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A Few Last Words

I've just locked the comments section of the previous post. We've had about four hundred comments since the post went up last night, and the whole thing is about to collapse under its own weight. I suspect that someone or other has already said everything that can be said on the subject, so now we're starting to go around in circles.

Also, with this many comments, it's becoming obvious that some of the later commenters aren't actually reading what went before. I'm starting to get asked the same questions over and over again -- what about Suvudu? what about the Vance book? what about fan art? what about role-playing games? All fair enough questions, but I have answered all of them in responses to earlier comments. Some I have answered two or three times by now. I am not going to answer them four, five, six, or twelve times, sorry. So if you've posted a question that has already been asked and answered, your post will likely be ignored or deleted. (Yes, I know it's a pain to have to read four hundred comments. Tough. If I have to read them all, so do you. That's the price of taking part in the discussion).

Some comments haven't been unscreened yet. There have been so many of them coming in so fast that it has been hard to keep up. A few have been buried by now, especially comments on comments on comments. Ty or I will get to all of them eventually, I hope, and everything will either be unscreened or deleted.

I want to thank ninety-five percent of the people who took the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts, and even more, I appreciate the relative calm and thoughtful tone of this discussion, which never degenerated into the kind of ugliness I've seen (and am still seeing) in the comments over on Diana Gabaldon's blog, where the discussion has long since been derailed. I don't know how many minds were changed here, but all the major issues were thoroughly aired, it seems to me, and I hope this generated more light than heat.

There were a few issues raised during the debate that I'd like to address a bit further.

A number of commenters suggested that I was wrong in my assertion that copyrights need to be defended, and suggested that I was confusing copyrights with trademarks. Perhaps so. This was raised often enough that it is obviously something I need to look into further. There were also posters who agreed with what I wrote, however, including some who identified themselves as lawyers or law students, so I don't think the issue is as clear cut as the "trademark" folks are claiming. I'll investigate this, and if I was wrong about this, I will come back here and say so (eventually, this is not my top priority in life). If I was right, I'll come back and mention that as well.

ERB v HPL. I never said that allowing others to play with the Cthulhu mythos was the ONLY reason Lovecraft died in poverty. Actually, I am a huge Lovecraft fan, and not much of a Burroughs fan at all (though Melinda Snodgrass and I did once work on the screenplay for A PRINCESS OF MARS). I know a lot about HPL. His work has been hugely influential on modern horror. But my point stands. I could write a Cthulhu Mythos novel tomorrow, and I would not have to pay a dime to any Lovecraft estate (if such exists) or get their permission. I would never dare write a Barsoom novel, though surely PRINCESS is in the public domain by now. (The later John Carter and Tarzan novels may still be under copyright).

A few people have quoted or posted links to the other side of the Marion Zimmer Bradley incident, the account of the fan involved. Fine, two sides to every story, check it out. At this point, twenty years after the fact, it all becomes she said/ she said. But the version I posted was hardly "urban legend," as one commenter called it. It was the version given by Marion Zimmer Bradley herself in SFWA FORUM, what she told the rest of the writing community. If you want to believe she lied, well, that's your prerogative.

More thoughts as I have 'em. Just now, I have work to do.


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May. 8th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I went from having an attitude of "I think writer's are doing a disservice to their fans when they stop them from playing with fan-fic," to a "It sucks for everyone but the possible negatives outweigh the possible positives, so I think writer's are justified in limiting or disallowing fan-fic" as a direct result of the arguments you presented.

A well-written, logical and reasonable argument stands every chance of being persuasive.
May. 8th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
...Wait, someone's opinion was altered after an Internet discussion?

I think my brain just broke. This is utterly outside my experience.
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May. 8th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for these posts. It mad me look at things a bit different.

May. 8th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
While I don't agree with a lot of your points on fanfiction, I have no issue with what you wrote in your last post... really, it was pretty much the same thing as Diana attempted to do -- explain her reasons for not liking fanfiction -- but you handled it much better.

That was really the problem a lot of people had with Diana's post, not her opinion of fanfiction or that she doesn't want it written for her stories (her stories are actually in the extreme minority as far as fanfiction goes anyway - there is only 38 fanfics for her books on fanfiction.net in comparison to the hundreds of thousands for other works of fiction). The issue was the condescending and insulting tone and the unfortunate analogies she chose to use.

