Friday, May 24, 2013
Fan Fiction: Where is the Ethical Line in the Sand?
Published: August 13, 2012
Let me begin by stating clearly: I have nothing against fan fiction that is written for sheer entertainment. I think it’s a great way for writers to practice and improve, and it’s a lot of fun for readers. In fact, when I’m having trouble with something I’m working on, I mess around writing fan fiction based on novels I love and hate. It helps me work through the issues I’m having with my current piece, and allows me to write outside my comfort zone.
But should it be publishable? Should we make money on it after using someone else’s work? At what point are we crossing an ethical line? Is there such a thing as "ethical" in this industry anymore?
Fan fiction is a term given to stories written by fans about the characters, worlds or situations of existing books created by others. It’s a pretty vague definition because the world of fan fiction is really broad. You might say anything inspired by another work of fiction is fan fiction, but you’d be wrong. Inspiration is one thing. Using another writer’s hard work and creating a story around it is quite another.
I read an
citing all of the good things that fanfiction has to offer. In it, the writer said, “In publishing today, we can no longer rely on selling individual products that may or may not succeed.”
So let’s just use someone else’s ideas because we already know it works and the fans are there? Hmm. That’s disappointing.
In truth, this article was very well written and it did explore the ethical issues and the limitations of fan fiction. My impression was that the author felt publishers could use fan fiction sites as a way of discovering new talent, not necessary to publish their “fan fiction.” I think that’s fantastic.But I don't agree that the fan fiction (in most cases) should be considered publishable material.
Fan fiction is not evil, but there are ethical issues that arise, and I think fan fiction writers should respect certain other writers by not crossing certain lines. I’m not talking about legalities in terms of copyright, trademark, or fair use. I’m saying that fan fiction authors should have some character and integrity. First they should offer thanks to the original author. Without the original work and its readers, their fan fiction wouldn’t exist. Right? I also think fan fiction authors should avoid exploiting the work they created from someone else’s writing, and that author’s brand and readership for their own gain.
Consider how long it takes to build a reader base. Is it right to just usurp someone else’s readers by using their characters or a beloved novel to drive yourself to the bestseller list? I don’t care if you’re completely honest about using another work. It’s not right. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey crossed an ethical line. And you know, if we’re going to publish work that is sucking whatever value they can get out of something they did not create, let’s pick something that’s fantastically written. There are hundreds of fan fiction writers with real talent and skill who could sell their work based simply on their ability to write. FSOG is not one of those books. The characters were originally named Edward and Bella. The fan fiction tale originally became popular because Twilight fans flocked to read about those beloved characters, imagining the “real” Edward and Bella doing the delightfully naughty things they did in these tales. Without its association to Twilight, FSOG wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t be published. It certainly wouldn’t be on the bestseller list. Why? It’s poorly written in every way imaginable and the BDSM theme was not researched properly.
Am I wrong? If you think I am, then you’ll agree that all we have to do is find an author with the same fanatical readership as Meyer, and use their characters and fans to climb to the top. And you’re okay with that. Does anyone see the ethical issues? So she changed the names before she published the books. She’d already used the real names to lure the Twi-folks over.
But wait, before you get all ornery and start telling me how wrong I am about fan fiction, I do believe it is publishable. FSOG is not the only fan fiction out there, but sadly it’s the most notable.That's why I use it as an example.
The circumstances and the work on the part of the author are what determine whether publishing fan fiction is an ethical issue or not. If you’re inspired by another author’s characters or plot, but you don’t try to tap into that author’s fandom, and you change most of the details to suit your own world (in other words, you actually create your own shit), so that the story and its characters are unrecognizable, then I think it’s ethically okay to use that work to make money.
You’ve used inspiration, made it your own to create something new, and you’re not using someone else’s hard work for your own gain, thus allowing your story to be read and judged on its own merits. Nothing wrong with publishing that work.
The problem is that the ethical line for fan fiction authors is grey and difficult to see. Is the Jane Austen Zombie book ethical? What about Wicket or other parodies? These are different. Parodies aren’t as exploitative as most fan fiction because they don’t simply change the details. They add to the story and make it unique.
If we consider recent publications where only the name is changed, and where the authors use an existing fan base to get their shit published to be okay, then where are we creatively? Where are the new ideas? Why bother working so hard if we can just steal someone else’s ideas?
What do you think? Is it ever acceptable for a fan fiction author to make money on their fanfic writing? Where’s the line between real writing and theft?
to leave a comment, or Login using
No Comment Found.
Fact or Fiction?
Quote of the Day
The Craft of Writing
Terms of the Trade
Terms of Service
Work with Us
Copyright © 2011 OFW. All Rights Reserved.