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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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__kat__
May. 8th, 2010 04:45 am (UTC)
Fanfic borrows (oftentimes without asking), but if the creator says you can't have it then it becomes stealing.

I'll admit to reading some when my favorite TV show went on hiatus, it takes the edge off of the withdrawl.

I really can't fathom why someone who is a proposed fan of the original work would willingly do something they know would upset the writer. It would be like walking up to you, telling you they are your biggest fan, then pulling your hair and poking you in the eye.
caseyjp
May. 8th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
we agree on something!
As a writer who is not published...yet...I think you and Ms. Gabaldon are spot on the money here. I write for the love of writing, but the blood tears and sweat involved in the process as well as the ownership/copyright issues would have me doing a serious 'grrr-arrgh' if someone were to take my characters and do with them as they would.

I've never understood fan-fic personally, as my mind is creative enough with my OWN stories and characters to venture into that realm. In my mind its always been 'shippers' and lazy or bad writing to fulfill a fantasy rather than to truly be creative and create something new or original.

That said, the flipside to the coin would be Naomi Novik. She cut her teeth writing fan fic, and while I am not a fan of fanfic...I'm kinda' glad she did.

Good blog post!
nestdweller
May. 8th, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
Fan fiction is a blind date. You could end up with an amazing encounter, you could end up wanting to chew your own arm off at the end of the night.

Having swum those waters my own self, I can't speak for the reasons of others that indulge. My own reason is: It's kind of fun to play 'what if'. For someone that's at least creative enough to thread together a butterfly effect, you get things like, 'what if Arya encountered a benevolent caretaker after she ended up on her own', or 'what if Golden Boy didn't sell out' (I don't think he was yours, but since you're the editor, I figure I'm not too out of line in citing him). For people who enjoy the medium, seeing what could have been can be as amusing as seeing what's set in canon stone.

That said, the permission issue is all. You have made your statement that you do not care for your works to be re-hashed in the hypothetical realm, money notwithstanding. End of statement. Anyone with half a soul should be able to figure out that one. That is your stand, and the vast majority of the fan fiction writers out there will respect that. So thank you for making your wishes known.

While I'm fuzzy on the legalities of fair use and creative commons, there is one thought that sticks with me, and I'm not sure if it's entirely correct or not, but it's what I've had the opportunity to observe: Jo Rowling did not become a billionaire despite or because of her unconcerned stance on fan fiction. She just kept a death grip on the commercial use her work was put to. (Plus, y'know, selling gazillions of copies of 10 books in goodness knows how many countries, plus movie rights, but that's just business sense there, given how well the series was received.)

And fan fiction notwithstanding, I sincerely hope that the HBO production of your work does well for you, and I anxiously await the rest of your stories both written and video.
drdzoe
May. 8th, 2010 04:50 am (UTC)
Two points:

1. I'm not a lawyer. I don't have any IP lawyers on staff. But George Lucas has a host of them. And he famously has been extremely welcoming to cinematic fan fiction, including minor masterpieces like "Troops" and "George Lucas in Love". But the existence of fanfilms has not thrown the Star Wars universe into the public domain. So clearly there's some way to thread the IP needle to allow fanfic without losing copyright. (I think it has to do with restricting fanfic creators from profiting, but again, I am not a lawyer and don't know for certain.)

2. You have welcomed the role-playing community to run games in your universes, including participating in projects such as GURPS Wildcards (which I appreciate, btw: I've been in an on-again off-again GURPS Wildcards campaign that's lasted almost two decades, with, in the best shared-universe spirit, rotating GM's) and the Westeros miniatures that you often plug herein. I've always thought of RPG's as a kind of collaborative fiction-writing. So what's different about RPG's that you welcome fan use of your worlds in that context but not in a fanfic context? (I'm willing to bet that a fair number of campaigns have done things with your characters that would not get the George RR Martin Seal of Approval!)
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:29 am (UTC)
I am not a lawyer either, so I won't address (1) except to say, when you have as much money and as many lawyers as Lucas has, you can pretty well make up whatever rules you want.

