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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 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.
Re: The idea of fanfic - hokie256 - May. 9th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The idea of fanfic - dreamflower02 - May. 9th, 2010 07:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The idea of fanfic - jonquil - May. 9th, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The idea of fanfic - wounded_melody - May. 10th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The idea of fanfic - februaryfour - May. 10th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: fanfic - anivad - May. 10th, 2010 05:39 am (UTC) - Expand
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.
(no subject) - 9fires - May. 8th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jonquil - May. 9th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC) - Expand
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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.
(no subject) - idemandjustice - May. 9th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC) - Expand
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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!
(Deleted comment)
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.
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."
May. 9th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
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 don't really see this as a bad thing, to be honest. Copyright Protection was put in place (along with Patent Protection) as a means of promoting the arts and sciences by giving potential creators a stronger financial incentive to create. That's why there are loopholes in it, for parodies and the like, and why patents have shorter lives than copyrights and trademarks.

Current law, at a minimum, gives the author lifetime copyright if they do it right. I'm not sure I think that's entirely useful towards the end copyright was created for, but it makes authors happy. But why should the families of dead authors get to continue to milk copyrights and constrain the usage of said authors' creations for as long as they can keep renewing the copyright (which, if Disney gets its way, will be forever)? Does that fulfill the purpose for which copyright was created and enforced?
May. 9th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
I understand what you're saying about Disney. And to some extent, I agree.

Still... as a writer, while I recognize there is a distinction between intellectual property and other sorts of property, there are aspects of that distinction that strike me as unfair.

Why should the families of dead authors get to continue to milk the profits of said author's creations, you ask. Well, I say, for the same reason that Parris Hilton gets to swan around the world being a celebrity and milking the profits off all of those hotels.

If you start a business, found a company, build an estate, you want to leave it to your children. The only estate a writer leaves, in many cases, is a literary estate. (Yes, some writers leave piles of cash and stocks as well, but those are few and far between).

Conrad Hilton and Edgar Rice Burroughs were both self made men. If we don't want the descendants of the latter to be able to live off the things their ancestor created, then the descendants of the former should not be able to either. Let's have a general reform of all inheritance laws, not just single out writers.

And if Mickey Mouse is going to enter the public domain, so everyone can draw Mickey Mouse funny books and make Mickey Mouse cartoons, cool... but let's make sure that Coca-Cola's secret formula gets public domained as well, so other companies can enter the beverage field and make Coke identical the original Coke.

Edited at 2010-05-09 12:36 am (UTC)
(no subject) - boss_bass - May. 9th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 9th, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
First, please forgive me, I'm a mom of a toddler, and have not had time to read the 400+ comments, and I likely won't have that kind of time. I just got here and am just wading in. Wasn't there another case a couple of years ago, in which some fan of J.K. Rowling had created a lexicon for Harry Potter, and they were trying to publish it while she was trying to publish her own? I don't remember what the outcome of that was, but I felt very angry on her behalf over it.

I appreciate reading your thoughts on this. I have a lot of friends who write fanfiction, although I myself never have, mainly because I just don't feel like I can do justice to someone else's creation. I 100% agree with you, that fans should respect the wishes of the author involved. I do like to write, and hope to publish something if I can ever find the time to actually finish anything, and I've wavered back and forth over the issue of whether I myself would allow fanfiction of my work. On one hand, it's scary, for the reasons you've mentioned. On the other, I have a huge curiosity over what other people would do differently, or what new areas they'd bring up. But I think if I did allow it, I would never admit to reading any of it. I was leaning in favor, but you may have swung me back in the other direction again.

I haven't actually read Diana Gabaldan's post, but my understanding through hearsay (It's been talked about all over livejournal) was that she made some comparisons to rape and murder, which a lot of people found insulting. But they could have been blowing what she said out of proportion.

