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Someone Is Angry On the Internet

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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Comments

( 412 comments )
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dallyk
May. 8th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
Very insightful post. I have never been a "fan of fanfic" for other reasons, but I hadn't been aware of the big problems it could cause.
bnc929
May. 8th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
bah
I hate people who write fanfiction, because yesterday you said you were going to work on Kong, and then instead you work on this book of a blog post, and read 1000 comments.

So because all these people complained about their rights to your property Kong lives another day... this is the travesty.

Also, I believe you have trademarks and copyrights confused. It is trademarks that must be defended, or you lose them, they are also perpetual, so long as they are defended. Copyrights need not be defended, just renewed, and are not perpetual, or rather, will not be perpetual as soon as Disney runs out of money to give to congressmen.
unavoidedcrisis
May. 8th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
If they're your books, it's your call. I don't think anyone is allowed to argue that. And you raise very sensible points.

Which soon, alas, became heated, as hundreds of... what's the correct term here? fanficcers? fan fictioneers? fans of fanfic? defenders of fanfic?

This? This comes off as condescending. People who write fanfiction are still writers.
dscotton
May. 8th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
Well, from my perspective it looks like you're trying to fight human nature, which isn't a fight you're likely to win. For as long as people have been telling stories, other people have been retelling their own versions of those stories. Now we have the internet, which lets people communicate more widely, and makes it extremely hard to shut them up.

I absolutely agree that other people shouldn't be able to profit off your characters while you're alive. That's pretty clear cut and actually enforceable, because when money changes hands it can be followed. But beyond that... I think people have the right to converse and tell stories however the hell they want, and to try to stop that is just not practical or worthwhile. When you write a popular series, that's now a part of our culture and not something you can maintain absolute control of.

I'm a little surprised to learn your opinion on this, since you wrote a few stories for the Suvudu contest that I would classify as fanfiction, and the people running the contest were unquestionably writing fanfiction in their descriptions of each fight.
bruisedgarden
May. 8th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
I think I'm most interested in that you read XKCD.

On the fanfiction front, I think the biggest issue out there is the internet. People post without thinking of the issues it could cause.

As a librarian, I have to respect all copyright issues and such. But as a librarian... if children are inspired by someone's story and it gets them writing and reading, I would support it. As long as it's not in the public domain, I think I'd let it slide. I'd also encourage them to come up with their own world - that way it's their rules, too.

Adults, on the other hand, are another issue.
shara
May. 8th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Fascinating post, Mr. Martin! I am not over-familiar with fanfic - I don't write it, read it, or know anyone who does. I'm more familiar with 18th/19th century literary communities than contemporary ones, so I find myself combing my brain for pre-internet presidents from which to draw examples for either side of this issue.

It strikes me that this issue is complicated by the nebulous state of "publishing" on the internet - in nearly any previous era, copyright covered anything which went to press, and what you wrote your your (and your friends') enjoyment in the privacy of your home was fine and allowable. Now the lines are blurrier; people think that what they've posted on a forum or a webpage isn't "real publishing" and is therefore exempt from copyright issues, and so many make this mistake that trying to enforce copyright is like swatting mosquitoes on a late July afternoon. Participants seem to draw the line at profit. They feel content published for free out of devotion can't be "wrong". At least in the earlier examples I can think up - my dear Alexandre Dumas was much counterfeited - any attempts to borrow the characters and publish further adventures was done with a profit motive if not on the part of the writer, then at least on the part of the printer or publisher.

But then I guess the rejoinder to the fan-fictioneer is that even if they aren't seeking profit, by providing for free a product they are diverting attention from the original author and possibly depriving them of sales, just as the maker of counterfeit Disney t-shirts would do. Yah, most people want the "real thing", but enough will accept a substitute that the originator should be concerned. And there's that "door" you speak of.

And as for the cultural aspect? Really, if culture benefits from riffing on, adapting, borrowing and shaping popular stories, it will benefit just as much after the originating author (and her heirs) have died and they are no longer being deprived of their due. There's lots of stuff out of copyright to riff on. Shakespeare is popular; start there.

There, there's my two cents worth of thinking out loud. :/
scottgoblue314
May. 8th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
I am not by any stretch of the imagination a writer, but I do like to think that I have morals, and naturally I have an internet to vent my opinions through.

