The Ins and Outs of Fanfiction

Posted April 12, 2019 by Amber in Writing / 5 Comments

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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:

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.

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Have you ever written fanfiction?

Do you have a favorite piece of fan art?

Do you believe that derivative fan works should be removed?
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5 responses to “The Ins and Outs of Fanfiction

  1. Chumby Sax

    Okay. So.
    Having been a FF writer myself (so I’ve done a ton of research into it) and also having briefly studied Copyright law at school, I can pretty confidently say that Fair Use will cover just about every and all Fanfic.
    If you’re writing any sort of AU, Fair Use will cover your snatching of the character descriptions. You’re covered by Fair Use if you are a nobody whose work could not possibly influence the general public’s opinion of the source matierial. If you’re posting fanfic somewhere non-monetized under a separate name than your published works, Fair Use has you covered. Generally speaking, Fair Use is the fic author’s legal BFF.
    The only time Fair Use does not apply is when it results in the receiving of any sort of monetary compensation as a result of the work. This includes, but is not limited to: when you publish FF on a platform with ads (even if the ad money does not directly go to you); when you publish a book, then write fanfiction about other works which people love, thus drawing them into your fanbase to buy your book; when your fanfiction wins a writing contest that could result in the winning of a scholarship.
    It’s actually more legally dangerous to write FF about real celebrity people, as you could be sued under a Libel/Slander theory if you don’t make it clear that the FF is in no way an accurate depiction of the life in question. This is almost always satisfied by marking a fic as “AU”.

    TL;DR- Fair Use is your friend, don’t try to cash in on your fic, and when in doubt, make it an AU. AU covers a multitude of sins.

    • Amber

      It sounds like you’ve dug into this, and I appreciate you sharing (especially including your creds having studied copyright law in an academic setting)! I do think it’s better being safe than sorry, but your descriptions of Fair Use and AU are very informative!

  2. I haven’t really read any fanfiction, but I love fan art! And I think that authors that support both fan fiction and fan art are amazing! Imitation is the finest form of flattery (or something like that?) Great post!

    Brittany recently posted: Friday Face Off: Longboat
  3. I have written a few fanfics why back when I first got into writing, but I haven’t touched them in a long time, or read any recently as well. I feel bad for not reading fan fiction, but sometimes it’s hard for me to get the energy to read anything after a long day, including my current reads!

    I always am telling myself that once I get out of college I’ll edit my fanfics and repost them, but I also have a manuscript to edit and finish…so I think I’ll just be a side-line fan of the world of fan fiction for just a while longer.

    • Amber

      I’ve found a lot of aspiring authors and bloggers of all shapes and sizes dabbled in fan fiction at some point. I think it’s something we all enjoyed while we were doing it, but don’t really do much with anymore. XD