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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.


May. 9th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: The idea of fanfic
You do have a point, I can see how some people would find it fun. Of course, there are problems associated with fanfic like the ones GRRM pointed out so it's not quite as harmless as turning pixels into embroidery or writing stories you share with your friends in your family room that you never try to publish or post on the internet. If the hobby didn't have any negative consequences then it would be just another hobby. Unfortunately, that's not quite the case.

But I do admit you make a valid point about it being another hobby that some people find fun. I still don't get it but then I don't necessarily get everyone's hobbies and I know there are tons of people that don't get hobbies I find fun like birding.
May. 9th, 2010 07:57 am (UTC)
Re: The idea of fanfic
Fanfic is a creative outlet that satisfies a particular itch for many of us.

I knit. I sew. I paint. I cook. I do calligraphy. I make various crafts. Each of these satisfies a particular need or mood.

But by far, the hobby that satisfies me most is writing fanfic. Now, I'm not hurting any contemporary author, because the fandom I'm in is for an author gone for decades. Furthermore, at one time in his life, he himself expressed the wish that he hoped other people might want to create in his world. Whether or not that would include fanfic as we see it today on the internet, we will never know, as the internet did not exist in his lifetime. I suspect most of the millions of stories in his universe would appall him, some would confuse him, some would amuse him, and a few-- a very few, might gain at least a gleam of approval. I suppose that one day in the afterlife, I might get a chance to ask him what he thinks of my own little attempts to honor him.

I consider my efforts as a way of exploring his world. Now I can, and sometimes do, accomplish some of my explorations outside the story through meta-- looking at how the story's put together, and what the influences of his life and times were on it. But it is far more of a challenge to explore inside the world, within the parameters of his setting and his timeline. This sort of story-internal literary analysis results in fanfiction.

And part of the fun of fanfiction is sharing with other fans.

Now, look at my list of other hobbies. I love to cook; sometimes I make up my own recipes from scratch. Sometimes I use them from cookbooks, but alter them in some way-- adding a bit more of this, a bit less of that, substituting one ingredient for another. Then I share the result-- perhaps at a potluck or a party, instead of merely in the privacy of my home.

Just imagine this scenario: a World-Famous Chef writes a cookbook. He then goes to promote it, but tells everyone "You may use the recipes in my cookbook ONLY as they are written. You may not change them in any way; furthermore, you may ONLY make them for yourself and your immediate family. You are not allowed to make them for parties or potluck gatherings or any other larger group of people. And you may not share the recipes with anyone else."

Well, first of all he'd be laughed at for such a ridiculous stance. And second of all-- who would bother to even buy such a cookbook under such silly restrictions?

Of course the analogy is not a perfect one, but modern readers are much more likely than those of the past to want to engage with the books they read in an active manner. Perhaps that can be blamed on things like videos and gaming, but I know that more and more, an anti-fanfiction stance on the part of individual authors will result in many fans simply passing over them to authors who are more open-minded about what's cooking.

I know that many of my friends will no longer buy the books of those writers who have taken an anti-fanfic stance. And there is a list, not only of those who disapprove, but of those who approve! Guess who's more popular?

As for me, I've no interest in either of the authors currently engaged in the controversy, as most of my own favorite authors are also long-gone and beyond the argument. ERB and HPL are among them.

In the meantime, I will continue to engage in my own fun hobby of story-internal literary analysis-- AKA, fan fiction.

May. 9th, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC)
Re: The idea of fanfic
"If the hobby didn't have any negative consequences then it would be just another hobby. Unfortunately, that's not quite the case."

In the general case, I deny that it has negative consequences. The owners of Doctor Who are quite pleased to have fans write fiction; they have run fanfiction contests and published the winners. A raft of professional authors -- Naomi Novik, Nora Roberts (in a turnaround from her original position), Lois McMaster Bujold, and J. R. Rowling, to name a few -- have said they're delighted to have people write fanfic as long as it isn't shown to them, neatly avoiding the MZB problem.

Leaving aside the specific case in which the author has said "no", there's no reason to think that fanfic is harmful.
May. 10th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Re: The idea of fanfic
Agreed (unless you count hurting an author's ego?).
And people need to remember, fan fiction is not just written for books, but everything from video games to anime. Japan has a whole doujinshi subculture where fan comics are allowed to be made and sold.
If all the authors suddenly said "no more fan fics for our work!" there would still be so many mediums to write for.
May. 10th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
Re: The idea of fanfic
Japan has a whole doujinshi subculture where fan comics are allowed to be made and sold.
Sorry, just butting in here as an armchair observer living in Tokyo: it's not that they're "allowed", it's just that the copyright holder has chosen not to enforce their rights just yet. The right to enforce copyright still exists, and it is merely held in abeyance. If you really need to, I can quote the legal clauses, but that would entail some real hunting as I lost the book I had (official translation of copyright law obtained from Japanese IP department).


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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