I can totally agree with every point you made, Mr. Martin, and I think I have a few to add as well. First, another historical argument - in the late 1800s, "Fiction Factories" were an entire industry - authors' names, stories, and entire bodies of work would be hijacked and rewritten dozens of time over just to make a quick buck. In some cases, an author's stories would be published years after his or her death, and naturally the estate never saw a penny of it. A lot of living authors had careers ruined by it. Charles Dickens, for one, grew to hate America because the papers and magazines would serialize and distribute all of his work without asking or paying, but that's another story.

Second, if some of these die-hard "fan fiction" writers think they're so entitled as to attempt to get money out of the deal, why don't they just write their own bloody stories? Maybe throw in an "inspired by such-and-such," and then everybody wins.

Also, my heart leapt for joy when I saw the xkcd link. Mr. Monroe is clearly King of the Interwebs.
megmca
May. 8th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
As always, you state your position clearly and well.

I think modern fan fiction is more about admiration and entertainment than profit. Fanfic writers often seem to want to explore the worlds and characters beyond the published works.

I wrote fanfic once, years ago (actually about the time my user pic was taken). Gave it to a friend to read and then threw it away. It was fun and let me be creative but I have better ideas now. My own ideas. And those are _much_ more fun to play with.

I think I would be flattered to find out there was fanfic based on anything I might ever produce, but knowing the quality (or lack thereof) of my own attempt at fanfic I would never read it. My worlds are as much my children as my characters are. I wouldn't want to watch someone screw them up.

Hopefully everyone who writes modern fanfic will get their own ideas and won't have to borrow/steal from someone else.
kuni_bob
May. 8th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
I used to be an avid fanfiction writer. My fanfiction for one videogame reached 300,000 words when I finally stopped it. At some point, I woke up and realized that, aside from the moral implications of ripping off public IP for my own glory, it was a disservice to me.

1) It wasn't helping me become a better writer. People would latch onto my story because of the characters, which weren't even mine. Because my readers began to beg me for chapters, I would crank them out, post them unedited and never learn anything.

2) All that time and effort is wasted on something that will never be "mine." I can't take that book and publish it anywhere, nor can I use it in a portfolio of any kind. It also means that any original ideas or intriguing plot points that I included in there can't be used in future writing. They're public, in all their sloppily-executed brilliance. (I use that term loosely.)

I don't really understand why there's debate about this, anyway. Whoever owns the IP should be allowed to determine whether or not they allow fanworks. If people truly respect the original work, they need to respect the creator(s) behind it.
mratfink
May. 8th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)
copyright
Hey George,
I'm in law school and took copyright law and the subject of Fanfic legality came up repeatedly. As you mention it has never been tested but there are a few things that weigh heavily against it being fair use and a few that weigh heavily in favor of it being fair use. The main argument is what is more important use of characters or the fact that it isn't intended to make money. In the end though I think it is not fair use because a judge will likely place more emphasis on the totality of the use (i.e. using whole characters).
Oh one last point, MZB didn't know a good copyright lawyer, because she probably would've been able to write that and the fanfic writer got squat. Something similar happened with Rocky 4, a random guy wrote it and it was the same idea Stallone was writing and Stallone won because even though the other guy was first and Stallone saw it, the character belonged to Stallone.
coaldustcanary
May. 8th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
I'm a huge fan of your work.

I'm also a huge fan of fanfiction, for all its fun and flaws.

I'm also a student of fannish culture, pursuing a PhD in Mass Communication, and one of the areas I research is fan communication, networking and cultural practice.

I just wanted to throw that out there, so you know where I'm coming from when I engage with some of the points you've made here.

I sympathize with your opinion on the term "fan fiction", since the practice you describe of work "by fans, for fans" predates the current use. However, I do find it interesting that early fans didn't really see a difference between the two, at least not one worth worrying over, especially since it was some of the same people writing both types of stories. One term that's gaining some ground among media fans is "transformative work", if you prefer that. However, that's based on a legal position that fanfiction is a unique transformative creative process of its own, and I have a strong feeling you'd disagree with that, so you might not like that term much better.

To be honest, I think a lot of the reaction against Ms. Gabaldon's post has come not from her dislike of fanfiction, but from her numerous comments describing those who write fanfiction as "perverts" and comparing them to adulterers and rapists. I can respect someone's disapproval of fanfic for legal or even "gut" reasons. I can certainly understand, for instance, JK Rowling's deep discomfort with "adult" material written using the Harry Potter characters and universe. But for an author who writes fiction that includes sado-masochistic themes, rape, and sexual violence out the wazoo to say that fans who write similar scenes are "perverted" and that knowing they exist is "like being forced to read porn about my own daughter" is going to make fans - who generally not only like an author's work, but like and respect the author, too - feel a little hurt.

