Friday, June 4, 2010

On Fanfic

So, it's the first Friday of the month already? Wow, how time flies.

Those of us who are a part of the SF and Fantasy community are well aware that everyone-knows-everyone nature of our little corner of the literary world leads to some interesting arguments. Most times, the best description would be "tempest in a teapot". These arguments burn bright and hot, and generally last about a month or so.

Sometimes we argue about genre boundaries, and things like "is clockpunk a valid subgenre or just someone being silly", sometimes we argue about mainstream issues (at least they are mainstream if you happen to be in the US) such as race, religion or gender. Occasionally, these arguments lead to a knew way of looking at things or a new current within the genre. Usually, however, they are forgotten after a few days.

This month's flap is unlikely to be forgotten after a few days, because it is one of those issues which flares up repeatedly.

Fan fiction is the act of using someone else's copyrighted worlds or characters to write your own stories.

Quite aside from the fact that these worlds and characters are protected by law, and belong to the writer, and not to the fan, different writers feel very differently about the practice. Some writers allow it, feeling that it is just a new form of free advertising (as long as the author isn't making money off of it). Others actively encourage it, while a third group hates it and will reach for their lawyer at the slightest whiff of fanfic.

The problem lies in the fact that there are huge numbers of fanfic writers (especially for the more popular sagas such as Star Trek), and while some of the writers just want to share their take, others are unscrupulous and want to sell their fanfic. Quality is another concern, as the editorial proces in most fanfic is... let's just say 'uneven'.

The final complication is the legal side. Fanfic, strictly speaking, is wrong. And if you're making money out of it, it's actually illegal and can get the writer sued.

So that's what we've been entertaining ourselves with instead of writing. This month's crop of interesting articles about the subject include Jim Hines' very well-researched piece regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley's experience with the fanfic community, as well as a letter from Robert Heinlein to Forrest Ackerman in which old Bob is less than charitable towards the fan community...

See you all next month, and I'll try not to write about arguments!



Peadar said...

I would love to comment, but I am a fan-fic agnostic.

Anonymous said...

Money is the Rubicon for me. As long as someone is writing fanfic and not making money off it, I'm okay with it, at least as far as my own work goes.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is an intense letter from Heinlein.

The topic of fanfic has definately been a hotbed here lately, and it seems, an issue that is quite old.

I don't think that fanfic is in itself wrong, but what you decide to do with it is another matter entirely.

Thanks for a great post Gustavo

Terri-Lynne said...

I had to highlight that to be able to see it! Ouch, my poor old eyes! :)

I'm with you--fanfic is fine unless one is trying to cash in on it. That's NOT fine. Not without express permission of the author. Public domain stuff--ok, but not the work of a living, breathing author who still needs to EAT!

Gustavo said...

Thanks for popping in, guys.

Peadar... I'll pretend I didn't see you, then!

Mark, I think you're probably among the majority here, but some writers simply HATE when the purity of their work is compromised.

And Out-to (not sure if we're revealing names here), thanks! Yeah, thet Heinlein letter is a hammer blow between the eyes, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

For me, the problem with any fanfic for a copyrighted character (whether the writer sells the work or not), is that once it's written, whatever clever story ideas and/or twists in the fan version are now unavailable to the original author, because he/she risks getting sued.

Pam said...

Interesting thing, this fanfic. I've never subscribed much to it, although I have read some of MZB's Darkover anthologies which were the beginning of fanfic, I guess? While nice for the reader to always experience more of a world we love, I can't help feeling a little squick factor in people wanting to write stories about someone else's creation. Nice Post, G!

Gustavo said...

Terri-Bogwitch ( :-P ), as I said to Mark, that seems to be the main criteria, for sure. But sometimes authors don't care if the fanfic writer wants to cash in - they prefer never to see fanfic of their stuff published, period. Of course, I wish I had that problem!

Jon, that seems to have been exactly the problem that MZB encountered. A thorny issue, because in Bradley's case, she was using fanfic as another marketing platform when the problem ocurred.

Pam, Thanks! And I agree: it does have a little bit of the stalker / imitator psycho type in there, doesn't it? It seems to me that most of it is flattering and harmless, but what happens when "Misery" meets fanfic?

RHFay said...

I have no problem with people writing fan-fic for their own enjoyment and to practice their writing skills. However, writing fan-fic for monetary gain is an extremely questionable prospect. While characters and settings aren't necessarily covered by copyright law (copyright covers actual works, passages and things like that, not ideas), they can certainly be covered by trademark (and many are). Of course, on top of that, writers are often fiercely protective of their literary babies. Some take great offense at their children being adopted, illegally or otherwise, by others. It's understandable.

There was one time a fellow poet claimed he was going to take a concept of one of my poems and write his own, superior poem based on the very same idea. While he would have done nothing illegal by doing so, it still got me hot under the collar. It still seemed rather immoral to me. Sometimes, this sort of thing is just plain wrong. It makes me want to say "get your own ideas!".

That being said, I have encountered some legitimate fan-fic writing opportunities. They are out there, if you know where to look. I once entered a Doctor Who story in a Big Finish Doctor Who story contest. The story didn't win, but at least I had the opportunity to try my hand at writing a Doctor Who story. Of course, to submit the story elsewhere, I removed the Doctor and all other references to the Doctor Who universe. I rewrote the story heavily to make it completely original before I sent it elsewhere. To do otherwise would have been wrong, and probably illegal.