Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fan Fiction?

Sorry to double post, but I just had to mention this before I forget:

Tobias Buckell pointed his blog readers to a new writing organization: The Organization for Transformative Works.

"The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a nonprofit organization established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms."

A fantastic 147-comment discussion is going on at John Scalzi’s blog about the issue, and he raises some great points. The best of which is that fan fiction largely operates on a don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and by organizing and uniting to fight a legal battle on their rights, it’s likely to cause publishers/studios to lend their considerable legal weight to the battle, and fan fiction writers would be more threatened than they are now.

They also debate when the line of "transformative" begins.

My thoughts on the matter are largely undecided. I have a couple worlds that, if fan fiction were to be created, I’d be a little hurt. I feel awful protective of my worlds.

On the other hand, anything with the word "fan" in it isn’t all that bad (maybe stalker fan ...). And it is a compliment to love someone’s world so much, love someone’s characters so much, that they live on in your head and you have to write their stories.

I see good points on both sides, and I would definitely prefer the don’t ask, don’t tell approach. Organizing and making fan fiction legal starts making me uncomfortable.

The thought that all this could lead to other people making money off my worlds? As Lula in the Stephanie Plum series would say, "Nuh-uh."

7 bonus scribbles:

Bailey Stewart 12/13/2007 11:34:00 PM  

I'm not familiar with this, so I'll just let the debate whirl without me.

Angie 12/14/2007 03:09:00 PM  

The point isn't for anyone to make money off of your work, though; that's not what they're trying to achieve.

The point is to get some legal acknowledgement for fair non-commercial use, so that people can post their fanfic online without getting hit by C&Ds at random intervals, without having their providers threatened or their archives shut down. It's not terribly common but it does happen, and when it does it's horribly disruptive.

And despite what the nay-folks at John Scalzi's blog think, no one knows for sure whether fanfic actually is illegal, or whether it's transformative enough to actually be fair use. There's never been a court case to decide the matter, and until there is it's up in the air. People can have opinions of course, but anyone who says it's absolutely illegal is full of just as much bull crap as anyone who says it's absolutely legal.

Being able to hammer a few things out once and for all would benefit the pros as well as the fans. For example, establishing that if a pro (novelist, TV writer, whatever) working on a series of stories includes an "idea" which strongly resembles something which appeared first in fan fiction for that writer's series, the pro writer owes neither acknowledgement nor compensation to the fan writer, would probably calm a lot of pros down. That's a big issue with some people, but except for a few whack jobs (which unfortunately every group has) fan writers don't want money or whatever and are incredibly flattered if they see that a writer has picked up something that resembles something from one of their fan stories, even if it's just a coincidence.

I've also seen people express concern over fans writing a story, and then the pro who owns the series wanting to write a different story which contradicts the fan story. I'm always sort of O_O about that, because it should be obvious to anyone that the pro does whatever she or he wants, and that's always going to be canon. But someone in Scalzi's comment thread was arguing that this was one of the problems with fanfic, that the fans will get there first and what then??? Umm, nothing. [shrug] Fanfic isn't canon. We all (should) know that.

I think Scalzi had some good points, and things that need to be looked at or taken into consideration before anyone actually starts planning that landmark court case. But the fans really aren't asking for all that much, certainly nothing that would hurt the pros whose compositions they're riffing off of.


spyscribbler 12/15/2007 12:30:00 PM  

I know of at least one fan fic author who has tried to make money off her work, and even though they're not lobbying for the right to charge money, if they make it legal, then what's to stop them from charging money?


And you're right, there is fair non-commercial use, and then there's stealing. The line is a hard one to draw. Drawing that line will most certainly exclude some or many of the fan fic authors from publishing online the story they'd like to.

Angie 12/16/2007 06:49:00 AM  

Of course there are jerks in every group [nod] and if you're thinking of the same case I am (the woman who self-published her Star Wars novel and got it listed on Amazon?) then I fully agree she's an idiot. But the OTW isn't trying to get any fan writer the right to sell their work. Seriously, the bulk of fanfic fandom is just as scornful of the Star Wars woman as anyone else. :/


spyscribbler 12/16/2007 01:19:00 PM  

I think you're totally right about the intent of fanfic authors. That's why I prefer the don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

I wonder, though, if you can declare something legal and then say you can't legally sell it? Because even if most fanfic authors have no intent to make a profit, if it becomes legal, who's to say ten years from now we have a new generation making a killing from other people's worlds?

Drawing legal lines is such complicated, risky business.

And you're right, the jerks have a tendency to ruin it for everyone else, don't they?

Angie 12/16/2007 11:43:00 PM  

Well, there are precedents. For example, it's legal to give away sexual services but illegal to sell them. :)


spyscribbler 12/17/2007 09:33:00 AM  

Hah! You're right. That's hilarious.

What a fascinating discussion. I guess we'll see what happens!