive or lengthy. There's always something there that doesn't hit the spot that fanfic should be hitting. So, you do a find and replace on a few proper nouns, and bazinga! Novel'd up.
posted by Mizu at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2010


Wait. Shit. Sorry guys, I just feel too bad about writing fan fiction. Instead, check out my Original Rock Fiction:

"Oh dear," said Joe Samson. "I've sprained my rocking hand with but minutes before we go on. This is a pickle."
posted by COBRA! at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Pastabagel, I'd rather be forced to read the worst slashfiction imaginable for the rest of my life than be forced to live in the dystopian nightmare you just described.
posted by empath at 12:37 PM on May 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


Honestly, maybe the days of the novel are over. Is that necessarily a bad thing?
posted by empath at 12:39 PM on May 4, 2010


This reminds me of an anecdote I happened to see in a book about The Brady Bunch when I picked it up in a bookstore for a few minutes once. Most of the case was very cooperative about being interviewed for the book. But the author couldn't seem to get ahold of Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady. Finally one morning at 7 a.m., he called her back. The conversation was short.

Robert Reed: Are you the woman who's been calling me about doing an interview for the book you're writing?

Author: Yes.

Robert Reed: The idea of you doing a book on the Brady Bunch is crap. Why should you make money on something that I did?! [slams phone down].

Granted, the man was dying of AIDS at the time, which is bound to make anyone a little testy. But even so, if I'd been that writer, I'd have left him one more message asking him if being a college professor (as Reed was for the last year or so of his life) wasn't "making money off something someone else did".
posted by orange swan at 12:40 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> if you read them for porn, you'd be very disapointed -- there are several hundreds of pages
> of plot and character development and all of that pesky literature stuff.

"Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley's Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion the book cannot replace J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping."
- Ed Zern, Field and Stream magazine.
posted by jfuller at 12:42 PM on May 4, 2010 [19 favorites]


Once-in-a-lifetime romantic passion and graphically depicted torture sessions are only the two extremes of this lively time-travel romance set in 18th-century Scotland—an imaginative and lighthearted debut by a promising newcomer.

WTF?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:42 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I suggest you familiarize yourself with Sturgeon's Law.

Sturgeon's Law violates Sturgeon's Law.
And I stand by my statement.
posted by Ratio at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2010


Other people to convince:

Isabel Allende's Zorro fanfic
Jorge Luis Borges's Lovecraft fanfic ("There Are More Things")
Kingsley Amis's James Bond fanfic
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Sherlock Holmes fanfic (p. 404)

And Salman Rushdie's "Chekov and Zulu" is not Star Trek fanfic per se, but does have a brief fantasy bit aboard Kirk's Enterprise.

Plus, of course, Neil Gaiman's Sherlock Holmes, Stephen King's Sherlock Holmes, and so on. You can argue that these were actually published (except FDR) and are therefore magically legal and no longer fanfic. I am pretty sure, by the terms of Gabaldon's argument, they are still immoral and barf-inducing.
posted by ormondsacker at 12:49 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it

Well sure. That's because it's no Half-Life: Full-life Consequences, which is just all kinds of awesome.
posted by xedrik at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


The "pay directly for the content" model isn't the only model by which writers get paid. I make half of my income from an online column I write, and that's supported using a public radio model of grants and donors. I'm not rich by any means, but I make as much as I ever did as a writer, and I do it without having to sue my audience. And, knowing what most novelists actually make from their books, I wager I make more money than 90 percent of them.

And the truth is, only a small percentage of writers have ever been able to make their money exclusively from their writing, as is the case with musicians and actors and everybody else int he creative profession. If you're in it for the money -- and there's nothing wrong with that -- then part of your job is figuring out a business model that will pay you that doesn't rely on trying to force a market to comply with your wishes. If you're not in it for the money, chances are your going to build a pretty big fanbase pretty quickly by being generous with your work, and letting people share in the worlds you create. People aren't very happy being passive consumers anymore -- if they want to be active, let them. They're still consumers, after a fashion, and I have a feeling that, if they love your work enough to want to create their own version of it, they're going to willing to support you, once you figure out how to let them do so in a way that is mutually agreeable, rather than imposed.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Literary FanFic
posted by The Whelk at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2010


Patabagel: I don't really see any other way through this legal mess that doesn't result in writers working for next-to-nothing.

How many millions of dollars has Paramount made milking their fan culture every 2-5 years?

Something that arguments for content creators don't really grok on one side of this discussion is branding. More and more, marketing people have come to realize that developing a brand isn't just paying a graphic designer to construct a consistent set of signs that identify the corporation and the product. It's about selling the corporation and product as part of culture and community. Coca-Cola isn't just a fizzy brown soft drink, it's a ritual part of holiday dinners. Nike isn't just a shoe, for a while, it was a status symbol for aspiring athletes.

Possibly, just possibly, Paramount and the BBC know what they are doing when they encourage fan culture along with all the wacky things that go with it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:54 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Literary FanFic

Gabaldon is okay with fanfic, it sounds, as long as the author is dead.

Since Gene Roddenberry is gone, I guess I'm safe with my Spock/Tuvok Pon Farr slash. Thank goodness.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2010


Gabaldon is okay with fanfic, it sounds, as long as the author is dead.

Finally! The mad, mad, Mad Adventures of Holly Golightly can see the light of day! She ends up dying on camera at one of Andy Warhol's parties in a pill-fueled bender after marrying a Prince who turns out to be penniless.
posted by The Whelk at 12:58 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I wouldn’t like people writing sex fantasies for public consumption about me or members of my family—why would I be all right with them doing it to the intimate creations of my imagination and personality?"

There's such an obvious difference here. I'm really surprised that she can conflate the two.
posted by oddman at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I wouldn’t like people writing sex fantasies for public consumption about me or members of my family—why would I be all right with them doing it to the intimate creations of my imagination and personality?"

There's such an obvious difference here. I'm really surprised that she can conflate the two.


Also, "intimate creations" sounds like a line of woman-designed, handcrafted vibrators, or something.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:13 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm amazed people actually want to make fanfic from her plodding, boring characters.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:15 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very recently John Scalzi announced that he had written a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. He was happy to concede that this was fanfiction, and he also sold the book to Tor within days after it was publicly announced.
posted by bove at 1:19 PM on May 4, 2010


Interesting that she decries fanfic writers who use other people's characters, but trumpets the fact that she used to write Uncle Scrooge comics in her blogger blurb. Before I got into any sort of continuity-heavy SF or DC/Marvel comics, the Scrooge McDuck comics were pretty much my introduction to the notion of a shared-universe setting where characters came and went freely.

This kerfuffle isn't doing a whole lot to improve my opinion of the romance genre.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:23 PM on May 4, 2010


re: Pastabagel.

I would seriously hesitate to call open-source software a dead end. It's shown itself to be extremely effective, and is, in my opinion, a great force for the betterment of mankind. Shit you not.

And we have many, many public domain works - things we all know and love with names like 'Macbeth' - which are similarly great forces for the betterment of mankind.

Macbeth's a funny thing, because it's a play, and the company was paid by a patron to produce it. Other people presumably paid to see the play performed, but the money for the writing - in this case - came from the king. I'm not saying that patronage is an ideal way to make a living, but just that other models than book sales have existed - and dominated - historically.

Incidentally,we also have great public domain works with names like 'Moby Dick' whose authors died obscure and unfed. The existence of the book-sales model doesn't ensure that good authors are justly rewarded for their efforts.

Enforcement is basically a no-go. Going after consumers of pirated materials will net you whole twenties of dollars in damages. And the world is too criss-crossed with borders, many of which have little respect for American copyright law, to allow going after piracy hubs in the long run. You'll end up with Russian torrent servers using the space as a marketing front for the international sex-slave trade, and pretty soon things just start looking like Prohibition all over again. Except this time we're all legally drunk whilst illegally watching our Battlestar Gallactica reruns with a syphilis-infected mail-order bride on our laps. That's right kids. Piracy leads to venereal disease, just like marijuana leads to heroin. You heard it here first.

So we have to instead look at fundamentally changing the revenue model. And eventually that will probably mean that Americans will have to decide politically that creators of content are worth supporting financially. Unfortunately, humanity on the whole has been just fine with watching artists starve for hundreds if not thousands of years, and then stealing their manuscripts and making millions off of their stinking, festering corpses the second they've kicked the bucket. So political action (like a tax) seems unlikely, at least right now...

And if we did something like create a big fund that paid publishing houses proportional to the amount their member's work is consumed, you can bet that this fund would be one of the first things hit when money is needed to stop a bank melt-down or what-have-you. We can't even get reasonable health-care in this country...

So I imagine that authors will continue to starve, except for the ones who don't. There will be those who find a patron, those who have well-frequented tip-jars, those who get movie deals, which turn into royalties in other contexts. There will be those who get jobs with creative writing programs in Pennsylvania, and are freed from the constraints of commercial success to pursue their own incredible vision of gay barbarian semiotics. There will be those who wander the countryside, earning a month's pay here and there for meeting with their dear readers and discussing the issues of the day. Some are mathematicians, some are carpenter's wives, I don't know how it all got started or what they do with their lives...

Writing has _never_ been an easy way to make a living, and I expect this will continue to be the case. The difference between now and tomorrow will likely be the existence of writing as an industry that sells books, just as we are watching the gradual dissolution of music as an industry that sells records. The existence of these industries have been very good for many people who are not writers or musicians, and occasionally made certain artists very comfortable. Things may get worse without them, or better.

On Preview: This is a very long version of Astrozombie's comment, I suppose. Fan fiction, if you will.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


There's such an obvious difference here. I'm really surprised that she can conflate the two.

Well, if your stories are all taken from your family and you just change the names of the characters, things might get a little conflated...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2010


Authors, photogs, etc need to create an ASCAP-like entity on a large enough scale that it can targets uploaders, downloaders, unauthorized derivative work creators, and the like for near-automatic copyright enforcement. Unlike the RIAA, whcih seems to pick and choose its battles, this new ASCAP2.0 would have to be completely ruthless - the ISP of every peer to a torrent of copyrighted material should get a notice the instant it starts downloading, every time it starts downloading. Where names are available, litigation would ensue. This would sufficiently discourage the offending activity.

