Fan Fiction Evolves

Posted on September 18, 2006

The Wall Street Journal examines the evolution of fan fiction, and how some fan fiction writers have used their work to get them publishing contracts for their own fiction. Of course, all fan fiction constitutes a copyright violation and many authors are very unhappy about it. People write fan fiction in the worlds created by authors. They also get inspired by TV shows like Lost and House. The WSJ story says some big media companies are leaving fan fiction alone as a way of letting the brand flourish.

One sign of the growing influence of these authors and stories is that media companies, usually quick to go after people who use their copyrighted material, are increasingly leaving fan fiction writers alone. Mindful of the large, loyal audience the writers represent, many companies are adopting an attitude one media professor describes as "benign neglect." While most professional writers say their lawyers advise them not to read fan fiction to protect themselves against charges of plagiarism, some say they check the numbers of fan fiction stories posted about their work regularly as a measure of their success.


Some authors take a less friendly view of the genre, however. "No matter how flattering, it's still robbery," says fantasy novelist Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, whose vampire works have inspired a number of fan-fiction writers. She estimates that her attorney has sent out about 20 "cease and desist" letters to writers and owners of fan sites. Ms. Yarbro says this has caused some of the writers and sites to take their stories down.

So, bottom line here: find out if your favorite author tolerates or does not tolerate fan fiction. If the author doesn't mind, have at it. But if you're favored fictional universes were written by an author who has a real problem with fan fiction -- like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro -- we advise you to steer clear, unless you have lots of money for attorney's fees.

Just remember that even if you're writing in the world of an author who doesn't mind fan fiction, you can't write fanfic for profit. Just for fun.

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