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March 6, 2012

When Does Fan Fiction Cross an Ethical Line?

Swedish sports fan with painted face

Fan fiction, also known as fanfic, refers to stories written by fans about the characters, situations, or world of existing works created by others.  This definition sounds broad because the world of fanfic is broad.

On some level, everything from Wicked, inspired by The Wizard of Oz, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could fall under the umbrella of fanfic.  In other words, fanfic can be a legitimate and respected form of writing.

But do some uses of fanfic cross an ethical line?  And if so, where does that line fall?  When does a work honoring another’s creation turn into exploitation?

Ethical Issues Are Different From Legal Issues

I’d be the last person to say fanfic is evil, as I started down the writing path by creating a fanfic novel based on Harry Potter.  However, there are ethical considerations fanfic authors should respect above all else.

Beyond what’s legal or illegal as far as copyright, trademark, fair use, or derivative vs. transformative works, fanfic authors owe a debt of thanks to the original creator (after all, without the original work, the fanfic author wouldn’t have been inspired to use that as a jumping-off point).  And in return, I believe a fanfic author should never exploit the characters, setting, world—or the original author’s brand or fan loyalty—for their own gain.

Where Is the Ethical Line?

Others might disagree with my statement.  However, I’d be willing to bet that most people would agree  that it’s unethical for a fanfic author to co-opt the loyalty of fans of the original work for themselves in order to make money off their fanfic writings.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a hypothetical situation.  Fifty Shades of Grey (FSoG) has reached a high-enough level of popularity in the media to garner a segment on the Today show.  What many of these media mentions fail to point out is that FSoG started out as a Twilight fanfic story called Master of the Universe.

Did Fifty Shades of Grey Cross the Line?

The characters in the fanfic version were called Edward and Bella, and readers enjoyed imagining those Twilight characters in this sexually-explicit, BDSM-themed—free—story.  The fanfic story became popular in its own right, to the point that fans of the fanfic story threw their own convention with the fanfic author, raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity.

So far, so good.

But let’s remember the story’s popularity was built on its association with the Twilight characters.  Without its association with Twilight, the story wouldn’t have received 20,000 reviews (on fanfiction.net) and gained those fans to begin with.

Next, the fanfic author took that same fanfic story that had been free, changed only the characters’ names, and found a small, unknown publisher (which seems to specialize in publishing “fanfic with the serial numbers filed off” stories) to split her story into thirds and charge US$7-30 per book.  She then had her fans, from back when the story was free, buy up copies (these are the same fans who paid for her to travel from England to New York for the convention, so yes, they’re that dedicated) and post hundreds of reviews all over the internet.

Boom.  Instant bestseller.  Segment on the Today show.  More publicity.  More sales.  Etc.

And all she had to do was use someone else’s characters and fanatical fandom ties to get there.

Can FanFic Ever Be Used to Make Money?

Again, this isn’t a post about whether or not the fanfic author broke any laws.  This post is about whether this behavior is right.

In this case, the fanfic author had used the names Edward and Bella, but hadn’t used the Forks, Washington setting or the vampire world-building.  The story instead takes place in and around Seattle, Washington, and rather than using Edward’s vampire nature to justify his behavior, this story uses his BDSM sexuality to explain his controlling manipulations.

Do those differences make it okay?  I don’t think so.

For starters, what’s considered “good” writing in fanfic is different from what constitutes good writing in professionally published books.  The FSoG books are garnering bad reviews from real reviewers because *gasp* they’re not written that well.  Complaints have ranged from incorrectly portrayed BDSM elements to robotic and cliché writing.

So what made these BDSM books more successful than the hundreds of other BDSM books out there?  One reason.  The Twilight fandom and this fanfic author’s exploitation of their loyalty.

On the other hand, if someone wrote a fanfic story where they’d changed so many of the details as to make the characters, settings, and world unrecognizable, and if they didn’t try to tap into the fandom of their inspiration, I think fanfiction can be used to make money.  At that point, if the story is unrecognizable, the fanfic author has added enough of their own imagination to create something new.  And by not using someone else’s fans for their own gain, they’re letting their story be judged on its own merits.

The ethical line for fanfic authors can be very gray and wavy.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could be labeled a form of fanfic, and with a title like that, it’s certainly meant to grab the attention of  Jane Austen fans.  However, both that work and Wicked could also be termed parodies of the originals.  Parodies enjoy a different relationship with “acceptability” than straight fanfic, and they’re seen as less exploitative because they add something new to the story beyond just changed details.

So where do we draw the line?  I, for one, believe it’s better to stay far on the “safe” side of any appearance of impropriety.  Personally, I’d never write fanfic that dishonored my inspiration, and I’d certainly never try to make money off it.  (I didn’t post my fanfic novel anywhere, free or otherwise.  I viewed the experience as a writing exercise for my own enjoyment.)  However I’m interested in hearing where others fall on this issue and their reasons why.

Is it ever acceptable for a fanfic author to make money on their fanfic writings?  When does a fanfic author cross the line between honoring their original inspiration and taking advantage of it?  Does your answer depend on whether they made significant changes from the original source?  Is suddenly charging for a previously free story more acceptable if they improved their writing between versions?

(Note: I am not linking to FSoG here because I don’t want to encourage any more sales.  However, Amazon and other retailers carry the books  in print and ebook form for anyone willing to pay the expensive prices.)

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What do you think?

494 Comments on "When Does Fan Fiction Cross an Ethical Line?"

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Kaitlin

Oh my gosh. I don’t even like Twilight all that much and that story makes me twitch. Generally, I really like fanfiction (I too got my start there, except from the Lord of the Rings fandom). It’s one thing to have fans based on your *style* of writing, but to *only* change the names and then sell the fanfiction? Eesh. If the names had been changed, significant editorial work and some plot shifting had happened, it would be slightly more acceptable, but at that point it isn’t just taking advantage of Twilight, it’s taking advantage of fans.

There’s just so much to say on this topic, since not only is it huge but I’m kinda passionate about it.

Chihuahua0

Hmm…that sounds like an interesting situation.

Technically, I think if the fan-fic version is still floating around, Meyers has the rights to sue. Yet again, it depends how similar the story is to Twilight.

Really, if Meyers doesn’t mind, not too much can be done.

Caren

Thank you for this post. THANK YOU. I said some similar things recently and I agree with every single thing you said.

If you’d like to see my thoughts, they’re here: http://carenl.tumblr.com/post/18614363940/50-shades-of-oh-no-she-didnt

Em
Em

Nice article. I’m not going to argue ethics with you or who used whom.

A little fact checking however is in order.

The author “convention” you speak of was nothing more than friends and the author getting NYC (and yes again in DC) for a girls’ weekend. Nothing more. At no time was she paid to be there or were her expenses paid by anyone other than herself. This is a Fandom rumor and gossip based on a private email that was done “tongue in cheek”, that was leaked and is now referred to by some as a pamphlet. It wasn’t. How do I know this? Because I was there, both times.

Yes, the author did help to raise $40,000 for an American charity through the Fandom Gives Back auctions.

The author has a loyal group of friends and readers. She didn’t force anyone to buy the books from the Twilight fandom. The vast majority of people who are now reading and loving the books and characters are not part of the fandom.

Yes, there are editing errors that an established publisher would have caught and fixed. Yet despite these errors, new readers are reading and recommending these books to their friends.