I actually didn't notice much of the "ugliness" within the comments on Diana's blog that you mention, really the discussion was pretty tame (and the majority of it was just that, a discussion, not comments in direct response to Diana)... but maybe it's just because I've seen discussions on forums and things that really have turned pretty ugly so the one on Diana's blog doesn't seem so bad in comparison.

So yeah, basically I just wanted to say thank you for being able to address the issue in a professional and respectful manner, if Diana's initial post had been more like yours then the reaction to it would've been less extreme. :)
May. 9th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
So yeah, basically I just wanted to say thank you for being able to address the issue in a professional and respectful manner, if Diana's initial post had been more like yours then the reaction to it would've been less extreme.

Word to the nth degree.

It was very unfortunate that Ms Gabaldon opted to express her "No fanfiction" preferences via a little RPF vignette starring a hypothetical EveryFicWriter person putting forward their dim, timid arguments for writing fanfiction, in order to have The Mighty Published Author kindly show them the error of their ways, then pat them on the head and give them a cookie.

Because of course that left the ACTUAL fic writers who were being basically parodied, and whose perspective she was failing to represent, staring at the screen thusly: O_O

(Oh, the irony! She was writing us out of character, and we were immediately butthurt about the bad dialogue and inaccurate motivations ascribed to us even before coming on to the meat of the matter. Just say no to badfic, kids!)

Opening a discourse (which of course she didn't realise she was doing - she thought she was performing solely for the entertainment of her coterie of admirers, and didn't pause to consider the potential repercussions of being overheard by the people she was talking about) in this strident and dismissive fashion was not, as it turned out, the best of diplomatic moves, and it meant that automatically people were going to respond with indignation at seeing their position misrepresented (along with the unflattering & not particularly watertight analogies). So right from the get go you've got people being rude to one another and feeling emotional, rather than concentrating upon the actual discussion at hand.

As a feminist, I do find it quite saddening that this matter went down one way on the blog of a female writer (as a result of her own post), and very differently on the blog of a male writer - I really don't want to describe the former as more emotional and less consistent, damn it. But mad props to you, Mr Martin, for expressing your stance (which is essentially the same as Ms Gabaldon's) in such a measured and sensible fashion, and eschewing playing to the crowd or taking pot shots. It just makes it so much easier for a proper conversation to take place, and that's good for all involved.

So, yes - thank you very much for setting the tone of the discussion, and for your considered responses. I've found it all much more useful and thought-provoking than the conversation in Ms Gabaldon's blog (which felt, at times, all too much like this. For both sides, I dare say).
May. 8th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
"Princess of Mars" is indeed in the Public Domain- Project Guttenburg have it for download, I think. Good luck and good wishes.
May. 8th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
I somehow ended up to be the first commenter on the last thread, so aside from replies to my comment, I haven't had time to go back and read the many comments that were left since. But I am so glad to hear you say that it went relatively calmly, because when I saw how many comments it got up to since yesterday, my first thought was "Uh-oh, did stuff hit the fan?"

It is always a pleasure to have an intelligent, calm discussion or debate about stuff like this, especially when there are so many different valid perspectives that one can learn about. My opinion wasn't exactly changed, but I have glimpsed some reasons and arguments I haven't heard before that definitely evened things out a bit more. I'm sorry for Diane Gabaldon, who had no such luck on her blog, I hear, and had tons of rude, angry fans not being civil at all.
May. 8th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
I enjoy debate. And while I might not share your opinion on fanfic, you have every right to it, and fans should respect it.

I feel, however, that I have to warn you. Once the television series comes out, I think the amount of fanfic set in your world will increase 100 fold: In general, books themselves have pretty small population of fanfic, but media such as tv and movies have HUGE amounts if they are even kinda decent.
May. 8th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know this.

I worked on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, remember? That was before the internet, but there was still B&B fanfic all over the place.
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(no subject) - idemandjustice - May. 9th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 8th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
I, clearly like many others, have really had my eyes opened by your last couple of posts. While I've never written fan fiction, I have read a lot of it. It never occurred to me until now to think that fan fiction might cause problems for the original author.

