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Someone Is Angry On the Internet

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

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

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

http://voyagesoftheartemis.blogspot.com/

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair enough. Two writers, two different decisions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway...

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

I salute Diana Gabaldon for opening the debate.

And now I step back, and await the onslaught.

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

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

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( 412 comments )
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notthebuddha
May. 8th, 2010 07:43 am (UTC)
What about your recent showdown piece featuring Wheel of Time characters? Is it less of a problem for you because Jordan's deceased?
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC)
Suvudu made all the arrangements for that. Brandon Sanderson participated as Jim's representative. Everything was fully authorized, as far as I know.
(no subject) - brettadill - May. 8th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
lakrids404
May. 8th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
my thoughts about your thought about fanfic (sorry about my English)
My first thought when i read your views, was who is grrm? and why does he not lj-cut?.

My second thought after I read this was, should I buy your next book?, I like yours Song of Ice and Fire books, but I can live with out knowing how the next one ends. But then again, I try to let an book speak and defend it self. And I try not to read anything else, from writers that I like, other than of course theirs books. Secondly it's probably healthy, to read something that you don't necessarily agree with, because that there is a slight chance, that they might be right. And more importantly you are not rude, when stating your views.
Selenak a writer and fanfic writer wrote interesting article about On Dickens, artists versus their art and Kira Nerys

Two of the writers, that I have bought most from the last couple yes. Have written some very sensible imo guidelines regarding fanfic in their creations. Namely Jim Butcher short and concise here. Charlie Stross not so short but rather amusing quote "In summary: I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters — rather, I am a glittery and avaricious dragon who is jealous of his steaming pile of gold. If you do not steal the dragon's gold, the dragon will leave you alone. Offer to bring the dragon more gold and the dragon will be your friend." the rest can be found here

You have my promise, that I will never commit fanfic to your books.

elaran
May. 8th, 2010 07:45 am (UTC)
I read fanfic for almost all the books and movies and tv shows that I really fall in love with.

I am totally ok with an author saying don't make money of it (which is what I think of when I hear the word fanfic - fanworks that are not for profit), please don't write fic of my work, whatever. That's their prerogative, their characters, sure. (I don't think it will really stop people though and it hasn't stopped people like me from searching for fic in the fandoms where authors have asked people to not write fanfic.)

Using incredibly insensitive and offensive terminology while stating their dislike of fanfic as Diana Gabaldon did was pretty stupid and that was the issue I had with her post. Not to mention her dismissal of all fic as badly written porn (which makes me laugh because there have a lot of instances where there has been fic written in a manner far better than that of the original work - however I am assuming she went to ff.net so I'm not entirely surprised at her opinion).

Thanks for your post.
siamkor
May. 8th, 2010 07:55 am (UTC)
Well...
Writing a story with someone else's characters after that someone said "no you can't" is akin to trampling all over their house with mud on your feet and raiding the fridge - and common sense dictates that you wouldn't assume you could if that person hadn't said anything about it.

Granted, some (maybe most, I don't read fan-fiction; I wouldn't know) people would take care, wipe off their shoes, sit quietly in a corner and try not disturb anyone... but they'd still be inside the house!

You can't go into a person's house without permission, no matter how much you admire the person and the house. It is rude. Not to mention trespassing.

You can't use other person's work without permission, no matter how much you admire the person and the work. It is just as rude. And illegal.
bug_totem
May. 8th, 2010 07:57 am (UTC)
I just have to say it. The best way to prevent SONGS fun fiction is not to make us wait SO LONG. Even I (not a professional writer) started thinking of my own Dance With Dragons already.
khab_rmb
May. 8th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
I'll preface this by saying that I love ASoIaF.

That said, your legal arguments are off-base. First off, copyrights do not have to be defended. Trademarks do, but that's distinct from copyright (this is why companies are so litigious over unauthorized use of their logos).

Second, US copyright law does not grant you moral rights over your creations (we are a signatory to an international treaty that calls for signatory countries to grant moral rights, but we don't). If you say you don't want fans writing fanfic based on your universe and characters, that's great, and it might be polite for fans to respect your wishes, but they're under no legal obligation to do so. European copyright law recognizes moral rights of the author, but US law does not.

What US copyright grants you is a monopoly over your creations for a limited period of time. The passage in the Constitution providing for copyright and patent law says that Congress has the power "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries".

