On Fanworks

There’s been much debate in the blogosphere over the years about FANFIC: Threat or Menace?!?!?1! I haven’t participated in most of that debate, mostly because a) before four years ago, I had no “professional author” dog in the fight, and b) I was busy, mostly producing dogs for the fight.

But I also haven’t participated because my thoughts on the subject are fairly simple. I think fanworks = flattery + free publicity. I’m not going to limit things to fanfiction here, because the issue is really derivative art in general (including filk, fanart, fanjewelry, whatever), and I’m not going to go much deeper into it because lots of other authors have already said smart things on this issue, and I don’t feel like retreading the ground. Also because this particular ground has been paved for centuries anyway, so I’m not sure why it’s even an issue.

Yeah, I’ve heard the Marion Zimmer Bradley myth. Yeah, I’ve seen a dozen-odd Authors Behaving Badly over fanfic, defending their right to police other people’s imaginations with tooth and claw — I don’t agree with those authors, but if they want to draw a line in the sand over it, that’s their business. And yeah, I’m aware that the potential for litigation exists if somebody thinks I stole their idea, particularly in the area of fanfiction since writing is something I actually do. (Never mind that ideas can’t be copyrighted. I’m an American, and if there’s one right us Americans treasure, it’s the right to sue the pants off anybody for completely nonsensical reasons.) I’m also aware that people might do squicky things to my characters. But there’s a very simple way for me as an author to avoid the problems (if any) associated with fanfic, and that’s for me to ignore it. If you write it, don’t tell me. If you post it, don’t show me. If I blunder across it, I won’t read it. If you pull a Clockwork Orange on me and strap me to a chair with my eyes wired open while you flash it on a screen before me, I’ll pretend I didn’t read it. (And then I will probably sue you, at minimum.)

If we’re talking something other than fiction — say, fanart or filk — that’s less of a risk to me (if any). Frankly I have no talent whatsoever for visual art, sculpture, music, or anything else, and no interest in ever pursuing projects in any of those arenas, so I won’t actively avoid those… but. I also won’t go looking for them. Because fanworks are for fans, after all, not for me, and I know it can be a little unnerving to fan-creators when the author suddenly shows up in the comments, even if it’s just to squee. (And I do squee when I see something I like.) So if this is causing you to lose sleep at night, let me assure you: you don’t have to worry that I’ll go trolling the web someday, find your stick-figure drawing or experimental-theater script of the tentacle sex scene in 100K, and pitch an epic hissyfit. If I see it at all, I’ll probably just pull one of these:

Will Smith looking confused, caption: THE FUCK?

…and move on.

And that right there is pretty much all I can state as my policy on fanworks. Any questions?

12 thoughts on “On Fanworks”

  1. Some fan comics might also be a problem as far as story ideas, but really I think old hands ought mentor tender newcomers to fandom and teach them Sensible Fannish Interaction.

    As for imprudences from the pro/published side of things, I don’t know!

  2. But would you sue over the Fanfic or because they strapped you onto a chair Clockwork-Orange style??

    I have no dog in this fight, but I really don’t see the big deal, either. I have to wonder if there is even such a thing as a truly original idea anyway. For example, you can pretty much call D&D and a great chunk of European-based Fantasy-genre stories as fanfic of Tolkien. I think I’d be rather flattered if my creations started having lives of their own with a loyal base of fans. Well, maybe not so much if they’re participating in a tentacle-sex scene…but anyway, I agree with your take on the matter. :)

  3. Rebecca,

    Sorry, to clarify: I would sue because they forced me to look at something against my will. I would also have them arrested for assault, though that might be shaky because the instant this hypothetical person let me out of the chair I would probably try to beat them senseless myself. The lawsuit would just be on top of all that. :)

  4. There’s something to be said for an author that copies someone else’s story and tells it well – a lot of my favourite novels fall under that category. At least you know you’re getting a good story, since usually the ones that get repeated get repeated for a reason. An author who hangs their hat on how original or unique their story is; well, as Rebecca says, there may not be a truly original idea, so if that’s all the story had going for it it’s bound to disappoint. Too bad it doesn’t look like the USian copyright/litigation system is going to change any time soon…

  5. Coming firmly from the fannish side of things, I totally agree with your “do whatever, just don’t show the creator” bit. Nothing makes me cringe more than people shoving their inappropriate fanworks into the creators’ faces. It’s called the fourth WALL for a reason!

  6. “I’m also aware that people might do squicky things to my characters.”

    Speaking of fanfic, some self-proclaimed “fans” might write squicky things about *you*, slap an “RPF” acronym on it, and upload it somewhere that defends that kind of thing. :(

  7. Reader,

    Yeah, they might. ::shrug:: Can’t be helped, tho’. Just another reason not to want to see or hear about it, AFAIC.

  8. Guess this means it’s time to get to work on Dreamblood fanfiction, eh? So many potential stories to be told about Kisua and those that live in it…

  9. Speaking of fanfic, some self-proclaimed “fans” might write squicky things about *you*, slap an “RPF” acronym on it, and upload it somewhere that defends that kind of thing.

    Yes, because the RPF category on AO3 is FULL of kinky fic about science fiction and fantasy authors, and not famous athletes, actors, musicians, and occasionally politicians. The number of fics about John Scalzi dwarfs the Jared/Jensen and Lincecum/Posey fic by orders of magnitude.

  10. I would love to have the problem of people making fan fiction based on my works.

    In all honesty, as a writing exercise, I take part in play-by-post forums to develop character and to keep in the practice of writing. I don’t do this to infringe on the rights of others, but to embrace my fandom. Should I decide to actually use a character from one of these forums in a story, I change them to a point where the same basic foundations are present, but they aren’t the same character any more.

  11. I keep coming back to the blog to check if there’s a new post up and it’s starting to feel like WIll Smith is mocking me.

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