If you haven’t heard about the ebook FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by now, let me clue you in. It’s a BDSM erotica novel written as a Fan Fiction version of Twilight. It’s been on Amazon’s top 100 bestseller’s list for 100+ weeks, though Amazon wouldn’t claim it for some time (until about two weeks ago, I believe), and was finally bought at auction by an imprint of Random House for a reputed 7 figure deal!! Say what? How does a rip-off erotica sell for seven figures? You got me. Everything I’ve read bashes the novel for poor writing.
But the bigger issue surrounding FIFTY SHADES and all other Fan Fic isn’t a judgement of writting quality, but an issue of ethics. Is it the RIGHT THING to do to rip off someone else’s creative elements? Let’s begin with the definition of Fan Fic to get to the bottom of this.
WHAT EXACTLY IS FAN FIC?
“Supplemental stories written by fans of a pop-culture franchise (or, alternatively, a celebrity’s “real life”), using the show’s pre-established characters and story arcs. Can be used to fill in plot holes, or have characters get into randy, nasty sex, and lots of it.
In what are often extremely bad cases, some fanfic inserts the author into the middle of his favorite action, usually in the form of a Mary Sue or Marty Stu. Fan fiction provides a clear and compelling example of Sturgeon’s Law (“90% of everything is crud”). All but the remaining 10% of it is ghastly stuff studded with misspellings, poor grammar, and horrid malapropisms; 50% of that is usually Dead Fic.” –TVtropes.org
So how is Fan Fic so different from other fiction? Because isn’t…
ALL FICTION IS A DERIVATIVE OF SOMETHING ELSE
There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say. Roughly five ga-billion spin offs have been written using major hits as models like Harry Potter, Twilight, Austen classics, and Shakespearean plays (and many, many others).
The difference seems to be that Fan Fiction isn’t INSPIRED by another work, it feeds from it like a parasite or even copies it outright. Let’s face it. Pouring $3 sparkling wine into a bottle labeled as Dom Perignon does not make it champagne. It’s still just sparkling wine. On the other hand, I like sparkling wine–as long as it isn’t the rot gut $3 variety– and so do many readers. So where do we draw the line? I gauge it by common sense and FEELINGS.
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF IT WERE YOUR NOVEL?
Some would be flattered. Imitation is the best form of flattery, or at least that’s what my mom used to say when my little sister copied every last move I made. (Used to make me want to deck her) Some would want to do the same to the Fan Fic author. Others wouldn’t balk at all. Good for them. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
The part that rubs me raw is how hard I work, how much painstaking, gut-wrenching passion and dedication I’m willing to devote to my novels. Those who “write” Fan Fic with a little switcharoo here and there, only to make very good money doing so, makes me a little queasy. As a writer, as a driven, hard-working woman who believes in pulling herself up by her bootstraps, I DETEST this idea. As a smart business person and an advocate of Freedom of Speech, I applaud their ingenuity. Just keep ME, the author, out of the re-written bedroom scenes, thank you very much.
So what about all of that possible copyright infringement?
IS IT LEGAL?
If names and locations are changed and scenes are spliced and diced, recreated, and sprinkled throughout the novel, the Fan Fic “author” could, in fact, be completely in the clear. So the answer is, yes and no. It DEPENDS on on how much content is copied.
So then the next question becomes…
HOW DO WE PROTECT OURSELVES?
- Copyright your works the minute they’re finished. HERE
- Consult a fantastic publishing lawyer you trust for questions regarding copyright infringement HERE (Susan Spann is terrific)
- Sign up for Google Alerts HERE: Everytime your name or book title, character’s names, etc, are mentioned, you receive an email from Google “alerting” you. Be sure to “manage your alerts” to include any special tags you’ve chosen.
- There are many other sites designed specifically to proofread and monitor plagiarism, all varying a bit between fees and services. These include:
MUSO.com – Large companies tend to use MUSO, but any author willing to pay the fee can use their services
Turnitin.com– Check for essays, non-fiction articles, papers, etc. Many schools subscribe to this site.
Copyscape.com– Type in a URL and this site will scan for plagairized works for free.
TinEye.com– Scans for lifted images.
So the moral of the story is, protect yourself and keep an open mind. As authors, we risk being so wonderful that someone wants to treat our work and relabel it. In the age of electronica, I’m afraid this is a price we must pay as fewer books are tangible and more are copy & pastable. As readers, we demand LOTS of choices, and if we become obsessed with a particular series, hey, maybe we’ll be the very next person to purchase a Fan Fic novel.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
How would you feel if your work had been “ripped off”? Or do you see it differently? Would you not be miffed by Fan Fic based on your novel? What are your feelings as a reader?
A FEW ARTILCES FOR FURTHER READING
In Support of Fan Fic Thoughtful points in an article written by Seanan Mcguire
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