That is, without copyrights or patents, there would not be sufficient incentive for artists and inventors to do socially useful things like write books and invent combustion engines, so we grant a limited monopoly. Your writing is not property in the same way that real estate is property, it's just that we grant you exclusive financial rights to the fruits of your writing for a period of time.

Society's interest in you making a living writing stories is in tension with our interest in a robust public domain. It's better for society if more people are telling stories about Jaime Lannister fighting Temeraire, it's just that you should get first crack at money made off of your ideas.

Your temporary monopoly over your work entails a certain amount of artistic control over it (which is often unfortunately confused with moral rights). Take for example the following recent case: CleanFlicks, a company that sold dvds with "offensive" content removed. The courts ruled against them even though they bought a copy of every dvd they resold, because they were profiting from derivative content.

But there are a whole lot of exceptions to your artistic control which fall under fair use. Fair use is kind of a fuzzy concept, and AFAIK the courts have never determined its exact boundaries. But for example, parody and satire are explicitly protected, even if someone else is making money. For example, Mad Magazine's movie parodies are protected under fair use (although for all I know, they play it extra-safe). Parody aside, the rule of thumb seems to be that if no money is changing hands and the author's right to profit is not being impaired, it's ok. So torrenting your books is not ok, because it (potentially) deprives you of sales. But fanfic posted for free is almost certainly ok, since there's no substitution effect.

Taking a step back, all of this is in tremendous flux because of computers and the internet (just like there was a crisis with the invention of the VCR). For example, readers have traditionally had the right to buy a physical book, then scan it and read it on their (own) computers, even though you could potentially sell them both a physical book and an ebook.

I'll also say that because fair use is kind of fuzzy, things are not so cut-and-dried as I've sketched.

Finally, I suspect that time is on your side. A combination of Mickey Mouse copyright extension laws, people increasingly treating "intellectual property" as a metaphor instead of shorthand, and DRM do not make me optimistic about the future of sane copyright law in this country.

tl;dr:

I don't want to read "Sauron Strikes Back" any more than you do (or watch a movie, or...), but that doesn't make it the job of copyright law to protect me from it. The existence of such a work would in no wise harm my enjoyment of the books (and I say that as someone who's been a Tolkien nut since the age of eight, and who disapproved of the Peter Jackson movies).

A fanfic charity auction is probably a greyer area than most fanfic.
kemayo
May. 8th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
Taking legal action against writers of fan fiction would probably be a horribly self-destructive move, in any case. If they're clearly making money on derivative works then it's open and shut, but if they're just freely releasing their work...

First: You get to look like a colossal dick for suing someone who wasn't even making money off your work. In fact, you probably just sued one of your biggest fans.

Second: The outcome vis-a-vis fair use really is completely up in the air. You might wind up setting precedent that fanfic really is totally okay. All for a chance of minimal damages collected from someone who made no money from it in the first place.
sdcripps
May. 8th, 2010 08:09 am (UTC)
Agree
I happen to agree entirely with you. I've held a negative opinion of 'fanfic' since first encountering it three or four years ago. You say that you don't allow other authors to rape your characters, I'd say that that's exactly whats happening when the odd Tom, Dick, or Harry misuse your creations...
herongale
May. 8th, 2010 08:10 am (UTC)
Part 1 of Long Ass Reply
There is one area where I think that you and the fanfic writers of the world would agree on: the internet does change everything.

And the changes, I believe, will not be in your favor.

Financial value is assigned according to several different variables, but probably the most important one is scarcity. The internet makes self-publishing a valid option for writers, in a way that never really existed before, and the ramifications are being seen across the full spectrum of creative/content-driven media. You see it in "the death of journalism," wherein traditional news sources are being threatened by blogs and content aggregators (such as Google). You see it in "the death of television," in the sense that people are finding it more convenient and pleasurable to watch television shows and movies on their computers or mobile devices.

And you see it in "the death of the novel," in which the publishing world is stymied by the fact that for every person out there who wants to make a career out of writing, there are another ten or maybe another ten thousand who are quite willing to do it for free.

I can see why this threatens you. You are perhaps right to feel threatened by it. Just because something is “free” doesn’t mean that it isn’t commodified.

In the case of fanfiction, the commodity in question isn’t money, but rather time, and attention, and affection. These are all classic human commodities which have been around long before humans invented money, and thus on a very important gut level, these commodities are often treasured above all others, including by people such as yourself, who have leveraged the commodity of your creativity both fiscally and emotionally.