I will also point out, since it's not clear from your post, and I think it deserves saying - the argument was pretty ugly on both sides of the issue. Plenty of Ms. Gabaldon's fans accused fanfiction writers of being the moral equivalent of rapists and murderers, talentless hacks, even pedophiles. It got real stupid, real fast.

Just my thoughts, coming from a member of the fannish community: Many fans saw her objections over the content of the fanfiction as being hypocritical and personally offensive. Cue tizzy.

On the broader topic...everyone cites the MZB story. (Though often without mentioning that she also got her start writing fanfic - Lord of the Rings fanfic that she bound and distributed, no less.) Still, the story is sad, and it's unfortunate. But one bad apple does not ruin the whole bunch. And I find it telling that you're having to reach back to Lovecraft - dead for over 70 years now - to find an example of an author who suffered greatly for not protecting his copyright, and specifically against media producers who went about selling their film adaptions and making money off it. Lovecraft didn't suffer because of fanfiction, either, and the two situations aren't all that analogous, in my opinion. Apples to oranges and all that.

Yet, in the many years since the MZB-fanfic situation - a time well before widespread Internet publishing, fanfic archives, and tens of thousands of views of individual fics - there has been not a whisper of any kind of similar situation that can be trotted out to damn fandom. Fandom has been mass-distributed at the levels it is currently for at least 10 years, by the most conservative estimates. (I'd personally add to it, as the mid- and late-90s had email listservs and early websites with thousands of readers.) Attempts by corporations to monetize fandom products - including attempts to create paid fanfiction archives - have been rejected by fans, and with extreme prejudice. On the other hand, artists who allow, tolerate and even encourage fan production within limits tend to have devoted, passionate fans who evangelize their work all over creation.

I, too, welcome more open discussion of the debate. I just hope people realize that it's far too late to set the boundaries at a simple "no" with any possible hope of them sticking.
hippoiathanatoi
May. 8th, 2010 08:27 am (UTC)
"there has been not a whisper of any kind of similar situation that can be trotted out to damn fandom. "

Not entirely true. J. Michael Straczynski had an incident take place that was at least somewhat similar, although in that case the fan who had posted a story idea that paralleled one JMS was working on was, IIRC, much less antagonistic about it.

We also don't really know how many authors have quietly shelved ideas because they've stumbled across a fan who had beaten them to it. Which isn't really an argument against fan fiction, but certainly an argument against writers engaging with it. When your livelihood is based to some degree on the uniqueness of your creations, you're putting yourself in potential danger in supporting others making use of those creations.
(no subject) - cuddlycthulhu - May. 8th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
cat_mcdougall
May. 8th, 2010 03:16 am (UTC)
I don't ever comment here, despite my love for ASoIaF, and the world you've created there.

That being said, I am a former ficcer (or fanficcer) and began by writing terrible, horrible Mary Sue fanfiction. I didn't know if the author had given permission (I later found out that limited permission had been given) and simply wrote.

I met some of my greatest friends (and an ex-fiance) through that. It does bring a sense of community. A community that often introduces people to other places they might not have known, save because someone else said "If you like this, why don't you try that? I did, 'twas awesome."

However, that community is very self-policing. The phrase "we eat our own" is often tossed around and you have at least one instance quoted to you above. It's very true. A lot of fandom polices itself and lives by the strict code "Play all you want but never do it for money."

I know this will not change your mind. I'm not attempting to. Your position is clearly stated, and very articulate. I'm not here to tell you it's wrong or right - it's yours, and that's the only thing that matters.

Mostly, I'm just here to say "Sir, I respectfully disagree, but as this is your sandbox, I will find another way to enjoy it."

Though, I am curious, what is your stance on vidding (or fanvidding) - where scenes from a movie/tv show/play are put to pieces of music in some way?
darksunlight
May. 8th, 2010 03:23 am (UTC)
I applaud your well thought out and enjoyable essay here. I've always been rather on the edge about fan fiction, myself.

