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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:


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.'


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.


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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May. 8th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Thing is? I respect an author's wishes regarding fanfic, just like I respect that you, sir, have a life outside of writing and thus do not mind waiting for years for books I like. As a reader, I feel very strongly that I have no right to demand anything from an author or publisher, be it speeding up, slowing down, better copy-editing, whatever. I may grumble about these things, but that's as far as it can go. So it wasn't that Ms Gabaldon went on the record against anyone writing 'fic in her universe, it was how. (As opposed to you, who remained civil and fair.)

Fanfic readers are often among the most avid fans of a series. Good fanfic writers research before they start writing, vidders sometimes spend months on a single vid. To make us out to be carnivorous, plagiarising vultures who have not an ounce of respect for the original author or the canon material is as ill-informed as it is insulting. Saying that fanfiction is illegal, too, is simply incorrect in most countries at this point.

And to compare us, who are also fans, buyers of the books and people who recommend them to friends all the time, to rapists and kidnappers, or even just someone who steals half your frontyard rose bush? You can guess how that made us feel. Hypothetically speaking, here I am, idly thinking about something that could have happened before Samwell Tarly came to the wall. Not that you didn't give enough background on him - it's just going through my head, because I really like the character and am thinking about him. If I were to write it down - I won't, I can't write well enough to do him or the 'verse justice - and if I posted it - I wouldn't, because it's against your wishes - then maybe ten people would read it. After slogging through a disclaimer saying how Sam and the ASOIAF 'verse belonged to GRRM and his publishers. It harms neither your booksales, nor your characters, now anyone else on this whole planet.

As regards the being sued by fanfic writers issue: as many people have pointed out on Ms Gabaldon's post, these whackjobs are shunned, hated, and ostracised by 99.9% of the community. Back when I was in Potter fandom, I contributed with glee to the Harry Potter Lexicon website. Long after I left, Steve went mental and tried to make money off of it. That he ever thought that he could get away with it without getting permission first is beyond my comprehension: the first rule of fan-works is Do Not Make Money Of It. That this case actually ended with JKR having to defend her position in court is a source of great shame for me, because one of our own did that. Fanstuff that I worked on was part of that.

But most fanfic isn't like that, most fanfic authors aren't. To judge a whole groups of us by a few bad apples seems unfair. The only comparison I can come up with is saying "Americans aren't good writers" after suffering for too long before throwing a Dan Brown book against the wall.

But whether anyone has a positive or a negative opinion of fanfic in general becomes irrelevant when the author says No Go. Whatever we're legally allowed to do, I think that if you're a fan, you should respect an author's wishes.

And yet! Even if I had posted my little Sam 'fic, even if it had gathered ten thousand page hits, HOW exactly does that make me in any way comparable to a real life rapist, kidnapper, rose-bush thief? Yes, I am bitter and sad that Ms Gabaldon would think that of me or my friends despite my conviction that it's her right to tell us to stop.

[What really makes me chuckle, though, is this: you are the one person responsible that I ever got into fanfic. Back in 2001, I was browsing your website from my dorm, and read how you'd started out writing in 'zines. A day later, someone on a book-listserve I was on asked if anyone there was reading "fanfiction". I would have never clicked on that link, but since the great GRRM did it, I thought, I might as well give it a try!
Eight and a half years in online fandom, a couple thousand readable 'fics, a few dozen online-friends, three intercontinental meet-ups, ten life-long friends and one fiancé later, I'm glad to say that I am exactly where I belong. And it's all due to you. So, most genuinely: Thank You. You made me find my tribe.]
May. 8th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I've been persuaded
First time poster, long time lurker... George, while I don't typically agree with your political views (I mention this only because you referred to the topic of fanfic as a political one at its core), I find it hard to disagree with your points on this topic. To be honest, I've never given fanfic much thought, nor heard the arguments (on either side), but had the (uninformed) opinion of "what does it hurt?" and "why do some authors have their panties in a bunch over something so harmless?" I now understand and can very much appreciate, support, and agree with your viewpoint. Thanks for the education. Oh yeah, and I love your books and thoughts on the NFL (if not your politics - although I always enjoy a healthy debate).
May. 8th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
nihilistic_kid (Nick Mamatas) has a rebuttal here. Given Nick's usual style, he's almost nice to you.
May. 8th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Just had to get in a dig at Evil Bill B., didn't you... ;p
May. 8th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
This was a very interesting read.

I'm really not a fanfic reader, because it's not nearly at all the same as reading the author's creation. I have to wonder, if maybe some anger over plot and story line in books published in a popular series that come after fanfic for that series has become prolific, is due to unrealistic expectations on the part of the reader?

