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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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alexvdl
May. 8th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC)
I read Outlander on the recommendation of a friend. It was well written, but it didn't seem like anything happened. Like... okay she went into the past and there are these romances.

I like books where in addition to the romances THE FATE OF THE WORLD IS AT STAKE.
gholam
May. 8th, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
Regarding the ERB vs HPL example, I'd say one should also consider this: ERB's works have been fading into obscurity ever since ERB died, while the work started by HPL - and continued, with his encouragement, by other writers - is only gaining in popularity. Of course it's a question of personal priorities - one point of view is "what do I care what happens to my books after I'm gone, except maybe providing for my heirs, assuming I have them and I don't hate them with a vigorous passion", and conversely, history is full of examples of people pursuing a cause to immense personal detriment. I'd say that both points are equally valid, and it all comes down to personal choice.
hendersonl
May. 8th, 2010 05:53 am (UTC)
The thing that bothers me about the defenders of fanfic, often, is rather the sense of entitlement. I've been dealing with copyright issues for years, including the concept of fair use, and the thing that always gets me is that there are some people who behave indignantly to the concept that the creator of a work owns that work rather than the fans. It's mind boggling, as I'm sure you can attest having dealt with the whole "how dare you do anything but write on the next Ice and Fire book" curfuffle.

Of course, I'm also flabbergasted by the common misunderstandings about copyright. I once had a boss who worked in the newspaper business for almost 50 years, and he still thought that, if a work appeared on the Web, it was public domain.

Something that would concern me about fanfic, if I were fortunate enough to have creations that were successful enough someone would want to appropriate them, would be how that fanfic might damage the property. How many people out there, for example, bad mouth Tolkien's work and refuse to read it not because of its own qualities but rather because of the cheestastic flavor of the mass quantities of extruded fantasy product that has been manufactured over the decades? "I don't want to read Lord of the Rings because I tried to read Sword of Truth and it sucked." A different issue, perhaps, but similar enough. (And don't even get me started on slash fanfic. That's just weird.)

Basically, if a market gets flooded with cheap imitation goods, the market for the original products will eventually collapse, which certainly can't be good for producers of highly perishable wares such as writers.

Just adding my 2 cents to the discussion, for what it's worth.
eternalmind.wordpress.com
May. 8th, 2010 05:56 am (UTC)
Here's the thing
I completely understand your views, and actually agree with most. There is still an underlying need, to me, to embrace a little of the Creative Commons agreement IF it represents, to you the author, total and complete editorial control - meaning that every single piece of these - let's call 'em 'Ghoul Writers' - must embark on the tortuous endeavour that is your scrutiny.

Having said that, I'd feel a little cheated if I read a SOIAF that wasn't TOTALLY written by you. Specially postmortem, since you would have had no chance to say 'Dude, Jon does NOT rape Brienne! He can't, not after got the crabs from Lady Melisandre'.

This has happened to me in the Wheel of Time. Mr. Jordan is gone. Bereft of the beauty of inhaling and exhaling. The new novels don't feel RIGHT. They're great, sure, but don't feel RIGHT.

And as much as I'd love to see what Frodo would do after the boring boat trip up north, and what the hell happens in TOP and BOTTOM EARTH, Tolkien's legacy is precisely that - a legacy. One that should not be pillaged for a quick buck or a story arc ending of sorts.

SOIAF are your children. What gorgeous offspring you have. Take good care of them. We appreciate the effort.

ocelotofdoom
May. 8th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
I'm leaning towards being in favor of derivative fiction/fanfiction, but I have some reservations. Mind you, I'm only a first year law student and one interested in human rights law rather than intellectual property at that, so I can't say I know the ins and outs of copyright stuff in the least. I would hope at some point an actual IP lawyer would make a policy-based argument to make it so one could assert claims against people who are using one's work for one's own profit and prestige, even if one knew and didn't enforce the law against people using it without making a profit and acknowledging that it wasn't originally theirs and make that law. I have no idea if that could even happen based on how the law is now, though.