In regard to the questions about fan art, Suvudu, etc. I personally feel there's a pretty distinct line between those and fan fiction. Fan art and things like the Suvudu cage matches seem to serve mostly to draw attention and interest to the original works while letting the readers feel like they're part of the action. Fan fiction is creating new works to draw attention, potentially (though certainly not always), away from the parent work.

I also RP from time to time. I own a deeply cherished copy of the Game of Thrones RPG. I can see how RPing might border on fan fiction given that players may use characters from the books and - obviously - the setting from the books. However, for the most part, RPGs stay in the living room (or basement or dungeon) and the stories that develop from RPGs usually don't become published works.

Thus, I feel fan fiction is really its own entity and given the points you've made I can understand why an author wouldn't be supportive of it.

I'm glad that many authors have blogs running now to bring issues like this to light and present the other side.

May. 8th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
Goodness. I'm suddenly even more glad I'm not in the fandom/fanfic world.
May. 8th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
ERB v HPL. I never said that allowing others to play with the Cthulhu mythos was the ONLY reason Lovecraft died in poverty.

No, but you said that it was one reason, which is utterly false.
May. 8th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
I think the trademark/copyright situation is confused, but if so it's a widespread confusion. Raymond E. Feist said exactly the same thing about fanfic set in his Midkemia/Riftwar world some time ago, that his lawyer had warned him not to read it and to ask it to be shut down when he came across it for exactly the same reason.
May. 8th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
You won't lose copyright on your previous work for failing to fight off fanfic. (You might lose trademark rights if you've trademarked the characters, though.)

The reason authors are advised not to read "setting-fanfic" (another desperate attempt to come up with a term meaning "the kind of fanfic George is talking about, not every single type of writing that might appear on a website labeled 'fan fiction'," since a lot of commenters seem very confused about the difference) is to avoid the risk of plagiarism suits if their next work happens to bear an accidental resemblance to the fanfic. (But a work doesn't have to be fanfic to create this problem; see the suits that J.K. Rowling has had to fight off.)
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May. 8th, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed the post. I had already thought of the "nnnooo my babies!" arguement, but the copyright/trademark infringement background was very thought provoking. I had forgotten the Harry Potter trial recently and that horrid Twilight fanfic almost-book, that I have blessedly forgotten the name of.
May. 10th, 2010 05:28 am (UTC)
Your icon itself is technically fanfic.
May. 8th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
There used to be some odd provisions in US copyright law - since repealed - that required various odd hoops to be jumped through for copyrights to be valid. The most infamous of these was the "manufacturing clause," which is how The Lord of the Rings was deemed by some to be out of copyright. But this did not have anything to do with requiring the copyright-holder to pursue knockoffs.

There are plenty of cases on record of existing trademarks being deemed invalid because the trademark-holder did not vigorously protect it. Are there any such cases involving existing copyrights? I have not heard of any such thing.

If you didn't say that HPL's shared-world attitude was the only reason he died in poverty, you sure implied that it was a major reason. If there's any relationship between the two at all, it's that HPL didn't really act like a professional author. He allowed others to play around in his universe, yes; but he also he didn't market his own stories very efficiently or have disciplined writing habits. These may be manifestations of the same personality trait, but it's the latter set of behaviors that caused his poverty, not the former.
May. 8th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
"But my point stands. I could write a Cthulhu Mythos novel tomorrow, and I would not have to pay a dime to any Lovecraft estate (if such exists) or get their permission."

Nick Mamatas linked to an excellent and well-researched history of the Lovecraft copyrights. In point of fact, although the (claimed) successors to the Lovecraft estate allowed some writers to publish freely, they successfully shut down others, especially writers critical of the successors' claims to said copyright. While the copyright was enforced (whether or not it was valid), it wasn't as simple as "anybody who chose could write in the Lovecraft mythos".

