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Kate kate_nepveu
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An open letter to professionally-published authors who despise fanfic of their own works

Dear professionally-published authors who despise fanfic of their own works,

So you despise fanfic of your own works. It revolts you on a visceral level. Okay. It would be rude and pointless of me to suggest that you shouldn't have a gut-level emotional reaction, because, after all, it's gut-level. And I may even sympathize or agree with you.

But because you are a thinking being, you get to choose what you do, as opposed to how you feel. And in that respect, I suggest you should do the following:

  • Say, "I do not want fanfic of my own works to be written. In any event, it would be unwise of me to read such fanfic, so if any exists, please do not tell me about it.";
  • Don't read any fanfic; and
  • Sic your publishers on any fanfic of your works that is being published for the fanfic author's own profit (an extremely rare occurence).

Nothing else.

Because here's the thing about non-commercial fanfic: you can't stop it.

With regard to the practicalities, fanfic is not, as a category, illegal in the United States. Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed. (A useful resource is the Fair Use Overview of the Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center; see also this 11th Circuit decision about The Wind Done Gone, "a fictional work admittedly based on Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.") Thus, your legal rights may not be clear-cut with regard to any given story.

(NOTE: I am not hosting a discussion about the legal status of fanfic, because: (1) I've seen more than enough prior instances of it; (2) I don't have time to moderate it; and (3) not to put too fine a point on it, but: I'm right.)

But even if a particular fanfic comes nowhere close to fair use, the Internet is such that—between anonymous posters, pages not indexed by search engines, restricted-access sites, and the like—trying to get and keep that story off the net could be an enormous investment of time and resources on your part, with little guarantee of success. Not only that, but if people hear that you're suing a fan who wrote a non-commercial fic, they're likely to start writing new fanfics in response. I'm not expressing an opinion on the propriety of that, just pointing out that it's a genuine possibility.

More fundamentally, if people are writing fanfic about your works, then their imagination has been sparked by your works; they have been moved by the same impulse to engage with a story that runs through all of human culture. People gossip about their favorite characters; become fascinated by unexplored characters, locations, histories, themes, implications; imagine what would happen next, or if, or instead; and critique every aspect of a work. Sometimes this takes the form of passing in-person conversations, sometimes of blog discussions, sometimes of scholarly works, and sometimes of stories. (Sometimes, even, of critically-acclaimed, award-winning, professionally-distributed stories.) I would be astonished to hear that your own writing never was influenced by this impulse—I say this not to suggest that you've been writing fanfic all along, but to point out the strength and universality of this impulse. (For an eloquent and lengthy discussion discovered just as I was about to hit "post," see Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism" from a few years back.)

You can be revolted by the idea of fanfic of your own works. But you are so unlikely to be able to stop it that you are better off saving your time and energy for other pursuits. Put your position on the record as above and then do your best to ignore it.

Finally, I particularly urge you to not revile fanfic on the grounds that much of it contains sex [*], when your own works, first, are full of sex, some of it involving characters not of your own creation, and, second, were inspired in part by Dr. Who. Because not only have you insulted some vocal fans of your books, but you look a bit foolish to boot.

[*] ETA: a response from the author in question.

ETA 2: the author has deleted the posts in question; the text is archived here.



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Gosh, thanks. (I didn't expect quite that enthusiastic a response, honestly, being all practical and stuff.)

Well said.

(Incidentally--my A-paper, which is due in...*gulp*...a week and a half, is about just this.)

"A-paper"? [*]

I'd be interested in reading it, when you're done! I keep up in a very small way around the edges with the law in this area, but only a little.

(I assume you saw the 2d Cir.'s decision last week in the Salinger case?)

(no subject) - scifantasy, 2010-05-05 01:18 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 01:32 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - scifantasy, 2010-05-05 01:37 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 01:50 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - scifantasy, 2010-05-05 01:51 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7, 2010-05-05 01:59 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - coraa, 2010-05-05 02:01 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 02:01 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous), 2010-05-05 05:54 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 02:44 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous), 2010-05-10 10:55 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Yes, but fanfic sex is often weird kinky shit, whereas the sex in Diana Gabaldon's books just involves the natural desire of women to be dominated and spanked by strong men.

. . . I can't swear that they don't include any women spanking men. I don't think so, but I can't swear to it.

I realize you're just trolling, of course. But still.

(I often like her books in spite of, rather than because of, the sex; as rachelmanija said elsewhere, if her first book "WAS fic, everyone would be reccing it as 'long, plotty, cracktastic, entertaining, and reasonably well-written hurt/comfort; warning for evil bisexual sadist and fairly extreme hurt.'"

(no subject) - malkingrey, 2010-05-05 01:30 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - coraa, 2010-05-05 01:33 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 01:34 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - tavella, 2010-05-05 03:35 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - neverjaunty, 2010-05-05 05:56 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 02:45 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - tavella, 2010-05-05 04:42 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - montoya, 2010-05-05 04:09 am (UTC)(Expand)

*shakes pom pons in your direction*


Thank you for a clear, coherent, sensible statement on these matters.

Nearly the perfect compliment for me. Thanks.

Viva. Well-said.


Very well said!


I adore your post.

Aww, thanks.

Excellently said!


I'd have thought that by now, authors would know better than to make public asses of themselves on the Internet. But, apparently, it is always September somewhere.

I'd have thought that by now, authors would know better than to make public asses of themselves on the Internet.

A certain author who (unfortunately) shares my given name comes to mind...

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2010-05-05 02:56 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - redstapler, 2010-05-05 12:42 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Oh, well said.


*enthusiastic applause*


*clap clap clap*


Nicely done, and excellent inclusion of the Lethem ref. You were also more restrained at pointing out how she was arguing against fanfic with icky sex while filling her own books with it than I was in my reply.

Well, it seemed to me that her objection was of other people doing it to her characters. The way she put it was still rather confusing (by analogizing her characters to her child, ummm), but it is a distinction--perhaps she's a writer who feels like her characters do stuff and she writes it down, rather than her making them do things.

But when some of the people in your own books are not your creation, but historical personages, and are having sex, well, the distinctions start getting rather _fine_.

Really well said.


That is a lot of semi-colons.

Thanks for writing this!

To paraphrase what a former boss wrote on reviewing my writing for the first time: "You do have a semi-colon problem; I hope to break you of it." =>

(no subject) - bitjuggler, 2010-05-05 04:31 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Your open letter is excellent. Thank you for writing it.

Thanks for reading!


Sensible and practical advice, which the subject needs!

(I'd like to say more, but I'm out of time right now -- DayJob cannot be avoided! Later, then.)

Moonmothx (alias Rosemary Kirstein)

Re: Excellent!

Thanks, and hi! Do you use this account to read LJs much? If so, I can add you so you can read my occasional locked posts.

Re: Excellent! - moonmothx, 2010-05-06 10:23 am (UTC)(Expand)
Thank you for writing this! That was a very sensible response.

I'm glad you found it so.

Very well put!

Thank you!

Brava! Very nicely put and I agree without reservation.


This seems very clear. Maybe it will stop a few people from talking tosh about copyright. (I get irritated about this quite frequently, but not being a lawyer I generally can't say much except "I'm pretty sure you're wrong." Which is not convincing.)

I didn't think you used that many semicolons. Which probably means I use too many.


Is the legal situation significantly different for movie and TV properties? Or are the studios in pretty much the same position as authors, except with a lot more money and bigger legal departments?

As far as I know, no one has been successfully sued for fanfic or fanvids of works originating as video. The Organization for Transformative Works has a legal section that covers these things pretty well.

Very nice.

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