In theory, I'd think it would be cool to know how one's fans interprets one's characters and world and what they do with them. In practice, however, I know it doesn't work that well... I'm sure I don't have to list any examples of how fanfiction can go horribly, horribly wrong. It would be nice if there could be some generally accepted rules of etiquette, as it was, of dealing with other people's worlds and characters with some level of respect. Of course, the internet and respect seem not to go very well together in many cases, so the system could easily fall apart if some jerk decides that his perceived need to write and post explicit rape or torture fics about characters for no other reason than the fact that he gets off on it is more important than the author's (and the rest of the internet's) wish not to need brain bleach.

However, I've seen fanfiction do a lot to add to a story where the original canon is sort of bare bones, or doesn't address certain questions. Fanfiction (and sometimes fandom-based roleplays) can develop on minor characters whose motivations and histories will likely never be revealed, on worlds and societies that the canon glossed over, and on plot points that could have made sense if they'd had more work.

Also, for canons cut short by cancellation, disinterest, death or other situations like that, fanfiction can keep the fandom alive and allow the series to have some ending or further plot (or many) where it didn't get one officially. I realize that neither of these arguments apply to A Song of Ice and Fire, but in a general "for or against fanfiction" debate, these are a couple of reasons that I think weigh in favor, at least theoretically, of allowing it.

Lastly - and this is a terrible, terrible argument for establishing fanfiction as acceptable, in that I am not a published creator and I don't know how it feels - I just find it interesting, how things can develop and acquire new meanings based on who is working with the material, and what assumptions and interpretations they bring to the table. Sometimes people go way too far with it - to the point where they're using the characters only in name and should very well write their own stories for all the distortion, but other times I can clearly go, "huh, well that's not how it read to me, but I can see how they got there," or "it would've been interesting if that's how things had gone." Again, this is me as a reader, and an amateur fiction writer if even that, but that's why I personally find fanfiction really fascinating and fun to read.
willful_wyvern
May. 8th, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
Mr. Martin -

A great many people make "fan art" for A Song of Ice and Fire, and I don't think you object to this. But what about if someone portrays your characters differently from how you imagine them, or puts them in scenes not mentioned in the books? Would this bother you at all? Is it drifting into "visual fan fiction"?
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:50 am (UTC)
Art is a whole different issue, with its own rules.

Fan art is fine, as far as I'm concerned.

And of course the portrayals are going to be different from my own. Hell, even the PROFESSIONAL artists who have done Ice & Fire illustrations have varied widely in how they drew the characters.

(Of course, once the HB0 series debuts, the faces of the actors will become the faces of the characters in the minds of the vast majority of the public)
(no subject) - malimar - May. 8th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
evamagick
May. 8th, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
A-freaking-men. You wrote it, it's yours. It would be like me copying your patent. F that!
As a fan of SF and fantasy, I have a few friends that love the fanfic. When I complain about missing a world (Hogwarts, Westeros) and want another story in that place, they're always pushing me to read fanfic. Which I don't want to do. I don't want to read what other people think those worlds and characters should be like. I don't want anything not from the author to cloud what I think about from their story. And, from what I understand, a lot if it is thinly veiled smut anyhow. No thanks!
mnemonicer
May. 8th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
GRRM - Big fan of your work. I'm an IP attorney practicing in LA and one of my major works of scholarship during law school was an analysis of fanfic under current copyright and trademark law in the US. You are absolutely correct in that it does not constitute copyright fair use as that term is applied in the courts, although fair use is so vague as to be unhelpful. Probably the leading scholar in this area is Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of constitutional and IP laws. Moreover, it may be a violation of trademark law where the characters have actually earned trademark protection (i.e. Spiderman, Mickey, Harry Potter), although that is a rather difficult prospect.

The problem with this area of the law, however, is that the defendants are individuals with, largely, nothing to take in a lawsuit, making the entire enterprise financially imprudent, and that social expectations have changed. Like it or not, the vast majority of the buying public thinks that fan fiction might be a silly thing, but they don't think it's illegal. And that's the problem. The real defendant in a case like this would have to be FanFiction.net or Livejournal.com - major user-generated-content (UGC) sites that aggregate tremendous amounts of unauthorized fan fiction. Those sites make a tremendous amount of money from advertising, so they have the pockets to make a lawsuit worth the cost. But then there will be the public outcry. Also, any suit against FF.net or LJ.com would implicate Youtube and Google Books and all the rest of the big UGC interests, which means the whole affair would become both tremendously costly and tremendously ground-breaking on a legal level.