As for (2), as I said in another reply, the RPGs are fully licensed products. I was paid for them, I review the content, and if I hadn't wanted to do 'em, I could just have said, "no, thanks."

Fan fiction does not allow the original creator the option of saying "no, thanks." For me, that's the difference.
(no subject) - drdzoe - May. 8th, 2010 12:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
meikochan
May. 8th, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
While I don't disagree with your opinions, I feel I have to disagree with your analysis of the Lovecraft and Burroughs situation. Burroughs' work was extremely popular in his own lifetime, and he stood to lose a lot if he lost the rights to Tarzan. Lovecraft, on the other hand, only sold a few stories in his lifetime, to mostly small circulation magazines. He most likely would have died penniless regardless of the existence derivative works (also he had no children and his wife was estranged, so there wasn't really an estate that lost out either). In fact, it was his encouragement to authors to write in his universes that gave him any notability. His work wasn't popular until a while after he died, and it was mostly due to the efforts of other authors writing in his world. Without fanfiction, no one would likely have heard of Cthulhu.

Also to consider, they were two very different writers. I can certainly understand an author not wanting their children to be taken over by other parents; I certainly would not want that for any of my characters. On the other hand, Lovecraft's work is not generally what I would call character-driven. He doesn't seem to have as much affection for characters as he does for plot, mood, and circumstance. Perhaps this has something to do with how authors fall along the pro/con fanfiction lines.

Secondly, a question: would you support a copyright law system similar to what is employed in some other countries—one that is less punitive to unauthorized derivative works but is much kinder in allowing the author to maintain copyright in the face of derivative works? True, it would mean more people potentially abusing characters, but it seems worth it to overlook that if it means not worrying about losing the characters all together.

Edited at 2010-05-08 04:52 am (UTC)
hippoiathanatoi
May. 8th, 2010 12:34 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on the Lovecraft-Burroughs issue. I don't think it's a good comparison for GRRM's purposes, because the two simply weren't equals at any point in time. Burroughs hit it big much more readily.
adrun
May. 8th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
I completely agree with the points you make in this post. Though I'm not very familiar with the intricacies of the legal issues, it seems only reasonable that your work is yours to continue or end as you choose. For someone else to use your world or characters for their own ends could damage what you have already done, detract from your future work, and, if done for profit, literally steal your income.

On a more instinctive level, the idea of writing with another author's characters seems a bit like wearing someone else's underwear. An outsider may not always be able to tell, but it's a violation of something personal that is just wrong.
koboldninja_5
May. 8th, 2010 04:55 am (UTC)
This was a very informative post, so thank you for that. I have never tried my hand at fanfic, but mostly because if and when I write fiction I want to come up with characters I think are interesting, compelling and creative, not to use characters that other (and better) writers have made. I am interested in connecting with them as a reader, not make them dance to my tune.

It is a somewhat different set of circumstances, but I kept coming back to Brandon Sanderson and the Wheel of Time, and then the Cage match from a few weeks back. He didn't want to write narrative for the match because Rand was not his. In that and reading several of his blog posts that is a set of tightly controlled circumstances and he is honored to complete WoT, but he is just finishing the story that Jordan created. They are not and will never be his characters.
(Deleted comment)
dark_majesty
May. 8th, 2010 06:48 am (UTC)
Re: I fully agree.
Yes HPL and REH did indeed trade off ideas in each other's work. They were close correspondants from what I understand, and if you read Conan closely, he does fight a few things that seem taken right out of HPL's neck of the woods. But REH even had his own little corner in the mythos: his fictional tome of forbidden lore, the "Unaussprechlichen Kulten" and it's equally fictional author Friedrich von Junzt were referenced by HPL. Indeed, the tome was compared to Lovecraft's own (and yes, also fictional no matter what some publishers would have you believe) Necronomicon. No mean feat. :)
qualistarian
May. 8th, 2010 04:58 am (UTC)
From a legal point of view, the issue of whether fanfic is fair use is a little grayer than you'd probably like. The 4 criteria for determining whether something is fair use are:

1) How much got used
2) What it was used for
3) What the copyrighted work being used was
4) The effect of the use on the market for the original work.

