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Someone Is Angry On the Internet

angry
My position on so-called "fan fiction" is pretty well known. I'm against it, for a variety of reasons that I've stated previously more than once. I won't repeat 'em here.

My position is not unique. It is not universal either, I realize. Some writers actually encourage fan fiction (I know some of them, have heard their arguments), others don't seem to care one way or another (I know many of those). Many writers have no idea that it exists, no concept of what it is (in part because of the confusing term "fan fiction," which subject I will return to later), and have given the subject no thought. So there's a wide range of opinion on this matter, even among writers.

There are lots of us who oppose fan fiction, though. One such is my friend Diana Gabaldon, author of the mega-bestselling OUTLANDER series... and the occasional terrific short story and novella, some of which Gardner Dozois and I have been privileged to publish in our anthologies. Diana recently outlined her own feelings about fan fiction -- especially fan fiction involving her own world and characters -- in a series of posts on her blog:

http://voyagesoftheartemis.blogspot.com/

Subsequent to Diana's first post, all hell broke loose. (As it seems to do more and more often on this "interweb" thingie). A thousand comments on her first two blog posts on the subject. It's all there, for those who want to check out the "debate." Which soon, alas, became heated, as hundreds of... what's the correct term here? fanficcers? fan fictioneers? fans of fanfic? defenders of fanfic?... arrived from all over the internet to take issue with Diana. A good number of them seemed to open their posts with variations on 'I don't know who you are and I've never read your books and I've never visited this blog before, but I've come by specially to lambast you.'

Sigh.

I have a colorful metaphor in mind to describe what this reminds me of, but I won't use it. Metaphors seemed to spark much of the outrage here. Writers have a natural prediliction for the colorful phrase, the striking comparison, but in political discussions -- and this is, at base, a political discussion -- that can lead to hyperbole, which can lead to anger.

So let me try to eschew all that and remain calm.

I am not going to rehash the arguments for and against "fan fiction." If you want to read those, go to Diana's blog. In between the shouting and the abuse and the endless restatement of the same three or four points by several hundred different posters, there's actually some fairly cogent posts on both sides, arguing the pros and cons of the issue.

I would like to say a couple of things that I don't think anyone else covered, however (and yes, I read all thousand-plus comments, though admittedly I skimmed some that just seemed to be more of the same).

As I said, my reasons for opposing fan fiction have been stated in the past. They are more-or-less the same reasons as those cited by Diana Gabaldon, and pretty much the same reasons that would given by any writer who shares our viewpoint on the matter. So I won't repeat them here. But I'll add a few thoughts.

One of the things I mislike about fan fiction is its NAME. Truth is, I wrote fan fiction myself. That was how I began, when I was a kid in high school writing for the dittoed comic fanzines of the early 1960s. In those days, however, the term did not mean "fiction set in someone else's universe using someone else's characters." It simply meant "stories written by fans for fans, amateur fiction published in fanzines." Comic fandom was in its infancy then, and most of us who started it were kids... some of whom did make the mistake of publishing amateur fan-written stories about Batman or the Fantastic Four in their 'zines. National (what we called DC back then) and Marvel shut those down pretty quickly.

The rest of us knew better. Including me. I was a fan, an amateur, writing stories out of love just like today's fan fictioneers... but it never dawned on me to write about the JLA or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, much as I loved them. I invented my own characters, and wrote about those. Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior. Manta Ray. The White Raider. When Howard Keltner, one of the editors and publishers of STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the leading fanzine of its day, invited me to write about two of his creations, Powerman and Dr. Weird, I leapt at the chance... but only with Howard's express invitation and permission.

So that's the sort of fan fiction I wrote. How and when the term began to be used for what is called fan fiction today, I don't know. I wish there was another term for that, though I confess I cannot think of one that isn't either cumbersome, vague, or prejorative. But it does bother me that people hear I wrote fan fiction, and take that to mean I wrote stories about characters taken from the work of other writers without their consent.

Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that's fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that... well, I think their wishes should be respected.

Myself, I think the writers who allow fan fiction are making a mistake. I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (but perhaps not Diana Gabaldon, who comes from outside SF and thus may not be familiar with the case I am about to cite) had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit. She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.

That was twenty years ago or thereabouts, but that episode had a profound effect on me and, I suspect, on many other SF and fantasy writers of my generation.