Lovecraft did not lose his copyright by permitting sharecropping. Far from it. Copyright simply doesn't work that way.
May. 8th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
As a photographer I have had issues with my own copyrights in the past, mostly because photography's laws are often not as clear as the laws governing written works. What I can say is that in my experience if a copyright of any kind is not defended then the law will assume that the owner of the copyright has no interest in it and will not uphold the copyright. Which will infringe on the livelihood of the copyright owner. It has in the past, it will in the future.
I would like very much if you could clarify your position on fan art inspired by your work. I had no idea of your position on "fanfic" and would like to know how you view other fan created things inspired by your work, just so I can avoid doing anything you may view as inflammatory.
I would rather not have my favorite author mad at me for something I thought was harmless.
May. 8th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
I have no problem with fan art, and indeed, have featured some on the fan page of my website (which I haven't updated in way too long, alas).
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May. 8th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you for inviting the discussion.
May. 8th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting on the subject. I haven't been paying any attention to the development of the fanfic genre so I appreciate the discussion.

I, for one, don't get the whole idea of fanfic. Why take someone else's characters and worlds and write a story around them? Isn't it more fun creatively to write your own worlds and characters? Though I do see how it's essentially the same thing when you write for a show that's already established: The characters already exist as does their world. But I think there's a difference in writing stories about preexisting characters when you have the permission of the creator or owner instead of reading a book and wanting to write your own unauthorized stories about them. If you love the characters so much, figure out what you like about them, what you like about the world, and create something all your own.

As a reader, I've chosen not to read fanfic because I don't want to read some random person's version of what they think an already beloved character would do. I don't want their ideas changing my thoughts about the original characters.

And if people really want to write fiction online to share with the world, why can't all those people create worlds and characters together and write about them? Why do they need to borrow someone else's creations?

I loved that cartoon you linked to btw. Very amusing and the reason I usually don't read many comments on any posts (news, blogs, etc) since so often people are wrong (or maybe it's that they just think the wrong way) :)
May. 8th, 2010 11:48 pm (UTC)
The idea of fanfic
To begin with, I think that if a creator says "Please don't write fanfic", people shouldn't. Period, end.

> And if people really want to write fiction online to share with the world, why can't all those people create worlds and characters together and write about them?

This is a bit like asking, why don't county fair champions become professional bakers? You can't justify a hobby. A hobby does not exist to be useful or to appeal to anybody other than the hobbyist. I spend some of my leisure time turning pixels on paper to embroidered pixels on fabric. It ain't art. Nobody ever asks me "Why don't you design your own patterns?" -- they just assume I like embroidery.

Some fans enjoy playing "Let's pretend". Just as we played "Let's pretend Justice League/Star Trek/[insert your legend]" as children, we do the same thing on paper as adults. "Let's pretend Star Trek" is a different game from "Let's pretend a space opera with aliens and spaceships and different cultures." Part of the fun of fanfic fandom is playing "let's pretend" with other people, throwing ideas back and forth.

Some people who do this become published writers. Most of the people who do it don't aim at being published writers. It's not seen as a progression, as becoming a real rabbit. "Real writers don't play with other people's settings, they create their own!" Tell it to Steven Brust, Naomi Novik, Tom Stoppard, Jean Rhys, and all the people who've written Sherlock Holmes pastiches, published and not.

Fanfiction is a form of play. You can't explain why playing is fun; it either is for you, or it isn't.
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May. 8th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you for clarifying your reasons for opposing fanfiction, George - I've read that you were hostile to the notion, but never why until now.

I think what people need to remember is that authors, even successful ones, make their living from selling intellectual property - something that can be easily appropriated and misused if not vigorously defended. It's the very same thing with illegal music downloads - stealing is stealing.
May. 8th, 2010 11:27 pm (UTC)
"It's the very same thing with illegal music downloads - stealing is stealing."

Not exactly.

Fanfiction isn't directly taking money from a company or creator, however. Unless you're stupid and try to sell it, which very rarely works if ever. See, if you write a harmless fanfic and post it on your journal for your friends to read, you are not financially profiting from this. Plus, you still bought all the books that the author wrote. You'd still buy the books in the future, right? You can't write fanfiction without knowledge of a world ;] Good fanfic at least...

Now, If you download a CD illegally, you're not paying the company or the artist for their work and probably won't buy the album in hard copy either.