The problem is that #4 is overwhelmingly the most important, and there's a strong case to be made that anybody writing or reading fanfic of your work is already very likely to be one of your readers, so the effect on your market is minimal.

By contrast, if someone were to write an unauthorized version of an ASoI&F RPG or computer game (for example), that would obviously fail to be fair use because it would affect a market you are, or could be, in.

Unfortunately, fanfic is one area of copyright law that will most likely never get resolved because nobody's going to want to pay to litigate against the broke 16-25 year-olds that make up some 95% of all fanfic writers.

Personally, I think that if someone wants to play in your sandbox, they can pony up the money to Green Ronin for the licensed RPG, get some friends together, and mess around with canon to their heart's content in the way that you've already authorized.

I think, by and large, most fanfic writers will respect your request not to use your characters. You might anger a few people, but that's the price you pay for maintaining control over your work, and there's been a conflict between control & exposure for as long as there's been copyright; if you wanted to maximize exposure at the expense of your control over your works, you'd just put them in the public domain.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:38 am (UTC)
Your four criteria make a useful yardstick, but there's not always a lot of sense to the way the courts apply them.

Yes, #4 should be the most important... but in cases like the song lyrics I wanted to use in ARMAGEDDON RAG (see my reply to an earlier comment elsewhere in this thread), it seems to be completely disregarded. I made that very point to my attorney twenty five years ago. "How can it harm the market for the original work?" I asked him. "You mean to say, some people out there are going to say, 'No, I don't need to buy this Beatles album, I've just read two lines of the lyrics of Sgt. Pepper in a chapter heading in this George R.R. Martin novel.'" He laughed. I laughed. But if I had used those lyrics without permission, there was a good chance I would have lost the case, and then I would stopped laughing.
(no subject) - coolwhipdiva - May. 8th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
nycfalcon
May. 8th, 2010 04:58 am (UTC)
I don't see why fans need to write a story in somebody else's universe. It's so easy to co-opt fictional universes simply by renaming places and people. Ninety-five point two percent (scientifically proven) of fiction is rehash anyway.

So try to be original, even if it means copying. It has worked for many successful writers. How many financially or even critically successful fan fiction novels or collections are there anyway?

BTW, I didn't read more than a few words of George's post and none of that woman what's-her-name.
nategator007
May. 8th, 2010 05:15 am (UTC)
In response to JRRT comment, I felt the same way about those horrid books. Sadly, I still ended up reading all of them--just to find out what was supposed to be the ending. Please live a long life and make sure that you have a author's will in place in case (god forbid) we face another situation and get a Jordan caliber finish instead of a um...looney one.

GRRM is completely right on his legal obligations. But aside from that, any fan fiction I have read has been simply horrid. Any efforts to stamp out that plague is well-received. Yes, I know that some enjoy the stuff but most of us do not, hence we largely ignore them.

Also, in case people bring up the rich author v. impoverished fans argument. I want GRRM to make oodles of money, so I never want to see anyone else taking away a revenue stream. Why? Well, eventually GRRM will end up having his lifestyle gobble up whatever money he makes (the ol' "treadmill effect"), making him addicted to the increased money he makes, that demands he keeps on writing, which means I get more GRRM books/novellas/comics/TV shows that I love or will presumably love, preferably in the ASOIAF please.

Fanfic threatens, implicitly and explicitly, GRRM's earning capacity that so down with crappy fanfic and hooray for more money to professional writers like GRRM!

