Legalize Fanfiction!

Fanfiction on the Internet serves a valuable purpose by allowing authors to write the stories they want to see that the Hollywood networks would never produce. It is a great boon to fans of TV shows and movies and poses no economic threat to these shows. The problem is that fanfiction is considered a derivative work and is technically against copyright law. Now, most companies look the other way because they don’t want to alienate their fans. However, there’s nothing stopping them from closing it all down. Therefore, I believe the copyright laws should be amended to make fanfiction legal. What do you think?

I disagree.

Protection of intellectual property is one of the most vital elements of our society’s support for creative endeavors. A writer who creates a successful/popular world is entitled to benefit from his work. Allowing others to publish stories using his characters, settings, themes, etc. risks diluting the demand for his product and impacting his livelihood.

That said, I know quite a few authors and none of them are particularly worried about fan fiction with limited distribution. The problem occurs when the same web site which allows you to publish my latest novel also has 6 links to other people’s stories that use my characters and my world.

I realize your OP addressed TV and movies specifically, but the principal is the same. In fact, recent Hollywood productions have quite forcefully demonstrated that the characters and millieus of old TV have significant financial value to producers and studios.

Not to put too harsh a point on it, but if you have a story you simply must share with a large number of other people then do the extra work required to develop an original cast and environment. You might find that you like it even better that way.

I think that the needs of the owner outweigh the needs of the fan fiction folks. Whether or not fanfiction poses an economic threat is probably something that would be decided on a case by case basis. Personally I find most fan fiction to be inferior. And most companies I’ve heard of don’t go after fan fiction sites so long as they’re not making money.


Oh boy, nuther intellectual property rights battle warming up :rolleyes:
Actually, I have never seen any serious attempt to stop it–but maybe that’s just a symptem of the particular ones I’ve seen. Is there a war going on that I don’t know wabout?

TSR owns a little game called Dungeons and Dragons. I hear that they went after all sorts of websites that posted what they considered to be derivited works. That’s the only example I can think of though.


Actually, TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, which was in turn bought by Hasbro.

Since Hasbro’s takeover they’ve really really cut down on the EVIL FIST OF THE CORPORATE OVERLORD + 5.

As a writer, I am fond of my characters. Granted I won’t be seeing any fanfiction based on my work any time soon, but in the unlikely event of it happening, it would irritate me as a writer to see someone using my concepts and my beloved characters. I don’t buy that imitation is the best form of flattery idea either,

I have to say I don’t get the point of fanfic anyway. Why do people want to use other people’s intellectual property instead of developing their own?


You know, I read somewhere that TSR was planning on making D&D an “open code” - letting anyone who wants to use it, use it.

Still, most fan fiction is crap. In SF and fantasy, making the world is the hard part (and also the fun part). Wat real writer would use another auther’s scraps? Besides, no two writers can write the same characters. They may call them by the same name, and give them the same history, but characters are extensions of their creators’ personalities, and cannot be duplicated.

I tried to post this last night, but my *&^%$(^ computer wouldn’t cooperate.

Myrr - No war that I know of, and I’m a member of most of the larger fanfic sites on the net.

As for amending the law…I disagree. The LAST thing we want to do is bring it out into the limelight. Most, if not all, studios are aware fanfic exists. All of them currently choose to look the other way. (Even for slash fiction, which can be seen as even WORSE than “regular” fanfic.) If someone tried to make it legal, it WOULDN’T succeed, and would only cause the studios to crack down on fanfic writers.

As for why people write it…several reasons. To continue shows that have been cancelled. To explore areas that the creators chose not to go into. To have fun.

I write fan fiction.

I also write fiction of my own (see for examples), in my own world, with characters that I have developed on my own.

Where I don’t see the need to “bring fanfic into the light,” I’d like to make the observation that I know several (more talented) fanfic writers who use it the same way I do - to hone my skills, and to work around writer’s block. I can usually push out a fanfic story and use that to get me back to the page.

Since most of fan fiction (IMnsHO) is unreadable garbage, however, I think it’s best hidden on the Internet, where it can’t do the author’s reputation any real damage.

To the OP:

Fan fiction isn’t illegal. It’s allowed or not allowed at the sufferance of the copyright/trademark holder of said fictional characters. And it’s eminently fair for those copyright holders to decide whether or not the existence of fan fiction hurts or helps their cause.

And I am writing this as the author of many fan fiction pieces featuring DC Comics characters, allowed by their generous “fair use” policy. So I’m certainly sympathetic to those whose preferred characters’ owners do not have such a policy of tolerance, but if the owner thinks their fanfic will damage his or her ability to properly market the character, it’s in the (true) fan’s best interest to refrain from doing any such damage.


Because the existence of the characters in question and their millieu gives rise to the story ideas. A person who never read a Superman story might never conceive of Superman or Lex Luthor on his own, but, having read and enjoyed them, might very well get ideas for original stories featuring those characters. And, as the field is very, very, very hard to break into professionally, they’d happily publish it as fanfic instead.