Okay, it was one incident a long time ago, you may say. Fair enough. Let me bring up a couple other writers, then. Contemporaries of an earlier age, each of whom was known by a set of initials: ERB and HPL. ERB created Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. HPL created Cthulhu and his Mythos. ERB, and later his estate, was extremely protective of his creations. Try to use Tarzan, or even an ape man who was suspiciously similar to Tarzan, without his/ their permission, and their lawyers would famously descend on you like a ton of bricks. HPL was the complete opposite. The Cthulhu Mythos soon turned into one of our genres first shared worlds. HPL encouraged writer friends like Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith to borrow elements from his Cuthulhu Mythos, and to add elements as well, which HPL himself would borrow in turn. And in time, other writers who were NOT friends of HPL also began to write Cthulhu Mythos stories, which continues to this day.

Fair enough. Two writers, two different decisions.

Thing is, ERB died a millionaire many times over, living on a gigantic ranch in a town that was named Tarzana after his creation. HPL lived and died in genteel poverty, and some biographers have suggested that poor diet brought on by poverty may have hastened his death. HPL was a far more beloved figure amongst other writers, but love will only get you so far. Sometimes it's nice to be able to have a steak too. The Burroughs estate was paid handsomely for every Tarzan movie ever made, and collected plenty on the PRINCESS OF MARS movie I worked on during my Hollywood years, and no doubt is still collecting on the one currently in development... though the book is in the public domain by now. Did the Lovecraft estate make a penny off THE DUNWICH HORROR movie, the HERBERT WEST, REANIMATOR movie, the recent DAGON movie, the internet version of CALL OF CTHULHU? I don't know. I rather doubt it. If they did, I'll betcha it was just chump change. Meanwhile, new writers go right on mining the Cthulhu mythos, writing new stories and novels.

Cthulhu, like John Carter, is in the public domain by now, I know. But it wouldn't matter. Because HPL let so many others play in his sandbox, he essentially lost control of his own creations. That's what I mean by (2), above. The fan fiction door, once opened, is hard to close again.

A writer's creations are his livelihood. Those copyrights are ultimately all that separates an ERB from a HPL. Is it any wonder that most writers are so protective of them?

Those of us, like Diana Galabdon and myself, who prefer not to allow fan fictioners to use our worlds and characters are not doing it just to be mean. We are doing it to protect ourselves and our creations.

Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That's something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana's blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use (it is NOT fair use, by the way, not as I understand the term, and I have a certain familiarity with what is and isn't fair use thanks to my own experiences with THE ARMAGEDDON RAG), but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law -- a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it. Once you have done that, anyone can do whatever the hell they want with your stuff. If I let Peter and Paul and Nancy publish their Ice & Fire fanfics, and say nothing, then I have no ground to stand on when Bill B. Hack and Ripoff Publishing decide they will publish an Ice & Fire novel and make some bucks. Peter and Paul and Nancy may be the nicest people in the world, motivated only by sincere love of my world and characters, but Bill B. Hack and Ripoff don't give a damn. They just want the bucks.

Once you open that door, you can't control who might come in.

No one would ever do that, I hear someone muttering in the back. Hoo hah. The history of publishing is full of such cases. Even the famously and fiercely litigious ERB estate was famously victimized back in the 60s, when someone forget to timely renew the copyright on a Tarzan book, and a bottom rung comic company noticed and promptly started up a completely unauthorized (and unpaid for) Tarzan comic.

Those are some of the reasons writers like me will not permit fanfic, but before I close, let me put aside the legal and financial aspects of all this for a moment, and talk about more personal ones. Here, I think, Diana Gabaldon absolutely hit the nail on the head in the latest of her blog posts on the subject. And here, she and I agree completely. Many years ago, I won a Nebula for a story called "Portraits of His Children," which was all about a writer's relationship with the characters he creates. I don't have any actual children, myself (Diana does). My characters are my children, I have been heard to say. I don't want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I'm sure that's true, I don't doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still...

I have sometimes allowed other writers to play with my children. In Wild Cards, for instance, which is a shared world. Lohengrin, Hoodoo Mama, Popinjay, the Turtle, and all my other WC creations have been written by other writers, and I have written their characters. But I submit, this is NOT at all the same thing. A shared world is a tightly controlled environment. In the case of Wild Cards, it's controlled by me. I decide who gets to borrow my creations, and I review their stories, and approve or disapproval what is done with them. "No, Popinjay would say it this way," I say, or "Sorry, the Turtle would never do that," or, more importantly (this has never come up in Wild Cards, but it did in some other shared worlds), "No, absolutely not, your character may not rape my character, I don't give a fuck how powerful you think it would be."

And that's Wild Cards. A world and characters created to be shared. It's not at all the same with Ice & Fire. No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.

Anyway...