It is important to separate out that which you have a right to control, and that which you don’t.

I have always believed that it is important to protect professional writers by allowing them to make money off their works. You’ll find that most fanfic writers actually agree with you in the sense that the fiscal worth of your stories ought to be protected. You should be able to make money off of it. Fanfiction should not be allowed to get in the way of that.

But there is another trade you are making with your fans, and this trade is not financial at all: people who enjoy and adore your work are giving you fame, and respect, and love. You chose to make this trade when you decided to make your stories public. I am well familiar with your “Neal Gaiman is not your bitch” post, and I wouldn’t debate the core argument you made there, which is that buying a book doesn’t entitle you to make demands of the author in terms of how often they publish, what they publish, or even if they publish.

Here is the trade you have made, the bargain you have struck: you have given us your stories so that we in turn may hold them in our hearts.

Yeah, I know, that sounds pretty damn corny, but it’s true. The practical upshot of this is that your fans are free to imagine whatever they wish in regards to your stories, to imagine what the characters might do in situations that you haven’t presented, or to simply walk (figuratively) in the world you have created, imagining what sorts of adventures might be had there outside of the story you have given us.
parrismcb
May. 8th, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
actually it was Neil Gaiman
who wrote the now famous 'George RR Martin is not your bitch' post, when a 'fan' of George asked Neil what was taking George so long. Neil wrote a very clear and thorough explanation. It even became a catchy filk song.

Fans are 'free' to wonder, and speculate all they want.

I myself have speculated for decades that when Rhett walked out that door, he never came back, although the 'authorized' sequels approved by Margaret Mitchell's estate wrote a different post- "frankly my dear" universe, in my head, Rhett went home to Charleston for a while, then probably traveled the world trying forget Scarlett until the day he died.

But George, Diana, and many other authors have asked that fans do not write fan-fic based in the writers' worlds. No matter what their reasons for doing so, ultimately, the worlds they create are theirs and theirs alone to do with what they desire.
mod4finil
May. 8th, 2010 08:11 am (UTC)
"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."

So? Person X wrote a comic about Subject A. Person Y didn't want Person X to do that. Person Z bought Person X's unauthorized comic. Between the three of them, why does Person Y get to tell both Person X and Person Z what's on the market?

"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."

So? What do I care? I just want another Ice and Fire book. If it's horrible and bad, fine, very few people will read it. But who knows, maybe it's better than yours. You're willing to deny the world really good books (and yours already are REALLY good)?

"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... "

That's great. But Person Y still wants to sell a book to Person Z. You're going to tell them that neither of them can have what they want, because you want to have what you want.
herongale
May. 8th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
Part 2 of Long Ass Reply
I highly doubt you’d question the basic human right to imagination. But it’s obvious that you question the application of that imagination, and have decided that only imagination in isolation is valuable… despite the fact that humans are social animals, who for thousands and thousands of years have been swapping stories and ideas freely.

Why do you do this? Honestly, why do you care? Setting aside your very real interest in protecting the financial worth of your stories, I wonder: at what point does sharing become verboten? You certainly wouldn’t claim that people shouldn’t talk about your stories, even to the extent of talking about the sorts of scenarios they’ve cooked up about them, such as speculating about what is happening “off screen.” So long as it’s not fiction, according to you and people who agree with you, it’s fair use.

But why?

So long as your financial interests are protected, why would you care about what people want to imagine in regards to your works?

It’s obvious you do. You say that “consent” is at the heart of the argument, not financial rewards. And so for you, you seem to think that you have the right to veto power over the natural consequences of imagination that your own stories have created. Not just legally, not just financially, but… morally.

I really don’t get how you can feel that way. I think the reason that a lot of fanfic writers get upset when they hear about writers forbidding fanfiction is that there is a visceral “how dare you?” response, a natural recoiling from restrictions that strike at the heart of a basic human right: the right to free thought, and free speech, and to freely associate with others.

You don’t get to define for fanfic writers who their social circles are. You don’t get to define what they choose to talk about in their free time. You know this already. But for many of us, the people we write for online are our social circles. The forums we post to are our places to talk. If I were talking to a friend I know in real life, telling them a story that I imagined based on characters you created, I doubt you’d want to interfere with that. But when it comes to the internet, the difference is in scale, not in kind.