Ha, right, just like the massive amounts of money flushed down the toilet every year on the War On Drugs sufficiently discourages drug use. Clearly when millions of people are breaking unenforceable laws, the best course of action is to spend even more resources trying to do the impossible.

Unlike the RIAA, the enforcement would have to apply equally to downloaders (the peers), not just the seeds, and it would have to be on a large enough scale to support the hiring of programmers and the like whose job it would be to search out all the different avenues of piracy as the pirates evolve and adapt to the enforcement.

As a programmer, I wholeheartedly support efforts to pay us more money in this completely doomed and losing battle, rather than giving that money to authors and photographers. I'm sure the lawyers would be equally enthusiastic.

The second approach requires the creation of some gating mechanism on
content viewing on devices. For example, if music can only get on an
iPod through iTunes and the itunes store, then enforcement isn't as
necessary (I understadn that at present pirated music can be loaded
onto an ipod through itunes - this would have to change)


Something tells me there wouldn't be quite as many iPod sales if they only played legal music from iTunes. Apple does seem to be all for locking down devices when they think it will help them make more money, but I'm not sure if they will be so gung-ho about protecting the IP of other random companies while simultaneous making their devices less useful than those of competitors.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since Gene Roddenberry is gone, I guess I'm safe with my Spock/Tuvok Pon Farr slash. Thank goodness.

To use plomeek soup in that manner would be... illogical.
posted by zarq at 1:57 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


//the days of the novel are over. Is that necessarily a bad thing?//

Shit, I missed that lecture. Does anyone have the handout?
posted by tigrefacile at 1:59 PM on May 4, 2010


From 'On the Ownership of virtual persons'

Now, if fanfiction is described as writing that steals pre-existing personas and settings, it is weirdly precise to describe most Western literature before 1600 as fanfiction. The works of Homer, Mallory, Dante, all of Shakespeare except The Tempest, Milton....all of these rely on stock characters, stock settings, and even pre-existing storylines. Indeed, the very power of forms like Commedia dell'Arte or the historical tragedies and comedies of Elizabethan theater is that the audience already knows what's going on. When you pick up Paradise Lost you don't wonder who's going to win at the end. When you set a story in Camelot, you don't need to spend twenty pages on exposition. Rather, you wonder how this iteration of the Great Story will be told. Even the lesser stories that make up the Thousand Nights and One Night or the Decamaron are variations on a handful of standard themes, with entirely interchangeable characters.

Full disclosure: I know and like this person.
posted by stinker at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Very recently John Scalzi announced that he had written a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy.

Holy crap! I'd read that.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:01 PM on May 4, 2010


Is it illegal?

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1978 grants the copyright owner exclusive right to:
(1) reproduce a work,
(2) prepare derivative works,
(3) Distribute and/or sell copies of the original work,
(4) Perform/display the work publicly.

See item #2.
posted by asfuller at 2:04 PM on May 4, 2010


What I really don't understand is how someone who writes books that are basically masturbatory fantasies can be so aghast at those who use her characters to do the exact same thing.

Some self-reflection might be in order here.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 2:08 PM on May 4, 2010


Supposedly, in the 1820s, an English company performed Hamlet on stage in Paris. The result was two bodies of fan fiction: Dumas pere's "improvement" of the original that expanded the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia, cut the cast in half, and left Hamlet alive at the end, and Hector Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique which was a creepy and stalkerish homage to the actress who played Ophelia.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:17 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I really don't understand is how someone who writes books that are basically masturbatory fantasies can be so aghast at those who use her characters to do the exact same thing.

Yeah, the summary basically sounds the book is straight-up slash, minus recycled characters.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on May 4, 2010


One last thing . . . is it just me, or does this sentiment--Her (the poster’s) idea for fund-raising is to auction off a custom-written piece of fan-fic, involving Jamie Fraser and Emmett someone (who I _think_ is from Twilight; I sort of hope it’s not the willowy young “bottom” from the TV show “Queer as Folk”…)--seem a bit homophobic to anyone else?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:29 PM on May 4, 2010


Possibly, just possibly, Paramount and the BBC know what they are doing when they encourage fan culture along with all the wacky things that go with it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:54 PM on May 4


You'll notice I specifically exclude the video/film industry (and by extension the television industry) from my comment. But on that note, the BBC's revenue model is very close to my third approach - the vast majority of the BBC's revenue comes from the nearly $200/yr TV license fee imposed on all TV sets in the UK. Furthermore, the BBC enforces collection of the fee by using a private company to send nasty letters to homes that don't pay.

I would seriously hesitate to call open-source software a dead end. It's shown itself to be extremely effective, and is, in my opinion, a great force for the betterment of mankind. Shit you not
posted by kaibutsu at 4:28 PM on May 4


First, you'll need to indulge me as I clarify my thoughts on the subject in an attempt to respond to your comment.

What we are talking about here are two very important and very different concepts. We are talking about price (or cost) and value. Let's talk about books for a second. When someone downloads a books, they do so to avoid incurring cost. Cost includes the price of the book, the opportunity cost of going to the bookstore, the costs involved in reading the books in what the downloader considers to be a less convenient format (paper), etc. The downloader only considers cost.

But the value of the work does not lie in it's price. The value is included in the price, but it is not the entirety of the price. The downloader does not consider the value of the work - his calculus only considers the cost of the book.

For the author to be compensated, what we are saying is that the author should capture the value of the work. Only in an ideal world is an author compensated for the full value of the work. In reality, negotiations, markets, etc. serve a price discovery function to ascertain roughly what that value is, and provide some mechanism for the author to be able to get it.

As many people have mentioned, it is certainly possible to derive revenue doing other things, getting patrons, grants, etc. Essentially these are arguments for the writer to make a living by getting good at something other than writing, like networking, grant-writing, schmoozing, etc. Likewise, it is also possible for the writer to get a day job as a bank teller. This has nothing to do at all with the author recovering even a portion of the value of his work. We are talking about the writer making a living through his writing, the way a carpenter makes his living through carpentry.

The fundamental problem here is that the new paradigm (piracy, fanfic, etc) sets the value of the work equal to the cost of the medium in which it exists. Bits are nearly worthless, and so we are finding creative works being valued at nothing by downloaders and the creators of unauthorized works. Something has to happen so that the consumer or repurposer of the work compensates the author for creating that work, because it is this exchange between consumer and producer that re-establishes the value of the work as something greater than the cost of the medium. Ancillary revenue streams do not do this - they may earn a writer some money, but they do not enforce the notion of value in the consumer's mind.

If the current situation persists, it is in danger of becoming the norm. In other words, the norm will be that creative works are not merely costless but also valueless, that they things to be plucked out of the air whenever it is convenient to do so. This is the end result of a consumer culture that has indulged consumers' every desire and fantasy. But the other side of the consumer culture was the "producer culture" that exploited resource scarcity and "meatspace" inefficiencies to ensure that producers were compensated for this.

But now that technology has eliminated the scarcity and inefficiency in this one market, consumers want to exploit this for their greater convenience (cost reduction) and want to do so entirely at the expense of the authors.

If you want a culture that values the creation of works, then you have to value those works and enforce that value against consumers. If that means artificially creating scarcity, inefficiencies through litigation, technology (app stores), or taxation on devices, then I believe it is worthwhile, because that means our culture is establishing a framework for authors to devote the entirety of their productive effort to writing.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:37 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


From 'On the Ownership of virtual persons'

I was largely in agreement with this essay until I got to the part where the author took a completely-out-of-the-blue potshot at Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. I was unable to read beyond that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on May 4, 2010


If the current situation persists, it is in danger of becoming the norm. In other words, the norm will be that creative works are not merely costless but also valueless, that they things to be plucked out of the air whenever it is convenient to do so. This is the end result of a consumer culture that has indulged consumers' every desire and fantasy. But the other side of the consumer culture was the "producer culture" that exploited resource scarcity and "meatspace" inefficiencies to ensure that producers were compensated for this.

But that is already the norm, or nearly. I think much of the resistance to your original comment was not just ideological, but practical; the cows are out of the barn. It's not clear that, without crippling our society technologically, we would ever have been able to keep them there.

Artificial scarcity is not cost-free, you know; maintaining the mechanisms of policing and enforcement are not only enormously expensive (to the point of making it completely useless in terms of pursuing revenue) but if pursued, result in massive loss of privacy and freedom of expression. How do the ideals of preserving artist revenue hold up when the only way to do so is massive surveillance of citizen communications for infringement?

Look, I'm married to a musician; this affects us directly, in our pocketbooks, every day. Poverty sucks, piracy sucks, particularly awful unauthorized re-use of one's hard work sucks.

But if forced to choose between not getting paid and living in a digital police state, we both prefer poverty. Maybe it will get better; maybe it won't.
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2010


The Second Circuit's decision in Salinger v. Colting came down last week and can be found here [pdf]. The case is about Catcher in the Rye fanfic, so the timing couldn't be better.

IAAIPL (among other kinds of L), but anyone who tells you he or she knows what the state of the law is with respect to copyright in individual literary characters is, with respect, full of shit. (See Fn. 11 -- even the Second Circuit, home of one of the smartest and most thoughtful copyright jurist in the country, wants nothing to do with the issue.) It's enormously difficult and so far essentially every court that has looked seriously at it has punted.
posted by The Bellman at 2:49 PM on May 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wrote really awful LOTR/Harry Potter fanfiction in the seventh grade and made my poor English teacher read every story (he was a good sport). Fanfiction might be an awful read by nature, but I definitely know through experience (and see it in a lot of other kids) that it's a good way to practice writing. So you aren't making up your own characters, but when I was like twelve it definitely helped me see stories (and the process of writing one) in a different way before I started to make up my own. I want to barf a little when I read my old fanfiction but I don't regret writing it. Authors create their characters but its not like they can control what their readers think of them. Maybe I'm being too forgiving of all the ill-conceived shit out there, but in a sense fanfiction is just a reader's extensive interpretation of what they read.
posted by mmmleaf at 2:51 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Second Circuit's decision in Salinger v. Colting came down last week and can be found here [pdf].