I have gone on longer than I intended, but I think this is important stuff. "Fan fiction" -- or whatever you want to call it -- has been around for a long time, but never like now. The internet has changed everything. Whereas before the fanfic might be published in obscure fanzines with a circulation of a hundred, now tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, can read these... well, let's just call them "unauthorized derivative works." (Except in cases where the writer has authorized 'em, which I suppose would be "authorized derivative works.") More than ever, we need some boundaries here.

I salute Diana Gabaldon for opening the debate.

And now I step back, and await the onslaught.

(But a word of warning. I'm not nearly as nice a person as Diana is, and this Not A Blog is screened and monitored by my assistant Ty. Diana was willing to let everything go in her comments section. I'm not. So -- my roof, my rules. Disagree, if you want. Disagree vigorously. Argue your points. But no name-calling, no abuse, no threats. And you can spare me the "I have never read any of your books, but now I'm not going to, and I'm going to tell all my friends not to read your books either" posts as well. Fine, you just want to read books by authors who support fan fiction, go ahead, do that, there are a number of very fine writers in that group, we don't need to hear about it here. No derailing the discussion, please. Let's talk about the issue, not tone. I'd love to see some rational discourse here, thanks).

(And yes, the title of this post is a reference to the classic xkcd cartoon that can be seen here: http://xkcd.com/386/)

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( 412 comments )
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midnight_birth
May. 8th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
Personally, I love the stance Charlie Stross has on fan fiction:

"I do not mind you writing fanfic using my characters and sharing it with your friends unless you do so in a manner that f**s with my ability to earn a living. . . . I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters — rather, I am a glittery and avaricious dragon who is jealous of his steaming pile of gold. If you do not steal the dragon's gold, the dragon will leave you alone. Offer to bring the dragon more gold and the dragon will be your friend."

As well, JK Rowling, of course, who said that as long young people are encouraged to write, she's happy, though, of course, as long as they don't try to make money off it.

It's a personal opinion. It's going to be a little while yet until I publish my book, and I would only be lucky if it is good and popular enough for people to want to write fic for it. If it is, however, I stand strongly by my opinion that what I wrote, my books, are there, it's my universe, my characters, they go where I sent them and do what I told them. But what people want to imagine they do in their own times is really their business as long as they don't try to make money out of it or claim ownership of the characters/universe. I am, however, a rather laid back person who cares little for things like this. As well, I am a person who is a good writer thanks to fan fiction and the feedback and practice it provided. (I was an immigrant when I started off, and somehow stumbled into fan fiction for the Harry Potter books).

However, I fully support both your opinion and your right to have them and act upon them. Your books, characters, and works will always be yours, and you have a right to have people respect your wishes as to their use no matter what their personal opinions about that may be. I've noticed a lot of people don't get that. It's all good and well to argue and tell you what we think, and try to change your mind, but in the end, whatever you feel the end of that conversation.

(I also wanted to mention, that I completely agree with your "children" analogy, despite my views on fan fiction. I feel the same way. I can hardly have people edit my work. So I would never ever look up any fan fiction based on my work, or I may just join you in your opinion, no matter how strongly I oppose it at the moment. You just never know exactly until it happens to you, I suppose.)

Edited at 2010-05-08 02:10 am (UTC)
frbaril
May. 8th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
I'm not so sure about the illegality of fanfics. Fanfics use the "world" an author created, which is a concept, an idea. However, copyright law is not supposed to apply to ideas, only to the words themselves. Unusual names however, you might be able to defend infringement on the copyright and as trademarks.

As for Marion Zimmer Bradley, her failure might have been to be actively reading the facfics. In copyright law, you have to prove that the "copy" is indeed a copy and not only someone arriving at the same result in a completely separate process. ie: if you write something and it never leaves your computer, you can't sue someone who used the exact same words as they would not have been able to copy your work in the first place.
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tsgeisel
May. 8th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
The reasons you list are good enough for me on the subject of Fan Fiction, but I'm writing this to ask about "fair use" and The Armageddon Rag - I suspect the long list of songs "used with permission" in the front is the source of your education here?

(And, slightly off-topic, but slightly not, if someone wanted to create a Nazgul tribute album, how would they go about doing so? Where would a song like "Elf Rock" - mentioned, but with no lyrics - fall in the "Fan Fic/Filk" good versus evil dichotomy?)

grrm
May. 8th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Yes, it was the song lyrics.

I thought they were fair use. They were all quite short, no longer than two lines.

My publisher's attorneys took a more conservative stance (publishers are always conservative on such matters, preferring to avoid lawsuits rather than win them) and said, "no, not fair use, you have to get permissions."

I decided to consult my own attorney, one of the country's leading experts on copyright law. He said, "In my opinion these are fair use, but there has never been a conclusive test case on the matter. If you use them without permission, you will get sued. I think you will prevail in the end, but the music publishers will fight you all the way, and the costs of litigation could run well into six figures. I am prepared to argue your case to your last penny. We can win a historic judgment."