I think there’s something you really don’t understand about internet fan culture, which is this: the respect you want is respect that you already have. For the vast majority of fans online, the very fact that you have asked for people not to post fan stories on the internet is enough to keep them from doing so. Why? Because to them, you are implicitly a part of their social circles, and it’s just not nice to be a dick to someone who has so generously given the world stories which are so moving and so good.

By all means, use your legal rights. You have them, use them. If you want fan stories using your characters and creations taken down, I think you have the power to do so. In general, the fan community across the world will support you.

But please reconsider your general stance on fanfiction. I really don’t think I need someone’s say-so before I start cooking up stories in my head. And unless I’ve been specifically requested otherwise, I really don’t think I need consent to share those ideas in the form of stories, so long as I’m not infringing on anyone’s rights. The people who love your stories are free to imagine whatever they want, however they want, and it’s kind of tasteless to suggest that it’s wrong of them to do so. You place “consent” at the core of your argument, but I don’t think that’s the right place to start, at least not in how you’ve framed it.

You’d do a lot better if the core of your argument were courtesy. It’s just not courteous to flaunt the wishes of people such as yourself. You have your legal rights already, so it’s kind of idle to talk about that… but when making the case for why people shouldn’t share their fiction online, I think you’d be much better served in making it about the kindness and respect you deserve as a human being, and less about what right you have to police the inner workings of someone else’s mind.
stegoking
May. 8th, 2010 08:38 am (UTC)
George, please don't beat me with a stick, but... the Suvudu stories?

Can you tell us what led to your decision to do those, and did you get permission from Naomi, Patrick, and Harriet? (I'm quite certain you did, and it makes the question entirely moot. I'm just sort of playing Goodkind's advocate here.)

I, for one, was simply blown away when I saw you had written fan fiction.

It was a lot of fun, by the way.
grrm
May. 8th, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
Suvudu made all the arrangements, and contacted not only me, but the other authors. Well, the living authors, anyway.

Suvudu is run by Random House.

Random House is my publisher.

(no subject) - drdzoe - May. 8th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
strangedave
May. 8th, 2010 08:41 am (UTC)
The defence of copyright legal argument
I am not a lawyer, and in any case copyright is a complicated area that moves fast and differs between jurisdictions, so take my comments your appropriate grain of salt.

I think it is pretty likely that reason no one mentioned that you have to defend your copyright is because that isn't the law. It's a well known myth about copyright, certainly, but it is not the law.

It seems to me that the argument about defending your copyright is largely, though not entirely, from analogy with trademarks and their requirement to defend them. It is nonsense in that sense - trademarks aren't copyrights, the two have different legal and policy basis (trademarks are there in part to defend the public, not just the owner), and the two differ in many other ways. Essentially,the basic reasoning is that the courts might one day become confused between copyright and trademark and decide the law from one applies to the other, despite both legislation and lots of legal precedent saying it doesn't. The main sense in which it is thrown around seems to be that while everyone knows the reasoning is poor, lawyers are advising their clients to exercise caution, because extremely dubious legal arguments have prevailed and become part of legal precedent before. Fair enough to be cautious, though it makes a poor argument about what is the morally right course rather than the prudent one.

Where this fails, however, is this argument says nothing about the benefits of a fanfic policy. IF the defense of copyright argument was true, then if you have a fanfic policy, and your fans mostly abide by this fanfic policy, you are almost certainly on stronger legal grounds than if you simply ignore the phenomenon. Having a fanfic policy that allows limited creation of derivative work under specified conditions doesn't weaken your copyright any more than licencing a trademark does (or a Creative Commons licence weakens the rights it doesn't cover, etc) -- or licencing your copyright on a for-profit basis does. If you really believe the defence of copyright argument (which you shouldn't, because it is false) then you shouldn't be ignoring fanfic or just decrying it, you should be either spending real time and effort trying to stamp out fanfic (just the same way major trademark holders spend significant time and effort going after unauthorised use of their trademarks), OR you should be taking the initiative and allowing limited licencing it on your chosen terms. If the defence of copyright argument was true, then the people with fanfic policies are probably the ones who have chosen the best path -- it keeps their copyright rights clear, while requiring minimal effort on their part to maintain, and fanfic that abides by their licence becomes part of their defence not art of the problem.