Anyhow, just my two cents on the issue, which, I hope is a bit more helpful than the rest. If anyone wants more specifics on the law as it relates to this, they can message me on LJ here.

Breathlessly awaiting Dance, GRRM. I need something to read other than licenses for intellectual properties.

Mnem
paiwingz
May. 8th, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
I don't read or write fanfic. I can't write and I find most of it ohrrifically painful to read. As far as I'm concenre,d your chars, your choice, your perogative.

What I would like to say is:
"No, absolutely not, your character may not rape my character, I don't give a fuck how powerful you think it would be."

Thank you for making a stand on this. Rape is far too overused.
tormentedartist
May. 8th, 2010 06:31 am (UTC)
I for one totally agree. If anyone is going to benefit from his creations it should be the creator. Also, authors need to eat too. How much of a "fan" can you be if you don't understand this. But in these days of something for nothing I can see how people would get all emotional because their favorite author doesn't support fan fic.

Thanks for writing this and calling attention to the issue.
flake_sake
May. 8th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Ok, on the legal side of this, I'm with you. If anyone tries to make money out of your verse, the fun and games is over. But there are things like the creative commons disclaimer to avoid exactly that.

The decision to what an extent you let others play with your verse is of course entirely yours too, but I cant pretend I fully get it. During the Suvudu cage matches lots of people wrote little fanfic pieces that had this or that character win and it was great fun. I had no idea that you objected.

I'm also a gamer and I have the Game of thrones roleplaying game, where I'm also playing and inventing stories in your verse. Now if I write a fictive journal for my character and put it on the internet, that is in my mind fanfiction. Even the playing is in a way.

Also a lot of fanfiction is satire. It has an ageold tradition to take another's creation and point out it's tropes and weaknesses. It's part of the creative exchange. In a way Voltaire's Candide is fanfiction (if not very flattering one) to Leibniz "Best possible world" philosophy.

Where does it begin, where does it end to be fanfiction?

To me spinning a tale I'm reading on in my head is a very natural thing. I don't have to write it down and publish it on the internet, but I have trouble seeing the bad in it (again as long as no one tries to sell anything), since it keeps the story living in the readers minds.

I respect your stance on fanfiction, even if get only part of it but I wonder where you stand on the grey zones I mentioned.
kibet
May. 8th, 2010 06:35 am (UTC)
You have authorised, in a way, the fans use of the characters by allowing a release of ASOIAF role-playing game. Now you could put forward that it would be contained in a room of the players, but some may publish their logs on the internet of what happened or they may even play via a forum. How does this differ from the fan fiction? I can see how it would not be against copyright as it came from an authorised source. However, you do not have a say on how people would make your characters act.

This is a grey area in my opinion. If my emphasis is more on copyright then RPG would be fine as authorised use. If my emphasis is that there are 'my children' then an RPG would not be fine.

I can see the point of how disruptive fan fiction can be. Let's say that after The Feast, a fanfic by person A showed up of Jaime growing a third arm out the top of his head*. Person B and C likes this and so continue on this theme. When Dance comes out, there are now thousands of stories on Jaime and his third arm, who readers now beleive happened and trying to work out why you are not making reference to it.

*I tried to think about the most ridiculous** thing that someone could write abotu happening to Jaime. If this goes the way of MZB then I state I do not own any of the Jaime's third arm or any third arm that appears in the world of Westeros or Wild Cards. :D
** If the third arm does grow from Jaime's head, please do not take the ridiculous*** statement to heart.
***Unless a fourth arm forms on his head and they keep clapping at inoppurtune moments. In that case, the ridiculous statement stands and you are on your own! XD
haremstress
May. 8th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC)
Just had to throw in a little factual correction here -- the variety of fanfiction that uses existing characters is not a new phenomenon; it's been around since at least the 70s, as it was the origin of the term "slash fic." Obviously this was a community dominated by female fans, so I'm not surprised you didn't know about it, George, but it did exist.
coaldustcanary
May. 8th, 2010 07:34 am (UTC)
It's not new, but the version he's talking about does pre-date it, anyway. The earliest use of fanfiction to mean borrowed-character stories is from the 60s, but the use of it to mean "original stories written by fans for other fans" is older yet. Hence, it's new*er*, at least.
(no subject) - oconel - May. 8th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
etherealmonkey
May. 8th, 2010 06:43 am (UTC)
Personally I think fanfiction is a huge waste of time and creative energy, but you're wrong on its provenance. It's older than time. Cervantes published the second part of Don Quixote partly as a response to all the unauthorized "sequels" that other people were writing.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
Dickens did a fair amount of defensive writing as well.
luinied
May. 8th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC)
First, my sympathies to Ty for having to moderate this!