I preferred to keep my last penny. I got the permissions. It took six months and cost me thousands of dollars... but not tens of thousands, nor hundreds of thousands.

As yet, there is still no conclusive precedent on song lyrics.

Nor on fan fiction, so far as I know.

Edited at 2010-05-08 02:05 am (UTC)
valadil
May. 8th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
Just for clarification, your objection is purely legal? I didn't get the sense that you thought there was anything wrong with using someone else's characters on an intellectual level. But with copyright law as it currently stands, there's no way to let someone else use your characters without giving up some amount of rights to them.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
No, not purely legal.

As I tried to suggest in the "children" portion of my post, there is a deep emotional connection between a writer and his characters. Reading other people's versions of them, and seeing them saying and doing things they would never say or do, would disturb me. How MUCH it would disturb me would depend on exactly what they were saying and doing, and how wrong it was.
Characters as the author's children - divtb - May. 8th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - balinares - May. 8th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pandorahx - May. 8th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
hidden_urchin
May. 8th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
Dead on. We may love the characters but I doubt readers can ever be as connected them as the authors are. If we love the stories and respect the authors, should we not strive to assist them in their successes? Namely by buying books and not throwing fan fiction out into the arena as competition? Maybe in turn they will reward the readers by giving them more stories. :)
akutaco
May. 8th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
I don't think so....
Isn't that kind of like saying nobody can ever love a person except their birth mother?
hedwig_snowy
May. 8th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Internet minefield right there. I tend to agree with the consent and defend concepts.

There's probably many authors who have no problem with it. Maybe they should stick to writing in those worlds.
elektra
May. 8th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
I have to admit that I sometimes read fan fiction and enjoy it. But it would certainly mar that enjoyment to know that the author didn't have permission to "play in the sandbox."
Fanfic has its place, but sharing it with others should only happen when the owner of the universe has given permission. Otherwise, it needs to be private--that's what diaries are for. There's nothing wrong with writing it as an exercise, or a curiosity, as long as you keep it to yourself.
When you want to share, write your own characters and world. Just my opinion.
akutaco
May. 8th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
Where would the benefit be in using it as an exercise be if you didn't share it? That's like creative writing 101. You have to share and get feedback in order to improve. Otherwise, it's just pure vanity.
k3lit0
May. 8th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
Well,
It's the internet, so even if posting fanfics is illegal they're going to be posted. But because of the legal reasons you mentioned, you can't just "turn a blind eye." You have to say no, even if you didn't have a problem with it, or risk your copyright being compromised.

So in my opinion, the fanfic writers should keep their little fanfics as long as they aren't hurting anyone, just trying to get some practice writing with familiar pre-established settings and characters.. and the authors should keep on disapproving, but not trying to actively stop the fanfic writers (that is, getting their sites taken down, etc)


Personally I hate fanfics. They're usually really bad. :| But sometimes they can be well written, particularly when the setting is used but the characters and story are original. And like I said, it's good practice for kids who want to write and are enthusiastic about some fandom. I can't imagine how disturbing it must be to see as a writer, though.

I know a lot of readers like fanfics because it gives them something to read while they wait for the next episode/book/game etc. I think another sort is when something is skimmed over in the real fiction, they like to fill the gaps. And write alternate versions, like how they would have done it. That last one might be a bit insulting to the original writers, though. Just a bit, heh.. :P
elfich47
May. 8th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
Re: Well,
As was said above: If the author finds out about the "fanfic" and takes no action, he is no longer defending his copyright. Authors are not allowed to selectively enforce their copyrights.

I agree with the statement that has been made many times: Create your own characters and then write about them. Half of writing is putting the word to the page, the other half is understanding why the characters are doing what they are doing.
Re: Well, - mindstalk - May. 8th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Well, - boss_bass - May. 8th, 2010 05:13 am (UTC) - Expand
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nutmeg3
May. 8th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
I'm entirely on your (and Diana's) side. I edit books for a living, and have a huge amount of respect for authors and what they do. I think fanfic is theft, and also lazy, and I've been stomped on many times before for saying so, but frankly, I'm glad to be in your company on this one, and I'll happily pay for the privilege by getting stomped on again.
jadeejf
May. 8th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
I would have written pretty much the exact same comment, so I'll just second this one instead.
redscribe
May. 8th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
Writing fanfic is kind of like playing with someone else's toys, isn't it?

It's a tricky debate, but for all of the reasons stated above... yeah.