One question: How do you feel about the use of characters from works of fiction being used for roleplaying purposes? Is it just fanfiction by another name, or is that more allowable?
ebtesh
May. 8th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
Thanks
I must admit that I have, during my younger years (2 years ago, hehe), looked into Fanfics. Since then I have made friends with an avid writer and fan of your work. Since then we have long arguments about this topic (He from his "greedy" writer standpoint and I from my naive knowledge of writing). In conclusion I came to that people have lost their creativity and desire to work. Instead of creating a character that they love, they choose one they already like and do not have to describe over the course of many pages. The lack of creativity I see on the Internet is disturbing, it especially disappoints me when they destroy books by my favorite authors (Neal Stepehenson, William Gibson). People may have brilliant ideas of what characters could do, but without a character that is original it feels stale.
I think aspiring writers should look for inspiration from your books, but not to steal from what you have worked so hard on (Well, I have only read Ice & Fire). Also writers don't make fantastic amounts of money (Ignore Stephen King for this example), so if they are good they deserve the cash.
layceeloo
May. 8th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
Suvudu?
For the recently fought Suvudu Cagematch thingy, they wrote "How we think this battle will go" scenerios involving the characters, some of the authors chose to write "how we think this battle will go" blurbs with their characters as well as the opposing one, and the fans also contributed "how we think this battle will go" blurbs in the comments section. How did you handle that situation in terms of your feelings about fanfic?

I feel like that is kind of the opitome of fanfic, but everyone seemed to love it.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 07:43 am (UTC)
Re: Suvudu?
Again, the line I draw is between authorized and unauthorized.

When I wrote about Jaime's fight with Kvothe, for example, it was with the full knowledge and consent of Patrick Rothfuss, who wrote his own version of the fight.
silveraspen
May. 8th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
As an initial aside, allow me please to first state that I have read and enjoyed both your Song of Ice & Fire and Ms. Gabaldon's Outlander series, and I expect to continue to do so.

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of the need to defend copyright is similar to yours. Similar, but not identical, although I note that to the best of my knowledge there has not yet been a definitive legal decision regarding noncommercial fanworks. In any case, my understanding is that noncommercial derivative work does currently fall into the gray area of fair use. (In some situations, even for-profit derivative work might so qualify, but that's for the courts to decide -- as the 11th Circuit did regarding the derivative critique of Margaret Mitchell's arguably best-known work.)

However, I must respectfully disagree with you about the clarity of the issue from a moral and ethical standpoint. The more well-known and far-reaching a work becomes, the more it passes beyond its original creator as sole arbiter and interpreter. The classic example is that of the fairy tale. Fairy tale stories have been handed down by word of mouth for generations uncounted, and have even developed into varying cultural reflections depending on the period, geographical region, and theme at the heart of the tale itself. They have been interpreted and reinterpreted for fun and for profit by authors such as Charles Perrault, Terri Windling, Ellen Datlow, Jane Yolen-- the list goes on and on, but at the heart, the tales and their themes and characters remain.

I would argue that creative work that inspires fannish writing in response is similar in nature. It engages. It fires the imagination; it makes people think and dream and ultimately consider the great question of "what-if?"

What if he hadn't died? What if she hadn't died, or married him? What if the One Ring hadn't been destroyed? What if the storm of the century never struck? What if the asteroid hit the earth? What if the Rebel Alliance lost to the Empire, and Luke Skywalker had turned to the Dark Side? What if the Enterprise was lost? What if Harry Potter was a Muggle, or just never went to Hogwarts? What if Jamie Fraser had died at Culloden?

None of the above is to say "you're wrong," or to indicate in any way that you are not entitled to your opinion. I agree that people should have their wishes respected when and if at all possible. I simply wished to offer in brief some alternative perspectives on and interpretations for a very complex issue.

Thanks for your time, and for the use of your comment space as a discussion zone.
msconduct
May. 8th, 2010 03:36 am (UTC)
Five minutes before I read your post I had been pondering my different feelings about my writing for my website and my books. With my website, I welcome feedback. With the books, it's my universe. Call me curmudgeonly, but to be honest I don't actually want to know what readers think about it or about the characters, even if that's flattering. And even less do I want them to write about it. The emotional component is more than enough for me not to want fan fiction, and the legal aspects are the icing on the cake (you list them the other way around, but I wondered which predominated for you). It's a compliment to a writer when people feel so strongly about what you write that they feel they own it too - but the fact is that they don't. Bravo.
esc_key
May. 8th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
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

As someone who works in the legal department of a publishing house, fanfiction makes me nervous sometimes. Especially when every now and again you see someone selling a Twilight story or a Star Wars story and not realizing there is something wrong with it.

