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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is Fan-Fic Unethical?

I'll probably be ruffling some feathers, but have any of you been keeping up with Diana Gabaldon's fan-fic dilemma?

I found out about it from Avid Book Reader. Apparently, Gabaldon does not approve of fan-fic. And until she spelled it out, I didn't appreciate the deeper ramifications of writing stories from someone else's characters.

I know a couple of people who write fan-fic within the Lord Of The Rings world. Somehow, I can't rightly place Tolkien in the same ballpark with Gabaldon.

In the first place, Tolkien is dead. In the second place LotR is so archaic that a little fan-fic probably makes Tolkien more reader-friendly. Gabaldon is very much alive, current and readable.

Also, as a reader, I wouldn't want to read someone else's rendition of Gabaldon's characters. I read Gabaldon for HER voice, not someone else's. But Tolkien? Meh. That's like rehashing Jane Austen.

I have to agree with Gabaldon on the critical issue of copyright though. I wouldn't like it if someone wanted to do fan-fic on my characters. I'm rather possessive about those things, but only because I don't know what a fan-fic writer plans to do with my ideas.

In this viral environment, you can't count on your intellectual property staying in your control. It would be easy to say: 'I won't make money off your characters or hurt your career.' But the truth is, you can't guarantee that. This is why copyright laws exist.

Copyrighted characters and images cannot be used without the expressed permission of the owner.

I know. People do it all the time. It's still not right.

So what's the answer? Would you want YOUR characters used in someone else's fan-fic?

By the way, the saga is ongoing. Gabaldon had a second post on the issue, with a promise for a third.


Kaz Augustin said...

Is this Diana "of course I don't write romance! How could you think I'd do something soooooooo demeaning! Oh, it makes money? Lots of money? In that case, of course I write romance!" Gabaldon?

Having lived in Australia for many years, I'm of a mind to tell her to take a Bex(*) and have a lie down. I tend to think authors have lots of other things to worry about besides some bunch of groupies handing each other pages of love scenes over lunch. They're not stealing, they're just trying to prolong the magic. As long as nobody's making any money out of it, I'll be happy should I ever hear someone is writing Republic or Fusion fanfic. I consider it a compliment that someone liked the universe so much that they wanted to tarry there of their own volition.

As for someone else's rendition of Gabaldon's characters...well, you never know, do you? ;) And, hey, isn't Scalzi going one step further with H Beam Piper's fuzzies? Someone should sic Gabaldon onto him!

(*) headache powder

Maria Zannini said...

Kaz: But my thinking is, copyright is still copyright. It would be insane to try to isolate and police those who are not profiting from those who are.

I don't read fan-fic, so I don't care that people write it. And a midlister or a no-lister would probably welcome the publicity.

It's the BIG writers who are constantly aped. And while they probably have more money than God, they still have a right to retain control of their property.

I dunno. Sometimes fandom walks too fine a line.

Diandra said...

Fan-Fiction is hilarious, in the good as well as the not-so-good sense of the word. However... I don't think, if I developed characters over a long period of time and sent them out into the world, I would *want* somebody to kidnap them and put them in stories which are, all too often, poorly written and sometimes plain stupid. And for those writing fan-fiction - why not change the characters a bit (name, description, ...) and see if the story can stand on its own?

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: And for those writing fan-fiction - why not change the characters a bit (name, description, ...) and see if the story can stand on its own?

This makes sense to me.

But then I don't understand the lure of fan-fiction. I don't know why people write it or read it--unless it's for the world building. Some worlds are very exciting.

Dru said...

I've never heard the term Fan-Fic which most likely mean I don't read them.

I'll have to look into this further.

But chances are I won't like it, if it makes fun of loved characters that I've read.

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I wouldn't read it either. This is the same reason I have a hard time reading franchised work like Star Trek. They try to keep the same voice, but it doesn't always work.

Renee Miller said...