Personally, I believe that you should respect the wishes of the author who created the characters. If they don't care, hey, go crazy. But if they do, just bloody don't.
mindstalk
May. 8th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
And kind of not, because if I play with your toys I'm creating wear and tear and risking breaking them, but characters like any information can be freely duplicated. Someone writing stories with X's characters does not hurt the ability of X to write with those characters.

Reputation might get broken, but that calls for a defense based on trademark ((TM) (R)) and brand identity, not copyright.
mystyangel
May. 8th, 2010 02:07 am (UTC)
The only point I would raise is that the only place of publication for unlicensed derivative works is the Internet--and that these works do not make anyone money.

That said, I wonder how much fanfiction affects sales in this day and age. I don't feel that HPL is an apt comparison here, because others who published under the Cthulu mythos were published, made money, and were authorized by HPL to do so. Fanfiction today, even when the author states that they "do not mind" fanfiction about their characters, does not get published for profit (unless you count those works in the public domain such as Pride and Prejudice). And most people are more concerned about what's 'canon' and what's written by the copyright holder than fanfiction; I doubt that someone who has read fanfiction about a beloved piece of fiction will be suddenly inspired to not purchase the newest book.
elfich47
May. 8th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
I think that there is a different point being made: It is a point of control. Someone above compared it to playing with someone elses toys. I compare it more to letting a couple of people sack out on your couch. Next thing they raid the fridge and leave the toilet seat up. And then they are inviting their friends come visit and their friends friends and suddenly you have a house full of people that you don't know and get out because they have squatters rights.
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qwert_trewq
May. 8th, 2010 02:08 am (UTC)
Mr. Martin, what do you think about people writing about your characters after you are gone? Do you have a moral object to that as well? Is it more the monetary element, that could occur if you lose control of your work? And what about if your series goes unfinished? Do you think that would affect/factor into your views?
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
after death
Well, if there really is life after death, I will return as a vengeful spirit and haunt those people, screeching the lyrics to MY MOTHER THE CAR in their ears every night as they try to sleep.

But since I don't really believe that, I suspect I won't care. I'll be dead.

My heirs will be alive, though, and they may feel otherwise.

I HOPE my heirs will respect my views on this subject. No all heirs do, however. I could give you chapter and verse, but...

I just hope Christopher Tolkien lives forever. Once he dies, I have a deep abiding fear that we will be seeing SAURON STRIKES BACK, written by (fill in the name of your favorite hack) and based on a scrap of paper they found stuck to the bottom of one of JRRT's old hiking boots.

Edited at 2010-05-08 02:19 am (UTC)
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gregmce
May. 8th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
I didn't know about the HPL story -- that's fascinating.

I must admit that the Marion Zimmer Bradley anecdote, as well as the kerfluffle over the fan who wouldn't take "no" for an answer from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, are the stories that always leap to mind when it comes to authors asking for people to please not write fanfic about their creations. And at the end of the day, I'm always a little puzzled why if someone says, "No, please don't use my creations that way," that people who are professed fans of said creations say, "Screw you, I'll do it anyway."

I try and stay out of debates with those people, because inevitably faces get red and sweaty, and things are said that are later regretted, and no one changes their stance. But it is odd. And puzzling.
monksp
May. 8th, 2010 04:39 am (UTC)
Do you have a link for the Chelsea Yarbro thing? She's one of my favorites, so it piqued my curiosity.
(no subject) - gregmce - May. 8th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - countess_baltar - May. 8th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
h_u_s_h_e_d
May. 8th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experience on this!
siamkor
May. 8th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
Love the avatar.
maine_character
May. 8th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
I know who you are and I've read most of your books and I'm always visiting this blog, and I've come by specially to thank you for opening my eyes to something I thought was as innocent as folk-singing Smurfs. Never read or written fanfiction, but now I know to keep them out of my barn.
odiedragon
May. 8th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that's fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that... well, I think their wishes should be respected.

This. If the creator has no problem with it, then it's fair game. Or, using the example of a fandom I've become familiar with, if a company puts up a "communtiy creations" forum on their company owned website, then to me they not only approve but are encouraging it. You can disagree with their decision, of course.

I do disagree, however, that if video game giant EA felt its toes were being stepped on, they would threaten legal action. Someone that big, the threat of legal action would be all it would take to get someone to back down. Maybe it's a case of "speak loudly and carry a huge bag of money", and that makes it different from your rank-and-file authors.

Also, as much as it may pain you, I would suggest contacting the webmasters of fanfiction.net, asking that stories based off your worlds not be posted. There is a warning that is posted before you post anything there (and yes, I guess that means I'm admitting my sins, but the fandom I allude to above is my only transgression) listing authors who have specifically requested that fanfic not be posted from their works.