I mean, certainly there are some very good fanfics, but if that's not the way the author wants to take the book, obviously the author won't, but it seems that people get all up in arms if the book doesn't go the way they "feel" it should, and it's usually criticisms from ones who are into fanfic.

Haven't read all 260+ comments so this may have already been addressed, just my $.02.

I'd rather wait for the book to come out, than read fanfic.
May. 8th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
Character names/nicknames or ex-fan fiction
first i admit ,i have not read the whole comments.

if i create a nickname on internet that calls "Tyrion01",you surely dont think that i meant Mr.Sarkozy.it is devoted to your work that i like.and it helps and i am sure it has helped your work to get popular(that means you have earned more money.

i think Random House appreciated such fan fiction or non-fan fiction related to one of his releases.

otherwise you and me cant use other peoples name without their permission.like my nickname.i have not devoted it to Ricky Martin

should i change it?

May. 8th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
I have participated in fanfiction writing as it is known today. I also aspire to be a published writer and work on my own unique creations. I suppose if I ever reach that goal, I will have to decide where I stand on the issue of fanfiction. And to stick with that stand, because, as you say, the issue is hard to close once opened.

I think the morally correct choice for those who chose to write fanfiction is to respect the author's choice to disallow it. For those that truly love an author's work who doesn't support fanfiction, is insisting on breaking that author's rules and wishes really showing how much you love their creation?

As for the pros and cons of each, I can identify and support either decision. It is a matter of what you value in your created works. I cannot assume HPL found more value in seeing his work proliferate at the expense of his own quality of life, but some do not value personal fortune and comfort as much as they do sharing with others - be it money, relationships, or even intellectual property. I would guess that many draw the line somewhere above malnourishment, however. Still, the point is, what does the author value? What are their goals with their works? If the goal is to make a living and to control the creation, then it is reasonable to insist on no fanfiction. But if the goal is more open, if the idea is to create a nebulous playground where all can share, and you as the "big-bang force" of that creation, the catalyst for its inception, open it up to everyone, that is just as legitimate.

I suppose the debate really boils down to respect. Respecting people, respecting creativity, respecting vision. There is no right and wrong side of the question "is fanfiction legitimate?" because it's different for different authors. But there is a definitive place when you chose to either respect someone, or disrespect someone and their creation.
May. 8th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
The MZB incident is a great deal more complex than the urban legend told about the MZB incident.

Here is the story as told by the fan in question. http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written/msg/80c1db3e5e35c1f9?dmode=source&output=gplain&pli=1
May. 8th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
The version I cited was the version told by Marion Zimmer Bradley herself, as published in the SFWA FORUM.

I suppose the question then becomes, "Who you going to believe?"
Interesting question... - increment1 - May. 8th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 8th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
I love how everyone assumes that fanfiction writing is some kind of "practice" before becoming published. Why is it that $$$ for writing makes it somehow better? I was an English major and there are TONS of poorly written, professionally published novels. And I have read fan fics that are beautifully written and carefully edited.
May. 8th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
A Huge Misconception In Almost Every Comment Here
Everyone seems to think that "if you create characters, they're yours".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, if you write something, it belongs to the public domain forever. Anybody can do whatever he wants with it.

Yep. That's right. HOWEVER! We give the author a limited and temporary right to have exclusive control over that work for a period of time - currently his life plus seventy years. An author's ownership of his creation is temporary.

And it is a limited right - if I write an article critiquing someone's work, I can use as many quotations of as many words as I need to get my point across. Or, I could even write a book called "A Song of Pies and Liars" that contained caricatures of "A Song of Ice and Fire" characters which generally lampooned the characters and the plot.

Copyright is not ownership. It is a temporary license granted by the government so that authors and artists get paid for what they did. If you write something, you DO NOT own it.
May. 8th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: A Huge Misconception In Almost Every Comment Here
You're completely wrong.

Publishing something does not place it in the public domain.

May. 8th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
My two cents (or to sense)
I don’t quite understand the allure of writing fan-fiction. To me writing is the only form of artistic expression I can engage in at a competent level; my drawing skills are outmatched by five year olds and my understanding of musical composition is even worse. While a painter uses images, I use words to draw my worlds and it is the creation of those worlds which is the most enjoyable part of writing fantasy. To write good fiction you need this level of imagination – more so, dare I say, than a proper command of English – and if you don’t have the ability to create your own worlds in your own mind then you have no business writing fantasy. So for me, the trespassing upon another’s creative mindscapes is simply unacceptable, I would feel dirty should I use but a single name bearing a resemblance to that of another author’s creation, and the severity of that feeling would increase proportionally to the respect and admiration I have for the author in question.