And yes, I'm serious.
illix
May. 8th, 2010 05:18 am (UTC)
Huh. I never thought about that particular legal angle of fanfic before - the "copyright must be defended" one. I wonder if all the disclaimers most people will put on their stuff actually hold any legal standing? I like the idea of fanfiction existing, if for no other reason than people should be encouraged to try to write and express themselves as much as possible in the hopes that maybe some of them will one day get it right, but I absolutely do not want to interfere with your ability to make a living off your art.

Anyway, I sort of agree and sort of disagree with you here. Like I said, I didn't think of that particular legal wrinkle before, and that's a good point. But setting that aside, while I can understand getting really attached to your characters and not wanting someone else to make off with them, I don't see that that's necessarily a reason to ban fanfiction, but rather an incentive to not read it and not comment on it. As a diehard fan of certain stories, I will occasionally get angry when I see fanfic that, in my opinion, horribly distorts the characters or the universe; I just ignore it. Everybody gets to have their own interpretation of these things.

Of course, it's different if you are in fact the benevolent god of this particular universe, in which case it is your interpretation that has priority. But I think that's why we have a separation between fandom and canon; and even then, particularly in large universes, there are often things that people ignore or declare noncanon because they find them jarring or out of character. Stories become more than just stories to people because they strike something deep and resonant, and what that is varies from person to person. I would say that everyone has a slightly different experience of a book, filters it through a slightly different mesh of personality and experiences and culture and preferences; and if you then complete the feedback loop and have that person attempt to express back to the writer what that story made them feel, you're going to get a different answer every single time, some of which you may not like. You write these stories and you send them out into the world and you can't control what people think when they read them. If they hate a character you love, well, that's that. It shouldn't change your personal estimation of the character, or your sense of who they are.

Like I said, the last thing I want to do is interfere with someone's attempt to make a living by writing. It seems like that's hard enough to do without your own fans getting in the way. But I think there is a live and let live argument to be made here. I don't think fanfic authors are malicious, or lazy, or copycats. I think they're, by and large, people who love something and want to show it. Nobody's going to get them confused with the original author, and nobody's going to stop buying canon works just because they're reading fanfic. There's a difference between allowing other authors to play with your characters within the parameters of the Wild Cards universe and allowing fanfic to exist; in the first case you have implicitly given these people's interpretations your seal of approval, whereas no one goes into a fanfic expecting the original writer to have signed off on every nuance. Yeah, it sucks when somebody completely mishandles your characters; but string theorists keep publishing papers and I can't do anything about them either. They get to have their opinions, and they get to express them in whatever form that may take. Other than the legal issues, how is a fanfic different from, for example, somebody writing an essay saying, "I disagree with the way GRRM treated X in this situation; I felt he should have done Y and Z instead, because I interpret his character thusly?" Would that make you as angry? I would say you have a total right to completely ignore fanfic, and a total right to say something like "I really hate how this person treated character X" if that's how you feel, but not good reason to try and stop people from writing it altogether (unless, as previously mentioned, it starts to cause actual legal problems).
awibs
May. 8th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
What is your feeling on overt parody/satire, such as what the people at suvudu posted using your characters?

I ask because I feel it is comparable to the way things like Saturday Night Live are allowed to use copyrighted names, titles, characters, plot arcs, etc in their skits, because they are clearly *mocking* it as opposed to plagiarizing it.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC)
Parody and satire are fine, and are legally protected. That tradition has existed for centuries, and was firmly reestablished in modern times by the lawsuits MAD magazine had to fight in its early days, defending it right to make fun of comic book stalwarts and trademarked products.
toddmorgan
May. 8th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
I have a feeling that a lot of the fanfic authors would feel a different way about fanfiction were it them with their own world and characters and someone else were using them to write ff. Just a theory, mind you.....
minviendha
May. 8th, 2010 06:53 am (UTC)
Actually, most of the fanfiction authors I've spoken to say that they would be pleased at best, and at the very worst slightly disgruntled, to find fanfiction of their work. My own policy, in the (somewhat unlikely) event that I ever get published, would be to politely look away, and that's the most extreme policy I've ever heard a fanfic writer espouse. *shrug*

Just my two cents.
(no subject) - elaran - May. 8th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC) - Expand
ashtur
May. 8th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
This is an issue I've kind of gone full circle on a few different times. I've done some "fan fiction" in the Harry Potter universe (who is one author that does allow it).