Next time you post something as fact, please take the time to check that your statements are accurate. You can contact the author via her website.

Best,
Em

BrookeLockart
BrookeLockart

Pretty sure those facts about her trip to NYC are not correct either. Also pretty sure she didn’t raise $40K herself for the FandomGivesBack and it’s public knowledge that she begrudgingly participated.

Em
Em
Where you in NYC or DC, Brooke? No, you were not. I was. It was a girls’ weekend. Quit trying to say otherwise. True she didn’t raise the money herself. Her “minions” forked over money in amounts ranging from $5 and up to be part of a team of bidders rather an outbidding each other. Teamwork helped raise that money for an outtake. As far as begrudgingly participated, she was requested to write a POV from the male character, which she did not want to do because she didn’t want to write in that POV. The blog post being distributed by Caren is also full of errors and speculation about the author’s intentions to publish. Since no one has spoken directly to her, this is another example of rumors and gossip and deliberately misconstrued information. As a published author I respect the opinion of Jami Gold. What I do not respect is fandom rumors and gossip spilling out onto other blogs. I’ve been called a white knighter, a minion, a vapid fangirl for sharing the other side of the story. Fine. Every story has two sides. I just hope that people keep an open mind that not everything they read is the truth just because it is on a LJ/tumblr/blog post. We all have different opinions and perceptions. There are dozens of authors who have pulled to publish their Twilight fanfictions, some with the same titles as the original fics. Why are they not being discussed on these blogs about… Read more »
Caren

Um, what? Everything I said in my post is absolutely one hundred percent true. You can’t dispute facts. And what I’ve said has nothing to do with personal feelings, as I don’t know Icy. It’s the principle of this whole situation.

I don’t understand how you can support this so blindly. Do you really not see what Jami (or myself) has pointed out about the ethical problem with what she’s done?

Put yourself in Stephenie Meyer’s shoes – hell, in ANY authors shoes – and imagine how you would feel if this were YOUR characters her novel was built on. Would you NOT feel cheated in any way shape or form that she used what you built to make herself a success?

Come on, Em, if you claim not to see the problem here you’re clearly choosing not to see it on purpose.

Also, Icy did not raise $40k for FGB. Her fans raised in the ballpark of $25-30k, and she didn’t even want to donate. She was forced into it. She admitted that herself. Just like she admitted to wanting to revolutionize the publishing industry while talking about her distaste for our entire fandom. Sam does an excellent job of proving that fact: http://gentleblaze.livejournal.com/514.html

Bee
Bee

Sorry if my typing is terrible. I’m still in awful pain from being forced by the author of Fifty Shades to buy her books. …

Oh no, wait. I forgot. I have a mind of my own! Isn’t that astonishing?

Also, if you can show me the part in Twilight, where Edward is a multi-billionaire entrepreneur with a penchant for BDSM and a HUMAN, then please point it out to me, cos I must have missed that part.

There are a group of infantile, jealous people in the ‘fandom’ who have basically been cyber-bullying the author of these books from way back in the day (yes, when it was still MoTU). They have resorted to name calling and threats and all sorts to get their feeble little point across.

Does it matter to anyone who loves Fifty? Hell no.
I bought these books of my own free will as I’m sure so did 120K other people.

As the post above states, get your facts straight before you join the ranks of the cyber-bullies.

By the way, a number of authors have been coat-tailing on 50’s success to raise their own profiles. Is that what you want to be known for?

Regards

B

E
E

The author of this book set out to con money out of her readers. As an ex fandom member, I was around when personal emails from the author were sent to another and then shown publicly. She referred to her fans and this fanfic in a less than flattering light, clearly stating that she was in it for the money. Her writing skills are less than sub-par and anyone with half a brain could have wrote the drivel that is and was Master of the Universe/ Fifty Shades of Grey. Not only are the authors ‘minions’ Or as they were known in the Twilight fandom as ‘Bunker Babes’rabid and pathetic, they are also vicious and brainwashed by this woman who is sitting back and laughing at how much money she has made from them.

Your review is spot on. This book should have never been published.

gisellelx
Thanks for this. There is mass confusion going on in the Twilight fandom about the ethics of fanfiction publication, and the fact that it is an *ethical* issue, apart from the legal one. I’ve also had more than a few folks insinuate that somehow these books took off on their own, over looking the rabid “Bunker Babes” and how they spurred the initial word of mouth. As to the facts above: James, as Snowqueens IceDragon, pulled in approximately 17K as part of the Fandom Gives Back charity fundraiser in November 2010. The remaining two authors on her “team,” Sebastian Robichaud and M81770, were responsible for the other 22K. I have zero idea if her fans paid for her to attend either the DC weekend or the New York one. I do know that most of my girls’ weekends don’t include itineraries which list “The Goddess Arrives!” next to the time anyone’s flight gets in. The real shame for James is that she had a huge following–judging from her review count, which numbered almost 60,000 on FFnet, she probably had over a quarter of a million readers, if not more. She could’ve published ANYTHING and her readers probably would’ve pushed it into the stratosphere. Instead, she chose to publish her existing work, which relies on the Twilight tropes to make it work. Whether Meyer sues, we won’t know, but honestly, she makes us all look bad. And I’m certain, whether Meyer does anything about this or not, other authors will look… Read more »
BrookeLockart
BrookeLockart

*slow claps*

Kimmydonn

I’ll pop in here since Gisellex speaks to the same points I made in my blog post about this back in May. You’ve written a fanfiction, gotten an active following and learned what it takes to write novel. Awesome!

Now do it again.

If James had written another BDSM story in another setting, using what she learned from writing Master of the Universe, I would have stood behind her and applauded her work. Because she repackaged her fanfiction, I feel she’s taking the easy way out and making less of the efforts of fanfiction authors who ARE publishing their own original ideas.

Edited to add link to Kimmydonn’s post.

Diana
Diana
Those are my exact thoughts on this whole debauchery. In my fanfic explorations I’ve encounter many stories that I thought were really good and the writing was beyond fanfic quality. I’ve also found a handful that were just perfection and thought to myself, the author should had considered persuing a writing career full time, because the stories, and specifically the way this authors had with words were THAT good. But if you come upon this exceptional talent that you discovered throughout the asociation this stories had with the characters you loved from a book, I think it is not a wild assumption to think you would feel conned if what you read for free and thinking actively in these other characters were to be sold to you later in the desguise of original work. I think if you truly believe in the talent this writers have, you should have faith in the fact that they should be able to accomplish trully original fiction. And regarding this matter (FSoG) in particular, I have not read it, nor when it was fanfic, not now that it’s sold as original fiction, because SMBD it’s not my cup of tee; however, from what I’ve been able to gather from different discussions, it seems, this particular story was very OOC and they find this to be an excuse to justify the fact that it’s simply and basically a con job. I’m talking only from my expierence, but when I read AU fanfic (and AU it’s… Read more »
Diana
Diana

Than you, Jami, for this lovely discussion you have set up. It’s been respectful and thoughtful and that can be hard to find online these days.

Jill
Jill

I just wanted to point out that there are numerous other published fanfics from Twilight, some even retaining the original name. Please make sure you include all those authors, also.

Janelle

I agree with you on the ethics of this. If the original author gave permission and/or were receiving royalties, things would be different, but this is just ethically wrong.