(Self promotion: the fanfic I have written was published in the online DC Comics fanzine called Fanzing.

I did know about the TSR thing. They also payed for it up the ass (though Hasbro has been more open). White Wolf, for example, has used the internet to their advantage. But I meant in a larger context, since that was the only real example I knew of. No war, huh?

I read alot of and write a little bit of Star Wars and MST3K fan fiction.
The thing is, I like the fact that it’s unofficial, because then there is no real structure to follow, and you can change your own forms.
I also found out that authors for things like Star Wars aren’t allowed to read unauthorized fiction, because if one of their ideas parallels a fan written story, then there’s that whole legal thing again.
So write it, read it, and just enjoy it.
For great Star Wars fan fiction try:

Myrr -

None. The only studio to throw a fit over fan sites recently is Fox, and that’s for unauthorized PICTURES, not for fanfic. Hence, why upset the status quo? It works pretty damn well for everyone as it is right now.

And FTR, yes, I write fanfic. Never published any, but I do write it.

If copyright holders do not defend their copyrights, they risk losing them. It’s as simple as that. They can’t simply let anyone use their properties however they wish.

[hijack]Here’s an interesting salvo in the intellectual property “war,” and one that you, Myrr, might enjoy. Illustrating perfectly the old saying about whose ox is being gored, it involves, ironically, the folks at Napster taking vigorous means to protect the copyrights on their IP. I can’t post a link, because it’s a subscription site, but it’s on the front page of today’s WSJ. Here are some highlights (heavily edited):

If there’s one thing that Napster seems to believe in, it’s sharing . The fast-growing service lets users obtain free MP3 files of popular music, something the recording industry calls “copyright infringement” but which Napster describes as fans " sharing " their favorite songs over the Internet.

When Hank Barry, Napster Inc.'s president, testified before Congress earlier this month, he mentioned sharing seven times in his opening statement. Among Mr. Barry’s sharing -friendly remarks: " Napster . . . is a return to the original information- sharing approach of the Internet."
But while Napster is eager to help its users share music, there is one kind of sharing it won’t tolerate. That’s the sharing of anything that belongs to Napster itself. The company may, through its rap anthem, appear to encourage a disdain for “trade laws” where music is concerned, but it readily invokes those same laws when its own property is at stake.

Last month, when the punk-rock band the Offspring started selling T-shirts featuring the Napster logo, for example, Napster promptly sent the group a cease-and-desist order, backing off only after some Web sites commented on the apparent hypocrisy of the move.

More significantly, the company has tried repeatedly to stymie independent software developers working on Napster -compatible software and Web sites. While these programs could benefit the millions of music fans that Napster claims are its only constituency, they might also diminish Napster 's own commercial potential.

The company has refused to share technical information about its software code, has made changes to its software that have prevented other programs from working with Napster 's own and has blocked computers from outside music sites from accessing Napster 's database of hundreds of thousands of songs.


I started another thread on this subject a while back (I’d search for it but I’m at work and shouldn’t be here anyway) and I thought the conclusion that was come to was that all fan fic was illegal, even if nobody saw it. In other words, I can write a story with Han Solo and Captain Kirk, and it never leaves my hard drive, and technically I’m breaking the law.

If this is true, I’d be in favor of changing the law so that one only breaks the law once they try to make money from the fan fic.

I should be able to write whatever words I want, and freely give these words away to whoever I want. I feel this freedom is more basic than intellectual rights.

That’s why when I read most fan fiction, there’s usually a disclaimer stated that the work is not for commercial gains or profit, just for enjoyment and no infringement is intended.

Guin -

That disclaimer means NOTHING under the law. Yeah, it makes us all feel better, but in the eyes of the law, it’s still illegal. And anyway…when you buy a fanzine, it’s for profit, even WITH the disclaimer in there. I was part of the discussion Revtim remembered, and ALL fanfic is illegal. The law may not be enforced, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s illegal.

Phil -

Question for clarity. Would you then say that since TV and film studios have NEVER cracked down on fanfic in over 20 years, they can’t complain about it? They’ve, in essence, “lost” their copyright? (Not arguing the point…just want to see what you’d say.)

In my personal opinion? I don’t think they have lost them, because I don’t think the effect of fanfiction has been particularly dilutive (because most of it is, let’s face it, pretty crappy), because the owners might recognize some value in it, and because the distribution is so limited. Certainly, the owners of the Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, Marvel Comics and DC Comics properties are having no problem making money hand-over-fist off of licensing deals even in the face of scads of fanfics for those properties.

What about FanFic written not about characters from someone else’s fiction, but about people who exist in real life?

For example, I know people in the Duran community who are heavy “duranfic” writers. Where do they fit in this discussion? Are they breaking any laws?

Oh, and Alessan - my understanding from WotC is that they will be making 3rd ed. D&D “open source” - which may mean we get to see more Grimtooth’s Traps again.

:: Rubbing hands together and chuckling evilly ::