One point that I'm not seeing any (unscreened) comments about yet: barring very significant changes to how our legislative branch operates, nothing created since Steamboat Willy will ever have to go into the public domain. So, with every year that goes by, teenagers experimenting with the writing of fiction will have grown up with more and more of their folk heroes as someone's property. (Has it been long enough that we can call Batman a folk hero? I think it has.) Plus, franchises are huge business, as you've probably unintentionally discovered, and who can blame TV and movie producers, comic writers, and so on for wanting to make things with characters that people already like and that already have a guaranteed audience? I certainly can't, not if I'm following through with my plans to see Iron Man 2 tomorrow.

None of this prevents young writers from making their own characters and worlds, of course. But I'd argue that it might make them less inclined to do so; after all, if stories about already well-known characters are most of what they've grown up with, it seems natural that they'd want to make the same. And some of those stories will not have been very good, given the rights-holders who are more easily swayed by truckloads of cash, so the bar may seem low. For people who wish that young writers would do otherwise, perhaps a good tactic would be to expose children to lots of individual stories with new characters and fewer long series, sequels, and resurrections of old standard money-makers. (Which is to say, sneak Dreamsongs into middle school libraries rather than A Song of Ice and Fire.)

Of course, I'm not a fanfic writer - or even a fanfic reader, or any other kind of fiction writer - so what I say should be taken with some number of grains of salt.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, I see what you're saying about kids just starting to write.

But I don't pretend to understand it. When I was kid starting to write, I loved Batman, but I didn't want to write about him. I wanted to make up my own guy who would be cooler than Batman.

Hence Manta Ray. Who not even remotely as cool as Batman, but hey, I was like thirteen years old. I was trying.
(no subject) - boss_bass - May. 8th, 2010 07:39 am (UTC) - Expand
rpm285sm
May. 8th, 2010 06:49 am (UTC)
Curious
As someone who doesn't write or read "fan-fiction" I have a few questions I'm hoping someone could help me with:

I can write anything I want about any character I want from any universe I want so long as it is never published in any way, including on the internet? In other words, I could write 20,000 pages in someone else's universe so long as I didn't show anyone? Or could I show friends/family as long as it wasn't put somewhere the public could access it?

Mr. Martin, do you personally have an issue with people who do the type of thing I'm describing above? In my mind it's akin to fantasizing about being in one of those worlds but you have a very different perspective than I do.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 07:01 am (UTC)
Re: Curious
Yes, you can write whatever the hell you want about any characters you want, as long as you don't show it to anyone. And I doubt that family and friends are going to get you into trouble.

It's when the stuff gets published that controversy arises.
dodonovan
May. 8th, 2010 06:52 am (UTC)
I really dislike fan fiction especially the ones that try and "correct" the mistakes the orginal author made. Jamie would never have thrown Bran out the window, he is too cute ! In my more realistic version Jamie tries to stop his sister but she uses her evil magic to best him and throws Bran from the window and then cast dark magic on poor Jaimie to force him to sleep with him and it breaks Jamies heart inside then Rob finds him crying on a mountain side and comforts him and they fall into a loving embrace and become lovers.
bastetbabe27
May. 8th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
What about fan art?
I've seen on your personal website that you have a section for fan art, which clearly implies you don't have a problem with fans making visual images of your characters.

What, to you, is the difference between fan art and fanfic that makes one okay and the other not? That fan art has less of a narrative component? That you've given permission?