I also wonder about people who record covers of songs, then sell them on iTunes or whatever. Do they give royalties to the person who wrote/originally recorded it? Similar to reading free fanfic, I enjoy listening to/watching videos of covers on YouTube, but when there’s a link to buy it, I always wonder…

Great post!

Patrick Thunstrom

This is a complex issue, and one I’ve had to debate about recently with someone going after a ‘fan comic’ that is making some money off of their comic. That issue was that one fan artist ‘stole’ from another fan artist and both were making money on their work. In this case, I made it clear that you couldn’t hate one artist on standards you upheld the other on.

In general, though my problem with fan works is what was explained: What makes ‘good’ fan fiction according to the fanfic community does not make good writing in any other case. That’s a serious problem.

In this case, though, she could have made money in a number of other ways that would have avoided an image of impropriety, so I don’t think it’s so much the money that bothers me, as the manipulating sales data using the co-opted fan base.

Ali
Ali

This entry is why many people are so upset. It has nothing to do with being unhappy for someone’s success. It crossed a huge line in the sand. I’m unsure how the blatant using of “fans” is so overlooked. This was not a writing exercise; a ‘getting your feet wet as an author’ experiment. No, this was an entire story, feedback and built in fanbase used for profit.
As for the “tongue in cheek” email, well, I suppose that is all interpretation. I’m often humorous but to boldly say she was above everyone, how she didn’t WANT to be a part of that fandom charity ‘event’? Well, I’m sorry, I can’t spin it any other way than negatively. I do find it highly amusing that she has lots of guard dogs defending her honor but not once has she attempted to speak out via social media or her website. Sometimes, I find silence is an indicator of guilt not of nobility.

And lastly, addressing errors and writing structure, no article written has been remotely kind in regards to quality. The people featured in the NY Post article that began this media storm all but called it poor writing; “I didn’t think it was a great book as far as writing goes”, “the writing was lame” and “it’s no masterpiece”. So what, are you confirming what the author has acted like all along? Bad is fine as long as it’s making money?

gaby
gaby
I see all points and agree with many opinions. Many good ones at that. The reality though is that her 20k+ reviews and fanfiction fanbase would not b enough to put it on bestseller list. Me being a huge twifan wouldn’t guarantee I buy it or read it. In this case, I am huge fan of MotU and yet did not buy book. Not because I dont support her but because I can’t picture anyone else other than ExB. We also have fanfict authors who gain fans thru their stories and then publish a original book and target their existing twifans. I’ve said it before its all about money. Ethical, legalities and/or morals included can b attached to many many books, movies & plays, etc. Look at how popular vampires got after SM Twilight books gained notoriety. I don’t know facts on this but either true blood and/or vampire diaries was/were published before twilight and people didn’t show interest until after twilight. Every will ride some coattail at any given time. Its just how it works. Didn’t EP get published too? Which I loved too. So as long as it doesn’t get on bestsellers list its OK? She also had huge following. Link to purchase book is on her blog. Why aren’t people buying it? I have to just say this… all books have editorial issues but if story captivates u it will suck u in. Obviously the case with FSoG. These people reading it have secret desires of getting… Read more »
Caren

<3 Gaby.

Re: EP/Sempre – Jessica did *heavy* editing on that novel before she self-pubbed. It wasn't just character names that were changed.

gaby
gaby

I bought it! Haven’t received it yet.my point in mentioning EP is that I would have never found it had I not been twifan. Again I’m grateful for having found amazing talent through a shared passion of so many of us. As for Sempre, the Mafia prince will always be Edward 🙂
I think its time we all let this be. I can’t stand to see such a wonderful community that is the Twilight Fandom divided like this. We are entitled to our opinions and that’s what’s great about all this. Lets just b civil.

DMarie
DMarie

I have to chime in on the “look how popular vampires got after Twilight” argument. Vampires have always been popular, yes Twilight was a phenomenon that others have used to push them forward. That is not the issue, if the work is original then great, but FSOG was not original.

Bo
Bo
Interesting post. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and there are lots of people on both sides of this argument. Unfortunately, and this is just my opinion, this is becoming less about publishing fanfiction than it is a personal vendetta against an author. Case in point: at a 2009 Comic Con Twilight Fanfiction panel, the administrator of the largest and most popular site dedicated to Twilight Fanfiction said that the introduction of all-human stories to the Twific world opened up the arena for these stories to be published. In her words, these stories “bore little resemblence” to Twilight except for names, and that they could easily be published as a stand alone fiction. Several of the authors on the panel that day seemed to agree, and there was even discussion then that the much lauded story “Wide Awake” was currently being submitted to publishers and film producers. So the idea of publishing fanfiction is not new. In fact, even before FSoG, several well known fanfiction authors published books and the Twilighted site itself even gave birth to a publishing house. Those authors even published their books with the exact same name as their FF stories. And as we speak, there are other FF authors who have had books released within the last 2 months. So what’s the difference? The difference I see is that at its core, while many of the detractors may not like or agree with P2P (pull to publish), their real beef here is with this story… Read more »
BrookeLockart
BrookeLockart

I believe the writers at the Fan Fic Panel that spoke about AU fiction and publishing, went on to create a publishing house that — you guessed it — published Fic. The comment at the panel was self-serving.

gisellelx

Yes, people are up in arms about this author.

However, there’s still a vocal contingent of us who’ve been willing to make ourselves unpopular by voicing that this practice is wrong whether it’s done by the nicest, sweetest author and best writer in the fandom, or whether it’s done by a writer who behaved as badly as SQUID did.

I was in the position last year of telling a fandom friend I would not be buying her book because she’d published it with one of the fandom “file the serial numbers off” publishing houses. She got very angry. So yes, some people might just attack someone who it’s convenient to attack. But some of us hold a hard line, because it’s about the ethics, not about the person.

Bo
Bo
This is what I’m talking about. “Behaved as badly as SQUID did.” Behaved badly? As someone who was there in the beginning reading the story when it was posted on Twilighted and interacting with the author, I’d like some clarification about “behaved badly.” I’ve heard all sorts of stories about premediation on her part to “use the fandom.” As one of those readers, and I can only speak for myself, I can say I don’t feel used by her anymore than any other fanfiction writer whose story I read and who later published. She is a Twilight fan, like most of us. She came to the fandom and to fanfiction the same way many others did. She never insulted them because she is one of them. I’ve never heard or read an unkind thing from her about her readers or most of the fandom (the ones not insulting and saying unkind things about her). She has expressed surprise that so many read and liked her story and has been humbled and somewhat shy about all the attention. (And just so you know, yes I have met her and talked with her. These statements come from personal knowledge). Joking tweets can be taken out of context and used against any of us; and they were with her. This isn’t a joke to her. This is her life and she’s endure some pretty hateful comments because of inuendo, gossip and untruths. The idea to publish came as the story progressed. She wasn’t… Read more »
Caren

Why do every single one of her fans say the argument is personal? I hate that this is the best defense anyone can come up with.

It’s not just about Icy, though the recent attention she’s received has brought the subject back into the spotlight. Just because her name and/or “novel” are being used as the biggest example does not mean she’s the only one guilty. Stop trying to make this personal when it’s not.

I don’t know, nor have I ever spoken to, Icy, but I’m still against everything she’s done to this fandom and what she’ll likely do to it if this continues.

