Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fanfiction for sale: SOLD!

Hi everyone!

I was just informed of two upcoming fanfics that will be getting an official publication. I think this makes it the fourth book in the last year or so that has its roots as a fanfic of one work or another.

This brings up a question that really makes me wonder: is it really right to profit off of a work that was originally based on characters another person wrote? My first reaction is that it's not right, that the characters are based off of someone else's creativity.

Fifty Shades of Grey is one example of a fanfic turned published work where you can see the book's roots as a Twilight fanfic. Ana is Bella, right down to the repetitive lip biting and several times during the story you can see where James drew heavily on the original Twilight series.

Then you have stuff like the upcoming book Beautiful Bastard, also a Twilight fanfic. (The other book, if you're curious, is a One Direction fanfic. Go figure.) I dug a little and found that the book will only have a fraction of the original fanfic in it, the rest of it being rewritten for publication. Of course, James made those same claims, that she rewrote parts of Fifty Shades, only for comparisons to show that the only big change she made was to rename all of the characters. Does rewriting a fanfic make it OK?

Part of me thinks that it's a little unethical to publish fanfiction and get paid for it. Then I did a little research and realized that honestly, it's not uncommon at all to see people base fictional works off of other people's creations. A look at the Wikipedia page for stuff based on Alice in Wonderland shows a plethora of works where people have directly based their works on the various characters. Heck, there's even an adult movie based on Alice, called Alice in Wonderland: An X-rated Musical Fantasy. It's a little hypocritical to say that some artist in Japan can create an entire franchise around Alice dating various characters in the Caroll books, but James can't create three books worth of original fanfiction about Twilight characters and publish it herself.

I do realize that Alice in Wonderland is in the public domain and Twilight is not, but a lot of the arguments about fanfic-ing for profit tend to go beyond copyright laws themselves and usually center around whether or not it's really right for someone to write a work based on someone else's characters, regardless of legality. I'm still mostly unsure as to where I fall on this. Obviously the legal standpoint is shaky on either side.

Here's how the law pretty much stands:

You can write whatever you want about works that are in the public domain as long as you credit the original creator somewhere in the work and do not try to pass off the basic designs as entirely your own stuff. You can pretty much even publish the original work as long as you don't try to say that you wrote Pride and Prejudice. This is why you see so many copies of public domain works from different publishers and companies. It's when you get into specific translations of works from another language or Ye Olde English to modern phrases that copyrights can be claimed. When it comes to stuff that's currently under copyright, you can do what you want when you have permission from the author/owner to do it.

But when you don't? That's when it gets shaky. You can write that you were "inspired by" the story and say that it influenced you, but that your story is your own. Or you can say that everything is a coincidence, as is the case with Jude Law's Repo Men and Repo!: The Genetic Opera. (But to take a look at the two plots, many of us are calling BS on those claims.) If you did base your story off of someone else's copyrighted work, you can publish the work legally if you change enough of the stuff to where you say that everything is entirely your own. This is where it gets really difficult to win a lawsuit if you're the one that wrote the original work that the fanfic is based on. You not only have to prove that the original work was based on your own stuff, but that the characters and situations are so close to your own that it's a copyright violation and not just the other author pulling in common tropes and situations. Most times it's just not worth it in the long run to bring to court, partially because it's so hard to prove copyright violations, partially because it costs so much, and partially because nobody comes out of it looking good.

But the concerns over whether or not it's legally right to profit off of other people's works does not answer whether or not it's morally right. It's easy to say "copyrighted", but like I said above- people often end up arguing over reasons that don't entirely have a lot to do with copyright and everything to do with creativity. There's no easy answer here, that's for certain.


  1. Color me shocked but this is the nature of the modern beast. I'm rather expecting "Fan Fic" to get some kind of court approval for financial gain within the next ten years so that books like 50 Shades don't need to go through cosmetic touch ups before going to press.

    Which is really frustrating because World Building is actually pretty danged hard work. I love my fan fic, when I have time to write it, because I love the universes I write it for. However, for Mind the Thorns and the Queen's Fury I'm spending almost as much time coming up with the "rules" of the universe as I am writing prose.

    And pretty soon someone can skim the book, take the world I worked to create, and skip the heavy lifting of building it. Never mind that in the seas of books out there, people tend to gravitate to known quantities, giving the Fan Fic a leg up.

    The real challenge will be when writers start to nibble at the Licensed worlds and try to publish books without that licence first. I'm thinking about the piles of Star Trek novels out there. That's the next market, I think, for the real battle. Someone will write an amazing ST book but try to sell it without permission, and wackiness will ensue.

  2. As far as licensed stuff goes, I think they can do it as long as they promote it as a parody. I know that's how porn gets around that pesky copyright and licensing issue.