I ask because as far as I can tell, much of this debate is about the definition of fanfic (as you've dealt with in your post). Is the Aeneid fanfic of the Iliad? (Just to stir the pot ;) ) Where's the line between valid reinterpretation and hackery? Quality? Venerability? The medium?

Your post, and Diana's (and I'm a fan of both ASOIF and the Outlander series) has got me thinking about the varying manifestations of fandom - fan fiction, art, vidding (mentioned above), costuming, etc. - and wondering how and why some of these productions are less controversial than others (granted, this is as far as I can tell. Maybe I'm wrong.)

Thanks for your cogent and thought-provoking post.

- bastetbabe27
flake_sake
May. 8th, 2010 07:14 am (UTC)
Re: What about fan art?
I think controversy arises most when the fanwork is in the same media as the original one. TV-shows usually don't mind fanfiction, since it's perceived as less of a competition to the original franchise.

Visual fanart is usually not a problem for the authors of novels, but it is sometimes for comic books (at least in japan, where doujinshi have a long standing tradition).
cnate
May. 8th, 2010 07:02 am (UTC)
Re: fanfic
In accordance with GRRM's wishes, I will attempt to make this as civil as possible. For example, instead of outright calling you a thief, I will instead offer up exasperation and wonder aloud how people can justify it as anything other than that.

I once read a very interesting statement that was written by Scott Adams, author of the comic strip "Dilbert". When asked how he came up with the name Dilbert, he said that he held an open competition to "name the nerd" at his work. Someone wrote "Dilbert". Scott ended the contest immediately and afterwards recalled that he never felt as if he was giving him a name, but instead finding out for the first time what his real name was.

This is how it is, people. You and I and the rest of the Joe Guys may never in our life experience a moment like this, but for true authors, for true writers, they really DO have a world of their own. It is THEIR world, and the people and characters that reside in it only whisper to THEM.

To pretend otherwise (and that is exactly what you are doing whether your intentions are innocent or not) is the worst kind of arrogance, the most blatant form of egotism, and it is truly disgusting. Truly disgusting.

The fact that an author has, for whatever reason, decided to share that world with the rest of us is NOT a free license to move in and corrupt it with our own influence. Is it really any wonder that Salinger was a recluse? "The Catcher in The Rye" was the book that everyone got, right? Everyone just completely understood it and it was wildly popular. You'd think he'd be happy, right? To the best of my knowledge, Salinger wasn't a victim of excessive "fanfic-ing", but the fact that it had become such a media giant and everyone knew about it and was talking about it had to have disgusted him. I read it. I loved it. And not for one second would I have ever entertained the idea of pretending that I could claim some ownership over it ("hey- I felt that way too, I just wasn't crafty and verbose enough to write it so eloquently!"). Works like that get corrupted when you do.

To hear some people say that authors should be flattered by this absolutely astounds me. First of all, no matter how much YOU think a certain novel or series "speaks to you" or that "you really get it", trust me, you don't even hold a candle to the author in that category and you are essentially slapping him in the face by pretending that you do.

Secondly, if you have any real talent, what are you doing piggybacking off of someone else's hard work? Why aren't you out creating your own world (or listening quite hard for the one inside that is hopefully trying to whisper to you)? Chances are that you likely aren't talented enough or that that there really is no world inside you that is dying to be heard. That's fine, you're just like the rest of us then. So, like the rest of us, why don't you stop assaulting the real author with your hackneyed version of HIS world and HIS characters?

It is insulting and it is offensive, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Again, I am trying to keep this civil, but I simply must point out that NO ONE CARES HOW YOU THINK THE STORY GOES! If this causes you offense and flies in the face of what really must be a sense of entitlement that you carry around with you at all times, then that's just too bad. You're not flying the plane. You're not driving the bus. Go sit down in your seat and try to enjoy the ride.

There is one quote I would like to offer that I feel perhaps best discribes how I feel about it. It is from a Tom Robbin's book called "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates". It reads:

"He did come to see, in time, that she perceived him as a dramatic figure of mystery and was as magnetized by that aspect (real or fallacious) of his image as, say, Margaret or Melissa, but Dev was content to rub up against the mystery, wisely feeling no compulsion to probe or dispell it, which others surely would have done. When he recognized that about her, his appreciation deepened into affection"

Don't be the Margaret or the Melissa. Just... don't
alixtii
May. 8th, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)
Re: fanfic
I like this comment because it makes the bad metaphysics underlying the anti-fanfic positions explicit: "for true authors, for true writers, they really DO have a world of their own. It is THEIR world, and the people and characters that reside in it only whisper to THEM."