A further aspect, perhaps from the ‘other side’ of the fan-writer relationship, and along the lines of what Diana Gabaldon referred to, is the thought of someone else using my creations. It’s not so much that I would consider it a sullying of my worlds or characters (though that feeling would occur to an extent), more that frankly it’s an insult; it would feel to me that someone took my creation and said “well I love it, but here’s what you should have done/should do next/failed at.”

Unfortunately there is no way to stop fan-fiction. Technological advances, for all the good they have done, also produce a generation which has no concept of patience: everything is there at the click of a button, and anything that requires waiting for is simply not worth it. Perhaps many writers of fan-fiction do so as it’s a quicker way of producing something they can post for others to comment on, which sadly seems the only reason for writing (other than money) that a lot of folk online seem to care about. Only those with a true love of the art understand how long it takes to write, how much effort it requires, and how much of that effort is devoted to things other than the joining of words.
May. 8th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
While I am no fan of fanfic, I have long been on the fence about it. While I consider it a crutch for people who cannot yet envision their own worlds, I also thought it was a chance for some people to hone their writing skills. A gateway drug, if you will.

Your thoughts have influenced my opinion on the matter. I have never really considered the importance of the author to say "no, thank you" when it comes to control of such things. Thank you for writing about this.
May. 8th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I love a character so much that I recycle them as NPCs in the RPGs I run. And out of respect for your feelings on fanfics, I suppressed my urge to have a cocky, sarcastic, attractive one-handed swordsman.


In my current Ars Magica saga, I've got a Moorish butler with impeccable manners (Sorry Ms. Clarke), a big beefy henchman who is totally harmless and loves to cook (sorry Disney), and.... four musicians from Liverpool named George, Paul, John, and Richard. Only, *this* George has a big bushy beard, a gift for writing, and a French wife (get it? Parris... France? Get it?!?)

My apologies to Misters Martin and Harrison.
May. 8th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
As a non-professional writer and serious reader (and two-time attendee of the World Fantasy Convention), I think it's wonderful that you post about professional topics on your blog. I think the general reading public does need to know why intellectual property really matters, as does protecting it. Nicely said.
May. 8th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
Mr. Martin
It is all ok and fine about Fan fiction, but what is your attitude toward Fan made art?
I personally made several scenes from the books that i found inspiring. I can see that you accepted a lot of paintings (traditional and digital), figurines and what not.But i guess you commissioned them or you got them form friends and fans, I know there is a fan art section on your site, but what is your attitude toward that? The thing is i have my own "brain" children. My OC's, worlds and stories only i use a different medium. I am a comic (graphic novel, as posh people say), artist. And i can relate to your and Mrs. Diana's thoughts about your intellectual spawns.
I sent you one of mine works via e-mail, i don't know if it reached you.Got me a handsome amount of faves on Deviantart.com, almost 400.Being unknown artist, it is a good number.Not big one as some people get but i am glad that that particular one is acknowledged.
If someone asked you this.Just re post a comment you left them.I really want to know how to look on that in the future.
May. 8th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
I have no problem with fan art.

And indeed I liked the portraits of the Russian artist Amok -- originally posted just on his website -- so much that I have subsequently asked for him to be hired for several professional gigs, illustrating the characters.
May. 8th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
Heya George-

I'm with you on the notion that an author's response to fanfic is entirely his or hers to decide; whether you choose to encourage it, control it, ignore it, or wage unrelenting war until the stars burn out (or the Jets get back to the Super Bowl, whichever comes first) is your own business.

What I'd have to take issue with, respectfully, is your characterization of Lovecraft's problems as stemming primarily from looseness with copyright... HPL was one of the most notoriously self-sabotaging writers of the 20th century. I would challenge his worst detractors to come up with means to stunt his fiction career more creative than those he inflicted on himself while he was alive.

His diffidence about shopping his work around was pathological. I mean, he was THE object lesson in the art of not getting published, and if his work had been less seminal or his advocates less determined, his behavior probably would have sealed his life's work under a capstone of total obscurity.

He kept many now-famous works of fiction under wraps for years. When he did submit, he often passed the same dog-eared manuscripts around until they practically fell apart. When he received editorial feedback, he often failed to engage with it, and instead returned the manuscripts to their dusty exile for a few more years.

He had very little aptitude for "selling himself," and indeed a deep-seated aversion to anything that hinted of it. He straitjacketed his career with his notions of what gentlemen were simply not supposed to do in matters of finance and publicity. He was infamously ineffective at collecting money owed to him for his ghostwriting and revision services.