Sunny Snark
Sunny Snark

Bo,
Thank you for so eloquently stating what I feel, too.
The level of nastiness in this ‘debate’ eclipses any legitimate discourse. It surpasses the real issue and sets a bad point for any writers in FanFic or self-publishing.
And, I completely agree with you, Bo, it is interesting that the source of so much of vitriolic rants appear to come from some of the prior FanFic authors themselves.
I call on all the intelligent, sensible peeps in this fandom to join me in asking for a little peace and love for our hardworking authors and to celebrate their success, rather than condemning them.
PS: I was at one of the visits Icy made to the US, and she wouldn’t even permit me to pay for her drink, something a friend does for another; not payment for their ‘visit’.
Peace,
SS

Roe
Roe

The problem with these books is that the author cashed in on the popularity of the series and had planned to from the start. She didn’t give a damn about the ethical issues, nor about any kind of infringement of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. Dress it up any way that you want, the origin this story will never go away. It’s Edward and Bella with whips and chains thrown in for good measure. I hope one day E.L. James or Erica as I knew her, is exposed for this fact.

Sorry if that offends anyone. It’s just the truth. I liked this review because it’s honest. These are cold, hard facts.

AE
AE
Thank you for this post. You have been able to say what I have been unable to articulate. It’s not the legal, it’s the ethical. I am a member of this fandom (writer and reader) and this just hasn’t sat well with me. I never read this story in the fanfic version, nor did I have any interest in spending $30 on a paperback (!) but I have read a couple of other fanfics turned published novels and they all lack the same thing. Character building, world building and massive edits. But why wait to edit, truly edit, when you have hundreds of built in fans ready buy your $30 (!!) paperback and bump you up the charts and write glowing reviews, which again garners interest and bumps you up the charts and gains notic? Selling books is a numbers game (Amazon is the king of this) and when you have a built in marketing machine like the Twi-Hards behind you there is little you can’t do. Just look at Kristen Stewart. I’ve been waiting for some authors to weigh in on this, because so far it’s just been sheer publicity. As an author you would know something seemed off and unusual about this situation and the massive success of this book. In a world where you have to be a BIG DEAL to get notice how did this little book make it? Dig around a little and the truth is there. And another note: The fandom is quick to… Read more »
Cora
Cora
What’s interesting is that no one has picked up on the fact that The Writer’s Coffee Shop and Omnific Publishing are both independent publishers who started up to publish Fan Fiction. The majority of the books they accept are Twilight Fan Fiction because the people who started those companies were readers of Twilight Fan Fiction. For the most part, when they started they had no qualifications to run a publishing house. None. They gathered like minded individuals who saw the potential, and flew by the seat of their pants. (They might have employees on staff now that were already established in the industry, since it’s been two years, but at first they didn’t.) They were readers and lovers of Twilight Fan Fiction. What were they good at? For a start, they were smart business women. They knew exactly who and what to tap into, targeting the big stories with lots of followers. Not the stories that were well written and with some substance, but only the ones which were popular. And in the Twilight community 90% of the time that means they are the stories that have a high content of sex. And we all know, sex sells. So, maybe we should change the focus from these authors publishing their stories to these two publishers who have taken no ethical responsibility in the decisions they have made. You want to tap into an existing fanbase and start your company using your customers, fine. But do it responsibly and do it… Read more »
gaby
gaby

This is exactly what I was saying on twitter to some people. These publishing Co. Should be held accountable. If not for legalities than for ethical reasons too. They should b responsible for the work they throw out there. I can’t emphasize enough..”its all about the Benjamins”.

V
V
This is a tricky subject. I still find that both sides have good arguments, at least the serious arguments, lol. On one hand, why not let someone publish their stories? The storylines are often so OOC within the original work they were inspired by, that it just can’t get any father than that. The author will just have to prove herself later on with original works, but more than that, if people are willing to buy her books and as long as the authors don’t forget where they came from, I see no big issue. I personally wouldn’t pay for something I read for free though, but if people want to, why not? On the other hand, I truly feel like as much as a fic author has an amazing story to tell, whether it’s AH or AU or whatever, it’s the fact that it was posted in a particular fandom that made people read it. In this case, would people have read MotU if the paring had been Esme/Sam? Alice/Aro? And so on? I truly don’t think so at all. It was because the story was under Twilight and the pairing was E/B that made people even take a look at it and THAT, to me, makes fics not entirely the author’s. Yes, the storyline it’s theirs and it’s the storyline that makes people stay reading the fic, not just the pairing (at least in some cases), but they had in mind characters that were not theirs. It makes… Read more »
TRF
TRF

About the storyline, one of the things I enjoyed of MOTU was how, being an AH, the twists in the story followed the original. There was a lot of parallelisms. I also can’t see the characters as others than E and B, and not just SM’s characters but the characters that many fanfiction authors have created, as a collective. You know what to expect when you begin a fic, despite the OOC it claims to be. So… I won’t buy the books. This is a personal decision. And I don’t find this path correct, fair to the sense of fanfiction.

Melinda Collins
Wow! This one is a ‘hot button’ issue, isn’t it? A lot of comments already, but I’m still going to add my two cents worth. 😀 No, I do *not* think it’s acceptable for an author to make money on their fanfic writings. It’s not original them (the characters, especially) , it’s someone’s else’s genius, heart, blood, sweat and tears. And the original author alone is the one who should benefit from the ‘fruits of their labor.’ Fanfic authors cross the line between honoring and taking advantage when they begin to charge for that work instead of looking at it the way it is most times: a fun learning experience (like you’ve stated). I almost want to say that my answer does depend on whether or not they’ve made significant changes, and that’s simply because the author could take ‘concept’ of the main characters and throw them in a different world (location, scene, predicament) to the point – most times – that the story and characters are nothing like the piece that inspired it. I don’t think I’d support charging for fanfic no matter how fabulously written the book is. If the author is *that* good with their writing, get back to the computer, plant your butt in the chair, and plot out an original story. 🙂 Whew! I feel a little better. Sorry if that came out as a rant, but I saw that spot on the ‘Today’ show and it really just struck the wrong chord with me…especially… Read more »
Mel
Mel
I appreciate this article very much because it has been able to convey the feelings of so many of us that have had a problem with ‘Fifty Shades’ otherwise known as ‘Master of the Universe.’ The main point this article hit on is ethics. James has made a mockery out of the Twilight fanfiction fandom and all that it has represented. We, as readers and writers, found our way to fanfiction after something struck us (good or bad) with the Twilight series. Many people have written for the fandom, including myself. Fanfiction, in and of itself, is taking parts, ideas, or any number of similarities, and applying them to a story of your own. What some fans of ‘Fifty Shades’ is failing to understand is, James used Stephanie Meyers characters to write her fanfiction. She read the Twilight series and something sparked the idea in her head. IF that had not happened, she would not have written Twilight fanfiction. She would have written her own original work. Where the words her’s? Yes. Did she create her own ‘world’ for the story? Yes. However, that is where her independent ideas ends. She took characteristics of the characters and applied them to her story. Example: Edward is a rich, controlling man who lives his life in solitude. He was adopted as a teenager and the trauma from that and what occurred, has made him incapable of having any romantic relationships. (Please note, I mentioned nothing about him being a vampire.) Christian: He… Read more »
Nell
Nell

Yeah, see that’s the thing. She DIDN’T change that much. The names, yes, the setting, sure but nothing else. The descriptions of their eyes, hair etc. are verbatim from the fic AND then Twilight as well since it was a knockoff to begin with.