Dilbert doesn't have a "real" name. No matter how real he may feel to the author, he is a fictional character. Nothing--and I mean nothing--is going to change that.

If you reject that sort of outdated neo-Platonic mysticism, the whole modernist ideal of the Cult of the Author (really, it's all so very T.S. Eliot) just sort of implodes.

Edited at 2010-05-08 12:07 pm (UTC)
jx20
May. 8th, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
You Convinced Me
I knew you were against fan fiction and I must say I thought the position was a bit cold and corporate. I thought the line about writers getting creative muscle atrophy by borrowing other worlds was meanspirited crap. You changed my mind.
To think that a book was ruined because some silly amateur was not happy enough to get a mention and a token payment from a beloved author is shocking. Not only because the established author decided not to write the story, but because maybe that amateur would have written a decent story of their own if they were creative enough to come up with a similar plot to the real deal. That is maybe two stories lost. What reader among us does not mourn that? In some worlds the destruction of a book of magic is a hanging offense. (see Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)

Additionally, I was unaware that allowing fans to extrapolate in your world could undo your copyright and mean that anyone anywhere can do whatever they want without permission on any stage. That's not right. So to all the would be writers out there, I add my voice. You might be good. Try to write your own stuff. I do love a good story.
mod4finil
May. 8th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
Re: You Convinced Me
"To think that a book was ruined because some silly amateur was not happy enough to get a mention and a token payment from a beloved author is shocking."

The book wasn't ruined by a silly amateur. The book was ruined by the author and copyright law. Why do you insult the "amateur" who INDEPENDENTLY had the same idea as the "beloved author"? Why does the "beloved author" magically get to be in the right here?
Re: You Convinced Me - siamkor - May. 8th, 2010 11:17 am (UTC) - Expand
ladybrock
May. 8th, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
I find this discussion really interesting. Back in the day, when I had heard that you do not encourage fanfiction, I will be honest about the fact that I was a little alarmed. I had never given it the time to actually check out why, and this has turned on a lot of lights for me, to the point where I can't help but fully agree with you.

I do not really have time to read even original works anymore, but when I was reading fanction, I found that anytime a writer went 'out of character' and had something happen that was completely ridiculous, I stopped being interested and became annoyed. Whether or not I was wrong about what these characters would and would not do is beside the point - it gives me a significantly better understanding of what you must feel in knowing some of the fiction that is out there. I feel like I 'know' these characters just because of what I have read and theorized about them, and fictions make me a little ill sometimes, so I can imagine what it is like for the person who created them.

I have not given this as much thought as those above, but it's definitely an eye-opener for me.
anonymous_sibyl
May. 8th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
Mr. Martin,

I wonder if you have any thoughts on some of the underlying reasons people were upset by Ms. Gabaldon's post, specifically her quote as follows:

But…imagine opening your daily mail and finding a letter detailing an explicit sexual encounter between, say, your twenty-one-year-old daughter and your forty-eight-year-old male neighbor---written by the neighbor. At the bottom it says, “Fiction! Just my imagination. All cool, right?” This would perhaps prevent your calling the police, but I repeat…ick. [Source]

A great many people took offense to that statement, some for her comparison of fanfic writers to the type of person who would do such a thing (a sexual harasser at the least, perhaps a stalker, perhaps something worse), some for her cavalier treatment of the violence that is daily perpetrated against women, some for both. Some of us are simply mystified by the idea that potential real-life harm to someone's daughter is, to her, the same as someone writing about her fictional characters, no matter how real they are to her.

As a fan of her work and a domestic violence advocate I was dismayed to see her saying such a thing. I respect her defense of her copyright and understand her high feelings but do wish she had checked her privilege before typing that statement.

I hope you won't consider this derailing as it is something that was mentioned many times in the comments to all three of her blog posts. I do understand if it is a subject you don't wish to discuss, however, since it is not based on anything you said or implied.