But when it comes down to it, I think the defence of copyright argument is mostly just people getting confused between copyright and trademarks, and should be ignored.
pixiemotion
May. 8th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
Re: The defence of copyright legal argument
I can see how copyright lawyers would like that myth to stay alive though ;-)
dreezyfosheezy
May. 8th, 2010 08:45 am (UTC)
My 2 Cents
I really dont understand why anyone would want to put so much effort into something like fanfic. I would much rather create my own stories than borrow them from someone else. The creation is where the fun is to me - after that its a lot more labor to fill in the spaces and make all the pieces fit.

One big thing I don't like about fanfic is this: each author has a writing style which is quite unique. After reading and following a character for a few novels, I get accustomed to the author's style in both the description and dialogue of the characters. As soon as someone else starts to write, using those same characters, the feeling is different. It is almost distracting to me - I feel as though I knew the character and then after reading some fanfic I question my original feelings and understanding of who the character was. Each reader interprets the characters slightly differently. When fans then decide to write about the character(s) they bring their interpretation onto the canvas. Instead of having just the original author painting a crystal clear picture with all of the intricate details relating to the character, its a handful of painters - each one slightly changing colors and drawing their own lines on the canvas. It clouds up the original vision.

No thanks.
thaly_black
May. 8th, 2010 08:58 am (UTC)
I love your work, I really enjoy it, I cry with it, I laugh with it, and I can tell, I love your characters almost as if they were friends of mine (even though many of them woul never be friends with me :D).

But I think that when somebody writes a fan fic about your work, he or she hasn't intention to hurt you in any way; I mean, you created that universe that makes us dream, enjoy and believe. You are, so to speak, the God for most of fan fic writers, so, as I said, I don't think there's any will to hurt you.

Whatever, is your work, so, your rules.

Best wishes :)
gryphonlsb
May. 8th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
Well said
I had never thought of the fan fic in this way but I fully get it now (I dont read fan fic but I know alot of people that do)
ruthanolis
May. 8th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC)
I run the risk of repeating a question/thought here. But there's a lot of comments. >_<

You consider it bad form to use someone else's characters without permission. Sounds fair to me. Not my characters, I can't presume to write their stories.
The thought arises, what about using the setting? The example that comes to mind first is Haviland Tuf and others in that encompassing setting. How would you feel about someone taking that setting, and writing stories based off what you've done? [Perhaps even mentioning some of your characters, prominent or otherwise, in passing as some sort of link to the setting.]
pixiemotion
May. 8th, 2010 09:20 am (UTC)
Fanfic licensing
First off: I have read most of your work and now I'm going to start on some more and I'm also going to keep telling all my friends to read it ;-)

My first thoughts on reading this was that yes, people should respect the authors wishes, and I really think those who go ahead and write fanfic (or whatever word) anyway are morons; but the thought of taking legal action against every fanfic writer to defend your copyright seems very wrong to me.

Even more so, it seems wrong to me that an idea in a novel can be copyrighted, so that MZB's "fan" could sue her. Text can be copyrighted, but ideas? I'm pretty sure that patent law hasn't gotten that far out of hand yet, and that's A Good Thing ("here's your patent for 'tights-clad alien hero-figure' Mr. Siegel, now no one else can write stories about extraterrestrial superheroes for the next 20 years, thank you for furthering innovation").

Well, maybe there was a question of real copyright infringement in that case, I don't know the details. But if it's a question of not getting sued, the solution for an author who is on the fence about fanfic seems simple: license conditions. Get a lawyer to correctly phrase "You may write fanfic based on my copyrighted text as long as you don't sue me about it and as long as you don't make money off of it". A sort of extremely restricted Creative Commons non-commercial (no sharing of the original content, but allowing the use of "characters and worlds" in modified work for non-commercial purposes). They got the CC licenses to work, so why not this.

I'm not saying you should license your work like this. But it's a possible solution for those who think fanfic is OK but still don't want to get screwed over.
chingchuanchiu
May. 8th, 2010 09:21 am (UTC)
Perhaps... it also depends on the quality of the author's work.

For instance, the Harry Potter universe. I think we as die hard (ex?) fans can say that we grossly overestimated the series - compared to my predictions, Deathly Hallows was no more than a cheap airport book. It lacked depth, plot, suspense, surprises, proper character development etc. etc. etc. I've read a lot of fanfics that are much better than the original series, especially because the writers took care to make the story/characters as authentic and believable as possible.
In a fandom that's as big as Harry Potter, still 99% of the fics are crap of course, but there are still more than enough fanfics that are really worth it to read.