There are PDF’s all over the internet of MotU and a side-by-side comparison would show that it’s barely edited. BARELY. Certainly not enough to say it was thoroughly edited by their “editing staff”.

Frankly, I’d love to see someone (that has that kind of time) do a side-by-side.

PS: Bravo to you for having the cajoles to post this. Icy fans are rabid and give the fandom a bad name in their white-knighting/inability to see another opinion.

Beansy
Beansy

Hi Nell,

You’ll find that a comparison of the first chap has already been done. Even the most basic of punctuation errors carry over to the retail version. I’m saddened that people have paid $7-30 for this. This generation is forgetting what good writing is all about.

The publisher should be held accountable for its blatant lack of respect and integrity.

The link is here:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/65785689/50ShadesofWTF.pdf

Aredeetea
Aredeetea

It’s funny how people are so up in arms about FSoG stealing from SM. Yet it’s perfectly okay to distribute ELJames’ intellectual material by posting the pdf to MotU all over the internet. Expending countless hours trolling each and every article, blog, and not to mention all the time it takes to create all those socks.

And kudos to you, Jami, for never mentioning the author by name. So respectful of you to skirt around trashing someone by not making it personal.

Beansy
Beansy

Hi Aredeeta,

The material I posted from 50Shades is readily available as a free download on multiple sites where you can purchase the book. In fact, I took it from one of those sites. I’m not distributing it or charging for it. In fact some would consider it’s promoting the material.

As for the FF side of it, that can’t be copyrighted. It’s FF.

Regards,
Beans

aredeetea
aredeetea

I’m not talking about the portion of the story for comparison sake. It’s well-established that EL wrote both, MotU and FSoG. I’m not sure what point people are trying to make with that. She wrote them both. Everyone knows that and no one is disputing it.

I’m talking about people who are posting links to the full text of MotU, often with the comments – “Why buy this crap when you can read it for free?” with the link.

And as for the copyright laws related to FF, granted I’m not in any way, shape or form a lawyer, but I know there was recently an issue where someone stole a fanfiction story and had it published as a book. Basically word for word. I don’t know the details about the publishing house. The publisher, though removed the book from publication. I’m not sure if any legal action was taken against the plagiarist.

Obviously it’s not as simple as saying it’s been on the web, so it’s free access. There IS such a thing as intellectual property even if it was posted online. Even more so if it was removed by the author in my opinion.

And along with the concept in this blog of the distinction between what is legal and what is ethical, I would certainly make the point that distributing MotU, weather legal or not, is being done in a less-than-kind manner.

tulchulcha
tulchulcha

You’re confusing the matter here. Bottom line according to law fanfiction can’t be copyrighted. Period. Many slap “copyright” statements on their fic but the bottom line is once something is posted as fanfiction it cannot be copyrighted. It’s a derivative work.

Now, the thornier issue of books that have been published to Amazon by people who do not own them. That’s the downside to self-publishing. First off, “publishing” something you did not write is both unethical and illegal. Doubly problematic is that you’re claiming copyright and making money off fanfiction that can’t be copyrighted or sold for profit. Most likely the “publishers” would take it down for both reasons.

Once something is posted as fanfiction it’s out there, and the author can’t do a damn thing about it because it is not copyrightable. If people distribute it you have no recourse. You can’t sue over the distribution of a work you hold no copyright to in the first place. That’s what makes this situation even thornier. Can FSoG be copyrighted since it’s an almost word-for-word copy of the derivative work? That’s entirely unclear in the law.

allryans
allryans

“I’m not sure what point people are trying to make with [the portion of the story for comparison sake].”
They are trying to make the point that she made minimal, if any, changes to what was Twilight Fanfiction and what has become a NYT bestseller. No overhaul. They aren’t saying anything about whether or not she authored them both.

“There IS such a thing as intellectual property even if it was posted online.”
Intellectual property like the intangible aspects of a character well-established by another author? Oh yeah. Intellectual property means a lot of things. It is far more correct to assert that the inherent presuppositions readers brought to a story labeled “Twilight Fanfic E/B” have more ownership with Stephenie Meyer than to say that the word for word reposting of any Twilight fanfic (when giving the original fic author credit) has any ownership at all.

“I would certainly make the point that distributing MotU, weather legal or not, is being done in a less-than-kind manner.”
Distributing MOTU is only mean-spirited depending on where you stand on the issue. I personally feel I am doing readers a service giving them a link to the fic pdf because it saves them money. And pulling a fic offline does NOT entitle you to police its distribution. Check the ff.net TOS. You do not own your fanfic. In any form.

Rae
Rae
The only book I’ve read that was at some point fan fiction is Sempre. And Jessica did heavy editing, as Caren said in an above comment to Gaby. There were entire plot points changed, characters were changed, the content was obviously cut down significantly and was written in third person narrative unlike the fanfic (which was 1st person, alternate POV change). That takes a lot of work. She didn’t “ctrl+F and replace” as I understand FSoG to be (I did attemp to read MOtU so I am familiar with the story) . It’s not even recognizable as fanfic. And she donates a percentage of the profits gained from the book to a Anti-Human Trafficing organization. I think making the jump from fanfic to original fiction and using parts of the fanfic story are fine.. afterall the authors spend hours and hours working on these stories – putting blood, sweat and tears into their writing and ideas. They put themselves out there emotionally. I’ve read an embarrassing amount of Twilight FanFic in the last 3 years and I believe there are A LOT of amazing fanfic writers who could be published. And A LOT of stories have absolutely no resemblance to Twilight (other than character names). I think alot of authors also had these plot ideas before even becoming involved in the fandom (as I know to be the case with Sempre/EP) and the fanfic arena gives authors the confidence to continue on if their writing is well received. If fanfic… Read more »
Carradee
Hey, Jami. I hadn’t heard of this particular incident before you brought it up. I agree, that fanfic authors shouldn’t profit from fanfics that have their serial numbers filed off. But here’s why I can’t unilaterally agree with you: some fanfics aren’t fanfics. Some “fan fiction” is so AU† and OOC†† that it has no resemblance whatsoever to the original story, except the character names and locations… maybe. Sometimes those aren’t even the same. It’s like someone watches Firefly and Serenity and says “Hey! What if River were a guy and Simon a girl—and they escaped on their own, without Mal and crew—and they aren’t space pirates, they’re air pirates, like airships—and Simone (’cause she’s a girl, yanno) is acrophobic and guy River has to use his psychic powers to keep Simone from realizing they’re off the ground—and—and—and…” …At which point the author has produced a story that’s actually original despite the Whedon kickoff. The story may or may not even be in the same genre. In that case, I see it as the author being inspired by the originals. The problem then comes from such actually original previously being published online as fan fiction. Which is a problem, I think, because it’s admitting a tie that might leave you open to lawsuit. Hey, I have a Star Wars AU vignette—which is still posted over on FF.net—that needn’t be considered fan fiction. I’ve actually come up with a novel idea wherein that would be the prologue. It contains no names,… Read more »
Juliebee
Juliebee
Apologies in advance as I’m writing on my phone.  One other thing that I don’t think has been mentioned is the fact that the twilight fandom’s sense of “betrayal” (for lack of a better word) is that Ms. James used a number of Twilight “fic-isms” in her story.  What do I mean by that?   There are a massive number of Twi fics that all use certain fandom cliches which I *don’t* believe were part of the original Twilight series (e.g. Bella’s serial lip-biting). That has been done to death in fan fiction.  In addition, before jumping on the so-called BDSM bandwagon, another Twi-fic trilogy written by Tarasueme (The Submissive, The Dominant, The Training) were wildly popular for their time.  In my opinion, more enjoyable stories and well written.  My point is this:   The twilight fanfic community really is that – a community.  Many women have forged real friendships here.  These are women who visit each other, phone, skype, etc.  They pre-read each other’s stories and offer advice and never ask anything in return.  I think that possibly having an insincere opportunist among us really hurt many.   I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me part of the bad taste that this leaves in my mouth is that the author also used other fandom stories, phrases, and ideas that weren’t hers to begin with – over and above the more obvious link to Meyers’ original stories.  I used to be much more involved in the fandom but… Read more »
Jan M
Jan M
I am an avid Twilight fanfiction reader– probably bordering on fanatic. I read this story originally as fanfiction and was fairly blown away by it. The story itself is original– quite original, in fact. Yes, in the original version, she used the character names from Twilight which is what drew me to the story in the first place. The subject matter was something quite foreign to me and was an eye opener. The original story has been pulled and the author totally re-worked it into something that doesn’t even come close to any of the original Twilight stories. The ages of the characters, names, the locations, the plot lines all deviate so completely from Twilight that I fail to see where any ethical lines are being crossed. Every author and writer gets some of their ideas from somewhere else; as an author yourself, you know this. Most of the writing in fanfiction is dismal, but occasionally I come across stories that are just so good. Master of the Universe was one of those stories. I not only read it once, but read it again. I am thankful for the fanfiction writers who practice and hone their writing skills in the Twilight fanfiction genre. The stories are free and they all attribute their source material to Stephenie. No one is profiting illicitly from Stephenie’s material. E. L. James wrote a good story. It certainly isn’t literary excellence, but it simply is a good story. It was obviously so good that it… Read more »
evaporation
evaporation