It should be noted, also, this was only a decision regarding a preliminary injuction requested by Salinger which would prohibit publication of 60 Years Later while the matter was under litigation, and not a final decision on whether 60 Years Later infringes Salinger's copyright or not.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:07 PM on May 4, 2010


Very recently John Scalzi announced that he had written a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. He was happy to concede that this was fanfiction, and he also sold the book to Tor within days after it was publicly announced.

What is possibly supremely relevant to this thread is this:
And when I was done, I thought, well, that’s not too bad, I wonder if I can do something with it? And that’s when Ethan started talking to folks.

What if you had asked for permission and the answer was “no”?

Well, then I guess Fuzzy Nation would be The Super Secret Project That You Will Never Ever Find Out About.
It looks like he got permission before even thinking about releasing it publically - which does seem to square with parts of Gabaldon's thesis.

This seems to be to be one of those eternally intractable problems. It appears, on the face of it, that distributing* fan-fiction is pretty much illegal, being neither fair-use nor parody or copyrighted materials. However, like file-sharing, the development of the internet has facilitated it to such a degree that the horse has bolted from the open stable doors.

Case in point: the number of people in this thread who seem to feel entitled to fan-fic. This seems wrong to me - if JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman seem OK with it, then they have extended you a privilege for their works- not an automatic right to borrow from every author ever. I am making no claim as to whether the law is morally right or just an ass, but that seems to me to be the way the wind blows currently, despite a couple of sort-of-good arguments about the transformative nature of fan-fic (IANAL)

I don't read fan-fic, myself - life is too short and there's too much good stuff to read by people who took the time to do their own work - which I respect. I'm not a huge obeyer of copyright law, either, because I must!know what happens next on Breaking Bad immediately, so I'm not going to throw stones from my glass house (as much as my inner superior-arse cynic wants to). But I wonder how many fan-fic readers see these two things as remotely similar - seeing that in each case, without appropriate permissions, copyright law is being broken.

So I have some sympathy for both positions - but where an author you follow has expressly provided a request to not 'play with her toys' as it were, why wouldn't you follow her wishes in this regard, as a matter of respect? Civil disobedience? EgoBoo? I dunno.

*writing fan-fic in privacy was never illegal, immoral or anything like that - and, as Scalzi points out, it's also a good way of learning the ropes, much as painters imitate old masters
posted by Sparx at 3:09 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty disappointed in her view on this, especially since I know she got her start writing "Outlander" in a CompuServ writer's community where she was able to post and get feedback. Some people are better at plot, some people are better at characters, and either way it helps to have some inspiration from others to get started with.

To be fair, she does have a history of letting others use her characters. There's some fangirl author who wrote a series of books based on the next generation of characters from Last of the Mohicans, and they meet up with Jamie and Claire at one point in the novel (it's only about a paragraph reference, but it's there). I'm sure things were worked out legally there, but it's not like she has a zero-tolerance policy.

And her books are not smutty fanfic. Are there some hot sex scenes? Yes, but they're written with a sensor of humor and frankness you don't usually find in romance novels. And they've been moved from the "Romance" section of the bookstores into the "Fiction" section -- they're about on par with most of the other historical fiction I read that's very well-researched and has some sex scenes, as opposed to the bodice-rippers. I hate the excerpt they have on Amazon for "Outlander" -- I think it's incredibly misleading, though it does at least show the kind of sarcasm sex is treated with in the books. So don't write them off and don't write her off for writing porn; she really is a fun author.
posted by olinerd at 3:32 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are done with the Clash Fic? Because I have this great Simonen/Strummer scenario from the Cut The Crap years that will touch your heart.

Your fecal heart.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:41 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]



Finally! The mad, mad, Mad Adventures of Holly Golightly can see the light of day! She ends up dying on camera at one of Andy Warhol's parties in a pill-fueled bender after marrying a Prince who turns out to be penniless.


I would read this.

In the meantime, back to work on my "Gravity's Rainbow/ Inglorious Basterds" crossover fic!
posted by thivaia at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2010


It's disappointing that this is Gabaldon's position, and surprising, given the very derivative nature of her writing (using cultural and academic work without citation).

She doesn't seem to have much of a sense of the public discourse around the subject, either - just some knee-jerk selfishness.
posted by Bergamot at 3:44 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I wouldn't want people writing sex fantasies for public consumption about me or members of my family..."

I suspect Ms. Gabaldon will shortly learn an Important Lesson about Rule 34.
posted by Zed at 3:45 PM on May 4, 2010


I think fanfic is a useful tool for an author; if you want to see where your stuff succeeds (and fails), a story that someone's put their time into writing, not for you to see, but in their own reaction to your work, is a great litmus test. Maybe the fans are writing a lot of stories about some minor character; it's worth taking another look at that character, and maybe giving him some more screen time, as clearly he's got something going on that interests readers. If they're trying to duplicate your style and the work is utterly unreadable and turgid with adjectives, maybe you'll want to dial back your own prose ("Do I really sound like that!?")

What's funny is the fanfic writers who include a disclaimer at the top of their story like, "Disclaimer: I do not own any of this stuff, Harry Potter and all his friends are copyright to JK Rowling, I am not making any profit on this... EXCEPT Mary Sue Avatar is MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER and NO ONE ELSE CAN USE HER!!! DO NOT STEAL HER!!"
posted by The otter lady at 3:52 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, but they're written with a sensor of humor and frankness you don't usually find in romance novels.

I'm imagining a Star Trek fanfic in which Data's emotion chip gets fused into a tricorder.

I didn't say I was imagining a good fanfic.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:03 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sparx: One of the problems I see in this analysis is that copyright law was, IMO clearly intended to protect authors against commercial exploitation and not commentary, satire, or criticism. And at least initially, a large chunk of the fan-fiction/slash movement grew as a form of comment that one can quite easily read homosexual relationships into the subtext of published and broadcast works.

Pastabagel: I'm not certain I follow you, because we've already broken that rule on a number of fronts. People who write for magazines don't get paid by the reader, they get paid by the advertiser, and the subscriber may or may not cover the cost of media. People who write for television also get paid by the advertiser. Painters get paid for selling the physical work, not each time the work is viewed.

I'm not certain how this relates to fan fiction because I'm not convinced it fundamentally changes the issues of how authors are compensated. Fan fiction is an elaboration of what people have been playing around with in their spare time for centuries. The internet just gives it a larger audience.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:24 PM on May 4, 2010


Hmm, there's a good writing run that's kinda like fanfic. Take an episode of your favorite TV show and novelize it. You don't have to worry about character or plot, so you can focus on trying to convey the information. I always liked it as an exercise.
posted by The Whelk at 4:28 PM on May 4, 2010


Pastababel:
Aside from a knee-jerk desire to start a debate about defining value, I agree with your premises a hundred percent. It's absolutely the case that it takes many-millions-of-times more effort to write and edit a book than it does to create a copy of the finished work. And so the value of the work is in no way reflected by the cost of copying it. It could be Hamlet or just another monkey typing...

The economic model for paper books conflated the physical thing with the content. How much does a book cost? $8, paperback, $15 big paperback, $25 hardcover. There's no reference to value there; it's assumed that when you choose to buy the book that you, the consumer, are willing to gamble that the value of the book is at least the cover price. In fact, the disconnect between labour and the price of the physical object are further reinforced by the fact that the larger format costs proportionally more than the smaller format. And the waters are further muddied by the existence of $20 Moleskine notebooks which have no writing in them at all.

But we clearly agree on this; the question is which way the future lies.

A technological solution to piracy would probably look something like converting the internet into television. Is there _any way at all_ that your email attachment could contain a copyrighted work? Then there will be no email attachments in the new regime. Is it possible that the body of the email is itself a copyrighted work? Perhaps the ascii-readout of an mp3, or just the text of a novel? Sorry, no more email. Or maybe we should just allow the RIAA to read our emails to make sure they're neither pirated materials or even fan-fiction...

The best attempts to use the law to stop piracy of music resulted in many iterations of new systems for piracy, which are now far more efficient than Napster could ever dream of being. Participating in a torrent isn't all that distinguishable from a Metafilter mix-cd swap, to a neutral observer; I'm just sharing a few of my favorite large integers with a handful of strangers.

So as was said above, we're in the position of the cows being out of the barn, and wondering where to go next. The legal and technological attempts to remove piracy have either failed (shut down all the sites, sue the users) or been deemed reprehensible (DRM, sue the user's grandmother), and for good reason. It's like trying to reverse the industrial revolution, which, you might recall, was the last time we had a major new advance in the science of making cheap copies of things.

That revolution just happened to be well designed for putting money in the hands of the few who owned factories, rather than the engineers who designed the products produced on the lines. So we ended up with a system where the creators got a small but steady wage to create, while those with the capital to to build a factory got the big bucks... Why do we know Phil Knight's name, but not the name of a single shoe designer?

Imagine we could copy anything inorganic, like bicycles or mosquito nets, for free. Would we stop people from doing it, saying they had to pay a licensing fee for the right to make their copies? Or would the greater good of being able to instantly deploy (for example) malaria remedies outweigh the fear of piracy?

I think the freedom of exchange offered by digital communications is pushing the culture in good directions. I know personally that juggling has come further in the last ten years than it had over the previous fifty, largely due to the sharing of streaming videos and the increased ease of finding interested people. Similar things have happened for mathematics, with easy to search journals and the creation of the arXiv.