I'm not saying that the author 'deserves' it - but that it might explain the popularity of some fandoms. (I don't think it applies to all fandoms - as LOTR wasn't exactly badly written... :P)

As for your works - I've never wanted to read fanfic about it because the story itself is good enough, it provides 'all I want' and I'm not left 'hungry' for more... (alright, I'd like to read Dances with Dragons but I can wait - I'm sure there's no one who can equal your quality of writing).
sheppeyescapee
May. 8th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
I don't personally write fan fiction or even read it, a couple of people I know write whofic/HP but that's about all that I know of. If the author gives permission then fair enough, but if they explicitly say that they don't want it then people should respect that.
hippoiathanatoi
May. 8th, 2010 09:36 am (UTC)
I largely agree with what you've written, George, but I do have one caveat.

"a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED."

I think that you can't lose copyright because of a lack of defense. The copyright is always yours. I've never heard of a case of someone losing the copyright to their work, in the same way that someone could lose a trademark because they've allowed it to become so diluted that it's no longer protectable.

However, for those sharing the same quibble but who then use it to dismiss the argument entirely, I very much believe that your "easement" analogy fits. I think it's an entirely possible that a court could find that your copyright has been infringed, but because an author has encouraged the proliferation of fan derivatives in an uncontrolled way, the court sees no reason to award punitive or compensatory damages. So you may be able to stop the publication of a derivative, but you'll be out your legal expenses, without a dime to show for it.

Which, in principle, doesn't matter. But authors are not made out of money.

I think that's what's really at the core of the "copyright must be defended" argument. Not that you may lose your copyright, but you could very well lose your ability to receive just compensation for those who exploit your work.
hippoiathanatoi
May. 8th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
I realize, of course, that for an author, not being able to receive monetary compensation for infringement rather makes copyright protection seem much less valuable.
mat33
May. 8th, 2010 09:40 am (UTC)
Robert Howard (the original author of Conan the Barbarian, if I didn't manage to err once, or twice even - in the single sentence ;) ) - commited suicide. But rich he was - even without getting any money from Hollywood in his lifetime... if I don't err once more here.

In any case, you do know the story, I bet. In Russia, Lukianenko - the greatest commercial success in SF - kept ALL his books in the public online libraries for the first ten years, at least - free for everyone. There may be tonns of "fan fiction", too. Saves a lot of money on advertising, as I see it.
saturnscasualty
May. 8th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
First I want you to know that I was thrilled to read about Diana Gabaldon in your Not A Blog. I'm not a big romance reader, but I love the Outlander series.

I also want to say that I totally understand and respect where you both are coming from. I hate when characters are taken out of the authors hands, and am especially grateful that didn't happen with Brian Sanderson and Robert Jordan... but I'm off topic now. That's a totally different situation.
Anyhow, I appreciate that you keep your characters to yourself and don't let anyone bastardize your story. I look forward to your HBO series even more knowing how you stand in this subject, actually. Thank you, and I hope more of your fans feel the same way I do.
themadfish
May. 8th, 2010 10:01 am (UTC)
I do not write fanfic. However, I read a ton of it. There are various reason why I read it, the biggest is that I love seeing other people's point of views on characters and situations. Also, there seems to be the assumption that readers won't be able to tell the difference between canon and fandom if they read fanfics. Most of the time, that's not the case. Sometimes it's just because the characters are so different from the original. And really? Why should I care if they are? That just means there's an extra set of characters that I love. And if the authors do manage to make the characterization right, then that just means I'm reading about these characters doing something in a situation that's completely different. It's fun. It doesn't diminish my love for the original work. It increases it.

(ok, I keep on adding stuff to my comment, so this entire thing may be a little disjointed, sorry!)

From what I've observed with various authors is that once they state that they don't allow fanfiction, is that the people who wrote them stopped. The reason they stopped was the same reason why they started in the first place--respect and love for the author and their written works. Obviously because the internet is huge, some people aren't going to respect the author's wishes, and those people should be yelled at until they stop.

What bothers me in Diana Gabaldon case(and not just her's, other authors as well), is her essentially calling all fanfics and fanfic writers to be immoral and disgusting. Most fanfic writers know the drill by now--if the author says no, then no. If she had calmly stated this in the first place, there would hardly be this sort of outcry. I have noticed in her subsequent posts that she's revised her tone and put a nice disclaimer up about how she does not want fanfics to be written of her work. I wish it had been that way in the beginning.