I wrote fanfic, when I was twelve, and it was as terrible as most of the fanfic I have stumbled across online.

I think she has every right to be upset, and every right to ask that they not post their stories that use her characters. I love the suggestion that they rename the characters and see how the story holds.

If they're serious about writing, honestly I can't see why they'd want to use someone else's ideas. I'm quite partial to my own brilliance. It's kind of hard to take credit for someone else's.

As you said, Maria, sometimes fandom walks a thin line, and sometimes authors, celebrities, etc. have to put their foot down and say 'Enough.'

Sherri said...

I haven't been following it and I don't read fan-fic nor have I ever tried to write it. Just seems like a waste of time.

Karen Marie Moning had this come up on her message boards awhile ago and I like her response. It boiled down to: Let the author FINISH the story/series before fans take over with fan-fic.

I remember something coming up with JK Rowling where fans were wrapping up the Harry Potter stories before she had and that is just wrong.

This is all from a reader viewpoint. The copyright issue is completely valid in my mind. Fan-fic almost feels like a version of pirating to me, which again is just wrong.

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: I'm quite partial to my own brilliance.

LOL! I love that!

Sounds like something that should go on a t-shirt.

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri: I remember that about Rowling. And that's the part that sticks in my craw.

Little or big, these authors put their souls into their work. At least let them finish.

And here's another thought. What if the author comes up with a similar plot as a fan-fic writer did for an unfinished or future novel?

Can the fan-fic author turn around and sue the legitimate author for 'stealing' her plot? It doesn't seem likely, but there are enough bogus lawsuits clogging the judicial system to make me wonder.

Marian said...

I write fanfiction - G1 Transformers, specifically. I first started writing these when I was a bit disheartened from a long slew of rejection letters. It would be a change, I thought, to write something that wasn't intended for publication and wouldn't be rejected.

I enjoyed the experience and it rekindled my pleasure in writing, so much so that I submitted a manuscript to Samhain and got an acceptance a month later.

Not only does writing fanfics give me a completely different world to play in, it's writing for sheer enjoyment. Oh, I still love my fantasy stories. But I write those for possible publication, which means living up to a certain standard.

With fanfics, I don't need to worry about whether I'm using too many semicolons or whether my paragraphs are too long. I can just focus on telling the story.

I've also experimented more with fanfics than I have with my original work - again, because there was no pressure.

I still write original work as well as fanfics, because the two satisfy different needs for me. And while I do love getting compliments on my novel, I was as pleased when someone who didn't know anything about Transformers told me he had read one of my fanfics and enjoyed it. :)

Sherri said...

Ref: What if the author comes up with a similar plot as a fan-fic writer did for an unfinished or future novel?

From Karen Marie Moning again...I know this happened in part which is why she made the comment I noted above.

Ref: Can the fan-fic author turn around and sue the legitimate author for 'stealing' her plot?

With our sue-happy world it wouldn't surprise me one bit. Seems to me one of the authors I friended on FB is dealing with something like this now...thinking it may be Jessica Andersen or Larissa Ione.

Authors have enough going on writing and promoting their work to have to deal with lawsuits. GRRR

Marian said...

Oh, and I just realized I didn't answer the question. Would I want my characters used in someone else's fanfic?

Well, I got hooked on Transformers not because I watched the cartoon or the movies... but because I read a couple of very well-written fanfics. So if someone else's fanfic about my characters stands even a slight chance of intriguing readers to the point where they buy the book, absolutely.

I'll never read them, though. Legally, it's safer not to. But otherwise? I understand why other writers might object, but I'm fine with it for my book(s).

Maria Zannini said...

Marian: I don't think I'm up on 'Transformers'. Are those the toys that changed into vehicles and weapons?

I never realized it had such a following.

I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to copyright. Too many years as an artist and people ripping stuff off.

Copyright is not a ball of wax I want to meddle with as an author.

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri: Oh, man. This is what I was afraid of.

