Understanding The Legal Ramifications of Fan Fiction

from the creating-for-fun-not-profit dept

Fan fiction is one of those areas that treads that fine line between what some people find to be fair use and others find to be infringing. These derivatives of the original work often take form in ways that the original creators did not intend, expect or find reasonable. When it comes to some creators, fan fiction is something to be embraced, but some also feel that it violates their copyright. So with such murky water in this area, how are fan fiction writers to know if their creative work is fair use? This is where Rebecca Tushnet comes in with an interview with Reason.

In this interview, Rebecca highlights the ways in which many companies have accepted fan fiction and other fan created derivative works as a necessary part of getting consumers to engage with the content.

It takes a big studio to make The Avengers, but it doesn't necessarily take a big studio to write a piece of Avengers fan fiction. Big content companies largely recognize that fan activities are really good for them because they engage people.

Additionally, Rebecca is a member of the Organization for Transformative Works, which helps fan fiction creators understand their legal rights and defend themselves in those cases where the original creator seeks to take down such works—something that happens far too often, even when the creator has shown support in the past.

Regardless of the potential legal ramifications, creators need to realize just how much of a cultural impact their works have on their fans. As people grow to love certain works, they seek to express that love by creating and distributing content that they feel expresses their fondness for it. What we shouldn't see, and what makes this organization so important, is creators lashing out at fans for being fans. Think about how ridiculous that sounds. Why would anyone want to punish a fan for nothing more than loving the original work or artist? Sadly, ridiculousness is not above the mindset of many people and companies. However, by embracing such fan creativity, not only are you fostering the overall community and culture that surrounds your work, but you are also allowing real and powerful growth. As more people find your work through derivatives, they will seek to support you as well.

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Comments on “Understanding The Legal Ramifications of Fan Fiction”

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STStone says:

Re: Re: Re:

You people have it easy these days, since you have all these fancy filters and web blockers and whatnot. In my day (eight years ago), we had to deal with the REALLY bad shit – and via textfiles, too. “Agony in Pink”, “Artemis’ Lover”, “Chibi-Usa’s 7th Birthday”…now THOSE make for some truly horrendous “atrocity tourism” (and some good MiSTings).

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

::waves cane at you kids::

I’ve been reading fan fiction since 1972: we had to deal with barely readable mimeographed pages, we spent large sums of cash money for zines instead of browsing online and downloading free text, and we would often drag home from a convention a stack of zines weighing a good fifty pounds in an era before suitcases came with wheels attached. That was like bringing home a freakin’ tree trunk in your suitcase! In the snow! Uphill!

Nikolle says:

“Why would anyone want to punish a fan for nothing more than loving the original work or artist?”

Anne Rice punishs theirher fans consistently by forcing any derivatives of their work to be removed completely from the internet and threatened to sue fans for copyright infringement. She even went so far as to cyber-stalking those who wrote fanfiction of her stories and attack them.

The attacks consisted of, amongst other things, e-mailed threats regarding not only the writing of fanfiction but any writing that any fanfic author attempted to engage in (regardless of who owned the copyright), attacks on businesses that the fanfic authors owned and weeks of harassing personal letters sent to fanfic author’s e-mail addresses and guestbooks. Personal information about fanfic authors was also dug up by Anne Rice employees and used as part of the harassment.

There are other authors who ask not to have their works used (Nora Roberts, PN Elrod, Laurell K Hamilton, and Terry Goodkind for examples) but I’ve never seen anyone else so hard pressed to punish their own fans as Anne Rice is.

[Suffice to say, I’m no longer a fan of her works, and I’ve sold every book that I once owned of hers.]

Christopher (profile) says:

Simply put, FanFiction fits into the same area as parody and is protected by human rights.

It’s time to start bitchslapping the publishers and authors, telling them “Once you release something, other people have the right to use your characters as long as: 1. They aren’t getting paid for it (or only server costs) and 2. They make it very clear that they are not the creators of the characters.”

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wish I could properly explain why I love it so much. And it’s okay dude, it’s not for everyone. Though the last person I said that to eventually broke down and admitted that he loved the show and that I was apparently to blame for it?

More on topic, as someone who would love to make a career as a writer, I hope that I never slip into the dark side and become like these people. Fanfics and stuff aren’t just great practice for aspiring writers, they’re also a sign of how much people enjoy your work and want to explore and share it on their own. 🙂

STStone says:

Re: Re: Re:

The show features quality writing, beautiful animation, catchy music, and top-notch voice acting — and, best of all, Lauren Faust designed the show around the idea that anyone could feel free to enjoy it.

I don’t personally get deep into the FiM fandom (I’ll look at fan art and check up on FiM-related news every other day or so), but I enjoy the show, and I’ve tried to get a few friends who enjoy animated shows to watch it.

I watched the show with an honest, open mind — and I received a fun, uplifting show in return.

What more could I ask for from a “kids” show about talking technicolor ponies?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You’re correct: Fifty Shades of Grey started its life as “badfic”, which is often very popular, similar to the way Harlequin Romances stink but are wildly popular. She posted her Bella/What’s-His-Sparkly-Vampire-Face fanfiction chapter by chapter as she wrote it and got instant feedback from her fellow fangirls, thus crafting the story in response to their praise and to their desires, which is probably why it hits so many women’s sweet spot, as it were. The author then “filed the serial numbers off” to publish it as original fiction. Clever!

Yay for fannish jargon! o/

Seegras (profile) says:


Can anyone (Anne Rice maybe?) explain how “Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship…” (17 USC ? 102) and explicitly “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” rules out ideas and concepts, should apply to OTHER original works of art NOT written by the author?

It simply does not. Your ideas do not belong to you, neither does your imaginary world, your invented characters, or the concept of the story you wrote. You’ve only got a monopoly on YOUR EXACT WORK. And nothing else.

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