There's a whole other world for the legal issues of fanfiction, but I'm just talking about the majority of fiction. It's put out there for friends and other strange internet people to read. The majority of people don't want to piss off the author or steal money from him/her. They just want to have fun. Unfortunately, sometimes that fun is going against what the creator deems appropriate and that's where the issues arise...
May. 8th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
I'm of a mind that fanfiction needs to go, much as remakes and reboots must, I'd compare they're artistic value to paint by numbers or those coloring books where the paper is impregnated with the paint, and all the user needs to do is run a wet brush around the page to color the picture in.

I'm a writer and when I'm finished, I'll be an author and to this end I've sacrificed much... I've woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from nightmares of plagiarism or someone absconding with my characters - who (as you said yesterday, GRRM) are just as much my children as my children are my children. Of my blood or of my mind, they're mine and nobody gets to touch them except me.
Anyone who has sacrificed their lives to produce any sort of artistic endeavor is deserving of the protection of law, failing that, an armed cadre of legbreakers.

So far we've talked about JPL, who I've never been a fan, but his influence is undeniable, I forward another - Gary Gygax, who utterly lost control of his own work and had to sit by while lesser individuals slaughtered his work and corrupted the original vision... If that ever happened to me, there'd be injuries. Grievous and mortal, inflicted with an axe.

George I've a question - Is there not a legal recourse to follow to kneecap such sites as fanfiction.net? I understand that squarshing fanfiction is about futile as policing porn, but if you take out the venue, the band will head back to the garage, where only the neighbors have to listen to their crappy tunes.
May. 8th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
One could sue, of course.

This is America. We can sue anyone over anything, pretty much.

The question is, is it worth the time, expense, and energy? The answer is, probably not. Lawsuits are a huge financial and emotional drain. I have better things to do with my life.

Someone will sue someday, I expect. But I doubt it will be me.
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May. 8th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
I write about sex myself. I could hardly object to it.

Slash fiction... I'm aware of its existance, of course. I can't pretend to understand the appeal, but it's been going to for three or four decades now, so plainly it has an appeal to a fairly large segment of the female readership.

I've gotten a few requests for Renly/ Loras sex scenes myself... and complaints that I did not include same. Always from women.

But then, some of my males readers like the Dany/ Irri scenes. (The women, not so much).

No one got off on the Cersei/ Taena scene, which is reassuring. Such was not its intent.
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May. 8th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for not likening them to rapists and theives out to steal authors' livelihood. That was probably what triggered the most anger.

May. 8th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Also, FYI, Mercedes Lackey who would know about the subject, points out that the fan (Jean Lamb) came up with the idea MZB liked and wanted to use, not that, as you have it, that MZB just happened to stumble on an idea she already had in mind.

Well, if you want to believe your memory of an old FORUM letter is better than Lackey's close observation of what occurred (which matches what the fan said happened and not what you claim MZB said happened) and by extension believe that Lackey is lying, well, that's your prerogative too.
May. 8th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
I don't believe my "memory of an old FORUM," I believe what MZB wrote there. I still have the FORUM. I still have every FORUM since I joined SFWA in 1971.
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May. 8th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for being willing to moderate this discussion, and to chat with us. =) I've not been following this closely, but I'm familiar enough with fandom to have heard a few of the arguments. I find it all fascinating. It never would have occurred to me it would such a hot button for so many people! =)

Thanks again!
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May. 9th, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)
I accept GRRM's wish not to have fanfiction written about him. I would probably support anyone he sued over the issue, but I would not write fanfiction about him myself.

"If you reply to my post, quoting it, you violate my copyright. It's true because I say so and because it just feels right to me."

If we were all allowed to enforce our copyrights in whatever ways we wanted, to whatever extent we wanted, and without concern for factors like fair use, the world would be a pretty messed up place - even more so than it is. Can you see why there might be a place for legal arguments regarding this sort of thing rather than just "case closed"? Not everyone has the same opinion on what "should be", and these issues aren't always as simple as you might like them to be.
(Deleted comment)
May. 9th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)
I will humbly suggest that this entry be locked, too, because, otherwise, I suspect it will (d)evolve into "Fanfics Discussion, Part II."
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