After the industrial revolution, the scientists stuck to their universities (ie, taught and did some amount of research in addition) or shacked up with patrons who gave them steady pay in exchange for working on problems of particular interest to the employer. It's easy to imagine a similar scenario for talented artists, in the long run, but who knows what the future will bring...
posted by kaibutsu at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Remember that copyright is not the same as patent. Except for thelatest gee-gaw for your bicycle, bicycles and mosquito net are off patent and, ergo, free range. If a brand new cure for AIDS, malaria or what have you came down the pike tomorrow it would be off patent in a decade or so of it being approved.

Copyright is different, it lasts the better part of a century these day and keep getting extended.

This is only fair since the people who gave us the bicycle merely have to form steel and play with their designs until they arrive at something that works in the real world. People who give us novels have the arduous task of making some shit up and then writing it down.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are done with the Clash Fic? Because I have this great Simonen/Strummer scenario from the Cut The Crap years that will touch your heart.

There's a ball in your hands... it's time to run with it.
posted by COBRA! at 5:54 PM on May 4, 2010


One of the problems I see in this analysis is that copyright law was, IMO clearly intended to protect authors against commercial exploitation and not commentary, satire, or criticism. And at least initially, a large chunk of the fan-fiction/slash movement grew as a form of comment that one can quite easily read homosexual relationships into the subtext of published and broadcast works.

KirkJobSluder: All three should be allowable, but commentary becomes a very difficult beast to pin down and commercial exploitation is not the only issue. Generally speaking (and I am sure there are exceptions to this) critique and satire are comparitively easily identifiable - no one is likely to mistake Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan or the Potter Puppet Pals and the Mysterious Ticking Noise for anything other than what they are - works of criticism and parody.

(I am ignoring, for the moment, hair splitting between parody and satire, and the can of worms you sometimes get when you use something to satirise another thing - e.g. Harry Potter and the Homeopathic Remedy or that whole Penny Arcade 'American Magee's Strawberry Shortcake' brouhaha)

Commentary, on the other hand, is much less clearly defined - and I can imagine this is where most problems arise and why such claims of copyright breach are decided on a case to case basis. Slash-fiction (to use your example) could be construed as an comment on an already extant subtext, or merely as a prurient adaption for the jollies of the writer and their friends. Some are clearly one, some the other, and some it's very hard to tell.

As such, it would be almost impossible to lay down hard-and-fast rules, and that's why it's not just the commercial exploitation of copyrighted work that is taken into account, but also the amount of the prior work used, the nature of the prior work, and the potential damage to the market. I can see argument being made that Potter/Malfoy slash is pretty damaging considering they are beneath the age of consent for much of the (otherwise fairly wholesome sexually) series.

In other words, it's easy to claim 'commentary on the subject' in some twisted post-modern sense, but, from what I understand, even Kirk/Spock slash has had so many different permutations that using 'commentary' as a place to hang your hat could not possibly be the case in all situations, unless the subtext itself was nigh on infinite! SubText - The Final Frontier! Which would make the claim somewhat meaningless.

I have to admit, I hadn't really thought about all of this until a recent link on the blue titled Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Haha! I thought in my innocence. That's not really fan-fic. It's doing something completely different. Then I looked further and how wrong I was! It's not just Rule 34 or season 6.5 but almost any given interest and hobby, from being Mary-Sues to advocating Methodological Naturalism, that is being worked on by fan appropriation of other's creations. And as I said before, the horse seems to have totally bolted. Is a line still able to be drawn? As it stands, authors can at least try under the law, a means by which, at first appearance, both the legitimate uses and the egregrious violations can hopefully be identified and permitted/stopped. There's bound to be a grey area, and our individual limits and preferences are bound to differ, but you get that with the complicated jobs, and that's why commercial exploitation isn't the only applicable criteria, and why I think Commentary should not be all of a defense.

It's also notable that most of the major fanfic sites will take down work upon the author (or property owner's) request. It may be a courtesy, or they may realise there is a commercial aspect to the running of these sites that would make them vulnerable (I don't know either way), but it's interesting that that seems to be the default.

Also, of course, this has only really been a huge issue in the last few years. When Kirk/Spock was just usenet and fanzines, potential harm was limited. Now we are likely to see more and more reactions, some like Gaiman's, some like Gabaldon's. Getting stroppy, as some have in this thread, with Gabaldon's stance, which could be likened to merely wanting to head them off at the pass, seems a tad churlish.

Sorry for the mini-essay. Thinkin' wi'me fingers again
posted by Sparx at 5:55 PM on May 4, 2010


Then Ken "the ASP!" Piesle saw something bad. A headcrab was on Joe Strummer! Joe Strummer standed up and said "Ken "the ASP!" Piesle... you got here slow and now i am zombie goast. you will pay..."
posted by gamera at 6:34 PM on May 4, 2010


This thread has brought me a lot of things....

Honestly, maybe the days of the novel are over. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

....froth to my mouth, blood to my cheeks, rage to my heart.....

And eventually that will probably mean that Americans will have to decide politically that creators of content are worth supporting financially.

....bitterness to my tongue, laughter to my lips....

Something has to happen so that the consumer or repurposer of the work compensates the author for creating that work, because it is this exchange between consumer and producer that re-establishes the value of the work as something greater than the cost of the medium.

....and a gentle sideways shaking motion to my head.

In all seriousness --- in re the last bit quoted --- I don't see why. Why anything has to happen, that is. This real life, where "You're fucked, kid," is always a possible answer. Technology changes what's possible, and changes culture by doing so. Because of it, our access to information is near instantaneous and near infinite, and like other things which share those qualities --- air, water, light --- is free (--ish, of course. You pay the water co and the cable company to bring them to your house, etc.).

As for the original post --- I find myself having some sympathy for the author, here. She's just operating under the old system, and does not understand that technology has obliterated it. I think the moral case she makes isn't a bad one, necessarily --- I have made these things, and I offer them to you to be enjoyed in this way, for a certain price, is a perfectly reasonable stance to me. And I would agree with those who've pointed out that there seems to be a strain in this thread of because I can, how dare you say I don't have the right to. Because people can means that's what's going to happen; it doesn't necessarily make it right. She is of course a fool for not adapting to what's going to happen....

...and while kaibutsu is right that there are benfits, many of them, to the new order, there are costs, too. What can I say? I like novels, and it makes me sad that I might live to see the day when it's not a real but difficult job one could reasonably aspire to, with a talent and work and little luck. Patronage-based systems require a lot of luck....
posted by Diablevert at 6:48 PM on May 4, 2010


Sparx: I guess the problem is that I keep coming back to the fact that copyright was made to protect authors and publishers from competing publishers. It's not intended to protect authors from readers or consumers.

Most fanfiction passes at least two hurdles of a fair use defense. It's transformative in that it poses new questions and concepts about relationships between characters, and it has trivial impact on the value of the original work as it doesn't compete with it, draw profit from it, and is unlikely to be confused as a product of the original author.

Ultimately, I think Rowling has the right idea of the proper balance on this. Write what you like. Share it with who you like. Just don't seek formal publication without her permission.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:54 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here is another thing. Not all fanfiction (or derivative works) are entirely about books, cinema, or television. When we look at games, it's a whole different ball of wax, especially when you are talking about RPGs that openly invite players to make their own narratives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:01 PM on May 4, 2010


I would not have guessed from her blog that she is a writer.

Yeah, I wouldn't have guessed from her books, either, but it takes all types I guess.
posted by smoke at 7:33 PM on May 4, 2010


Sparx:

"It looks like he got permission before even thinking about releasing it publicly - which does seem to square with parts of Gabaldon's thesis."

However, it's important to note that in fact I did not need permission to release it: Little Fuzzy is in the public domain and has been for decades, so I was legally in the clear to do whatever I wanted with the material. I sought permission from the Piper estate (and more specifically Penguin, which now owns the estate) because a) I thought it was respectful both to the estate and to long-standing Piper fans to do so, b) because from a purely practical point of view it would be easier to sell my book with the consent and support of the Piper estate than if the estate (and Penguin) were screaming bloody murder about it, which they might have if I just plopped it out there. So now I have permission, Penguin gets a cut of my net, and everyone's happy.

If the Piper estate/Penguin had not given permission, I wouldn't have released it even as a free downloadable thing, not because I was not legally able to, but because since I asked permission in the first place, I would have found it morally incorrect to then go against the wishes of the estate. I wrote the "reboot" mostly for my own amusement and to retool certain writing habits I have, and knew full well in doing so there was a chance no one else would ever see it, so in a very real sense anything benefit to writing it other than those I just mentioned are really a bonus. I'm glad they let me sell it.

As regards fan fiction in a general sense, I'm with Gaiman on this one: If people are playing with my characters for their personal enjoyment and without the intent of making money from it, it represents no real harm to me economically or otherwise, so why not let people have their fun? Yes, they may have my characters doing things I might not have them do (and to other characters of mine I might not have them do them with), but considering all the things I've had people, fictional and otherwise, do in the privacy of my own head, I'm not sure how indignant I should get about that. I do reserve the right as author and copyright holder to assert my ownership of my characters and settings, but as a practical matter, if all you want to do is have fun with my guys and gals and worlds, well, go enjoy yourself.
posted by jscalzi at 9:33 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


This seems to be to be one of those eternally intractable problems. It appears, on the face of it, that distributing* fan-fiction is pretty much illegal, being neither fair-use nor parody or copyrighted materials. However, like file-sharing, the development of the internet has facilitated it to such a degree that the horse has bolted from the open stable doors.

The idea that fanfiction "isn't fair use" seems to be begging the question. The jury is by no means out on whether fanfiction is fair use, at least with regards to not-for-profit works.

Case in point: the number of people in this thread who seem to feel entitled to fan-fic.

We are entitled to tell and re-tell stories. As far as I'm concerned, this is as close to a natural human right as you can get. Derivative storytelling is a tradition which is probably older than Jesus and Buddha, given the dates of many of the stories written about them, and is demonstrably as old as King Arthur or Robin Hood. This is one of the ways human beings re-make the world; the stories may be about Kirk and Spock rather than Raven and Coyote or Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but that doesn't change the fact that they're "substantially derivative" of something older than democracy, older than English common-law, and probably even older than the first state.