Jan M, Hi! I am so relieved to read a response from a well informed Fan Fic afficianado! I loved MoTu from Chapter one. Robert Pattinson is my whole reason for looking at Fan fiction at all.Not Edward! Icy created a story line that I and a lot of women totally enjoyed. Obviously the proof is in the publishing.Ethics I think here is not the problem….jealousy is.I bought all her books.I reread them all the time. She has given a lot of women something wonderful to fantasize about.I thank her for them.I hope she continues to have great success! I am one of her rabid fans!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
I absolutely am sick of people saying that it’s just that we’re jealous of Icy. As a member of the Twilight fanfiction community, I choose not to support ANY of the P2P stories. These were stories that, while time and work went into them, are still based on someone else’s characters. Someone else’s world. Someone else’s IDEA! The built-in Stephenie Meyer reader base is (and let’s be honest) what gave these books the initial word of mouth. Take a gander at the early 4 and 5 star Amazon and GoodReads reviews: they are people who read it as a fic and had a relationship (however strong or vague) with the author. Now, add someone who had no idea of its beginning, but was just looking for a book to read. They see that a book has a lot of high ratings, and picks it up based on that (I do it all the time when considering books!) and a sale is born. They like it, they don’t… that’s not the issue. The issue should be that they potentially bought something based off of reviews that are kind because of a fondness for the story or author, and you’ve all been used to be word-of-mouth guinea pigs for free! I would absolutely buy an original story from many of my favorite fanfic authors, and have, but asking me to pay for something that was published for free is a slap in the face and greedy. At some point, you just know… Read more »
Jan M
Jan M
The world is not static, Elizabeth. With the advent of the internet, anyone can and many do become authors. Blogs are all over the place with previously unread and aspiring writers. Blogs aren’t the tried and true way– but let’s face it technology has changed things. Fanfic writers are pulling their fics all the time for numerous reasons– not necessarily to sell them either. Why are you having such a problem with E.L. James pulling her fic, rewriting and publishing it? I got it, YOU wouldn’t do it that way– YOU wouldn’t take something you put out there for free and later — re-work it and turn around and try selling it. Why not? If you spent your limited time and resources to create something that people really liked when they got it free, and others would probably like it too if you made them pay something for it– why the hell wouldn’t you do it? Is there something wrong with all the inventors in the world who created something– a product or a food — that they gave away for free but eventually marketed and sold? The internet has usurped the tried and true way of doing many things– writing being one of them. Tried and true ain’t cutting anymore. I personally am delighted that I no longer have to depend on the somewhat narrow and limited views and opinions of the editors at publishing houses to find my reading material. The internet now makes it possible for me… Read more »
Elizabeth
Elizabeth
Honey, I’m not missing out on anything. I buy self pub often. I think it’s a great way to get new material out there, and I’m not knocking it by any means. I do, however, have a problem with the ethical issue of using someone else’s world/characters/themes and piggybacking off of that person’s fame and fans. I mean, really? Go back to the bunker, babe. Could I take a fic I wrote and publish it? Who knows…clearly, there’s a market out there for anything and everything, so I could sure try. Would I? Nope. I think that half the fun of it would be building my own idea and making it as good as I possibly could. It’s simple, really. If you have an idea that you think would make an interesting book, don’t write it as fic, put it out there to get attention, and then charge for it when you’ve got the fame you sought. It’s. Not. Right. If James had wrote an original piece of fiction not using someone else’s ideas, I’d be thrilled for her. And I do mean that. Clearly you don’t know me, and you’re probably the type I stay away from in fandom, so…I’ll take you’re hackles-up post with a grain of salt, because you missed the point of it entirely. I think there are many authors around our parts who can and should publish original. I’d buy their books in an instant, because I want to see the women in our fandom… Read more »
Jan M
Jan M
Ideas for stories do not happen in a vacuum, Elizabeth. Every idea is based on another idea and so on. When one gets to the foundation of the ideas, it always comes from someone else or someone else’s idea. That is fundamental. Many have even gone so far as to say there is no such thing a truly original idea anymore. One can take anything and pick it apart and make comparisons to something else. The books in question are original to the core. I have read the Twilight books numerous times and James’s books are not Twilight. That she originally wrote her story as Twilight fanfiction should not matter since she was totally out of canon with the storyline. Her story was and is good and there are plenty of readers who are now enjoying her published version who never would have if they follow your narrowly prescribed rules of writing. Substituting names and ascribing some characteristics that make story character interesting is not stealing. There are some universal features that all writers tend to use with various characters to make their stories good. So it started out in Twilight fanfiction– but in reality, it was as far afield from Twilight as day is to night. Like I said before, you wouldn’t do it and I wonder why. Have you written anything that even comes close to the story James wrote? Are you a writer? I am not and for that reason I do not rule out something until… Read more »
Elizabeth
Elizabeth
I wish James and the other P2P writers had just taken their ideas and published them (self or traditional), I really do. I’d wish them every success with it, and I really do mean that. The pit-stop in the fandom, though, is what makes my teeth curl. Would you have known about and spent the money on these books otherwise? I am a writer, and if this crazy storm happened to my ideas that I worked so hard on to get published, I would yank the rights to fanfiction in a heartbeat. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. You have said you are not a writer, so maybe you didn’t know this… but in the upload section of FFnet, there is a list of authors who do not allow fanfic of their work. I love Twilight fanfiction for the stories and great people it has introduced me to. We ALL know how much S. Meyer can get when she throws a fit–Midnight Sun–and I’d truly hate to see her get super upset about the number of stories (again, MoTU is the one we’re talking about here, but there are more that are equally in the wrong) that have been spawned from her work, and decide to pull the plug on it all. It can happen. And look where we’d be. You could go back to Amazon and pay for stories you say you enjoy finding for free, and those people we giggle with on Twitter and Facebook… Read more »
Elizabeth
Elizabeth

I agree, Jami. I just hate that those that oppose the actions of a few are deemed as “haters” and jealous harpies, when most of us are upset over the whole P2P debate, not just James. Any way you put a spin on it, it was indeed opportunistic.