FanFiction.Net respects the expressed wishes of the following authors/publishers and will not archive entries based on their work:

Anne Rice
Archie comics
Dennis L. McKiernan
Irene Radford
J.R. Ward
Laurell K. Hamilton
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
P.N. Elrod
Raymond Feist
Robin Hobb
Robin McKinley
Terry Goodkind


I know it's a lot to swallow, being among the ranks of Tairy Goodkind, but I thought I'd mention it.

For the vast majority of people, fanfic is either a hobby, or a place to work the kinks out before tackling their own original works. But yes, a few bad apples can quickly ruin the bunch. :/
maribou
May. 8th, 2010 08:25 am (UTC)
Wait, what? *Dennis L. McKiernan* doesn't approve of derivative works? Dennis *Yes-I-Did-Copy-Tolkien-And-It's-OK* McKiernan???

*boggles*

(Um, I don't mean this as an attack. I like McKiernan's Tolkien-derivative stuff and I like derivative works in general. I'm just extremely baffled at the moment. And reading http://www.sfsite.com/08b/dm134.htm suggests I haven't completely misremembered the issue.)
(no subject) - odiedragon - May. 8th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pandarus - May. 8th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
radname
May. 8th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
Very interesting and well thought out 'your side of the story' I've never read fanfiction, or written it, I don't see the point of it.

Someone has already mention JK Rowling, but I wonder how many have read Cassandra Clare's series without realizing that it is ripped off of JK Rowling. She got a book deal based on her connections and her fan fiction writing which she not only stole a lot from other writers.
mouseworks
May. 8th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
I remember some old pro commenting that he'd read the works Rowling based Harry Potter on. Myths and archetypes are the common pool from which all of us drink. Rowling brought together boys boarding school stories (see George Orwell's essay on those which quotes enough that the source of Rowling's style is fairly obvious) and fantasy. She's not creating something that's utterly never been done before, nor are her characters that removed from earlier works by other writers.

My impression is that the works that fan fic writers draw on tend to be less uniquely original and more archetype-driven than not. With Sherlock Holmes, the original works owed some to Poe, and went their own way after that.

(no subject) - pandarus - May. 8th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
saxster
May. 8th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
On these points I absolutely agree with you, George. Your creations, your rights. There is no gray area as far as I'm concerned.

I really had no idea that fan fiction had caused such grief to anyone to the degree that you described for MZB. I've ignored fan fiction almost entirely over the years, preferring to read the creations of the real writers themselves, or at least those of their own heirs.

When people make use of the intellectual property of anyone without their permission it is no less an overt act of theft than walking into someone's home and stealing their television set. In fact, it's more akin to stealing boxes of priceless family artifacts. These are unforgivable crimes.
dragonet2
May. 8th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
This is something that I feel weird about
I wouldn't like to write in someone else's world, it would feel creepy as far as I'm concerned. I got that stuff out of my system when I was in my teens, before I found or knew about SF fandom and I already knew I was writing crap to start with.

And as such, I don't really understand the need to do it unless invited. And I'm not sure I could do it even then.

I'm all for respecting the author, thank you.
bloodypoetry
May. 8th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
I am not here to scream or yell. I love you as a writer and such.

But what some people are missing out on here, is that people who write fanfic don't want to make money off it. In fact, I can cite an instance where a very popular and beloved fanfic writer in the Joss Whedon fandom (who, btw, actively encourages fanfic from his fans), tried to charge fees for chapters of her works. Ya know what happened? She was flamed, and run of the internet. This chick was BELOVED by fans. She was amazing. And they turned on her like a pack of wolves when she broke the rules.

The example you cited is terrible yes; but even Joss, who encourages fanfic, always claims to never read it, to avoid such a thing. I am sure if the fandoms were like they are today, THAT fan would have torn apart as well. We do have rules in fandom, one of them actually being to not write fanfiction from media that the creators have explicitly said not to. Also, to never send any fanfiction to the original creators.

Yeah, this 'wank' as they call it has gotten out of hand. People got hurt, felt as if they were being singled out and called horrible names. Fanfiction is not everyone's ideal thing. Some people enjoy it, some don't. There have been a lot of hurt feelings in this whole debate, and I just wish people would calm down and discuss things rationally.

Thanks for giving your opinion on it, however.
twistedsheets10
May. 8th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
I agree with this. Majority of the fanfic writers don't write for money, or even want to make money out of it. The ones who do try get flamed and run off the Internet.

The only time I saw it was OK to write fanfic for money was to help raise donations for Help!Haiti.



