Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Thoughts on Fan Fiction

I get it, I really do. I understand not wanting your favorite series to end, it’s why we reread the same books a hundred times, it’s why we line up for hours in advance when the movie versions come out, no matter how bad the adaptation. I totally get it. I even get fantasizing about the character’s you crushed on while reading. But I do not get fan fiction.

I guess I could understand writing a piece of fan fiction as a writing excise; you’re stuck on coming up with your own idea so, to shake things loose, you write a quick story line with your favorite characters from someone else’s work. But the key phrase there, boys and girls, is that those characters were someone else’s work. Those characters don’t belong to you. Using them is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism is a copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is illegal. Therefore, plagiarism is a crime.

So what brings me to this topic today? Fifty Shades of Grey. I kind of hate that I’m bringing even more attention to this, but I am just baffled by it! The “author”, E. L. James, openly admits that this “story” is a piece of Twilight fan fiction, and before it was picked up for publication and a freaking movie deal (Wtf?) the publisher asked the “author” to go through the work and take out any and all references to Twilight even though James has given interviews explaining that it totally, without a doubt, is about Edward and Bella just that they are finally getting it on and going so far as to have some BDSM in it. In that same interview I was totally twitching and freaking out as the interviewer and James referred to fan fiction as a genre. Are you kidding me?

Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Horror, Mystery, these are genres. Fan fiction is not a genre, people! Authors are constantly fighting against pirate sites offering their work for free (and sometimes not for free) but we’re just going to sit back and watch James open the floodgates for people to steal art and make a profit off of it? Really?!

Most authors ask their fans to respect their work and not write and “publish” fan fiction, either on fan fiction sites or (what should be obvious) self-publish for profit. Laurell K. Hamilton is actually quite nice to her fans and simply asks them not to tell her about any fan fiction involving her characters, because if she knows about it, she has to tell her lawyers and they have to shut it down. Anne Rice on the other hand simply says “don’t do it” on her site.

So here’s my question: Why hasn’t Stephanie Meyer responded to all this? I mean she’s a gazillionaire now, it’s not like she doesn’t have the legal power to go after James for this copyright infringement, so why does she remain quiet? James is making quite a pretty penny using Meyer’s characters and world; you would think that would bother Meyer.

I don’t understand why Stephanie Meyer hasn’t said anything, but let me tell you, if anyone ever did this with my characters I would’ve served a Cease and Desist Order immediately and if that was ignored the suing would begin.

I just don’t get it.


Anonymous said...

I believe some authors give permission for fans to write fan fiction ... and because the Twilight details were stripped from the story before publication, there's no wrong-doing here from a legal standpoint.

What the media has done, by focusing on the fan-fic origin of the story, is simply found "an angle" for a story. The book is successful because (1) it was more popular than the zillions of other fan fic stories, demonstrating the author did have skill that exceeded the other people doing the same, and (2) the media has found a juicy angle for doing stories.

I don't necessarily feel GOOD about this story's origin, but as a consumer, I don't have to buy a copy.

Carmen Esposito said...

Semantics and loopholes – James technically removed the names but the characters, setting, scene, basically everything else stayed enough the same that we can recognize it as Twilight. Perhaps Ms. Meyer is flattered that her story made such an impression that fans are continuing it.

Well, that’s fine if you do it at home and not use it commercially. If Ms. Meyer doesn’t do anything – and who knows if she tried and her lawyers told her no go – it will set a precedent. And that is BAD!

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with you. How many people love Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You"? That is not her song, it was written by Dolly Parton, who also sang it beautifully...just differently. I think fan fic should be considered the same as covering a song. And like the fees one pays to do a cover, maybe there should be a fee to write a fan fic. But it should not be illegal. One sees the bones of something great, but has a new idea of what to do with it. If your original incarnation was successful, then why begrudge someone their own vision? And if yours was not successful, how petty to deny someone else the chance to make your spark into a flame.
For the record, I have not written a fan fic, although I might someday if I felt so inspired, and I do write my own original work. And I would take it as the ultimate compliment if someone were to love something from my work enough to spend their time using it for their own creation.

Shauna Granger said...

It's so interesting how serious people feel about this. I wonder, if the particular book in question hadn't been well received by the public, or if the author had intervened before it gained such a big audience, if people wouldn't have an entirely different view of it.

I don't mind if people disagree with me, but I will say this, fan fiction and the covering of a song are nothing alike. As was said, an artist has to get the permission of the writer and pay a fee to cover a song (don't forget what happens when people use songs without permission, even if just at a political rally). With fan fiction, people are just taking intelligent property and doing what they want with it and not, let me repeat, not giving anything back to the original owner. Which is why they always lose in court.