That said, it's my experiences within that universe which have soured me to a fair extent on the whole endeavor. The development of Potter-fic has been quite interesting, as many stories were done long before Deathly Hallows. By the very nature of the exercise, most fanfics were rendered "null and void" by later books, as new characters, concepts and events were revealed. That said, the sheer amount of anger that came out as favorite fics were made "obsolete" was just mindblowing. Even when Rowling would let a tidbit of information out now and again, it would incite near-riots as it contradicted what some of the better known fics had in them.

What was more though, was the sheer lack of respect I saw for characters and characterization. People had no real qualms about rewriting and redefining characters in ways that were clearly not what Rowling had in mind, and would often go against the very nature of the series.

I've since moved on, and while I now write very little, it's original. I know my talents are not the sort to get me published, but that's life. They are an outlet for me, and something I can show to my friends. That said, I'd not want my characters or world to be used in those ways.
trillian4210
May. 8th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
As a former fan-ficcer (?) I can list all sorts of reasons why it's a good thing. But not everyone stays within the bounds of the law and treats the authors' works and wishes with respect. This is the internet, afterall, and trolls abound. Not surprising either, is the outrage that boiled over on Gabaldon's site. (I'm sure there's already a catchy name for it out there in the 4chan/urbandictionary/fandom wank sites, like FanficFail2010)

I think, by and large, fanfiction is Mostly Harmless but I can see it from the other side; how a writer wouldn't like others to trespass on their intellectual property. I think, though, the real issue isn't to fanfic or not to fanfic. The issue is treating the original work and its creator(s) with respect, to keep it legal, and to not be a raging douchebag about it if the author doesn't like it. But again, this is the internet. The free-for-all mentality provided by anonymity is sometimes just too much for some people to ignore.

In short, fanfiction doesn't hurt anything, usually. The number of instances of actual infringement seem to be small. But trying to discuss it, to debate it, to have a decent conversation about why it bothers an author, like Gabaldon did...THAT's the painful stuff.

And this: Metaphors seemed to spark much of the outrage here.

No truer words.
nerio8
May. 8th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
Definition of Fan Fic
Thanks for the post GRRM, and this is a good chance for me to clear up in my head what fanfic actually is.
which one of these or is maybe both of these fanfic?

1. Some minor lord..lets call him Whitespring, sworn to the North goes off on some adventures beyond the wall.

2. Jon Stark and his first combat against some widlings when he was 12 years old.

Are both of these fan fic or is it just the second? Must it include the characters or just the world?

In my mind an author really should create there own world....fanfic just seems so unimaginative.
ravaena
May. 8th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
While I understand your point of view - I kind of disagree. To me, fan fiction is like someone reading your book, and then sitting down and imagining an alternate scenario using your characters/setting. Sure, you made the characters but people have the right to imagine whatever they like. And putting those private fancies to paper to share with a few friends... doesn't seem like a hugely offensive stretch to me.

As long as no one is trying to make money out of it, I guess I don't really see the harm.

/2cents
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:46 am (UTC)
Writing something for your private amusement and "sharing it with a few friends" is the way it used to be, and that was one reason why many writers of my generation felt that fan fiction was no big deal.

But the internet has changed the ground rules. Now the "few friends" can number in the tens of thousands, maybe the hundreds of thousands. Many of comments on Diana's blog made a point of saying how large the fanfic community was. I have no idea what sort of real numbers we are talking about here... but I think there's a vast difference between a few friends and thousands of strangers.
(no subject) - thiagokrause - May. 8th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chinawolf - May. 8th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
lilithschilde
May. 8th, 2010 05:27 am (UTC)
I've been known to write and read fan fic, and I very much enjoy it, but I would respect an authors wishes in this regards. For instance, I believe I remember Katherine Kurtz encouraging it, and even publishing some of it, but she did have certain limits or exceptions.

