One Final Legal Look at Fan Fiction


We’ve already acknowledged writers’ very strong opinions about fan fiction. But it can go further than mere hurt feelings by authors who don’t think their hard work is being properly appreciated.

That’s why Writing Rule #56 is what it is.

Be Very Careful If You’re Writing Fan Fiction

There are some authors who take fan fiction as the compliment it may or may not be meant as. But that’s not always true. So if you do try to publish yours on something like Wattpad or a fan fiction-specific site, you could be setting yourself up for legal ramifications.

Nor is that the only thing to be wary of here, since writing fan fiction can be an unnecessary crutch that stunts your creative abilities instead of strengthening them.

We went into decent detail about that latter line yesterday, so let’s focus on the upper half of this Writing Rule today. While some authors are iffy about the subject – not understanding the point of fan fiction but still allowing it; allowing it on the condition that no pornography is involved; or allowing it on the condition that it doesn’t borrow actual paragraphs from their works – others are very blatant about hating the concept of someone altering their creations.

George R. R. Martin is allegedly very protective of his work. And famed vampire novelist Anne Rice is also solidly in that camp, citing on her website, AnneRice.com:

I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.

Meanwhile, pro-fan fiction arguments from fan fiction writers include:

  • But it’s a compliment to the authors. How can they get upset that we fell so far in love with their universes that we don’t want to let go?

  • Once a book is published, it belongs to readers. They literally asked people to explore their works, so it's foolish to get upset when their audience does just that.

  • Why should authors care at all when they’re so far above their fan fiction masses?

  • It’s just kids writing, and all meant for fun and games. What’s the big deal?

Some of those seem sincere. But sincerity isn’t the issue. The issue is a lot more complex than that.

Fan fiction writers might mean their efforts as a compliment, but they’re still taking authors’ creativity, hours and hours and hours of expended time, and hard work, and doing with it all as they please.

As for the second bullet point up there, by that same logic, if you join a local pool membership, you can throw dirt into the deep end. Or add extra chlorine. Or dye the water purple. Just like a pool membership allows you to enjoy the facilities under a certain set of rules, when a reader buys a book, they legally own the physical pages. Not the words on them.

If you want a full explanation of the legal rules of authorship, check out Standout Books, which has a very detailed exploration of the subject right here.

Why should authors care at all about such legalities? I’ll refer you back to that concept about it being their creativity, time and effort. Those are big deals.

Or you can consider it like the difference between how much an aunt can love her niece vs. how much her mother does.

I know I adore my niece. Yet I’m not the one watching her 24-7, getting up with her in the middle of the night when she wakes up with a nightmare, and making her meals every day. Moreover, I’m not the one who went through labor giving birth to her.

So as much as I’m invested in my niece, my sister is a whole lot more so. Morally and legally so.

In the same basic way, if authors let you play freely with their fictional babies, show them the gratitude they deserve.

If they don’t, then obey their legally backed requests or risk the consequences. Because, contrary to that last stated bullet point above, you’re never too young to learn to respect other people’s rights. Fan fiction and all.

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