October 29, 2012

A Writer's Life - Mention or Invention? Part III

After having discussed copyright and fair use, brand names and character's names, we've finally arrived in the wonderful world of fan fiction in this final part of Mention or Invention?

What is fan fiction anyway? Fan fiction are basically stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work. If you write your own private little Star Trek tale that is called fan fiction. Works of fan fiction are in most cases not authorized by the original author or publisher, likewise they are almost never professionally published.

Apparently fan fiction isn't a bad thing then? Once again we're hobbling towards that thing called copyright. Fan fiction is a derivative work which means it is an expressive creation that includes major, copyright-protected elements of an original, previously created first work. And many argue that fan fiction doesn't fall under fair use either (unless you've written a parody on Kirk's latest adventures) while The Organization for Transformative Works upholds the legality of non-profit fan fiction under the fair use doctrine. Confusion sets in, I know. So what's a fan to do?

Some authors actually welcome fan fiction! Imagine that! I hope they haven't taken their blessings back yet, but some of these authors are Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling (who would have thought) and Stephanie Meyer. Then there are those authors who strongly oppose to fan fiction such as Anne Rice and George R.R. Martin.

Now why would Ms Rowling allow fan fiction but get all stressed out over copyright matters? Well, there is a difference between writing fan fiction and publishing an actual book. The first is for fun while the second should obviously be for fun as well, but with any luck results in you earning money. See the difference?

And if things weren't bad enough already! It's not just a question of whether you breach a copyright, but your piece of fan fiction can also lead you straight to trademark infringements. Fair use in copyright and trademark law are two completely different pairs of shoes. There goes your own little Star Trek universe ... or maybe not? Actually Paramount allowed fan fiction and even published various stories in anthologies, in fact most major studios and production companies do tolerate fan fiction, sometimes even encouraging it.

Fan fiction writers argue that their work is legal through the fair use doctrine for these reasons:
Fan works do not deprive the owner of the source material of income.
Fan works may work as free advertisement and promotion of the original source material.
Fan works are usually non-profit.
Fan works do not copy, or attempt to substitute for, the original work.

What is your take on fan fiction? Do you write it? Do you like it? Have you ever thought of all the legal implications? Let me know.

Please note that I've approached this topic to the best of my knowledge. If you find that I misinterpreted anything or even stated something that is entirely wrong (I hope not), let me know so I can remove or amend the offending statement!


  1. I have read some fan fiction and quite like it. One author whose attitude to fan fiction I have always admired is Marion Zimmer Bradley who edited and published tons of books filled with fan fiction stories, and I think this went on long after her death. One advantage of them was that the quality was very very high, something that naturally is not always a given with fan fic.

    1. Really? I had no idea! I enjoyed her books as a teenager but haven't read anything by her in recent years. Now I'm curious about those fan fiction publications too!