The way I figure it, it's not that an author doesn't appreciate that fans love their world so much that they're inspired to keep the stories going, it's that this is their creation and livelihood and they have to do what they feel is right for their own future.

I'm sorry for Diana that this has gotten ugly. I admit that I haven't read her work, but I wish her well and hope this blows over soon.
jasonbrust
May. 8th, 2010 05:30 am (UTC)
Now I want a steak.
strangedave
May. 8th, 2010 05:31 am (UTC)
I think you are being just a little over simplistic with the ERB, HPL comparison. During their lifetimes, ERB had many successful films made of his work, but HPL based films did not appear until the 1970s, long after his death - there is no way a reasonable share of the proceeds of the films would have ever prevented him dying in poverty, unless they were made 40 years earlier (and were hits at the time). HPL wrote mostly short stories (notoriously, seldom a path to wealth), ERB wrote many serial novels. While HPL never made money from his work, other writers who were part of his 'shared world' coterie and contributed freely to the mythos were successful - notably Robert Bloch. And the aggregate effect of the Lovecraft mythos was unlikely to have made anyone rich - it was influential, but not a huge popular sucesss at the time, it is not as if if Bloch and CAS etc would have been able to make HPL rich by providing him with royalties from their sales to the pulps.

And, of course, since his death ERBs work has been incorporated into shared world stories, most notably by Phillip José Farmer. In some cases by filing the names (but little else) off, but in some cases not. Farmers work (or more recently, Alan Moores League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is essentially indistinguishable from fanfic, other than being published by professional authors. I don't think anyone can realistically draw a line between such extravagant works of pastiche and allusion, and fanfic. I'd be interested to hear your opinion on such works.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
Alan Moore presents some interesting cases, actually.

Moore is an immensely talented writer, I think, perhaps the best ever to work in comics. But because he has worked in comics, much of his career has been spent working with characters created by other people.

With LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, he drew on a number of classic Victorian characters (Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, etc)... but all of them, I believe, in the public domain. He did some wonderful things with those characters. (In the comics. Disregard the awful awful movie). I don't know of anyone who had a problem with that.

His more recent LOST GIRLS is more controversial, however. In that one, he used Alice (from Wonderland), Dorothy (from Oz), and Wendy (from Peter Pan) in a story that was hardcore pornography. Some people loved it, some people were outraged. Again, all the characters were in the public domain, so there was no legal issue (well, except in the UK, due to the unique legal status of Peter Pan)... but I suspect if the three original authors had still been alive, this would have stopped their hearts soon enough. Somehow I doubt that L. Frank Baum would have smiled happily at scenes of Dorothy sucking the Scarecrow's cock while getting taken anally by the Tin Woodman.

Of course, Baum is long gone. So is Ruth Plumly Thompson, for that matter. So, does it matter? I confess, I have mixed feelings on this one. I have no problem with porn per se, no matter how graphic... but even though the original creators may be dead, these characters still mean a great deal to a lot of readers. Of course, that was part of Moore's point, no doubt. Else why use them?

Moore's classic WATCHMAN series is also an interesting case in point. He first proposed the idea to DC as a vehicle for a stable of characters that DC had just acquired from a defunct company called Charlton. The story was to feature Blue Beetle, the Question, the Peacemaker, Captain Atom, and the rest of the Charlton crew. But DC, which owned the characters, did not want them used in the ways Moore was proposing, so they asked him to tell the same story with original characters instead.

And so he did. But the outlines of the original Charlton characters can still be made out clearly under the costumes of the Watchmen. It's not hard. Nite Owl is Blue Beetle (Ditko version), Rorschach is a more extreme version of the Question, Dr. Manhattan is Captain Atom taken to the Nth power, etc.

The result was the most successful graphic novel of all time... and the best, I think. So some good CAN come of the "file off the serial numbers and give the character a new name" approach, I suppose.

