In the last few years, I haven’t heard much dialogue about fanfiction. It use to be a big thing. The fanfic behemoth, FanFiction.net, hasn’t had any news updates since 2017… although it looks like people still actively upload fics on the site.
So? Is the world of fanfic dead?
I don’t think so.
Fanfiction has always been one of those things that people don’t talk about too much, or at least, that has been my experience. Writing in general has that shameful vibe, which makes absolutely no sense, but every writer friend I know is more likely to hug a manuscript than hand it over. I can see why there feels like there’s a taboo around writing stories based on someone else’s world.
Guys, this is a safe space. While I don’t read a lot of it anymore, I actually love fanfiction.
Sure, the quality depends on the author, but some of it is pretty solid. I used to write it myself, to be honest. If the GIF from A Very Potter Musical wasn’t already a hint, I was all about Harry Potter fanfic. I think that FictionAlley did more than school to teach me grammar.
Unfortunately, fanfiction is pretty complicated, legally.
Did you know that in the eyes of many, fanfiction is considered an illegal act of copyright infringement. There are authors who won’t stand for any act of fan art or fanfiction. Anne Rice, the author of Interview with a Vampire and The Mayfair Witches, etc… she has a zero-tolerance policy on derivatives of her work. You also won’t see too many fan pieces for The Hunger Games out there.
Then, there are authors who love to hear about fan appreciation of their work. A lot of the current YA authors get really excited. And, did you know that J. K. Rowling has seen A Very Potter Musical? When a fan asked about it in 2015, she replied:
.@JasmineMilton_ Yes, I’ve seen it, and in my opinion it is a work of genius.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 26, 2015
Well, that’s pretty cool. Because fan art, that’s one thing. The musical goes beyond, making it a parody. I like A Very Potter Musical, and if you’re a Harry Potter fan but haven’t seen it, you should check it out.
Still, it is worth remembering… something like A Very Potter Musical is parody, and parody is one of the defenses that have be used under copyright law. Copyright law is a slippery slope. There’s a lot of ins and outs to it, but at the end of the day… fanfiction is technically illegal.
Some fanfiction is beautifully written. I don’t know how many of you have been around the sphere the long, but I had the good fortune to read Draco Dormeins when it was available. I remember seeing City of Bones in bookstores and thinking… “gosh that Cassandra Clare sounds familiar”. It was one of the first fics that gave me the courage to sharing my writing online. Sometimes, it feels like the legality is a shame.
I bring all this up, because if you’re a fanfic writer, it’s important to remember that the characters and worlds you are using are copywritten. You have to be ready to take them down if the copyright owner – the author, the film studio, the publisher – objects. And you must be prepared to accept the legal consequences if you do choose to
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t talk to the exact guidelines of copyright law. From the very, very little I understand, it’s incredibly complicated. There’s some interesting reading on copyright law and fanfiction here and here.
Despite all the challenges and the roadblocks, the fanfiction communities are wonderful. They are such a supportive circle of people and passionate about their fandoms, much like the blogging community. Even though I don’t write it any more, I am so glad that fanfiction is out there and that there are ways for people to celebrate stories that are too big to be contained.