I think you're one of the few authors I know of that disallows fanfiction but allows for role-playing in one's setting. I've seen so many authors paint the two with the same brush, although I never quite saw them as the same, unless people are writing out their role-playing adventures.
May. 9th, 2010 12:20 am (UTC)
Yes, the account of what Diana said has been wildly distorted and blown out of proportion.
(no subject) - idemandjustice - May. 9th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 9th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
I think all great writers must be good readers, and that one way to learn to write well is to imitate good writing. I confess, though, that I have always had a negative reaction to fan fiction. It seems more like aping than like proper homage. In other words, one might have a style of writing (original stories and original characters) that evokes another writer's style. But to take characters who have lives of their own and use them in one's own idea of what they ought to do....that seems like puppetry. I wish I could articulate it better but I, too, have a toddler (and a baby!), and I will be lucky to stay awake long enough to read one chapter of "Dance" when it comes out (ahem;)).
May. 9th, 2010 02:06 am (UTC)
learning to write
I thought the same thing that one way to learn to write better is to imitate good writing. As an artist, I see the same benefit in copying other's paintings to figure out how to make the brush strokes or mix colors like the old masters did. However, I would never attempt to sell a copy of a painting, at least not a direct copy. Picasso repainted Spanish masters like Velázquez but put his own spin on them and made the new paintings his own. I don't actually know if Picasso attempted to sell these paintings or if he kept them for himself, but I think Picasso's interpretation of Velázquez would be similar someone reinterpreting Pride and Prejudice or the old Arthurian legend.

There is a difference between reinterpreting story lines and character traits and using existing characters and worlds to write your own story.
May. 9th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Being that America is America and the UK is a long way away, it's moderately possible that you haven't seen this reasonably argued piece from Charles Stross, accepting that others may wish to write fan fiction, and stating that..."I do not mind you writing fanfic using my characters and sharing it with your friends unless you do so in a manner that fucks with my ability to earn a living."

Yes, he does go on to explain how that can happen.

And, with tongue in cheek, I'd counsel you not to read the comments...

May. 9th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
I don't have the legal knowledge to comment on copyright and trademark law. I haven't ever sold a novel or short story, so I'm not qualified to comment on the nature of the publishing business either. All I have are dreams and stories, and I hope that's qualification enough.

Many people here have ably expressed why fanfic is akin to stealing an author's work, and I wholeheartedly agree. My personal belief is that fanfic is written by people want to be writers but don't want to put the work in to be an actual writer. And while I think the point has been made that 'creators' of fanfic have gone on to be authors, I would still submit that writing fanfic is at best a waste of time and at worst a form of mental masturbation.

A fanfic 'writer' could create prose with the eloquence of King (Martin Luther, not Stephen) and still not be a real author of fiction because they are hijacking someone else's creativity. Many people can create a nice sentence, but only a creative mind can breathe life into places like Bag End. World-building, and creating meaningful characters requires time and practice and fanfic robs its creator of that opportunity.

All of the effort spent on fan fiction takes away time that an aspiring author could have spent honing their own skills. I don't want to write the next Hobbit, or the next Dark Tower, or the next Song of Ice and Fire book for that matter, and why would I? I'm too busy trying to write down what my own characters are telling me. Any more voices in my head and I'd go mad...

In short, I'd love to have the grace of your pen, George. But mine will have to do. I'm cool with that.
May. 9th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
I was coming here to say *exactly this* (though I'm NOT a writer in any way, nor do I aspire to being one).

THANK YOU. Cosigned.
(no subject) - affablyevil - May. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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May. 9th, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
Copyright and trademark are all intellectual property. While I am not an IP lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, I join the ranks of lawyers and law students (I am something between myself--I have completed law school but have not yet taken the bar) who postulate that if you don't show that you object to people infringing on your copyright, it will be harder to protect it later when you feel you need to. Certainly, even if the black letter of the law on copyright is different from trademark on that particular item (I don't know; I just know barely enough about IP to guess that it is probably the same), a judge/jury will be skeptical if you've never made an effort to defend your copyright against multiple infringements...until you suddenly do. Those things matter; judges and juries are not unthinking processors of the black letter law.

To throw in my two cents I can assure you that EVEN IF the black letter of the law is such that you need not seek to defend a copyright in order to not be accused of abandoning it, it is none the less a poor idea to NOT defend your copyright against minor infringements. Appearances, sadly, matter, something I'm sure Tyrion could give us all a stirring lecture about.

I don't think that means authors need to race about batting every fanfic writer over the head with a two by four with the words "CEASE AND DESIST" burned into it, but it does suggest to me that authors who are bearish on fanfic are choosing a wise course in terms of being able to protect their works.
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