That's just all kinds of trouble I don't want to see.

Which brings to mind something an agent told a published author who frequented OWW, the writing workshop. He was advised NOT to critique certain work for fear that someone down the road can claim he took an idea from the shop.

And I'm sure many of us have seen similar disclaimers on author sites, saying point blank that they will not read or review your work.

The world is far too litigious to take the chance.

Marian said...

Maria: yes, that's them! I was intrigued by some minor characters in the cartoon - they appeared in two episodes and had only a handful of lines, but I fell in love with them.

So I wrote stories about them. A few other fans have said that they never really noticed those characters before, which was nice. :)

It does have quite a large following, partly because of the recent Michael Bay movies. Though I'm a purist and only write in the G1 universe.

Maria Zannini said...

Marian: Well hit me with a spoon. LOL. I have never heard of Transformers fan-fic.

I do think you bring up a valid point about writing though. When not held up to the constraints of a world you made up, it takes some of the pressure off.

I know one other person who told me it's helped her strengthen her real writing by practicing on fan-fic.

But as Sherri said, there are people who are being sued or whose careers are damaged. At no time should the original author have to suffer for someone else's fun.

With a toy manufacturer, I imagine they LIKE the extra publicity.

Marian said...

Absolutely, Maria. I'm always saddened to hear about published writers having to deal with such legal issues. It's not at all right or fair to them.

And it tends to make fanfiction writers look bad as well, when most of us aren't like that.

You're right about the toy manufacturers doing well from the publicity - one fan even organized a Transformers convention. But it's not just toy manufacturers who may benefit. I became a fan of the Hellsing anime after seeing a fan video on YouTube. So I think it's a grey area.

By the way, I was inspired to write a post on the subject as well, here.

Anonymous said...

As you know, Maria, I've written Tolkien fanfic. If the Tolkien estate said stop, I'd stop. If Gabaldon doesn't want it, go her. Don't do it.

In the case of Tolkien, I suspect fanficcers are responsible for many of the sale of History of Middle-Earth, the multi-volume edited papers that Christopher Tolkien has put out. So in his case, I think it helped with sales.

I think if someone wrote a fanfic about my characters, I'd see it as publicity. I wouldn't read it, or at least wouldn't admit to reading it, because of the issues some of your posters raise. If my contract called for me to report it, I would. But bascially I see it as pretty harmless.

As a writer, I learned a lot from writing fanfic. YMMV.


Barbara Ann Wright said...

I never realized this was such a hot-button issue for some. I've read some fanfic. The only fanfic I've written was for some close friends based on their (unpublished) novels, and that was just to give them a laugh. Most fanfic I've read gives me a laugh, especially if it's slash. I would hope I'd see any fanfic based on my work as either humorous or flattering.

Maria Zannini said...

Marian: Thanks for the link. It was an excellent post.

Maria Zannini said...

Daw: You're one of the people I was thinking about for LotR.

And I think it's true that LotR fan-fic has helped it tremendously. Try as I might, it's hard for me to read Tolkien. Fan-fic is much more approachable.

It wasn't until the movie came out that I understood and appreciated everything Tolkien did. But I didn't get that from reading HIS books. LOL.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: Ah, that's the $64,000 question. Is it flattering or does it hurt the author's presence?

Sure, if someone started a fan club for my worlds, I'd be thrilled. But if they started writing drivel and posting it on the net haphazardly, I don't think I'd be amused.

And there are worse things they could do, like impersonate the author, or sell the bogus work.

India Drummond said...

I have always been firmly on the side of the author holding absolute control of whatever she creates, but I am on the verge of changing my mind. If you haven't read it, see what author Jim Butcher says in his new fanfic policy:

Maria Zannini said...


Scalzi too.

I prefer Butcher's old stance.

Methinks, since this change of heart came about recently, he's aligning with his buddies for solidarity.

To each his own. I hope they never find reason to regret it.

Thanks for the link, India!