Also, your well thought out responses have earned you a new reader, girl. We seem to be like minded 🙂 I’m going to go check out your other posts, now!

Athena Grayson

How many people would have read, cared about, or known the story if the characters didn’t start their lives being named “Edward” and “Bella”?

Caren

But she DIDN’T rework it. I’ve seen the comparisons. Looked at both the PDF of MotU and of FSoG and they’re nearly identical. With the exception of find/replace on character names and some slight editing for punctuation (hello ellipses…), it’s the same thing that was posted as Fanfiction.

Jan M
Jan M
The story was hers the character names and some of the locations and character references were not. Twilight was and is not even close to the published story (it would probably fry Stephenie’s eyeballs to read it). The fanfiction story was also her original story (Stephenie’s eyeballs wouldn’t fare well here either) – she got rid of the Twilight references in the published version. The story is James’s story not Stephenie’s. That is the difference. The fact that it was originally in the Twilight fanfiction genre doesn’t negate the fact that it was then and still is James’s story. She came up with the characters and their back stories, the plot, etc. without it being Twilight. It was all human and the characters were different ages from the Twilight characters. The story itself was not close to Twilight even when it was posted in fanfiction. Does she not have a right to her creation regardless of where it originally was written? The story itself did not need to be totally re-written because that part came from James– not Meyers. The Twilight references were re-worked so the story is not and never will be an extension of Meyers’ work. It was the story that makes it good. Those of us who look for good stories in the genre read them because we like reading about the same characters in altogether new situations and circumstances. Then we get involved in the stories which are for many– original creations in plot and story… Read more »
Caren

The story was originally Edward and Bella. Just changing names/locations does NOT change the fact that this story was built on another writer’s work.

The idea is hers, yes. But if she were planning to publish such an idea, she should have started with her own characters from the beginning. Doing it this way is unethical and it makes her look like a thief in the eyes of any author who values their work.

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

*Makes popcorn & enjoys the debate*

Gee Jami, you could have warned me you were going to start another bar fight. Sheesh. I just cleaned up the server after the last one.

I love fan fiction. Especially for worlds that ended too soon (Firefly & Sarah Connor Chronicles). I’ve even donated a couple bucks to assorted authors for good stories. (I don’t see that as any different from kicking a couple bucks to a musician with a tip jar.) My line is drawn when someone specifically uses another author’s world and then charges for it.

The Twilight world isn’t -that- different from ours. So if the author builds their world from scratch & charges, it’s good. If the author takes SM’s world then adds their own layers, it’s derivative and immoral to charge.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Melinda Collins

Haha! I *love* that comment! I’ve been sitting here for the past hour just reading through and absorbing everyone’s comments. I like the comparison you made to a musician’s tip jar – it truly is a ‘I support your talent,’ not ‘I support this one particular story you’ve written.’

I can understand both sides, and am truly amazed by how the fandom is rallying behind her, but my heart trembles when I think of ‘what if that was my story, my characters, my hard work that someone else was basing their story from and making money from it?’

Good rule of thumb that our mother’s always taught us:
“Would you like it if I did that to you?”
Us: “No.”
Moms: “Okay then, don’t. Do. It!” 🙂

*Stuffs mouth with a Reese’s Cup then passes one over to Jami* 😉

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Thanks. 🙂

Fandom seems more split on the debate than I expected. It is interesting to observe the different attitudes displayed by producers and consumers of content.

BTW, do they have the dark chocolate Reese’s Cups in your area? I highly recommend. They’re almost as good as the dark chocolate Kit Kats.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Melinda Collins

Hi Jay –

Yes, they do have the dark chocolate ones here but I haven’t tried them yet. Looks like I’m making a chocolate run after work tomorrow! 😉

Thanks! 😀

Scarlet
Scarlet
I post my own fanfiction and I find the feedback (good and bad) greatly improves my writing skills, but I am stuck between both sides of the fence here. In a lot of Twilight fanfiction, the authors characters are nothing like those in the book and the plot is completely different. The only way to actually identify it as fanfiction, are by the character names. A fanfic about Edward as a gay crack addict, would not be recognised as fanfiction, if the names were different. Just because the same names are used doesn’t mean they have the same personalities as SM’s characters. That’s why part of me doesn’t see anything wrong with publishing fanfiction, If the plot is good and origninal. However, I decided not to by the Fifty Shades series, for a few reasons. The first being, I read the story as fanfiction when it was MoTU and i now picture those characters as those who played the twilight cast ( Rob and Kristen etc). Reading the same story but with different characters, holds no interest for me. The second is the cost. I by no means begrudge paying for an authors work, but i found the price very steep for something I’ve already read for free, and that’s been published by an otherwise unknown, unestablished author. I’m also cautious of her view of the fandom. I have not ever seen any evidence of some of the things being said about her, but i would be disappointed in someone… Read more »
Athena Grayson

If you’re going to post extreme AU fanfic, that’s fine. But when you get ready to publish something, let’s see you do it from scratch, without the fanfic crutch. Start brand-new, unique characters in unique situations. Make the original fic unrecognizable from the fanfic. Sure, shout it from the roof tops to your fannish friends, if you like, but don’t put it out there *as* fanfic, then pull it and use the fandom to boost your rankings.

Toia
Toia

Last week when the article was published in the New York Post I emailed my creative writing professor because I wanted to discuss it in class. The general consensus in my class was that they felt there where ethical issues not only with the writer but also with the publisher. I took it to my class because I am a member of the fandom so I thought maybe my opinion was skewed. But after a lengthy discussion we largely agreed with a lot of what has been said by previous post. There is an ethical issue.

My Professor had a very clear stance on the subject. She flatly said it was stealing. No matter how you edited it. She now very interested in fanfic and will be spending spring break researching in.

I quess in the end of the day we all have our opinions but these authors have answer the question if they feel comfortable with their actions. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable co-opting the fandom for monetary gain.

Ash
Ash

TOIA!
Thank you. I love that you brought this up to some unbiased participants. Their reactions are very interesting. As people with not a lot of vested interest in the subject–unlike published authors or readers & writers of FF–it’s refreshing to see an ethical consensus on the matter.

