Writers get possessive over fan fiction
It seems that Diana Gabaldon has caused a minor storm online, by launching an attack on fan fiction.
What’s fan fiction? It’s where people create derivative works to share among friends. Usually entertaining, often funny, and also helps promote the originals.
If you’ve been online for more than a few months, chances are you’re already familiar with this through various parodies of popular film and TV series.
There are a whole bunch of fan fiction films of various quality based around popular film/TV fiction universes, not least Star Wars and Star Trek.
One of the great classics is probably the “Troops” – from the US reality police shows “Cops” – in which a TV crew follow a bunch of Stormtroopers as they patrol Tatooine, running into a few plot lines from the first Star Wars film.
Of course, the overwhelming rule with fan fiction is simple – it must always be non-commercial.
That way, there are no trademark, copyright, or other intellectual rights violations. The originator sees no threat to their income stream, nor has their works exploited for profit but without authorisation by third parties which might otherwise compromise their commercial enterprise.
This is a line the great Star Wreck fan fic broke – a brilliant film parody that brought Star Trek and Babylon 5 universes together, it made the mistake of trying to charge for copies of the DVD. Film studios got involved, and the Star Wreck had to refilm the space ships to appear less directly like the ones they originally copied, in order to allow their fan fiction to be commercially distributed.
So how does this affect fan fiction as it relates to written fiction? Surprisingly, a lot.
Overwhelming, authors take an extremely dim view of people writing about their characters under any circumstances.
Even though written fiction is a smaller commercial market than the film industry, even though fan fiction based on books has a far smaller audience base, it seems that authors are loathe to allow any degree of control outside of their own.
After Diana Gabaldon posted her attack on fan fiction for literature, other authors stepped in – George R R Martin stepped in to agree with her, while Charlie Stross remains one of the few writers who appears happy to allow for it.
We’ve seen the same issue come up in the chronicles forums, where resident published authors speak out at the lack of controls and concerns over intellectual rights. More pointedly, their argument all boils down to “they are my characters, not yours – leave off!”.
The initial reaction is surprise – fan fiction isn’t a threat to anybody, and it can be an excellent marketing tool.
However, as Charlie Stross points out, it can expose the author to a number of legal issues – and authors generally don’t carry the weight of a full legal department that film distribution companies usually do.
Even still, while the possessive attitude of some authors to their characters is understandable to a point, it’s perhaps time they relaxed their attitudes and embraced their fans more, warts and all.
After all, the only actual possible danger to the authors is that the fan fiction will be more popular than the authors themselves. But let’s face it – if the author is generating fan fiction in the first place, chances are that they are not going to be uncrowned.
Diana Gabaldon has since deleted her attack on fan fiction – perhaps that’s an encouraging sign of a much needed relaxation in attitude.
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