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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 02:01 am (UTC)
During the course of these debates, I've seen a lot of ranting on both sides of the fence over what amounts to the implied right of the fan to write the characters of the author into situations that fit their moods/fantasies/rather imaginative and clever ideas. On the other hand, we have you, the author, stating that this so-perceived "right" is actually an infringement or a generally negative aspect of fandom that detracts from the author's vision and overall goal (not to mention a potential fountain of trouble involving knock-offs and alternate universes).

I understand the why on your part, and it makes a lot of sense, so this question is not so much addressed to you, Mr. Martin. But to those who read this post and the comments within, why do you feel that you can write with the characters of "A Song of Ice and Fire," or any series, for that matter? I'm not trying to start a fight or anything, but I'm genuinely curious about your reasons. (I'm an occasional roleplayer in another author's universe, so I'm intrigued by the whole subject.)
May. 9th, 2010 08:10 am (UTC)
Here goes. Might be a bit more technical than you want, but it supports a variety of legitimate arguments in favor of fanfiction and I've tried to word it carefully enough to avoid looking like a nut or anarchist. I ignore a variety of other (mostly terrible) arguments I see people using, including the utterly abhorrent "he has too much money" nonsense.

I think you've been saturated with culture telling you there's something wrong with it. I can't find any rational explanation to support restrictions like these.

Throughout history, I would not only be encouraged to retell Song of Ice and Fire verbatim with minor embellishments, but I would be allowed to profit from it. There are strong oral storytelling traditions in many cultures, and history's most famed artists stole from each other (and other musicians we barely remember) quite frequently. This was certainly good for freedom of speech and the spreading of culture. Unfortunately, it was bad for getting publishers to invest in highly expensive printing presses. As a result, laws were created giving authors certain temporary monopolies over the use of their creations in order to incentivize this very useful activity.

The idea that authors have an extra-legal right (or moral right) to copyright is contrary to both historical precedent and current United States law (as defined by the Constitution). Basically, any rights G.R.R.M. has exist because it's profitable overall to reward those who make stuff. Nonetheless, I still enjoy and support authors receiving money for the works they create, though seeing them abuse their rights depresses me about the state of humanity.

Any intelligent individual who has studied copyright with a fair and (moderately) unbiased mind will allow that it causes harm through its restrictions. To paraphrase an argument expressed much more eloquently by Thomas Macaulay when he successfully argued against a copyright extension in England some hundreds of years ago, real "moral rights" would never expire. If someone bought copyrights from GRRM's estate, he could legitimately lock them up forever and prevent all use. As Macaulay said, "monopoly makes all things dear". An extreme example like this shows that copyright can indeed cause harm, even if we find an inability to access some particular entertainment to be silly.

Once the restrictions are tight enough and the length long enough, those harms outweigh the good it has produced. I think our current laws have long overreached that point and need massive fixing. Until then, I'll support restricting copyright in undecided cases like fanfiction (though I'm not going to try and argue in favor of it under current law). An author's characters are not their children, no matter how dearly they may wish it! As much as I would hope these night terrors of slash fiction would stop preventing my favorite authors from writing more books, the fanfic authors are in the right here.

An exception would be the utterly insane idea of applying laches (defend it or lose it) to copyright inside the stated term, which GRRM and a couple others brought up.

I'll also note that plagiarism is fraud and scumbaggery and anyone who participates in it really does deserve to be kneecapped. (I have good friends who are artists..)
May. 10th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)
Well, many of my reasons are explained here, if you care to look.

Over 40 years ago, I was captivated by J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Most specifically, by his amazing creation, hobbits. I read and re-read everything of his that was published as soon as I could get my hands on it. But it was not until 2003 that I discovered the world of fanfiction, and found that there were those who had continued the stories I loved, filling in the gaps and fleshing out characters who were merely names in the Appendixes.

At first, I was just occupied by the task of finding worthy stories to read-- mostly only one out of ten was good enough that I would finish. But some of them were quite brilliant, and made me think in new ways about canon.

It wasn't long until I too wanted to explore Arda the way these other people did, and I wrote my first stories. Mostly I wanted to answer for myself: what made Sam, Merry and Pippin such close friends of Frodo Baggins that they would give up their safe and comfortable lives to follow him into deadly peril? JRRT told us that they did so, but how did they get to be such good friends? Especially considering the gap in ages and geography? It was the efforts to answer this that brought about my first few stories.

We who write fanfiction are explorers, archeologists, if you will, who take a tiny scrap of a hint and then attempt to reconstruct what the background could have been. We want to analyze the story from the INSIDE, not the OUTSIDE!

What was Pippin thinking when he, Frodo and Sam were crossing the Shire together? JRRT could not tell us without ruining the surprise he had planned in "A Conspiracy Unmasked", but taking the hints of Pippin's personality as revealed in the whole of the story, a fanfic writer can make an educated guess as to what was going through his mind at the time, and fill that untold gap in for others to look over. If the writer has done her job correctly, her reader will nod and say-- "Yes, that's in character, that's plausible, that's possible." and if she has not, the reader will shake her head and say "No, that's out-of-character. I don't think he'd feel that, I think he'd feel *this* instead."

At any rate, JRRT invited us into his "body of work", saying he wanted "other hands" to explore his creation. And as he is long gone, we don't have any way to know what he'd think of fanfiction (although in certain ones, I can make an educated guess and say he'd be appalled and that those writers, at least, are off the mark) but I think he might find a few fannish speculations not entirely unthinkable.

As for contemporary creators, there are an awful lot of them who welcome this sort of speculations into their universes. I think they understand the fannish impulses that lead to this active engagement with their work.

Edited at 2010-05-10 12:17 am (UTC)
May. 10th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
I'm not sure whether this answers your question exactly, but I've always viewed fanfiction as so - that it is about a fan's interpretation of the characters, rather than of the actual characters themselves. No one can touch the actual characters except the author/source creator; however, with fanfiction, a fan can explore and dissect the actions of a character or group of characters given certain situations. Which... one can argue isn't that different from a critical essay, it's just a different medium.

Sure, a lot of the situations can be just plain odd, but I feel the sentiment is the same. And sure, a lot of it is carried out terribly, but that's more an issue of bad writing.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure everyone has wondered at least once, "What if..." in something they've read or watched. And has possibly shared said "what if" with other fans to elaborate on where it might go, just because it's fun. The only difference between that and fanfiction is that extra step that turned that "what if" into an actual story.

But really, I think my main point is that fanfiction really, really isn't about the characters themselves. It's about my thoughts on the characters (and possibly the 'verse), translated into story form. I might not be "getting the character" as the original creator intended. However, whatever fanfiction I write, on some level it's basically about showing how my background and way of thinking influences the way I perceive these characters that everyone in the fandom knows, and perhaps getting discussion on how that differs, why they might agree with me, etc. We can't ever really know exactly what the original creator think, because no one has the exact same mental processes as anyone else. But what the fan community can get together and maybe through different interpretations of the same character, cause a few 'Huh, I never considered that scene like that before's or 'Oh wow, yeah, I can see Character A doing that when driven to that point's.

Sorry, that got a bit rambling and meandering.


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

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