Now, here is something I don't think everyone is considering when they argue that there is nothing wrong with fan fiction: one of the main reasons (besides copyright infringement) authors don't want their fans doing this is because said fans have then gone and accused the author of stealing *their* work. If someone writes a piece of fan fiction and the author isn't finished writing their series, and a particular fan happened to be on the same wavelength as them and wrote a piece of fan fiction that had a story line or a plot twist that the author was already thinking about doing then suddenly they are the ones stealing. Yes, this has happened, which is why authors tell their fans, either don't do it, or don't tell me about it.

I know people will want to say that Stephanie Meyer is through with writing Twilight so that argument is moot, but how can anyone actually know that besides Ms. Meyer? Maybe she'll decide down the road she wants to start a new franchise in the Twilight world with Renseme's generation or a where are they now book. And what if she writes something similar to a piece of fan fiction that she knew existed and the person who wrote the fan fic tries to come after her for that? It happens.

That's why I say think of your own stories. Sure, read to be inspired and keep up with what's hot on the market now. But to come right out and say "yes, I took this from another author" or "these are those characters, I just changed the name" is stealing, not creating a new genre.

Anonymous said...

Well, like I said, perhaps there needs to be regulation and collection of fees when someone uses an author's character/setting/etc for a fan fic. I think that would be a good thing, the author would get credit, compensation, and acknowledgement that the work was in fact, theirs first.
I'm interested in what you said about fans stealing the ideas while an author is mid-series. I think maybe there could be a black-out period, if the author states she or he plans to write a 5-book series, then others would be prohibited from publishing a fan fic until the completion of the series or a reasonable amount of time has passed. (One could simply say they always planned to write another one and keep it locked up until they croaked, but if 5 years or so have passed and you haven't produced a follow-up, then maybe it's just not going to happen. Maybe it's time to let someone else try their hand?)
The main problem I have is, every idea for a story starts somewhere. And so much of what we think and imagine is shaped by the literature we consume during our lifetime, that almost everything could, potentially, be attributed more or less to something read in another author's work. For instance, where did you hear about the Elements, and think of being able to use those powers? What was the first book you read about magic? You fell in love with the idea and dreamed life into it, one that was your own. And what if the thing that set your imagination soaring was the personality of one character, that singular attitude or endearing demeanor. And you saw whole new adventures and thrills and heartaches for them. It would be a shame to lose a fabulous story, just because you were inspired by someone you met, not on the street but in the pages of a book.
I do take issue with Fifty Shades of Grey. And it is based on heresay and a comparison I read, not my own personal observations, so take that as you may. But it seems like it is basically the same story, just dirtier than the original. I'd have to read it, and the Twilight series, in order to make a completely informed statement. But copying down a story and adding sex scenes is not "writing". But some of the pieces written about the Darcys or the phantom of the opera are quite good, and are technically fan fics, only because the original work is public domain, there is no fuss to kick up.
An interesting discussion, either way. I just bought your first book, and look forward to reading it. :)

Shauna Granger said...

Yep, fans have turned on writers and claimed their "work" was stolen. This baffles me. I know some series invite people to submit the original work, Ravenloft comes to mind, but the publishers still have control. This, unfortunately, is going to be something much more difficult to deal with now that self-publishing is here to stay. Yes, I know, I'm a self-published writer, but I wouldn't do this, just like I wouldn't peddle my work by stalking people I see on the street with ereaders in hand.

Anonymous brings up the same point I said at the end of my last comment, reading is inspiration. I totally agree. And I see nothing wrong with that. If E.L. James had read Twilight and thought, "You know, I'd rather have a more adult, or erotic, human-vampire story, I think I'll write one," and didn't tell us all the characters are Meyer's characters set in Meyer's world, there'd be no issue. To be honest, I was left wanting after reading Twilight as well, so I found Laurell K. Hamilton, which led to Jeanine Frost and many others, not stealing her intelligent property and then making a huge profit from it. And that comes back to what I tell anyone who asks me how to write a book: write the book you want to read. Maybe I should add "but don't steal from someone else" to the end of it? :)

As for my inspiration, believe it or not, the only books I had read that had "elementals" in them were Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters some ten years or so ago. What actually gave me my inspiration was studying Wicca, Angel lore, Native American beliefs, Astrology and Celtic Deities. All of them, so very different and yet all of them came back to the different directions and the elements associated with them. But that's for another blog post, *makes a quick note*.

Anyway, this was a fun discussion! Anonymous, thanks for picking up my book, I hope you enjoy it!

Leah J.J. Summers said...

Did you know that publishers are looking for fanfiction writers to write books for them? I was surprised. Of course, they are commissioned to write an idea the publisher has, because of showing how good of a writer they are through the fanfiction.
It has positives and negatives to it.

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