Looking forward to the HBO show!
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 08:36 am (UTC)
I read the comments to Diana's post, so I was aware of this issue.

I think Diana's comments are being misread, however. She did not say what people are saying she said.

Look -- hypothetical example here, I am not accusing anyone of anything -- if I read a post that upsets me, and I respond, "When I read your post, I felt like you had punched me in the stomach," that does not mean I am saying you actually punched me in the stomach. It does not mean that I am claiming you are the kind of person who goes around punching people in the stomach. Nor am I trying to belittle or trivialize people who have actually been punched in the stomach in real life, some of whom may have suffered serious injury from the blow.

It's an analogy. Hyperbole. And maybe I should be called on it. Like, "c'mon, my words really felt like a punch in the belly? Really? Aren't you being a bit overdramatic, George?"

I spoke earlier about how, in some sense, my characters are my children. Yeah, maybe it's weird, maybe it's not rational, but whoever said writers were rational? Tyrion, Jaime, Dany, these characters mean a lot to me, there's a deep seated emotional connection. Sure, I know they are not actually my children, they're not even real, I made them up, but still...

I think it is telling that Diana uses her daughter in the passage you cite. She's expressing the same idea I did -- that her characters, in some sense, feel like her children, and she is upset at seeing them mistreated, even in fiction.

I would feel the same way.

I know there is Ice & Fire fanfic out there. I haven't seen it, I don't want to see it. I don't know what's in it, and don't want to know. Most of it, I am sure, is affectionate, respectful, and all that good stuff, regardless of the level of the craft. But I would wager there's some that... well, isn't.

That's an assumption on my part, and might be I'm wrong... but I know that, on various Ice & Fire message boards, a few sick readers have from time to time (NOT OFTEN, THE VAST MAJORITY OF MY FANS ARE GREAT) written things like, "I hate Dany. I wish she would get raped and murdered," or "That Brienne is just a cunt, Jaime should have stuck a sword through her," or "I can't stand that fat pig Sam, I wish his father would have killed him." (It is the women in the book who draw most of these vile comments, but Sam comes in for his share too, for the crime of being fat).

These are disturbing enough when they are just one sentence comments, like those paraphrases above. How much worse would it be if they were actual stories, if some fan fiction writer had decided to dramatize the rape and murder of Dany, say?

My suspicion is that Diana encountered some fanfic of the same nature involving one of her characters, and it was that which provoked the analogy that so many found offensive.

But whether that is true or not, I still read that statement as an analogy. She was trying to drive home how upset it makes her to read fanfiction in which her fictional "children" are abused, so she likened it to someone writing similar stuff about her real child. Hyperbole, sure, but that's how I read it.

I don't read it as her saying fanfic writers were stalkers.

As for derailing... I don't think your own post here derails the discussion, but I do think that was happened on Diana's blog, where dozens upon dozens of posts made the same point you just made, over and over and over again, while completely ignoring the actual subject of the Diana's blog, i.e. fan fiction.

(no subject) - flake_sake - May. 8th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - esorlehcar - May. 8th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
spidey202
May. 8th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
Cage Matches
I agree fully with the idea of keeping characters to yourself and the arguments that you made in your post.

Recently Jamie was in the Cage Matches and you gave your interpretations of the battles that took place between them and other authors characters. Would this be considered fan fic and were all your renditions were approved by the opposing characters author prior to you posting on the blog or that permission was given beforehand?

It gives a pretty good example in my opinion.
zachbl
May. 8th, 2010 07:12 am (UTC)
Intellectual property
Hey George,

Big fan of your work. Just wanted to correct a few of the legal points. I'm an intellectual property attorney with a degree from Brooklyn Law School, and I've most recently worked in publishing (at Random House. I believe Ice and Fire is published at our Spectra imprint?) so I'm quite familiar with the issues being discussed. Two stick out for me.

Fair Use: this is a common law doctrine. A piece of case law made by judges. There is a four part test used as a flexible standard to make a determination of whether a piece of art is a fair use or a derivative work. Two prongs of the test are implicated in the fan fiction discussion. 1) Does the work make money? 2) (and this is key) does the work have a market impact on the original artist's intellectual property? Fan fiction is generally not used to generate income. And I think that it's highly unlikely that a piece of fanfiction will have tangible impact on the original artist's ability to make a living off his creation (though your Lovecraft example is fascinating). I'm not saying every fan fiction piece is fair use. I'm just saying that it may be.