That kind of pedigree trumps copyright. If you think otherwise, you'd do well to consider another oft-retold story, one which was told in two different ways by two different people to begin with: look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
posted by vorfeed at 10:35 PM on May 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


In the meantime, back to work on my "Gravity's Rainbow/ Inglorious Basterds" crossover fic

Oooh, linky pls!!!111!! :D :D
posted by jokeefe at 10:54 PM on May 4, 2010


   I would not have guessed from her blog that she is a writer.

Yeah, I wouldn't have guessed from her books, either, but it takes all types I guess.


smoke, it seems to me that you consider her enough of a writer to keep reading past the first book.

On another note, I cannot believe how many people in this discussion are judging her books from their blurbs.
posted by gentilknight at 11:18 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What can I say? I've read several Wilbur Smiths and Bryce Courtneys, too. That ain't a recommendation.

Specifically, I read the first one, and read *part* of the fiery cross, whatever number that was. I don't begrudge anyone from enjoying anything - we all have our foibles - but those books are excruciatingly bad. Like, Clan of The Cave Bear with kilts bad.

If you like time travel/romance, and are prepared to accept excruciatingly bad, I would by all means recommend them. But for anyone outside a dedicated genre fan, stay away, I implore you.
posted by smoke at 11:58 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just a drive-by, as I have my own thoughts on the matter (and a blog posting to prepare) but, in a nutshell, my considered opinion is this:

It is Diana Gabaldon's right to be an Idiot, but I think it's highly unwise of her to be an Idiot in public.

Also, she's breaking rule #1 of being a successful author: your fans are not the enemy. (The one true enemy of every working arist is obscurity.)
posted by cstross at 2:23 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ms. Gabaldon's update.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:20 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone who has enjoyed her books over the years, and actually received a very nice response to the embarrassingly fangirly email I sent her when I was about 14, I'm disappointed by her vitriolic opinions on this topic.

I can certainly understand why someone would feel ill after reading some of the appalling dross at fanfiction.net, but it's by no means representative of all fanfic. And given the high volume of sex scenes in her work, I think it's ridiculous for her to complain about x-rated fanfic. (Now, I would completely understand J. K. Rowling feeling squeamish: there's some truly horrific stuff floating around the Harry Potter fandom.)

Furthermore, with absolutely no offence intended to Ms. Gabaldon, I've read many, many pieces of fan-fiction that were far superior to her works. Many fanfic authors also publish their own original works, so her implications that all fanfiction writers are too lazy/talentless to write their own books are simply not true. And with the exception of a minority of shameless plagiarists, most fanfic writers make obvious disclaimers, so there is generally little possibility of confusion over authorship of the work.

As a side note, Ms. Gabaldon has updated her blog with Fan-fic II, in which she calms down slightly and at least attempts to understand the opposite side. She seems to have been told repeatedly that that people are writing fanfic because they love the original work and want to continue engaging with it, not because they hate it and want authors to die and dance on their graves. I'm not sure why this didn't occur to her before this, but hopefully she'll reconsider her position slightly now.
posted by badmoonrising at 7:45 AM on May 5, 2010


It kills me that Ms Gabaldon is still using underscores in her much more reasonable post, and that the first comment on her update suggested that she learn to use HTML properly. Heh!
posted by orange swan at 8:18 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's always so strange for me when I hear authors outright rejecting fanfiction based on their work. I used to be quite heavily into the Harry Potter fandom (god only knows the sort of stuff that comes up and is written about there) so maybe my mind's been warped or whatever, but I honestly don't think my experience as a fan would be the same without the fanfiction I came across and read. Any fan works, really.

That said, I don't feel entitled to fanfiction at all, and I can definitely understand why authors like Gabaldon would be against it. It's really just the idea that, you know, here's this group of people who are using their own time to write about the world you've created and, for the majority, aren't gaining anything monetary from it. How awesome would it be to inspire others' creativity in that way?

Perhaps this is different, as the original is now under public domain, but a 2006 Pullitzer prize went to March by Geraldine Brooks. It's in the point of view of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Woman.
posted by herebedragons at 9:44 AM on May 5, 2010


Well, FWIW, I've followed fanfic arguments online for a while, and here's what I see the arguments boiling down to:

PRO-FANFIC
(1) It helps keep fans actively interested and engaged in your work.
(2) It’s a great way to learn how to write, and/or to practice honing your craft.
(3) We aren’t hurting anyone by publishing these stories. In fact, what we do helps promote your work.
(4) Some of you writers–and you know who you are–got your start writing fanfic. Why is it wrong for us to do it, but not you?
(5) Some of you writers–and you know who you are–make your livings as writers hired to created original stories for existing properties. Hypocrite, much?
(6) We are not infringing on copyright. You might not like it, but we have the right to do it.

ANTI-FANFIC
(1) We can keep fans interested and engaged in our work on our own. The facts are that most fans don’t produce fanfic as a way to stay involved. A fan is more likely to seek out an official work over an unofficial one, anyway.
(2) There’s certainly value in practicing imitation of an author’s writing style when you’re learning to write. Eventually, though, you have to develop your own voice as a writer to succeed. The best way to learn to creative writing is to actually invent your setting, your characters, and your plots yourself. In fact, given the enormous amount of bad fanfic that’s out there, we argue that most fans are actually learning the opposite–the evidence shows that they learn poor writing habits by writing fanfic.
(3) It’s the decision of the copyright holder when, where, and how to promote the work. We have a bigger stake in promotion than you, because our work is a source of income for us, so it behooves us to be especially careful with how it’s promoted. We have no guarantees that you’ll exercise the same care we will when it comes to promotion, and if our fans feel ripped off or somehow defrauded, it hurts us. And you’re responsible for that.
(4) Yes, some of us got started that way. Some of us also remembered not to publish what we wrote. Some of us started realizing just what was at stake when we started getting paid for our writing, and have learned the hard way exactly what copyright is there to protect. So we stopped writing fanfic. If you were in our shoes, you’d feel the same.
(5) There’s a huge difference between having persmission to write for an existing property, and not having permission. You don’t have permission. You don’t even bother to seek permission. And yet some of you have had your own fanfic stolen and re-published under another fanficcer’s name, and you certainly howl like stuck pigs when you’re ripped off creatively.
(6) Yes, you ARE infringing on copyright. You’re not doing parody or criticism (well, in fairness, some of you are), and your work isn’t “transformative” in the legal sense. You’re in violation. Stop it.


We also have a couple of interesting data points from some prominent authors:

Author Jim Butcher, of Dresden Files fame, now has it that all fanfiction based on his works is to be licensed as derivative, noncommercial fiction under the Creative Commons umbrella. It seems Butcher got the idea from Mercedes Lackey, of all people, who in turn was inspired by Cory Doctorow:
As you folks already know, my agent, Russel Galen, has in the past been opposed to fanfiction. However, he is also Cory Doctorow's agent now, and Cory is a persuasive little gnome.

As a result of this, I am happy to announce that we are officially permitting fanfiction to be licensed as derivative fiction under the Creative Commons umbrella....YES, you may write and post away, folks, so long as you license it as derivative and under Creative Commons. If it is anything other than PG-13, please take all the proper precautions to stick it somewhere that innocent souls won't be corrupted. Do not scare the children or the horses. Have fun!
...and these data points from a couple of fanficcers:
In 2009, Glorianna Arias attempted to publish and sell Russett Noon, a “tribute sequel to the Twilight saga” (her words). She actually intended to sell on eBay until word got out. And even now, if you go to her website, you can see on the left side of the screen that she’s included Russet Noon in a list alongside the actual Twilight books. As if it’s actually a Twilight book.

In 2006, Lorie Jareo began selling her fanfic Star Wars novel Another Hope on Amazon.com, of all places, as a print-on-demand book. According to a section of the Q and A that Jareo had on her website (now down, but the Q and A is reproduced here), she claimed that there was no problem with her action because it’s not a commercial book. Her rationale was that because only her friends and family know that it’s there, and she’s self-publishing, it’s not commercial. Even though she was selling it on Amazon.com. Even though she was selling it on her (now-defunct) web site. And even though she took the extra step of announcing the book was for sale in her church’s newsletter.

Anyway, from what I can tell (IANAL) the only genuine legal issue around fanfic is distribution--the copyright holders can, the fanficcers can't. Which, you know, if you're putting up on the Internet, you're distributing, aren't you?
posted by magstheaxe at 9:49 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: "Also... I'd like to share my favorite fanfiction with metafilter: Blue."

Just finished reading that, thanks for sharing. Reminded me of one of my high school romances. And it was nice to see a fanfic that was more about the romance and relationship.
posted by xedrik at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a response I liked by Sarah Rees Brennan, a published author of original fiction that used to write fanfiction.

To those who say that all fanfiction is awful, I have some sympathy because the signal to noise ratio is pretty low, especially in smaller fandoms, but there is some fantastic fanfiction by fantastic writers. Sarah Rees Brennan is one of three Harry Potter fanfiction authors that I know of who now have original published books. Two of those three (including her) have great original books. The remaining author I think is pretty awful, but she has tons of fans anyway so good on her.

Another note: all three of them wrote slash. I understand the aversion to slash too, since I was a bit averse before I found good examples of it. The good slash stories are no different than reading a good novel in terms of quality; they're meaningful, have good pacing and character development, and some have beautiful prose and introduce new concepts that weren't present in the original work. If you just go about clicking on random slash stories chances are you're going to find a bunch of poorly written pornish train wrecks, but that doesn't mean there isn't better out there. If I were to go into the book store and pick up a dozen fiction books at random, chances are none of them would suit my taste either, but I wouldn't conclude that fiction itself is terrible.

Of course, if you don't like reading stories about gay guys there's not much else to say, but saying slash is bad for that reason is a lot like saying all sci-fi or all fantasy is bad just because you don't like that sort of thing -- though it seems a bit homophobic on top of that. I can also understand simply being a bit put off by reading about a character in gay situations who is portrayed completely heterosexually in the original media, but slash isn't much different than general fanfiction in that way: all fanfiction takes the characters in directions that the original media didn't, and usually there's some reason or backstory given for how the character turned out gay. How believable those reasons are basically depends on the story and the original character himself, and yeah, it's done sloppily most of the time. But the good stories make it believable.

