Fan Fiction (Part 2/2): Is it legal? Is it right?


In part 1 of the series, we talked about where to look for fan fiction and how writing it can actually hone your writing skills. Here we look at the sticky bits.

Is Fan Fiction legal?

This is a contentious issue! Some say, yes, some say, no! Wikipedia has a lot to say about this but allow us to share some of the key points  here.

Some authors like Neil Gaiman (American Gods), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), D.J. MacHale (PenDragon), Stephanie Meyer (Twilight), and,  Terry Pratchett (DiscWorld) do not have a problem with fan-fiction. In the case of J.K. Rowling, she objects to sexually-explicit fan-fiction, but not to ‘normal’ innocent stories.

Others like Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire), Annette Curtis Klause (The Silver Kiss), Robin Hobb  (The Rain Wild Chronicles), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Robin McKinley (The Hero and the Crown) do not approve of fan-fiction. There are various reasons given for this.

Copyright is often given as a reason. Authors also worry that the market will get saturated or diluted with these derivatives. And, imagine the embarrassment if a specific set of fan-fiction turns out to be more popular than the original!

There is some truth to the argument that the original authors spent a lot of time, effort and emotional energy in creating the new work and world. They might feel that it is cheating if another author just builds on their foundations. The InstaScribe team, however feels that this is a testimony to an author’s success and that fan-fiction can increase the popularity of the original work!

Generally publishers are silently in favor of fan-fiction. Consider CBS, the owners of the Star Trek franchise, allow printed adventures(spin-offs?) to be part of the bigger Star Trek canon.

The BBC also created a mechanism that allows for fan-fiction works to become part of the Dr. Who canon.

Publishing house Simon and Schuster recently said that they think it is important to bring fan fiction “into the” fold. With the help of expert professional editors it is then relatively easy to avoid any copyright issues.

The truth is that there are very few examples of fan-fiction writers ending up on the wrong side of the law. This does not mean that this will not ever happen, but  the current trend seems to indicate that the law will more often than not side with fan-fiction writers.

Zen Scribe feels that irrespective of the current confusion about the legality of fan-fiction, your writing career will benefit from the exercise! And, furthermore, fan-fiction, just like covers of Number One hits will not go away.

The wheels of justice often turn slower, much slower than reality. And as we have already mentioned, it is highly likely that the fans of fan-fiction will triumph. Trying to force fan-fiction to disappear will more likely than not, damage “books” in general.

Why is it wrong if Peter Parker spurs someone to literary greatness, albeit with Mother Marker as the heroine? Perhaps the law will insist on some sort of compensation for the original author or some other way of recognition, but it is unlikely that they are going to start locking people up!

Where to from here?

Says Zen Scribe: Publishers there is no need to worry too much about the legality of fan fiction. It’s a door for every publisher waiting to find the next big talent. Fandom is a huge market in itself.

How do you tap it?

Provide a fan fiction platform and allow fan participation there. Do promotions and connect with potential readers Create a fan fiction imprint, if you come across some well crafted spin-offs. Share profits when you hit the jackpot! Who knows where you might get your next big writer? One reason fan fiction may be discouraged is exactly this- the possibility that a good writer may outspark  the real thing. As a publisher that’s something worth risking for.

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