Edited at 2010-05-08 02:55 am (UTC)
(no subject) - cuddlycthulhu - May. 8th, 2010 05:03 am (UTC) - Expand
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acrimonius
May. 8th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY
The thing is, Lovecraft allowed people to write about and make money off of his creations. The understanding current would-be fanfic authors have is that if they attempt to actually cash in on their fiction, not only will they get the shit sued out of them, but they'll ruin it for hundreds or thousands of people who are in the same fandom as them.

Of course, there are people who blithely ignore this. Stephenie Meyer recently had a run-in with a Twilight fanfic author going by Lady Sybilla that was attempting to legitimately publish her story.

The thing is, Sybilla was probably bullheaded enough to do it regardless of Meyer's permissive attitude towards fanfic.

Plus, before Meyer could get to her, fandom at large (and the fiction-writer portion of the blogosphere) had exploded like a volcano. The fiction writers mostly laughed and went "Look at her, isn't her cluelessness adorable?", and the fans freaked out because the backlash from Sybs' attempt to profit off the story would probably spell the end of the Twilight fandom. (Oh god, I sound like a Twilight fan. I'm not! I'm really not! This is just the best, most recent example I could think of where one idiot gets screamed down by people who just want to play in Twilight's sparkly, stalkeriffic world D:)

By and large, fanfic authors aren't immoral, uncreative, screeching hydras that attempt to line their pockets with authors' hard-earned money. They're just people who like to play in somebody else's sandbox, for whatever reason that may be.

Also, if you run a quick Google search for any popular book or book series, television series, movie (live action or animated, but especially animated), or video game, you'll more than likely run across a few fansites for them. Their shows still run, the authors/writers still permit it, and they still get treated in court like they haven't surrendered their copyright, even though in some cases, the fandom has been around for decades and spans tens of thousands of individual members.

At this point, the evidence necessary to support the notion that copyright is null and void the moment you permit not-for-profit, commercially-unpublished fiction doesn't exist.

Now aren't you sorry you didn't just leave your post at "They're my babies, no touchie my babies in their nono places. By the way, all of them is a nono place"? Then you wouldn't have to read this. Technically, you don't anyway, but I'm going to pretend you did.

By the way, thanks for using that icon -- I now know that modified typewriters can be fucking creepy. No, really. Thanks.
bloodypoetry
May. 8th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY
I wish I had a link to the cousinjean wank of....oh, when was that? That pretty evenly demonstrates how fandom polices itself in regards to people profiting on fanworks.
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY - yagathai - May. 8th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY - yagathai - May. 8th, 2010 10:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY - akutaco - May. 8th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY - tropism - May. 8th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: HALO DER, DISJOINTED WALL OF TEXT AHOY - yagathai - May. 8th, 2010 10:39 am (UTC) - Expand
arianna77
May. 8th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I'm coming purely from the perspective of a reader, I have no writing abilities whatsoever. I do enjoy fan fiction for some books/series, but reading this (not a) blog entry, I realized something. There are some authors, yourself included, that I would never seek out fanfiction for. The reason is: I don't think anyone could possibly improve on your storylines/characters. I seek out fanfiction in the cases that I'm not entirely satisfied with how a book or series ended up. *shrug*
boss_bass
May. 8th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
. I seek out fanfiction in the cases that I'm not entirely satisfied with how a book or series ended up. *shrug*


Me too. While 99% of fanfiction is usually crap that's wish fulfillment on the part of the fan fiction author, I have read some very good fan fiction that explored some of the ways a story might have gone when multiple pathways are presented (or that deconstructs the story when the story itself is something silly or ridiculous).

To add, I'm stating the obvious when I say that there's other sources for fan fiction material than literature, and I've read some very excellent pieces in that area. I remember reading a sweeping fan fiction account of the events in the computer game Warcraft II expansion that was vastly superior to the "official" account written in the mediocre Christie Golden novel.

To be honest, I don't entirely buy the point that allowing authors to write fan fiction not-for-profit somehow runs the risk of one day allowing them to write it for profit. Look at JK Rowling - she's allowed fan fiction for years, yet on the one occasion when one of her fans was foolish enough to try and sell her fan fiction, she sued and won.
britmandelo
May. 8th, 2010 02:19 am (UTC)
The MZB story is no longer particularly applicable today, because almost fanfic collectives/sites/authors/etc use this awesome thing called the Creative Commons Disclaimer. Jim Butcher did a nice thoughtful policy on fanfiction that relates to this.

No matter how much protest an author may make over fanfic, there's still the idea of Creative Commons. And the fanfic author disclaims all right to the material content of their story in the, well, disclaimer. The MZB issue? Moot. The internet has changed a lot of things in the past decade, even just the past year.