I'm not going to begrudge anyone their right to make fun of bad slash, though, because that shit is hilarious.
posted by Nattie at 4:16 PM on May 5, 2010


PRO-FANFIC
(1) It helps keep fans actively interested and engaged in your work.
(2) It’s a great way to learn how to write, and/or to practice honing your craft.
(3) We aren’t hurting anyone by publishing these stories. In fact, what we do helps promote your work.
(4) Some of you writers–and you know who you are–got your start writing fanfic. Why is it wrong for us to do it, but not you?
(5) Some of you writers–and you know who you are–make your livings as writers hired to created original stories for existing properties. Hypocrite, much?
(6) We are not infringing on copyright. You might not like it, but we have the right to do it.


(7) Producer-centric laws are becoming increasingly unenforceable.
(8) Producer-centric laws are becoming increasingly silly and harmful to the development of culture in the context of free and open distribution channels. Whether or not copyright whethers this storm, right to remix is going to be permitted. Our children will go up with this culture and will feel entitled to it, and it just makes sense.
posted by Bobicus at 1:42 AM on May 6, 2010


I can't seem to find a link to prove this, but my understanding is that Terry Pratchett is fine with fan-fic, as long as he never has to see it and no-one's unofficially making money from it. He says that he doesn't want to be in the situation of someone sending him a story with plot elements similar to whatever he's currently working on, then have to prove that he didn't rip off a fan. Although I do wonder if that was just a polite way of saying "please stop sending me your terrible writing".
posted by harriet vane at 4:56 AM on May 6, 2010


We've had a lot of posts here about authors who support fan fiction, so I thought I'd share one that I know do not.


Anne Rice, Annie Prolux, Andre Norton, David Weber, Annette Curtis Klause, Robin Hobb, Robin McKinely, George R. R. Martin, and Raymond Feist are all against fan fiction. Marion Zimmer Bradley had a famous run-in with fanficcer Jean Lamb over fan fiction, that resulted in her turning against it. Larry Niven also had a run-in with a fan ficcer over what the fan ficcer alleged was a parody of his work.

Oh, and there's the J. D. Salinger case mentioned upthread. 'Course, Salinger didn't even want people reading his work, so that comes as no surprise, really.


@harriet vane: the Pratchett citation you're thinking of is here.


(7) Producer-centric laws are becoming increasingly unenforceable.
(8) Producer-centric laws are becoming increasingly silly and harmful to the development of culture in the context of free and open distribution channels. Whether or not copyright whethers this storm, right to remix is going to be permitted. Our children will go up with this culture and will feel entitled to it, and it just makes sense.
posted by Bobicus at 4:42 AM on May 6


Those aren't arguments I'm seeing made by fanficcers, which would explain why I didn't include them in my original list (I've seen them made by academics, but they don't constitute the bulk of the arguments made online).
posted by magstheaxe at 6:39 AM on May 6, 2010


Oh, and how could I forget Lee Goldberg? Goldberg is a TV writer who--in addition to writing a pretty interesting blog--actively crusades online against fanfic.

Actually, it was on Goldberg's blog, during one of the many fanfic flamewars that take place there, that I read something (posted by someone under the pseudonym of 'E") that seemed to sum up the fanficcer's motives pretty nicely:

….many fic writers simply do not *want* to pursue professional, mainstream publishing. Why? Because the odds of getting published are tough, the odds of rejection are high, and the odds of anyone EVER writing well enough and long enough to make a living at it, as has been suggested here, is astronomically not in favor of the writer.

I mean, let’s look at the original-writing process. Keep in mind that many average folks simply do not have access to writers groups, and they cannot affort to galavant across the country to pricy writers conferences. They are apt to be students or working moms or hold full-time jobs that don’t permit much out-of-town travel. So … they work alone. They spend hours, weeks, months pecking away at a story, then if it’s a short story they send it to magazine editors; if a novel they send it to fiction agents. Then they wait weeks, if not months, to get a reply – which like as not will be a form-letter response that says, “Thank you for your submission but this does not fit our needs at this time.” (That’s one of my favorites.) Often there is no indication of what fault or failing the story might have had that caused rejection.

So, the disappointed author goes over the story again, revises anxiously, and compiles a new list of prospective magazines/agents….More months of waiting, worrying, anxiety – and more chances of rejection.

The fact is, to pursue conventional publishing one must be tough, tenacious and a little bit masochistic. Rejection becomes a fact of life, before acceptance is won, since it is rare indeed that a new writer achieves any instant success. Out there in the realm of fan fiction … how many would-be writers really want to put themselves through that ringer? …

Fan fiction, however, allows one to indulge in the creative process, to learn, grow and improve in the arts of writing and storytelling – AND fic writers are not alone! That I firmly believe is a HUGE factor in the popularity of fan fiction. A fic writer is not working in a vacuum, they are not isolated in their battle against rejection slips, they are not pouring out their hearts in their creative efforts and winning only silence. Rather, they are being read, they are being critiqued, they are being supported by fellow fans who will tell them when their writing gets it right – and when it does not. That community waits right at the fingertips…

So the accessibility and immediacy of fan fiction is perhaps one of the major reasons why some very talented people have no desire to pursue original works. One may write original works for years before meeting success. One may write fan fiction and know within 24 hours whether their story flew or bombed. That, fellow netizens, is precious to the creative spirit. The loneliness of writing need not be absolute any more.

Boiled down to its essence, E's argument is that fanficcers want an audience, just like legitimate writers, but they don’t want to spend the time and energy to build that audience, at least not the way traditional writers do. They’d rather go to a pre-established audience (one that exisrts due due to the efforts of the original creator), with stories they wrote set in a pre-established world and using pre-established characters, and get the bit of the attention and praise that the world's creator does.

They want recognition, however small, for something they didn’t create, from an audience that someone else labored very hard to build. So I get why some writers get really ticked off at fanficcers.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:00 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Marion Zimmer Bradley is against fan fiction? She edits books of short stories set in her Darkover world, and encouraged amateur writers to make submissions.

----------------

On a different note -- considering some of the issues in the books (and I realize I've been a bit spoilerish in this thread, and I offer my apologies) -- it DOES make sense for Gabaldon upset about non-pg non-canonical pairings fanfic, because I can imagine many pairings which would make me barf.
posted by jb at 7:09 AM on May 6, 2010


They want recognition, however small, for something they didn’t create, from an audience that someone else labored very hard to build. So I get why some writers get really ticked off at fanficcers.

My experiences in fanfiction, which, granted, were years ago (from 1996 to 2000 or so) weren't like this at all. We had no interest in appropriating the audience--and we weren't seeking praise. In fact, I only rarely remember getting feedback for stories, and it was rarely in any way concrete (though I do think the practice improved my writing generally). More than the audience, we wanted to appropriate the original worlds created by other writers. We wanted to live inside them as immersively as possible. The best way to do this, of course, was to write ourselves, or our characters, into them.

Of course, this viewpoint might be informed by the type of fanfiction writing I was largely involved in. My core fanfic experiences were in fandoms where we took the settings or the trappings (alien species, for example) alone, rather than the actual characters, to write our own fiction. In one case--with Anne McCaffrey's Pern fandom--this was because she specifically forbade fanfic writers to play with her characters (and actually, her guidelines were much more specific than that--she told us where on her planet our stories could be set, what sexuality certain characters would be, and lots of other stuff that I'm probably forgetting). We were okay with that, though. We didn't want to be Lessa. We just wanted to be dragonriders.

And, really, we weren't after the praise she got. We weren't trying to poach her audience. We just wanted to stay on Pern a little longer--which, in retrospect, was a largely thankless exercise. Not only were we not lavished with praise or admiration from other fanfic writers, but the author in question often seemed to not like us (her fans!) very much, either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:26 AM on May 6, 2010


... Andre Norton, .... are all against fan fiction.

*cough* Quag Keep *cough*
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2010


(2) There’s certainly value in practicing imitation of an author’s writing style when you’re learning to write. Eventually, though, you have to develop your own voice as a writer to succeed. The best way to learn to creative writing is to actually invent your setting, your characters, and your plots yourself. In fact, given the enormous amount of bad fanfic that’s out there, we argue that most fans are actually learning the opposite–the evidence shows that they learn poor writing habits by writing fanfic.

And yet, Gaiman won Newbery, Hugo, and Locus awards last year for an obviously derivative work.

Which is why I find many of the anti-fanfic arguments to be over the top on silly. I twiddle with original fiction. I also write fan fiction in open settings where it's encouraged. I've been inspired to take key ideas and run with them in stories that have few other connections to the original source. And I've been vaguely disturbed and somewhat flattered to pick up a novel and discover someone else was thinking along the same lines.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:46 AM on May 6, 2010


Marion Zimmer Bradley is against fan fiction

MZB turned against fan fiction after a dispute whose details are told with wild variation.
posted by Zed at 10:09 AM on May 6, 2010


And yet, Gaiman won Newbery, Hugo, and Locus awards last year for an obviously derivative work.

Rudyard Kiplng's The Jungle Book is still covered under copyright? Wow, I had no idea.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:22 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Boiled down to its essence, E's argument is that fanficcers want an audience, just like legitimate writers, but they don’t want to spend the time and energy to build that audience, at least not the way traditional writers do. They’d rather go to a pre-established audience (one that exisrts due due to the efforts of the original creator), with stories they wrote set in a pre-established world and using pre-established characters, and get the bit of the attention and praise that the world's creator does.

First you argue that fanfic has nothing to do with engaging the original work's audience, and that True Fans don't want fanfic anyway... and now your argument is that fanfic writers are trying to appropriate the audience? C'mon, pick one or the other.