He had an undeniable force of intellect, and the energy and enthusiasm to sustain his legendary circles of correspondence, but he manifested almost no ability for nurturing himself as a fiction writer, for protecting himself financially, or for tapping into other revenue streams (say, film and radio, for example).

Like many HPL fans, I certainly wish he'd been able to live the last few years of his life at the higher degree of comfort and security he deserved, but the fact that he encouraged others to play with what became the Mythos was, I think, the very least of the spooky old gentleman's problems. May he rest in peace, in an afterlife with no seafood joints.
May. 8th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
But see, George- you've made a polite, respectful argument, and as your fan, I respect your request to not write fan fiction involving your characters. Diana was rude, accusatory, and antagonistic- to people who are likely some of her biggest supporters. That's the difference. I was also a fan of Diana, and I still love her work (though I've never written fic with her characters; I stay in JK Rowling's sandbox, since she doesn't seem to mind), but I have to say the manner in which she phrased things left a very sour taste in my mouth.
May. 8th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
"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."

That's not the case. It is how trademarks work, but copyright can be selectively enforced. It's almost impossible to lose your copyright on something without deliberately giving it up nowadays.

(Or, this is how a lawyer explained it to me. I'm certainly not qualified to know for sure one way or the other.)
May. 8th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Extremely well-stated, George. I had never thought of fan fiction in that light before. Thanks for sharing the learned wisdom.

I'll keep your post in mind when I (hopefully) get published myself and for my stories.
May. 8th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
Corporate vs Personal Copyright?
I really appreciate your post on this. Unfortunately, it means that my epic "Westeros Meets 'Mad Men'" story will never see the light of day. A shame, really, as I thought that the pivotal, 50-page Don Draper-Catelyn showdown was going to change how we perceive the very genre of 60s advertising-epic fantasy crossovers*.

On a serious note, I think there's also a difference with copyrights on characters that are solely owned by corporations. I agree that Marvel controls the economic life of Spidey, et al, but I see fanfic about those characters as very different compared to Harry Potter, Jaime, etc. I wouldn't write a story about the latter, but I might write one about Spidey. Even there, though, I see a distinction between characters that are dominated by a single creator. For example, Brian Michael Bendis and some of his characters. Or Frank Miller's version of Batman in the "Dark Knight".

Of course, this is an arbitrary distinction, but I think that there should be a reward for creators keeping at least partial ownership of their characters. I even think that the length of the copyright should change depending on the owner -- I think 75 years is too long for corporate holdings, but not for creator-owned properties. Of course, this is much more of an issue in comics than in novels.

Thanks for the food for thought!

* I'm kidding. It was only 20 pages.
May. 8th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
The Justifications of Authorial Rights Imply the Acceptability of Fan Fiction
The governmental power to grant authorial rights is derived from Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the constitution. It says "The Congress shall have Power To 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." The important thing to note here is that it explicitly sets out the rationale for authorial rights. It's for the promotion of public good. It's clear that the protection granted to authors is only instrumental, not the end goal.

Considering things from this perspective, it's hard to justify a disapproval of fan fiction. One person restricting the choices available to many others is unlikely to increase total happiness.

However, this is not the popular conception of authorial rights. Many people subscribe to a labor-desert theory. This is the view that authors' works are entitled to protection because of the labor that they represent. This theory originated with Locke in the physical realm. Aside from the obvious problems with applying such a theory to the very different realm of ideas, one of Locke's requirements was that an individual not lay claim to more than s/he can make use of. By forbidding fan fiction, one is laying claim to a vast swath of territory that can't possibly all be used. Now, instead of being used, most of this territory is left fallow.
May. 8th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
Some interesting concerns GRRM, but I am not convinced of the harm.
This is something I had never thought of before. Does writing "fanfic" which is published without profit or attempt to profit, violate copyright? I never thought it did, but I concede to have no significant knowledge on this (though I should since I am looking to be published). If it does, the requirement to defend the copyright sure does raise some sticky issues and severely questions the validity of "fanfic."

The spirit of the law is to protect the author/creator from financial loss caused by the unauthorized use of their works/creations. Does not-for-profit "fanfic" break this? I don't think so. The letter of the law is a very different story, and if any copyright lawyers, more so if they specialize in literature, are commenting on this blog, PLEASE give us all a quick lesson on what is what!

But back to the spirit of the law. "fanfic" fills a want by fans. fiction relating to their favourite characters/worlds. I am not picking on you George, but a five year gap between books could induce a huge demand for stories, despite their lack of authenticity.