However, I must refute this point above, Mr. Martin. That is not copyright law you are thinking of, that is trademark law. A trademark is only used to identify a certain business or brand. I'm sure, if your HBO pilot takes off, there will be branded "Game of Thrones" material. They will (and I believe have already) have to file with the US Patent and Trademark office to register said marks. Then once a trademark is granted to them (other companies have the chance to review and make sure they are not overlapping.) Then if HBO fails to stop people from selling things with "Game of Thrones" on it, then it can be deemed lost by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

However, copyright is yours whether you register it or not, technically. A registration is done with the US Library of Congress, not the US Patent and Trademark Office, and it's only strictly necessary for infringement and other legal proceedings. (You hear a lot about the "poor man's" copyright of mailing your manuscript to yourself in writers communities...) And once it is registered, it is yours for your lifetime plus 70 years after your death, unless you assign it to someone else. You can't lose it.

That's why our industry is having such a hard time with "orphan works" in the Google and other digital scanning situations. No one is really sure who the works belong to anymore, but it doesn't matter that no one has come forward to claim them. They can't be "made" public domain and put up on Project Guttenberg (or a similar site) because that's not how the law works. It belongs to someone out there, even if they don't know it and won't enforce it.
katiepult
May. 8th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your views with us. Personally, while I don't agree 100% with it in regards to non-profit works, I can understand your point of view with for-profit works. Heck, I completely agree with tar and feathering anyone who tried to sell a story without your permission... and I'd like to think that 99.99% of the fans out there who write fanfic believe the same. The few who threaten to sue the authors are extremely rare and, like another poster mentioned, are chased off the internet with a vengeance. Believe it or not, fans are looking out for their own interests as well as the authors when it comes to fan fiction.

However, while I believe legally you cannot do a thing about parodies, satires and spoofs... how do you feel about them? They're playing in your playground, building castles in your sandbox, just like other non-profit fanfic works, but I believe they're legal. I'm sure you'd know better than I would about that subject.

Edited at 2010-05-08 03:42 am (UTC)
lifftchi
May. 8th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Disclaimer: Everything I know about the law comes from the Wikipedia.

That said, I'm pretty sure it's impossible to abandon copyright in the U.S.A. without an explicit waiver. It's certainly possible to lose rights in a trademark, as in "genericised trademarks", but copyright is completely different.

From Hampton v. Paramount:
Rights gained under the Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq., may be abandoned. Abandonment of such rights, however, must be manifested by some overt act indicative of a purpose to surrender the rights and allow the public to copy.

Of course, this in no way detracts from the other compelling arguments made in this post. I just feel that it's important to clearly distinguish between copyright and trademark.
dark_majesty
May. 8th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
You know, I don't really care for fanfic stuff as a general rule. As far as HPL goes . . . I think he was a little TOO liberal with whom he let work in his mythos. Howard and Smith were one thing, and both did it justice when they did dabble. Even Brian Lumley did fantastic stuff with his Titus Crow series. But I don't care much for the liberties Derleth took with the whole storyline. He even changed the Elder Sign completely! I'm a huge fan of the actual Cthulhu stories (IE - those written by HPL). In that Suvudu cage match thing I even posted as "The Mad Arab" to defend the mythos and make my own nod to HPL as I did it. But I don't think of anyone else's writings as "Cthulhu." That was his creation and his alone. Am I happy these writers added to Cthulhu's popularity and have kept him well known over the past 70 or 80 years? Yes, in a way. But I still think they should have let the Great Old Ones fade with their creator and forged their own worlds instead.

I adore Jaime Lannister. I think he's one of the best written characters I have ever read. And so I would not want to read him speaking someone else's words. Or have some other hack writer make him sparkle in daylight, or make him a Jedi, etc. The same goes for the rest of the Ice and Fire world. It's your world and it should stay that way.

I will admit, however, to making Jaime in Soul Calibur IV on the Xbox 360 to beat a friend of mine into the dirt and smugly say "A Lannister pays his debts." Hope you don't mind that little liberty. :)
dhirallin
May. 8th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
I think the problem here is not fan fiction, but the laws currently in place to protect authors.

Firstly, you will _never_ be able to stop people from appropriating other people's ideas for the sake of a laugh or some low-level attention. To do so is practically to go against hunan society's social nature.

Secondly fan fiction writers for the most part are not causing authors any harm whatsoever. Therefore you only need to deal with the few cases that are actually harming an author.