The community aspect is a part of fanfiction, yes, but it's far from The Point. For example, feedback is an exception on ff.net, not the rule, and Yuletide (the biggest fic exchange of the year, with more than 2000 authors taking part) is only for dead and/or small fandoms -- fandoms which don't have a "pre-established audience". Likewise, many people write fanfic privately for years before ever posting it, or even knowing that a place to post it exists... and, as you yourself point out, "some of us also remembered not to publish what we wrote". How is that compatible with the idea that "fanficcer's motives" are attention and praise? You can't have it both ways.

E. reads like someone who's primarily upset because the Kids These Days don't have to do it The Way We Did It Back In The Day. Well, too bad, because the fact is that fiction -- any fiction -- can now find an audience without conventional publishing. Many original authors have built an audience over the internet, largely using the same methods fanfic writers use (and yeah, the idea that fic authors "don't want to spend the time and energy to build their audience" is hilarious -- if community is oh-so-important to fanfiction, then what do you think authors are doing with it, if not spending time and energy to build their audience? Do you really think fanfic readers don't follow particular authors, or that some authors don't have a larger audience than others?)

Yes, "one may write original works for years before meeting success. One may write fan fiction and know within 24 hours whether their story flew or bombed"... but original authors can and do get instant feedback, too, simply by posting their work on their blog or website. There are many authors who've done very well this way, up to and including succeeding in publishing. Likewise, there are many fanfic authors who've published original works. The idea that fanfic authors are somehow unique in choosing not to pursue conventional publishing makes no sense whatsoever.

The simple truth is that publishing is not for everyone. There are fanfic authors who choose not to do it, there are original fiction authors who choose not to do it, and there are non-fiction authors who choose not to do it. So what? The implicit argument here seems to be that people should not be writing unless they're sending their work to publishers... and that's ridiculous, full stop.
posted by grey_sw at 10:26 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


First you argue that fanfic has nothing to do with engaging the original work's audience, and that True Fans don't want fanfic anyway... and now your argument is that fanfic writers are trying to appropriate the audience? C'mon, pick one or the other.

That's not my argument, sugar. What I wrote was:

"Well, FWIW, I've followed fanfic arguments online for a while, and here's what I see the arguments boiling down to:"

E. reads like someone who's primarily upset because the Kids These Days don't have to do it The Way We Did It Back In The Day

She was arguing a Pro-FanFic position.

...The implicit argument here seems to be that people should not be writing unless they're sending their work to publishers... and that's ridiculous, full stop.

I just burst out laughing, because I argued the exact same thing on another board argument about fanfic:

"In the end, what makes one a writer is a willingness to sit down and write a story. You don’t have to be published (we all know plenty of terrible writers that get published–I’m looking at you, Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer). You don’t have to take writing classes. Hell, you don’t even have to have readers. You just have to be ready, willing, and able to write."
posted by magstheaxe at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2010


Rudyard Kiplng's The Jungle Book is still covered under copyright?

If something's derivative, it's derivative independent of the current state of copyright law. The latter just determines whether authorization would be required to publish them. Wicked, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, none of them are any less derivative for their source material having been public domain when they were published.
posted by Zed at 10:53 AM on May 6, 2010


That's a sad story on MZB having to turn against fan-fict -- like I said, she spent years editting and publishing stories by others set on Darkover and was very encouraging in this way to new writers. It's like the angel of fan-fiction writers getting burned.

Maybe the policy shouldn't be that authors can't read fan-fiction, but that by writing in someone else's universe, fan-fiction writers give up the right to sue the original creator(s) over supposed copying or influence.
posted by jb at 10:55 AM on May 6, 2010


If something's derivative, it's derivative independent of the current state of copyright law. The latter just determines whether authorization would be required to publish them. Wicked, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, none of them are any less derivative for their source material having been public domain when they were published.


Yeah, but there's an important difference: Gaiman and the authors of the works you mentioned haven't infringed on any copyright laws. They've made derivative works based on public domain material. That's not what the majority of fanfic writers are doing--their works are based on copyright-protected works.

No one gives a fig about someone creating a derivative work from public domain material. Well, except fanfic writers, who seem to like to bring that topic up even though it's irrelevant to any discussion about the legality of what they're doing.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:08 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


But, magstheaxe, you were bringing up the copyright issue in response to KirkJobSluder's citing the Graveyard Book in response to the argument that writing fan fiction prevents writers from developing their own voice. That particular argument doesn't have anything to do with legality.

Obviously copyright status is the definitive difference in discussion of legality, but that difference has nothing to do with the "writers are fragile flowers whose creativity will be forever ruined by writing fan fiction" thing -- your bringing it up in that context was a non sequitur.
posted by Zed at 11:23 AM on May 6, 2010


magstheaxe: Rudyard Kiplng's The Jungle Book is still covered under copyright? Wow, I had no idea.

Completely irrelevant to the aesthetic argument made (and quoted and referenced): "Eventually, though, you have to develop your own voice as a writer to succeed." Copyright isn't an issue in examining this argument. And for that matter, copyright isn't an issue with most of the arguments made in response to fanfiction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:33 AM on May 6, 2010


magstheaxe: Yeah, but there's an important difference: Gaiman and the authors of the works you mentioned haven't infringed on any copyright laws.

What Zed said. The argument being made as a criticism of fanfiction is that on top of the legal issues (which are considerably murky at this time and would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis) there are moral and artistic arguments against the creation of derivative works. If that's the case, the critics need to answer for why the heck are they giving awards to a habitual exploiter of prior art such as Gaiman. (I'm a fairly deep fanboy of Gaiman, so this isn't a slight on him.)

That's not what the majority of fanfic writers are doing--their works are based on copyright-protected works.

But that's not a blanket prohibition either. Again, copyright was created to protect artists and publishers from other publishers. Two of the largest fanfic communities--Star Trek and Harry Potter--are acting with explicit permission from the copyright holders as long as the resulting works are kept to strictly non-commercial distribution.

No one gives a fig about someone creating a derivative work from public domain material. Well, except fanfic writers, who seem to like to bring that topic up even though it's irrelevant to any discussion about the legality of what they're doing.

Well, the problem here is that questions about legality are limited to the following:

Is it without permission? Y/N
Does the holder wish to pursue action? Y/N
Is it transformative? Y/N
Is it substantive? Y/N
Does it affect the market value of the original work? Y/N

(And no, the latter three questions are not at all settled.)

Arguments about respect have nothing to do with legality.
Arguments about artistic development have nothing to do with legality.
Arguments about quality have nothing to do with legality.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:04 PM on May 6, 2010


But, magstheaxe, you were bringing up the copyright issue in response to KirkJobSluder's citing the Graveyard Book in response to the argument that writing fan fiction prevents writers from developing their own voice. That particular argument doesn't have anything to do with legality.

My fault, then. My first reaction was shock at the idea that The Jungle Book might be protected under copyright.

...,but that difference has nothing to do with the "writers are fragile flowers whose creativity will be forever ruined by writing fan fiction" thing -- your bringing it up in that context was a non sequitur.

And now to address that argument directly: Yes, Neil Gaiman has won awards for The Graveyard Book. But he hasn't become a noted, award-winning author because of The Graveyard Book--he got there by having his own voice, which he developed by writing his own original fiction.

I think there's something to the "fanfic promotes bad writing habits" argument, myself. I can easily imagine an echo chamber effect, like what happens in any online community, that reinforces bad writing over good.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:10 PM on May 6, 2010


magstheaxe: And now to address that argument directly: Yes, Neil Gaiman has won awards for The Graveyard Book. But he hasn't become a noted, award-winning author because of The Graveyard Book--he got there by having his own voice, which he developed by writing his own original fiction.

Actually, his big break came from writing well within the constraints of the DC Comics universe utilizing supporting characters that had been introduced by other writers, and Dangerous Cases which was a quirky boy-meets-mob story centered on Al Capone.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:16 PM on May 6, 2010


The argument being made as a criticism of fanfiction is that on top of the legal issues (which are considerably murky at this time and would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis) there are moral and artistic arguments against the creation of derivative works


My fault again, then. Because to me, the arguments about the legal issues are far, far more interesting than any aethestic or moral arguments surrounding fanfic.

People can write whatever they want, in whatever style they want, using whatever material they want, and no one can stop them--not even the author. We know this; that's not even an issue.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:20 PM on May 6, 2010


Actually, his big break came from writing well within the constraints of the DC Comics universe utilizing supporting characters that had been introduced by other writers, and Dangerous Cases which was a quirky boy-meets-mob story centered on Al Capone.,

*glances over at her Vertigo comics*


Yikes, you're right, how could I forget? I always tend to think of Sandman, et. al. as being Gaiman's original creations.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:22 PM on May 6, 2010


"Well, FWIW, I've followed fanfic arguments online for a while, and here's what I see the arguments boiling down to:"
[...]
She was arguing a Pro-FanFic position.


Yes, but you're not. And I'm responding to you. You are clearly using these arguments in an anti-fanfic way, up to and including setting up half the argument as a collection of one-sentence straw-men and then knocking them down with the other half, so you cannot simply hide behind "what you see the arguments boiling down to". C'mon, do you really expect anyone to believe that you're not arguing against fanfiction, here?

"In the end, what makes one a writer is a willingness to sit down and write a story. You don’t have to be published (we all know plenty of terrible writers that get published–I’m looking at you, Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer). You don’t have to take writing classes. Hell, you don’t even have to have readers. You just have to be ready, willing, and able to write."

There's nothing about "developing your own voice" in there. There's nothing about "inventing your setting, your characters, and your plots yourself", or "[not] learning poor writing habits", or "spending the time and energy to build that audience". So, again, I'm not sure why you brought these things up if you aren't willing to admit that they're part of your argument about what "makes one a writer".

The argument against fanfiction is either based in aesthetics -- in which case you've got a long road to hoe -- or it's not. But you want to have it both ways, and for good reason: because you cannot win if your argument is solely about the legality of fanfiction. We live in the most litigious society on Earth, one that simply bursts with lawyers looking for an easy score; if fanfiction were as obviously infringing as you believe, it would have been obliterated decades ago, back when people were selling fanfiction in zines. It wasn't. It still isn't. And, in fact, nobody who actually understands copyright law wants to touch your argument with a ten-foot pole.