Perhaps it was growing up with the internet and internet fandom, but as a writer I literally cannot imagine being anything other than flattered (in a weird way) if I were to grow a fandom. Yes, they're my characters. But the fanfic author never tries to pretend they aren't. Now, if someone changed the character's names and wrote a loosely veiled ripoff and sold it--yes, I would have a problem with that. A very big problem. Fanfiction, though, is not that. Equating it to that is just wrong. It's not a true analogy. Fanfiction acknowledges the owner of the characters and the universe and its own desire to play with that universe.

Like I said, I cannot imagine being angry over someone being interested enough in my characters and universe to want to play with them, not for pay or anything but pleasure, out on the internet. Even if it's filthy, so-bad-it's-hilarious pornography. Because it made that fan of mine happy, and means that they're likely to keep reading me, if they liked me enough to write fanfic.

It doesn't hurt my characters. It doesn't hurt my stories. It literally does not affect me at all on a personal level, nor does it affect anybody else but the fan having fun and the fandom at large, also having fun. Plus, if a friend of that fanfic writer reads the fic, likes it, and wants to read the source material--hey, I'm sure as hell not going to complain. (I like Patrick Rothfuss's stance, too. Once you've got slashfic, you know you've hit the bigtime. *g*)
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Interesing perspective, and I thank you for the comment... but my point of view is just the opposite of yours.

I don't want anyone else writing about my characters without my permission. Yes, sure, in a sense it is flattering, but...

On the other hand, taking my characters, filing off the names, and writing a loosely-veiled imitation... well, it might depend on just how loose that veil was, but I don't think it would bother me half as much. There's a long tradition of that. A guy named Otis Adelbert Kline made a whole career out of publishing imitations of Edgar Rice Burroughs. And when John Jakes and Lin Carter wanted to write Conan stories, and couldn't, the world got Brak the Barbarian and Thongor the Barbarian. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe Conan fanfics would have been preferable). ((I won't even menion Webgar the Savage. Those other guys were just barbarians, but Webgar was a down-t-earth SAVAGE))
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Creative Commons doesn't work that way.... - liznitch - May. 8th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
sweetroar
May. 8th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
*applauds*
Very well put together post!

If I may, I do have a 'dumb' question to ask...and will preface it with: I do not write 'fan fiction'.
IF a person creates an original character that inhabits one of your worlds (say the character inhabits Westeros but does not interact with your characters, it merely lives by your world's rules and terms) would this be considered copyright infringement?


As I stated previously, 'dumb' question...and I am fairly certain of the answer, but it is Friday and my brain refuses to fire those last few neurons by itself. XD

PS: LOVE reading XKCD on my iPhone...they have an app!
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 02:32 am (UTC)
Yes, even with original characters, it's still a no-no.

Not that a lot of "Mary Sue Goes to Narnia" stories haven't been written, mind you, but...
(no subject) - sweetroar - May. 8th, 2010 02:50 am (UTC) - Expand
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scottedelman
May. 8th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Tom Disch was one of my Clarion instructors in 1979, and a few years later during lunch, we touched on this issue.

I was catching him up on how my fellow students were doing, and told him about one particular writer from our group who said that from then on, she intended only to write stories set in a certain franchise. I can't remember whether the franchise was Star Wars or Star Trek. And I told Tom what she told me, that she was doing this because she didn't think she could ever come up with characters as rich, as real, as vibrant as those.

Tom's response? I wish I could reproduce the wry tone in his voice. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied: "In her case, I believe she's correct."
lovefromgirl
May. 8th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
Your worlds. Your choice. Thanks for staying rational about it.

I think the statement that puzzled me most in Ms. Gabaldon's original post was the one about filing off the serial numbers and trying to publish. I'd be far less comfortable about that than about fanfiction (which is 99.9% not-for-profit, and profiting from it is generally taboo). Fandom doesn't want my money. Jane Number-Filer does. I'd feel far more infringed-upon by Jane, because that work is mine from which to profit. I did the worldbuilding. I did the legwork on the characters. If Jane hasn't made significant changes, changes that show she's had to work as hard as I did, I'm going to send my lawyers after her. She is the real threat to my livelihood, what little a genre writer earns -- and yes, I'm basing this on my acquaintance with genre writers! :-)

Anecdata: I recall one specific case in which certain serial numbers were not sufficiently obliterated. Needless to say, the book in question by the former fan in question is one I steer young readers away from. George Lucas and J.K. Rowling should be earning that money instead. I also recall not being the only angry fangirl. What integrity we have is based on an honor system, which this writer violated in my opinion.
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