The Ethical Dilemma of Publishing Fan Fiction.

Written by TheCanonBitch and Edited by NinkyBaby

For more than ten years I have been a member of countless fandoms after coming across its existence by accident. When my favorite television shows and books came to an end, I was very sad as some of them ended on an open note. Many questions would cross my mind and I would always ask myself “What would happen to the characters in the future? Why did it have to end this way?”.

It wasn’t long before I chanced on a site called fanfiction.net. I was amazed to discover people could actually write their own universe of what could or should have happened in the television series and books I loved. Over the years, I have made many friends who I still keep in touch with to this very day.

I did not join the Twilight fandom until 2008, when I felt Stephenie Meyer left me in want of something more after I hit the fin line of her Twilight Saga concluding book, Breaking Dawn. I wanted more from the series as it felt incomplete. We saw a happy ending to the story of Edward and Bella, the 2 main protagonists, but I was keen to know what would happen to their daughter, Renesmee and her imprinter, Jacob.

In recent years, however, things I did not expect to see started to grate on my nerves.  Fan fiction authors began to pull their completed work that were published on various websites, edited content like names, certain scenes and re-published it as an original body of work through self-publishing methods. Before I cite my opinion on this, I would like to look into the definition of fan fiction.

According to Wikipedia, fan fiction is “a broadly-defined term for fan labor regarding stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work’s owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Because of this, many fan fictions written often contain a disclaimer stating that the creator of the work owns none of the characters. Fan fiction, therefore, is defined by being both related to its subject’s canonicalfictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe.”

In short, these authors are technically publishing stories with characters and settings possibly from another author’s universe, yet they had the audacity to sell their “original” stories in ebook or print formats.

With that definition, what may be going through your mind at this moment might be an exclamation, “OMG, isn’t this like the Fifty Shades trilogy debacle?” My answer to that would be a yes, however, this isn’t just about Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Other fan fiction authors have done the same as well.

VGJM did it with Boycotts and Barflies. Feathersmmmm did it with I Love LA published as the Unidentified Redhead. Morgan Locklear did the same with The University of Edward Masen. It’s a common thing nowadays in the Twilight fandom for fanfic authors to pull their stories that has gained popularity and try to profit from it.

However, is that ethical? As a fan fiction writer, your writing may be partially your idea. But in fanfic you took the characterizations and physical descriptions of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. You added smut because that is what Twilight fans have been begging for the entire series. Now that they have their smut and thanked you via reviews you want them to now pay to read it again only in a marginally changed format? How is that ethical to give something to someone for free, take it away, barely change it and then have the audacity of charging upwards of twenty dollars for it?

My case in point is fandoms should be grateful to authors who have allowed fan fiction to be written based off their universe, settings and characters. Some authors would not have given it any support. As a fan fiction writer myself, I am just happy my favorite authors have given us permission to write using their fictional universe as a platform for our own creativity.

Certain authors have from time to time read works written by fans. Twilight’s author, Stephenie Meyer herself has even admitted she has read works written by her own fans and have enjoyed the creative ideas these writers have instilled into her own work.

In one example of such work would be one where Edward Cullen, a main character from Meyer’s series of novels was set in an All Human universe featuring him as a member of the mafia. In that fictional world, he rescues his damsel in distress, Bella Swan, the protagonist from Meyer’s Twilight world, from a different Russian mafia group. Meyer has also mentioned that fan fiction stories are a testament to how much people liked her stories.

Some authors, whose work I have read and loved, have praised fan fiction:

C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter to a young fan: “I am delighted to hear that you liked the Narnian books. There is a map at the end of some of them in some editions. But why not do one yourself! And why not write stories for yourself to fill up the gaps in Narnian history? I’ve left you plenty of hints – especially where Lucy and the Unicorn are talking…I feel I have done all I can!”

Claudia Gray: “It has come to my attention that there’s some Evernight fanfic out there. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that, in my opinion, this is awesome.”

Those are just two of many authors who allow their universe to be written as fan fiction stories. On the other hand, there are authors who despise it:

Orson Scott Card: “I’m flattered; and then, if they try to publish it (including on the net) except in very restricted circumstances, I will sue, because if I do NOT act vigorously to protect my copyright, I will lose that copyright — and that is the only inheritance I have to leave my family. So fan fiction, while flattering, is also an attack on my means of livelihood. It is also a poor substitute for the writers’ inventing their own characters and situations. It does not help them as writers; it can easily harm me; and those who care about my stories and characters know that what I write is “real” and has authority, and what fans write is not and does not. So it’s all pointless. I’d prefer simply to ignore it when it happens, but the way copyright law functions, I am told that I cannot ignore it.”

Anne Rice: “It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.”