But note the key role played by DC, who in this scenario stood in for the Charlton creators. They had the power to say "no," and they used it.

Moore does push the envelope, no doubt of that. His work makes the grey areas even greyer.
(no subject) - hippoiathanatoi - May. 8th, 2010 09:19 am (UTC) - Expand
barristans_sqir
May. 8th, 2010 05:40 am (UTC)
RPGs
As "narrator" in our biweekly Song of ice and fire roleplaying Game. (Green Ronin)
I tackled the task of trying to write in your shoes, a storyline for the campaign. Your houses are there. Your characters. Still alive, Haha.
Does this also rankle? Some may argue that its not a story. I find that insulting considering I have never worked so hard on the story in an RPG. Of course those are mighty large shoes to fill. None-the-less, It would be good to know your feelings about people "abusing" your creations in this way. I know its intended/expressed consent and its not like people are publishing the games, But does it bother you to know that one of my players wants to "rape" Stannis? Targarian loyalists... hating their liege.. what can you do? ;)
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Re: RPGs
The Green Ronin rpg is a fully licensed and approved product. Green Ronin outbid half a dozen other games companies for the rights, and paid me a substantial amount of money. All their artwork and text is personally vetted and reviewed by me (the game stats and rules I leave to them).

It's hardly the same as fanfic.
Re: RPGs - barristans_sqir - May. 8th, 2010 06:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: RPGs - billyabbott - May. 8th, 2010 07:45 am (UTC) - Expand
indiresponses
May. 8th, 2010 05:40 am (UTC)
Sorry for the length, I missed the day they taught brevity.
Ok, let's start with I have read all of A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'm looking forward to the next book (take your time, I'll just be counting on you to make it worth the wait), and I tell all my friends to read the series as well.

And with that I'll wipe the brown off my nose. Let me say, I'm not a fan of unauthorized derivative works (well except for Art of the Saber, a Star Wars fan film, I mention it for a reason). I do, however, personally applaud the stance that George Lucas takes. "Just don't try to make money off of it." It's worked pretty well for him, and although I've seen many works inspired by Star Wars, I haven't seen (many) blatant rip offs (in the interest of your wish for no name calling I'll not name names).

Stephen King has a policy, as I understand it, of allowing film students to option his short stories for $1, as long as they do not attempt to profit. Again, I see influence, but few rip offs.

Now there is an obvious difference between George Lucas and Stephen King and many other authors. They have made enough money that they will not be ruined if one of their sources of income is compromised. I don't know if that influences their thinking, or if it is that they have enough money that if they see something they feel crosses the copyright point of no return they have the resources to combat them the the culprit without coming within bowshot of their last dimes.

I believe that authors have the right to request fans stay out of their worlds. I also believe that fans have an obligation to follow an author's wishes. For those that choose not to, however, I feel that, if they have obviously made no attempt to profit from thier works, that they have done nothing worse than be rude, I don't know if it is fair use, but it is fairly meant.

There is something I would like to ask Mr. Martin, however. I apologize for the hypothetical nature of the situation I will propose, because I know they are inherently fuzzy and commonly inapplicable to the real world, but please bear with me.

What I am curious about I will outline in three cases and ask for how you would respond, I'll understand if you do not want to commit to a comment on such things, in case a similar (yet not identical) situation ever presents itself.

First would you consider it an infringement if someone wrote a story set in a fantasy world of medieval technology and wide ranging peoples and geographies, specifically if in this world there was a sworn brotherhood, let's call them Sentinels of the Shieldwall. Men of various and commonly unsavory backgrounds who swear their lives in service. What if this brotherhood had once been well thought of, but in recent years had seen it's shine fade?