The second issue relevant to the debate is whether a copyright can be forfeited for failure to defend. This is murky water, as you have stated. Under US Copyright Law and in any country that is a signatory to the TRIPS agreement, the minute you put down a creative work in a tangible medium, it is yours. No registry needed, No trying legal steps. Copyright, unlike trademark, is automatic. Though evidence of abandonment can be used against you in an infringement case, it is incorrect to assert that failure to defend in one or many instances will void your copyright.

Just my two cents,

Z
mnemonicer
May. 8th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Intellectual property
Failure to defend a copyright might not result in the owner/author losing it, but failure to defend a trademark can and will result in a claim of abandonment. While I do not know if any of GRRM's characters have risen to the level of trademark protection (If I was his attorney, I'd make that argument), failure to enforce the trademark will. We've seen cases in the 9th Circuit that have granted trademark protection to characters (I believe Honda v. MGM, aka James Bob, is the case). Disney has certainly claimed it for Mickey. So the fact of the matter is that a copyright/trademark owner does have cause for concern if they fail to step out and protect their work.

Personally, I think this is one area where copyright/trademark law is out of lockstep with public perception. Public perception has reached a point where this is acceptable behavior. The Marion Zimmer Bradley situation does need to be prevented from occurring, but I think you may be able to interpret the Stallone case in a fashion that would protect a copyright owner from losing any rights to their work if it happens to incorporate elements of an unauthorized fan fiction. The Stallone case essentially said that if the fan fiction is unauthorized, then the author of the fan fiction can acquire no copyrights to anything in the work because, at its base, was an unauthorized derivative work for which that fan fic author had no rights.

That's the 9th Circuit, of course, and I'm not entirely sure how far that would extend to the rest of the country, let alone if take the entire situation international. Because once you go international, things just get tremendously more complex, as I'm sure you're aware.

Mnem, Esq. ;)
psychoidiot
May. 8th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
Don't agree, but your right and opinion
Thanks for writing a calm explanation for why you don't like fanfiction and don't ever want people mucking in it. I don't have to like it, but you are the great mastermind and you are entitled to say whatever you want to have happen to your characters. I much prefer yours than Diane's, and if she had written it in this way, I wouldn't have taken offense(and I don't even write it anymore(not for western books either), I just read it sometimes)

My question comes up then, since you expressly do not like fanfiction written in the world, but some probably do exist(someone brought up an example of a LJ community), would it simply be a matter of sending out the legal team? Or for that matter, if you never EVER find these fanfics, is it out of sight out of mind for you? Or do you constantly be on the lookout for copyright infringement?

Second is, and I mean NOTHING by it, just for curiosity sake, is that you stated that the RPG company paid a lot of money to enable them to print that RPG setting. So then fanfics(ok, "adventures") written under this umbrella is okay? Is it the money part that bothers you exclusively(thus the HP and ERG comparison) or the children being messed up with? I know it may be both for you, but based on the RPG comments AND the comparison that you made, it seems it would be okay if you were paid boatloads of money for the privilege of writing the fanfic(not for profit). Er, I don't know how to phrase it better so it doesn't sound so off putting.

Third, does it bother you at all for things such as the Cagematch(for example Rothfuss version of the match had your characters in them ) or do discussions of what if, and posters entertained long blog posts and forum messages about these things(but not a true story), does this also fall under the "do not muck with my characters" bit?

Sorry that was long. Interested in the poster's comment about the bastards naming convention thing because that would come close to filing the serial numbers off right? always thought even if the naming was different, but the characterizations were the same(different plot), it's still your character(thus the plagiarism, but not really I guess in your situation?)
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 08:42 am (UTC)
Re: Don't agree, but your right and opinion
Money is certainly part of it, sure. These creations are my livelihood.

But my sub-licenses almost always include approval clauses as well. I get to review and approve the material, correct anything that is wrong, veto anything I don't like.

I can't do that with fanfic.
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