Ok, now more on the topic of fanfiction itself.

You mentioned the example of ERB and HPL and I wonder how it'd be different now. The hugeness of the internet can be a beneficial thing.

My trends with reading fanfics usually goes like this. I read in one fandom and from there I encounter a variety of writers, who write in other fandoms, and since their writing is so good, I'll read stuff in the other fandoms, even without knowledge of the orignal work.

Usually not long afterwards, I get invested enough that I seek out the orignal work and buy it. Which is how I ended up owning all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 and 5 seasons of Stargate Atlantis. Or four seasons of Supernatural. Or why I'm starting to buy Buffy and Angel. Or why I like Iron Man. Or why I want to Deadpool comics.

When your favorite authors goes and starts writing in something unknown to you, you want to find the original work to find out what it's all about. The network between people is huge, and sometimes the author doesn't even have to write in that fandom, they can just mention how much they love these books, or love this TV show, and I'll go and check it out. It's not just authors that the readers connect to either, they connect with each other, and from there comes more recommendations. The majority of books and TV shows I've read have been recommended by fanfic writers and readers.

Fanfic does not always have to work against authors finiancially. Often these communities are huge, interconnected, and very enthusiastic. I mean, take the livejournal community Help Haiti. They raised at least $115,000.00 in a few weeks. This is a fandom run community, much of it which was raised by authors writing fanfics for readers. Or readers making stuff for other readers to buy. This is not an uncommon thing. Sweet charity is another fandom run charity.

Anyway, the bottom line is that if authors doesn't want fanfics written of their works, then fanfic writers and readers should stop.

I'm just disagreeing with the whole nothing good will come out of fanfic angle. Or that fanfic will take away profits. Fanfic can do the exact opposite.
librarian2003
May. 8th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
I got here by way of kairosimperfect's LJ, rather than my own efforts - but I have definitely read your books and enjoyed them!

As you say, there are two groups of writers: those who encourage fanfic, and those who do not. Sadly, I think there are also two groups of fanfic writers: those who respect the wishes of their target writers, and those who don't see what the fuss is about and will do whatever they choose anyway, because it's a free world, isn't it? If fans are writing secret stories for their own amusement, and then hiding them away in the wardrobe, that's fine. But, if they're posting them on this internet-thingy for the whole world to read, that's quite a different kettle of fish.

I confess to being a fanfic writer, but what I've written there is confined to a single TV show. And when I found a story from another fanfic writer who had ripped off two of my original characters, I admit that the red tide of rage made me want to tear out the perpetrator's intestines and hang them from the nearest lamp-post, despite the fact that my e-mail to her was very polite.

I've also participated in a multi-author project based around that same TV show, in which I have introduced a number of original characters. You're right. They are like my children. Seeing other people do things with them that are just plain wrong was really hard to take.

Having said that, it has never occurred to me to borrow characters from an actual *author*. That has always seemed too much like theft or kidnap. Why would anyone want to do that when it's so much more fun finding out what adventures the author has in mind for them?

Now I'm writing my own completely original tales. It may be that they only finish up at the bottom of my wardrobe, although I hope not. But, my characters are MY characters, and I have learned that I will not take kindly to them being borrowed. I do not want the shiny rubbed off them by careless handling.

I applaud those who are less selfish, and who like to share their sandbox with others, but others do not have the same feel for these creations as their creator. I quite understand why you would retain creator-control, even when you give permission for someone else to play. And for the sake of the characters, I think that is a very good thing to do.

And the story about Marion Zimmer Bradley is definitely one to give an author pause for thought. With the number of people writing fanfic nowadays, it's almost impossible to imagine that a popular author's latest idea might not pop up in some form, no matter how tenuous the similarity, in an unauthorised fanfic. The idea of trying to navigate an original idea through a morass of similarities is more daunting than than even the lost revenue and the legal issues when a book has to be ditched.

Thank you for an interesting commentary.

Jo
geekus_feminina
May. 8th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC)
Just Another Opinion
This is the paper I wrote on the copyright issues with fan fiction, which was published by the MIT Press recently in the International Journal of Learning and Media. Instead of trying to summarize 40 pages of legal arguments, I'll simply link it. :)

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/ijlm.2009.0007

As a note: No, I'm not a lawyer, though the paper has been thoroughly vetted by one. This is simply the culmination of an undergraduate research project gone terribly off track.
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