Second, and this specific one did happen, I was writing a story about an orphan who was to one day found an empire. It wasn't very good, in fact it was just a backstory for a character in a (non-Song of Ice and Fire) RPG. I knew your stance on fan fiction, but I really love your idea for naming bastards. I mean, I really do. The image, the sort of band of unwanted that the last name makes. Anyway, I could only think of naming my character X Hill, and have it be because the "hills were his father because no one else would claim him." Again, knowing your stance, I chose not to use that name. I left him without a last name. Now for a case like that, would you object to someone using that one idea in an otherwise totally different world? Would it matter whether the story was only written for 4 or 5 friends to read or if it was posted online, or if it were published formally?

I thought I had a third, but if I did, I forgot it. And regardless, I've gone on too long, I think.

Allow me to say in closing that I thank you for your books, they've given me joy. And though I disagree with your stance, and the absolute nature of it, I believe I understand your reasons for taking it and I respect it. If I were someone who would write unauthorized derivative works, I would refrain from doing so with your creations. If you choose to respond I thank you in advance. For all of those who took the time to read this, thank you. For all of those who feel that time was wasted, I apologize.
tokinone
May. 8th, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
I'm going to lead with hearty gratz on maintaining a charged thread that hasn't devolved into name calling by the jungle gym. I'd be interested in seeing a prune meter letting us know how many posts have been scrubbed.

As I read through the OP and a few of the comments from the peanut gallery I couldn't get this image out of my head. I kept seeing these four greasy faced tweens in a garage pounding out a barely recognizable version of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid". They are terrible, btw. The singer has no concept of tone, pitch, or key. The drummer is constantly trying to add fills and riffs where they don't belong, the guitar player is plinking every other note, and the bass player just isn't quick enough to hit the important quick notes between lines. If Ozzy Osbourne or Tony Iommi had heard us... err... them they would have cried at the utter train-wreck that had become of one of their most iconic works.

My mind then jumped to Metallica, shrieking incoherently about Napster one minute while creating one half of a double disc album consisting solely of cover songs the next. An album released at every music store nationwide and selling millions of copies.

That may have been a bit of a rambling preamble, but take from it what you will.

I have a somewhat specific angle on this. What about other types of media?

Sorry to spill my nerd all over the screen, but if you stick with me I'm confident my point will emerge. My buddies and I have been intermittent table top gamers over the years and have played campaigns in a variety of worlds created by a variety of sources. Originally we played in the generic D&D world, then we started trying out some of the campaign settings. We favored the Forgotten Realms which was created by Ed Greenwood, an author of no small note, and for a period of time we voraciously consumed all the content that he and the good people at TSR (RIP) put out for it.

After a while we were ready for more, so we started checking out "fan-modules". They were always free with ability to donate (which I did frequently, they didn't make the world, but they but forth a good bit of effort to bring a bit of it to life). Some of these were so popular that they were published with full credit given to the author. Not Ed Greenwood or R.A. Salvatore despite the fact that it happened in Greenwood's world and that the adventurers run into a group of Salvatore's characters that I'm quite sure he considers his children. Is that wrong?

One step further... its been several years since I've done any sort of table top gaming, but recently a buddy of mine and I have begun working on a tabletop version of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Never, EVER, would I write Roland into a story, but I would certainly have no trouble trying to imagine what Gilead looked like in the time of King Arthur. I'd also do my best to put my players into that place. Would Mr. King mind if our visions are different?

Sorry for the text wall, but this is an intriguing discussion.

aghrivaine
May. 8th, 2010 05:50 am (UTC)
I hadn't thought of this in light of the points you made. The most telling of these is, to me, that Marion Zimmer Bradley. As an aspiring writer myself - if one of my works were to become popular enough to have a following, and if those followers wanted to write stories in my world (coming soon to a science-fiction/fantasy section near you!) I'd be upset to realize that I would effectively be barred from using any story device or creative thought that any fan had also had, however obscure. This is a unique issue that faces writers, and thank you for pointing it out in a non-sensational, and importantly - non-judgmental way.

It's far more effective to explain this from a writer's point of view than it is to wag your finger school-marmishly for their dirty sex stories.
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