This is almost but not quite a reprise of my Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction post. In this SBD, I want to debate the ethics of publishing fan fiction.
So we all know about Fifty Shades of Gray, right? Began as a non-supernatural Twilight fanfic called "Masters of the Universe," and got published as 50SoG with little more than a search & replace applied to the characters' names.
E.L. James and her publishers got away with it because Stephenie Meyer, for whatever reason, declined to take legal action. We can speculate about what would have happened if Meyer had threatened to sue, but she didn't.
This is the future of publishing. Fan fiction about boy bands.
This seems to have started a trend. The Office is another Twilight fan fic that got a publication deal. And Penguin is publishing a real-person fan fic based on the band One Direction.
So, a horrible trend in publishing? The death of creativity and literature? Or an opportunity for everyone else to sell their fan fiction?
Allow me to take a contrarian position here:
E.L. James did nothing wrong.
Here's the thing about 50 Shades of Gray: most of the hate for it, in my opinion, is not because "ZOMG MAKING MONEY FROM FAN FICTION!" I mean, that's a valid objection — it's been an unwritten rule since fan fiction first became a thing that you should not try to profit of it, the usual reasons cited being that it's "disrespectful" to the original creator and that it might provoke crackdowns on what has so far been more or less tolerated as quasi-legal.
But to be perfectly honest, I think the reasons 50SoG inspired such outrage are the following:
- It's Twilight fan fiction, and bashing all things Twilight never gets old.
- It's really badly written and it makes Twilight look feminist.
- E.L. James has been accused (in a long, wanky, accusatory "expose") of being a cynical opportunist who just used her fans to get rich. (The monster!)
- Jeeeeeeealousy. All those fan fiction authors wondering why they didn't get rich off of their crappy BDSM erotica.
You don't hate me because I wrote crappy BDSM erotica.
You hate me because I got rich writing crappy BDSM erotica.
Let's suppose we are not talking specifically about 50SoG. In that case, the serious question I ask is: what's the harm?
I can think of three arguments for why publishing fan fiction is "wrong":
1. It's disrespectful.
Well, inasmuch as one might expect a fan fiction author to be appreciative of what the original creator created, it is kind of a dick move to write fan fiction that the creator has explicitly disapproved of. Thus, while I think people like Anne Rice and Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin are wrong to forbid fan fiction of their work, I do think they are within their rights to do so and people should respect their wishes. Likewise J.K. Rowling's (universally ignored) desire for there not to be Harry Potter porn. So if Stephenie Meyer had said "No, I don't like this," I think E.L. James and Random House would have been morally, if not legally, in the wrong to proceed.
(This is also why I have a problem with Real Person Fiction. Unless you know that the real person you are writing about having sexual relations with some other person you like to fantasize about them having sexual relations with is okay with that, it's creepy and skeevy to post your fantasies about that person in public.)
But if the creator doesn't object? Then I don't see any disrespect.
2. Violates unspoken fandom covenants. It is Just Not Done.
To that, I say: who gives a shit? You don't sign a contract in blood when you join a fandom. Yes, certain norms and traditions do evolve, sometimes for good reason, and flaunting them may be a bad idea, but in this case, the reason for this particular covenant is based in trying to protect fandom, so it's only valid inasmuch as it might cause harm. Which brings me to:
3. It makes money off of someone else's work.
3a. It causes harm to the original creator.
3b. Therefore authors might start forbidding fan fiction.
I really don't care about #3. If I make money off of someone else's idea, it doesn't hurt them unless they make less money as a result. So examining 3a, how does E.L. James publishing 50SoG harm Stephenie Meyer? I doubt people are buying 50SoG instead of Twilight. Books aren't commodities where if you buy one, it necessarily means you won't be buying another. And the reverse is likely true. People who read fan fiction are generally people who buy whatever the original author writes. I can't imagine how 50SoG would cause economic harm to Stephenie Meyer, nor that Penguin deal hurting One Direction's album sales.
I imagine there may be some authors (the sort who don't like fan fiction to begin with) who might start opposing it more aggressively because they don't want anyone making money off of their work, but frankly I think that's dog-in-the-manger behavior for all the reasons above. And so far I have not seen any evidence of 50SoG provoking an anti-fan fiction backlash.
So, is publishing fan fiction "wrong"? Is it only the lack of permission from the creator at the start that makes it wrong? (Licensed tie-in novels differ from fan fiction only in having official sanction.) Or age, since nobody objects to all those Austen and Bronte rewrites? Or is it just the presumption of low quality?
As a fan fiction author myself, who has sometimes been asked why I don't try publishing my fan fiction, I have answered at length here. But I wanted to make this SBD post more general. So what do you think?
Poll #1891179 Published fan fiction
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 77
What do you think of publishing fan fiction?
|If you can do it, more power to you.|
|I think it's shady, but it's probably not harmful.|
|People should write their own damn ideas, not use someone else's.|
|I think it should only be allowed if the original author approves.|
|This is an awful trend and I hope it dies. Keep fan fiction and pro fiction separate!|
If you have written fan fiction, would you ever consider publishing it?
|Yes, totally. If I can file the serial numbers off enough to get away with it.|
|I might consider using it as inspiration for something more original, but I wouldn't try directly publishing my fan fiction.|
|If I could get approval, I'd love to, but I wouldn't try without permission.|
|No way, even if it were good enough, I think it's sleazy to do that.|
|N/A since I don't write fan fiction.|
What do you think of E.L. James and 50 Shades of Gray?
|Hey, more power to her.|
|It's sad that that's what people want to read, but so what?|
|She's lucky she didn't get her ass sued, but it doesn't bother me.|
|She is a disgrace to fandom!|
Previous Saturday Book Discussions.