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: “I believe fan fiction is “against federal law,” and I have taken legal action (all of which resulted in settlements, not court cases) against fanfic authors”

Some of them have a point. On one hand, fan fiction is a bit of plagiarism because we are writing about the characters and the universe another author created, on the other, we make up the plots and have fun with the characters in different scenarios because it awakens our creativity. Personally, if I was a published author, I would be happy people want to write stories based on my books, because it shows just how much they have enjoyed them.

Fan fiction stories should remain just that, fan fiction. They should never be published as original fiction. Fan fiction is a way to help improve our writing and is good practice for those who want to write professionally. A self-published author Colleen Houck self-published her books first before a literary agent got a hold of them. This is her tip to aspiring writers:

“For young writers, a great way to practice is to write fan fiction. There are a number of websites that provide a forum for feedback and to list sample chapters. It’s nice to use characters that are already established so that a new author can focus on the storyline”

Notice how that tip says its great practice; not to pull down the stories, change the names and titles, and publish them as your own.

Now to make one thing abundantly clear, Fifty Shades was not the first fanfic to be published as an original piece of work but I doubt it will be the last.

One book I read was through a self-publishing company known as Omnific Publishing, it is very well known throughout the Twilight fandom.  The book was entitled Shades of Atlantis by Carol Oates. The book was a sweet plot I will admit. However, when I was reading it, a certain sentence or phrase sounded very familiar. The friend who lent me the books showed me a blog that showed evidence on how it was very familiar to The Twilight Saga:

From Eclipse (pg 176), Jacob describes imprinting: “It’s more like…gravity moves. When you see her, suddenly it’s not the earth holding you here anymore. She does. And nothing matters more than her.”

From Shades of Atlantis (pg 86): “In that moment, I knew with perfect clarity I belonged to him. I never truly existed without him. The world was spinning around us, but Caleb was my anchor, the only thing holding me still.”

We may all look at the above quotes differently, and perhaps you may beg to differ, but if this book was formerly a Twilight fanfic , it makes me feel bad thinking I may have given a hint of support to someone who could have plagiarized another author’s work.

As a budding author, I feel strongly against fan fiction authors who publish their completed fan fiction stories as original fiction. To illustrate this point, even if any of my fandom friends and acquaintances I have made over the years ever publish their fanfics,  I would never buy those stories or support them in any way.  Instead, I would encourage them to create their own universe right from scratch.

While I was doing my research on this, I came across a website that has a list of all completed fan fiction stories that were pulled down from fan fiction sites to be published. You can see it at http://twifanfictionrecs.com/published-fics/. Besides this site, you can find more on most social media.

Publishing and profiteering from fan fiction is the biggest literary atrocity one can ever make. It is an insult to the author who created the original universe. For example, writers such as Stephenie Meyer has spent hours and years working in a basement, staying up late at nights, writing the saga we have all come to love dearly. J.K. Rowling spent 12-14 years just plotting out the seven Harry Potter books. Furthermore, these authors have never published their own fan fiction stories.  The same goes for other authors who have slaved over plenty of outlines in notebooks, developing their characters and carving out a beautiful storyline.

Publishing fan fiction is risky business in itself. Shortly after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, an author wrote his own mini series about James Potter, Harry Potter’s first born son and his years at Hogwarts. This author tried to publish it as his own work, but Jo Rowling found out and was about to take legal action against him, but they were able to come to an agreeable term where people could download the story for free, i.e. he does not make a profit out it. This series is now available free on his website, http://www.jamespotterseries.com/ for those who want more of the Harry Potter universe.

Fifty Shades is the published version of what is essentially a fanfic entitled Master of the Universe or MotU for short. In my opinion, it should never have been published as an original story. It is an extreme disrespect for the creator of the original universe from which MotU has been created from. The backlash such authors have had from readers after publishing something created from someone else’s work is something that will follow them for the rest of their lives. These writers did not get famous for writing an amazing series but are instead known as copycats. And it’s not just authors who should take the blame, those who support and abet this should also be ashamed.

If a person aspires to be a published author, they should join writing groups or take creative writing classes at their local junior college to learn the craft and not write something based on another author’s work and publish it as their own.

Recently, I came across an article that could put the entire Twilight fandom in jeopardy. A Russian girl had a copy of the original PDF of the Master of the Universe fanfic and wrote an article comparing the similarities between MotU and  the Fifty Shades trilogy. Many people were outraged by it and I was not surprised when some contacted Stephenie Meyer and her agent about that book series. You can read that article at http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/master-of-the-universe-versus-fifty-shades-by-e-l-james-comparison.

If Stephenie Meyer has her say, she can choose to revoke her permission and ban Twilight fan fiction writing, which could potentially devastate our large community of Twilight fans as many use fan fiction to escape from our everyday lives.

It would be every right for Meyer or any author if they chose to take action against authors who publish fan fiction based on their work as original work for copyright violation. But if our fandom is forced to shut because of such violation, there will definitely be widespread unhappiness in our community.

So the next time you decide if you should publish your fan fiction, Alternate Universe or not, think about the potential consequences of your actions and the infamous reputation you will gain.

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