So go ahead, keep yelling about how fanfiction "isn't 'transformative' in the legal sense". Meanwhile, George Lucas and Paramount will keep being told by their million-dollar lawyers that there's nothing they can do to stop not-for-profit fanfiction.

One of these two groups knows what the law allows, and it isn't you.

I think there's something to the "fanfic promotes bad writing habits" argument, myself. I can easily imagine an echo chamber effect, like what happens in any online community, that reinforces bad writing over good. [...] Because to me, the arguments about the legal issues are far, far more interesting than any aethestic or moral arguments surrounding fanfic.

Again, you want to have it both ways. You advance the "fanfiction promotes bad habits" idea in one post, and then claim that you're only interested in legality in the next. I don't see why, because by your own words, having "bad habits" doesn't matter: all that matters is being "ready, willing, and able to write", yes?
posted by grey_sw at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2010


I can easily imagine an echo chamber effect, like what happens in any online community, that reinforces bad writing over good.

I agree with you about the potential for this occurring in fanfic communities, but I'm unconvinced that the fanfic-ness of the fiction plays a role -- I don't see how a writers' community would gain any protection against that effect by eschewing fanfic. (The difference between people exclusively writing fiction they had no intent to publish and people exclusively writing fiction they intended to publish might be relevant, but it's not quite the same thing.)

A standard part of learning to paint is copying masterpieces. A standard part of learning to compose music is learning to play masterpieces. I'm not going to argue that imitation specifically should be a part of every writer's training, but I find it peculiar that it would be any more damaging to writers than to other artists.
posted by Zed at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2010


I guess the problem is that I keep coming back to the fact that copyright was made to protect authors and publishers from competing publishers. It's not intended to protect authors from readers or consumers.

Again, copyright was created to protect artists and publishers from other publishers.


That was 300 years ago - and it's not the whole story of what copyright has become in the 21st century. It may be that the very concept of copyright is no longer appropriate today - that it's been stretched too thin, but that's another discussion entirely.

In any event - fan-fiction is only really becoming an issue when it gets 21st century distribution, which is, in essence, a form of publishing.


Case in point: the number of people in this thread who seem to feel entitled to fan-fic.

We are entitled to tell and re-tell stories. As far as I'm concerned, this is as close to a natural human right as you can get.


I absolutely agree, which was why I earlier discriminated between the creation and the distribution of Fan-fic - the latter being implicit in my quoted comment. The problem comes from the drastic ramping up of our ability to distribute world-wide at very little cost to ourselves, and at (potentially) a much greater effect. Nobody would object to someone reading aloud or making up a bed-time story or telling tales around a campfire (I hope - because that's just silly) - so should we look at fan-fic as just that on a global scale? And if not, why not?

The argument about derivative works is perhaps a bit circular. Copyright has always worked hand in hand with the Public Domain, providing an incentive to create that also, at the end of the term, increased the value of the Public Domain. Derivation was always to be encouraged - that's the entire point of the PD, but it is limited by copyright to provide that initial financial incentive to create. Asking whether The Graveyard Book is fan-fic because it riffs on a public domain work is missing the point - you might as well ask if Sturgeon's This is your blood was derivative of Dracula (both being epistolary vampire novels). It is, but in a clearly different way to Harry Potter and the Ghost at My Prom.
posted by Sparx at 6:48 PM on May 6, 2010


George R. R. Martin weighs in.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:50 AM on May 8, 2010


George R. R. Martin weighs in.

"Christ," what an "asshole"--or whatever kids these days are calling it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:26 AM on May 8, 2010


Wow, but GRRM's point about Burroughs and Lovecraft is just weird. If only Lovecraft hadn't encouraged others' Mythos stories, then he wouldn't have died so young because he'd have eaten better with all the money his estate would have made from the movies made after his death. um, wot?
posted by Zed at 12:28 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


George R.R. Martin weighs in again. This one makes a lot more sense.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:39 PM on May 8, 2010


George R.R. Martin weighs in again. This one makes a lot more sense.

"But let's turn it on its head, and look at the things from the writer's perspective. As much as the fans may love our characters, we love them more. And suddenly we are confronted with stories in which other people are doing all sorts of things with our children... things we never envisioned, never authorized, and may even find stupid and/ or repugnant. Characters we killed come back to life. Living characters are killed. Villains are redeemed. Straight characters become gay. Romeo and Juliet don't commit suicide, they survive and live happily ever after and have seventeen children."

I really don't understand this perspective. To me, the latter part of that paragraph is part of what it means to have children, not some horrible thing other people do to "your kids". Kids grow. Kids change. Kids leave you. Your daughter dies. Your son shacks up with Marty Stu and lives happily ever after and has seventeen children through miraculous wizard-mpreg, each with a tiny lightning-bolt on its forehead.

Being big enough to hold all these possibilities is what makes the great stories great; it is precisely because they are Real that they become Velveteen Rabbits for so many people, in so many different ways. Asking for this not to happen to your stories is pointless at best, and self-defeating at worst; it's like taking up the Monkey's Paw and wishing that your child will never love anyone else, because you're afraid they might do something you "never envisioned, never authorized, and may even find stupid and/or repugnant".

Love is not a zero-sum game. Children aren't just the sum of their parents. Stories, too, are bigger than they seem. We are all going to die, leaving these behind to live on, for a time, and then vanish in their turn.

Would that we were all lucky enough for our legacies to live beyond us in our lifetimes, joyfully doing things we never envisioned, authorized, or approved of.
posted by grey_sw at 10:05 PM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


If GRR's characters are his children, can I report him for grievous abuse?

Because, seriously, that guy put his characters through so much torture and pain, I just stopped reading so I didn't kill myself to end their agony.
posted by jb at 11:09 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well I don't think this discussion is entirely about fanfic. It's about the often-tricky and problematic relationship creators have with fandom in general. And fanfic is just one part of participatory fan culture along with cosplay, roleplay, filk, and toy modding.

Novelists are actually in a rather privileged position having a great deal of control over the final product. Outside of novels though, writers are work-for-hire participants in a franchise or brand. Gaiman's response to the illustrated similarities between Timothy Hunter and Harry Potter is a good data point here. It's not his character, and not his problem. Any concerns about Timothy Hunter belong to the larger DC universe he was created to live in. The writer lost any pretense of the characters and settings being family when he or she signed onto the editorial board of a shared commercial universe.

Which is why I find many of the arguments made by novelists on this discussion to be short-sighted, ignoring both the emerging wisdom that you loose considerable control over how your work is interpreted once it's released, and the fact that fanfiction got its legs within multimedia brands that openly encourage such narrative exploration. And there seems to be a bit of elitism that working on one's "family" is a higher calling than work-for-hire within a franchise. It's not all about the independent, solitary, and hard-struggling novelist.

There's probably over 100 years of anonymous and unauthorized pornographic exploitation of popular media and culture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:46 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


George R. R. Martin weighs in.

So he's saying cstross helped kill Lovecraft?
posted by Tenuki at 2:22 AM on May 11, 2010


What really happened is that Lovecraft's mind finally correlated its contents.
posted by Zed at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2010


She's deleted all her fanfic posts now, but people at fandom wank have them cached.
posted by 6550 at 6:36 PM on May 12, 2010


She's deleted all her fanfic posts now, but people at fandom wank have them cached.

And now you know... the rest of the story.
posted by grey_sw at 7:25 PM on May 12, 2010


Regarding GRRM's "family" point: one could say you have to let your children be free to live their own lives, but that does not mean one turns a blind eye when they join a cult or become enslaved.

That's as far as I'm going to take that analogy. It's strange to me that very few fanfic aficionados are willing to see things from the writers' point of view when they have no problem stepping into the shoes of the writers' characters.
posted by gentilknight at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2010


Regarding GRRM's "family" point: one could say you have to let your children be free to live their own lives, but that does not mean one turns a blind eye when they join a cult or become enslaved.

That's as far as I'm going to take that analogy. It's strange to me that very few fanfic aficionados are willing to see things from the writers' point of view when they have no problem stepping into the shoes of the writers' characters.


I can certainly see things from anti-fanfic writers' point of view. I just don't think it's a more convincing, reasonable, or valid way of looking at the world than mine is... and frankly, mine's the one I live by.

These are stories. They're made up of words, and like Mom always said, words can never hurt you. There is no equivalent of "joining a cult or becoming enslaved" for characters, because nothing fanfic authors can do to them can ever change the original stories. If you don't like what fan authors are doing with your stories, you can indeed "turn a blind eye" to fanfic, and your characters will not suffer for it; it's not as if a million fangirls can somehow make George Lucas slash Anakin and Obi-Wan, or a bad Gimli/Legolas rapefic can turn back the pages until the Ring falls to Sauron.

Real children are singular and fragile. Fictional children aren't. By nature, characters exist in the minds of everyone who experiences their story, not just the original author. They have divergent lives the original author cannot dictate, whether anybody writes them down or not. This is not optional, preventable, or negotiable; it's an intrinsic part of what it means to publish a work, to the point where it happens to fanfic authors, too (a la remix, prequels or sequels to other people's fics, borrowing original ideas, characters, and/or settings from other people's fics, fanon, etc). And that's a good thing. Imitation is a form of flattery, not an insult, and the more stories, the better.

What somebody else does with my ideas in their own time, for no profit, cannot hurt me unless I allow it to. This is an old, old concept in Western thought -- Epictetus called it nearly two millennia ago -- and I dislike the idea that we should replace it with what amounts to emotional blackmail. How the original author (or anyone else) feels about my stories is not within my control or responsibility, just as it's not his or her responsibility to bend before the fans' feelings. One can certainly choose to refrain from writing fanfic based on the author's feelings or wishes, but I reject the idea that one is morally obligated to do so.
posted by grey_sw at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nick Mamatas on GRRM's Lovecraft example
posted by Zed at 11:10 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


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