The case of Marion Zimmer Bradley you mentioned does not seem like a good argument against fan fiction. Because the problem there is not the fan fiction but that the author of the fan fiction feels that they have ownership rights to ideas based on someone else's copyrighted work. Where do you draw the line here though? For example, if I went on a fantasy blog and started saying 'I wonder if Theon Greyjoy is one of the 3 dragon riders. I wonder if Jon Snow is the son of Eddard's sister and Rhaegar Targaryen. Then George Martin decides to include those ideas in his book, can I sue him for heaps of money? Of course not, because it's just some ideas on a blog. So if I go back and edit my blog post so that it's in story form, or poem form or whatever. Do that now entitle me to sue George Martin for heaps of money? No of course not. Everyone can clearly see this is not the case. It's clear that MZB would have won any court case brought against her, and probably could have claimed some nice counter damages in the process. I'm convinced the law would have protected her in any sane court. Why did MZB scrap her book and start hating fan fiction simply because some nut job threatened her without legal cause. A person's idea should not be so easily influenced by some idiot IMHO.

Looking at a more legitimate case against fan fiction. The whole HPL vs ERB. I don't really know the full story here, so I can't say for sure whether HPL and ERB's wealth discrepency was anything to do with copyright or fan fiction. But just for the sake of playing along: The problem here is not fan fiction, the problem is the laws were not adequate to protect HPL's financial interests.

What authors need is something like what they have for open source software. If you know anything about the GNU Public License, it entitles anyone to edit someone ele's software freely, but prohibits them from making money from it without the author's express permission. Why didn't they have anything like this for Lovecraft? Rather than trying to crush fan fiction in totalitarian fashion, one should more clearly differentiate between harmless and harmful forms of fan fiction. I'm not convinced by your arguements which suggest that the line between these two cases is inseperably blurred, or that people can use harmless fan fiction as a legal basis for crossing the line. And if that is the case, then authors should band together to close these legal loop holes and make a better, more discerning legal system for everyone.



hippoiathanatoi
May. 8th, 2010 08:31 am (UTC)
I think the MZB case was that someone sent a short story or a detailed plot breakdown for a story. I think just a random idea is not likely to draw much heat. But if you're writing a story with a number of points of simiarity to someone else's plot, that can certainly be grounds for suits.

This has happened many, many times in Hollywood, in relation to scripts. Someone submits a treatment of something, two years later someone else produces a film with some degree of similarity in a configuration which looks suspicious, and so on. I believe the Eddie Murphy film, Coming to America, is one example. Another is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which led to a lawsuit against Alan Moore which permanently soured him on Hollywood.
(no subject) - monksp - May. 8th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
skittled
May. 8th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
I skimmed over a lot of the comments in her blog, too. I've written my fair share of fics. And, I'll admit, I did want to write fic for your books. Any time I've come across a series I want to write about, though, I look up the author's stance simply because so many authors are against it. They don't want fanfic? I don't write it. Even for myself. Since I'm not published, I don't honestly know if fanfic would bother me, so I'm not about to step on anyone's toes.

I don't think fanfics are bad (so long as, obviously, the fanfic writer isn't attempting to make a profit off it), but -- yeah. Bothers the author? Don't do it. If someone loves the series enough to want to write for it, then they should love the author enough to respect their wishes.

Uh. Great blog post, in other words. I hadn't heard of some of these incidents before.
anenquirer
May. 8th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
A fanfictioneer's (teehee) opinion
As a long time reader and writer of fanfiction, I thought I'd make a livejournal account to throw in my two cents. I personally consider it a tremendous loss that you would discourage the writing of fanfiction. I have never viewed fanfiction as competing in any way with the original material. I read and write fanfiction because I have a voracious appetite for fiction, and no matter how much original content there is I am never satisfied. When an author creates a fictional world with the depth and brilliance of yours, I cannot help but wish to explore every possibility, expand on every minor character, imagine every possible alternate outcome. I am in awe of the work, and simply wish there was more of it. That said, as a fan, I will respect your wishes, even as I mourn for what might have been. Thank you, nevertheless, for creating with such indescribable grandeur that you have so encouraged myself and others to do likewise.
galorette
May. 8th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
I really respect and support your position. (Some of my friends who write and enjoy fanfic would strangle me...)

I write, and I read voraciously, but it's never struck me as a good way to develop myself as a writer, playing in someone else's sandbox without their consent. Probably because I'd like to someday be the one with the sandbox...
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