The big deal about fan fiction


Fan fictions, harmless hobby or illegal menace?

Depends on who you ask. Opponents can cite multiple court cases and even more lawsuits settled out of court, and yet dozens of fan-fiction apps are available for iPhone and Android devises, Amazon.com Inc. is now buying fan fictions to offer on Kindle, and former fanfic “Fifty Shades of Grey” is breaking records. So what is fan fiction and what is the big deal?

Fan fiction is one piece of what is generally called “fan labor”. Fan labor is any activity done by fans, ranging from elementary school children drawing pictures of their favorite TV character to full adult costumes costing thousands of dollars to make.

And all of it illegal.

The U.S has some of the strictest copyright laws in the world. But there are sections in copyright law to the fan’s advantage. “Fair Use” is the main one. A segment of Fair Use is “transformative work”. Transformative, as the name says, is to have something based on another’s work but different enough to avoid copyright infringement. Under US law, all fan works are “derivative works” and are owned by the original copyright.

There are advocacy groups working to legalize fan labor and defend artists in court. The main one is The Organization for Transformative Works, although there are others. Lauren Davis of io9 interviewed Professor Rebecca Tushnet of Georgetown University Law Center who is a board member of OTW. This article case law in easily understandable terms.

Returning to fan fictions, they are just that, fictional stories written by fans about the object they are fans of. A fan fiction can be about a TV show, movie, book, video game or any other inspiration a writer might find. The key that makes it fan fiction is that the author is not the copyright holder.
Modern fan fiction culture arose in the 1960s with Star Trek. Fan-created magazines, called “fanzines” were printed and either distributed for free or sold for a small fee to cover costs. This began the tradition of fan work being free work, a tradition that is still a fundamental principle today.

The advent of the internet made fan fictions widely available. Non-profit forums, blogs and databases now dominate fan fiction. Fanfiction.net, founded in 1998, in the largest site with millions of stories in thirty languages.

Copyright holders’ reactions are mixed. Some are indifferent. Some encourage it. Other’s are hostel and quick to sue. J.K Rowling, the author of “Harry Potter”; and Stephenie Meyer, the author of “Twilight”, are strong proponents of fan fiction. Opponents include Anne Rice, the author of “Interview with a Vampire”; Raymond Feist, the author of “The Rift War Cycle” books; and George R.R. Martin, the author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, better known by the title of the first book, “A Game of Thrones”.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is the first of an erotic novel series written by E. L. James that depicts bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). It began as a “Twilight” fan fiction called “Master of the Universe”. After being cited for its sexual depictions, James removed it from fan fiction sites and posted on her own site, FiftyShades.com.

She later removed it from the website and rewrote it to eliminate Meyer’s copyright before it was released by The Writers’ Coffee Shop as an e-book in May 2011. It is now owned by Vintage Books and surpassed the “Harry Potter” series as the fastest-selling paperback. Universal Pictures will release the film version in 2014.

Alexandra Alter of The Wall Street Journal wrote a feature on the fan-fiction origins of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and other books.

Amazon.com began “Kindle Worlds” in May 2013. It is a program where writers submit their stories for up to a 35 percent royalty per copy sold. This is limited by the licenses Amazon has bought and strict content guidelines. Amazon.com also becomes the excusive license holder of any original element work and the writer must remove all other copies from other sites, like Fanfiction.net.

Amazon.com also reserves the right to use the original content as it sees fit. So far Amazon.com has bought rights to 13 “worlds” and has 233 individual stories as of Sept. 17, 2013.


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