Showing off a story about Jaime Lannister, in a parallel world, where he was kidnapped as an infant and separated from Cersei (and the Lannisters in general) and raised by his kidnappers, sees him become a gallant hedge knight or a rather dissatisfied novice in the Citadel, does not compete with the "Official Product" but rather complements it.

No author should lose fans to a "fanfic" writer borrowing their setting/characters. No one should attempt to profit from it (without forcing a lawsuit).

Back to a five year gap without releases. "Fanfic" could actually be a powerful tool to keep reader interest up during that time. Some fans could be turned off by the long wait, move onto new things and actually lose interest by the time the long awaited next installment is issued. (But boy, would that be a mistake!)

Disclosure: I have written "fanfic" once. It was set in the Dragonlance world, which lets face it, is in no danger of having it's quality sullied by the untrained or untalented fanfictioneers. That was also 12 years ago as I was reaching young adulthood, and was never "published." I intended to share it, but never did. I have focused solely on my own creations since, which should be encouraged of all fanfictioneers.

Even if I was still seriously writing "fanfic," if the author requested his or her fans refrain from using their properties, I most likely would. But i have trouble seeing the harm.

The law should protect the financial integrity of an Author's endeavors, but still allow for some profitless amateur homage.

I am sorry that Marion Zimmer Bradley felt forced to abandon a story concept. I don't know how someone else who was not the copyright holder could hold ANY power of threat of lawsuit against MZB. Unless it was interpreted that her encouraging "fanfic" and reading/reviewing it served as a contract of shared ownership. That could easily be cleared up in future cases by A) not reading the "fanfic" based on your own work and/or B) a prominent disclaimer that you don't give permission and therefore their is no implied right to shared ownership.

More on point B, an Author (lets say GRRM for an example) worried about control could offer a place on their website for fanfictioneers to post their fanfic. They would be required to sign-up for membership, and that membership would require the fanfictioneer to agree that everything published on the website was the sole property of GRRM. The lawyers could do that thing they are overpaid for, and make sure the whole enterprise is all right side up (legitimate and enforceable).

There, problem eternally solved.

May. 8th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
"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"


I've read quite a few of your books, will certainly be reading more, and reccommend them to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

It's a heated discussion, and it's an interesting one since, as you say, the internet age has added orders of magnitude to the circulation of fanfic. I don't think scale affects the core issue at all. The issue being, I suppose, "Is it theft?"

Nobody likes to be robbed; nobody likes to be accused of being a thief. And I think what makes it complex is that we are talking about two kinds of theft - creative/intellectual and financial.

If I write fanfic (and I do - though fear not, I haven't touched your characters for the simple reason that I want YOU to tell me the story; writing is much too much like hard work for me to want to do yours for you), I'm not stealing the author's money. Never have; never will. I've paid for the original material and for the franchised spin-offs. Am I stealing the characters and settings? Hmmm. More difficult. I think of it more as borrowing, since I put them back in the box after playing with them, and I treat them with respect. If I knew the author definitely didn't want me to, then I almost certainly wouldn't. Splitting hairs? Maybe. But in wanting to tell the characters' stories after the creator stopped, or to imagine a little more detail in that universe, or what's round the corner, out of sight in the original books, I'm bringing my own insights and imagination to bear. I'm proud of what I've written, and I learn with every story. My own characters are appearing more frequently and taking a larger role. Who knows, perhaps ofic is round the corner? For which I will always, always than the original creator of the universe where I have been playing for the past two years. I will never plagiarise her creations for my own profit.

Perhaps not all writers of fanfic are as trustworthy as I am. But those I know are.

You've read and heard all the love/respect arguments. I'm adding the "Masterclass" element. There are many published works which, to a greater or lesser extent, derive from, transform, and variously steal from previously published works. I'd hate to see that tradition disappear. (Though not, admittedly, a fairly large number of its results.)

That's all. That's how I feel.

But as a final word, I'd just like to say that while I don't agree with you, I do most heartily appreciate the temperate manner with which you make your case.
May. 8th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
I agree with you!
I've always loved fan fiction.
As a teen I loved to both read and write so-called fan-fiction, especially such taking place in Robert Jordan's Randland.

But reading things from your point of view I'll have to agree with you.
May. 8th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Honestly I've always thought people who write fan fiction were a little weird but pretty much harmless, but after reading this post I understand where you are coming from, Mr. Martin. Your books and characters are your mark on this world, a mark like the most of us will never have the chance to leave. So protect them to the best of your ability and thank you for sharing your thoughts and imagination with the rest of us! ASOIAF- best series ever btw
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