Ash
Ash

To say these FF stories that have been turned into saleable works are nothing like the source material is such a fallacy. Whether one writes Edward as canon or writes him as a human, domineering CEO, we all take our inspiration and source material from the same place. We “borrow” the author’s property in good faith. We use it, build a house, live and play there for awhile. But that land is not ours. We do not own it, and we definitely shouldn’t be selling it no matter how much we disguise it. Sure, we can try to sell it, but that doesn’t make it right.

Perhaps someone should take these FF writer’s own stories make the characters inhuman, and rework their stories and sell them. I wonder if the shoe was turned how they would feel about it?

Anyone up for Vampire Christian who likes pain? Or Homeless Alien Blake from Poughkeepsie? Maybe Demon Gabriel Professor?

Fiona Ingram
While I am eternally grateful to Stephenie Meyer for kickstarting my YA daughter’s fledgling reading habits into full-blown book lover, I think ‘crazes’ are shortlived in the writing world. Fans can lose interest if a new writer, or a piggy-back writer does not offer something fresh and novel. I bought my daughter a second batch of vampire-inspired romances and she read them. When I offered her yet another writer’s series, she said, “No, thanks, they’re all the same now.” She asked me to buy her “Angela’s Ashes” and “Tis,” both highly intellectual compared to Bella and Edward’s antics. She then asked for “War Horse.” My point: even popular original writers have to create fresh appealing material that they invent themselves. Somone who cribs from a successful writer will run out of steam sooner or later. Or else they will cross a legal line called plagiarism. In the e-publishing world the problem of poor quality work is enormous, just because it’s too easy to cobble together something popular. I think as the e-book revolution stabilises, readers will start becoming more choosy. Good luck to the instant e-book millionaires, but I wonder how they will fare when their source of ideas runs dry because clearly they haven’t much creativity inside themselves to start with. Another point is this: anyone who wants to be considered a serious writer should take heed of what top agents and publishers feel about ‘same-as’ books. After the Harry Potter phenomenon I read quite a few agents’ blogs… Read more »
Jane
Jane

Thankyou for this thoughtful post. A borrowed fan base so true, but is that how it so often goes.
Could there be another definition of originality for a few? For me it’s about what I get to take away from a story. I want a writer to make me understand more about our human condition- make me smart about things I’m not imaginative enough to ‘get’.
I can see as you say all the plot similarities and that common themes were played with, extrapolated here – there exist in the world few basic themes to play with ? But the whole feel of the 2 stories and what I took away from Twilight & Motu were worlds apart- could not possibly have been more different. Twilight; wonderful, so well done, the heady addiction of 1st romance- sexual tension so very vivid. Isolation, loneliness – but not defined in any way I could use.
Motu/50SoG- a truthful also vivid insight but into the well hidden mind and experience of real people we deal with every single day in our world. People who live silently with an awful legacy of suffering. I have learnt something that I can draw on now. Same as ‘The Line of Beauty’- opened up the isolation of homosexuality for me for 1st time. Again love, suffering and isolation.

AE
AE
The idea of “betraying” the fandom by using common words and phrases is interesting. I think this is pretty spot on in a lot of ways. Again, I write for the fandom and have also written other original works. When writing the original pieces I feel a need to remove some of the habits I formed as a FF writer. These habits are common words or phrases, most originally pulled from the initial books (the lip biting is one, Edward pinching his nose, expensive and fast cars, Italian food, Edward’s possessive and domineering behavior, etc.) These are little “tells” inside the fandom that invoke a feeling or reaction simply by using a word or description. We know what these things imply and we react to it appropriately. There is also a developed standard of manipulating these original ideas to common alternate fic ideas (living in Seattle instead of Forks, Edward being an OLDER possessive domineering jerk, Bella being a student, writer, teacher.) These are our fanfic norms. It’s cheating and lazy in a way, but all in good fun. Inside the fandom. I am a huge believer in the spirit of fanfiction. I love it. I think it is so much fun and a great way to work out some mental frustration with characters or explore ideas BASED off of someone else’s creation. The one reason I think twific is so popular is because the original books are fairly flawed, even though we all became obsessed with them. These flaws… Read more »
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[…] If you are interested in pursuing the fan fic question around Fifty Shades of Grey further, here is a good post and thread by PNR author Jamie Gold. […]

Jen DeSantis
Hi, Jami. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful blog post on a touchy issue right now. I started writing fanfic, in the Twilight fandom, about two years ago. I truly don’t think that I would have had the guts to try and write original fiction had I not practiced with some well-loved characters first. So I’m very grateful to Ms. Meyers for allowing me to play with her characters in that venue. It saddens me that I’m seeing so many members of our fandom come here and say that this is just a personal attack on Ms. James. The truth of the matter is that James has become the poster-author for this issue because her story has become so successful. Yes, we are using FSoG to talk about it more because it is the book that everyone knows; that doesn’t limit it a personal attack on the author. For me, the issue has never been in question: profiting off of something that was posted as fanfic is unethical. Period. As an author, I know that we take our inspiration from literally everything that we soak in as human beings. It’s nearly impossible for someone to claim anything as completely original. What is different about gathering inspiration from many and varied source and fanfic is that fanfic is derived from one source material. That’s the very nature of the beast. It’s why we come back to read about Edward’s bronze hair and Bella’s blush.… Read more »
elusivetwilight
Jumping into this with both feet, hope the water is nice! I read the original MOTU fanfiction to a point. And it did not surprise me in the slightest when she published it. She enjoyed her fandom ‘perch’. Her choice to publish nauseated me. Much as it nauseated me when Sylvain Reynard pulled to publish his own work. As I recall, SR was very blatantly honest after pulling to publish that fanfiction was an experiment to see how successful he would be. That attitude is just so full of WRONG WRONG WRONG to me. How dare you take advantage of the free feedback fandom willingly gives you? How dare you allow fandom to hold your hand and give you real time feedback as you write your book? And then to pull it from fandom and expect that same support when you publish it? Disgusting. That sort of arrogance (imho arrogance…) makes my skin crawl. But who is the mug here? Is it the fans who have willingly given feedback but see none of the royalties as the P2P author laughs all the way to the bank? I find it all very shady. And. As a fanfic author myself, I would feel really gross knowing my first outing as an author, big or small, was in some way not entirely mine. I would feel incredibly embarrassed if those characters/plot/etc were even remotely someone else’s idea. (see: Russett Noon by Lady Sybilla and Cassandra Claire’s HP fanfic now the Mortal Instruments series…)… Read more »
KN
KN

Jami, thanks for taking the time to moderate this discussion. It’s an issue I struggled with when I started writing fanfiction. I view fanfic as an apprenticeship–a place to sharpen my skills and find out how people respond to my ideas (and the executions thereof).

I made the personal decision that I would do everything possible to keep my fanfic separate from my future original fiction. There will be no crossover in storylines, author names or promotion. The fanfic characters and universe belong to the original author (to whom I am extremely grateful–she graciously allows us to play in her sandbox with her toys). As a guest in her world, I try hard to be respectful of her work and that includes not infringing on her right to monetary income from the use of her characters. My storylines are definitely AU, but if the author chose to exert her rights and used them, I would be the first to cheer her on.

Fanfiction is a gift the authors grant to their readers. Those of us who write fanfiction have a duty and a responsibility to understand that it is a gift, and treat it with the respect and honor it deserves. Otherwise, I can see a future where no author will allow fanfiction, and the stories we enjoy now will be lost.

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[…] When Does Fan Fiction Cross an Ethical Line? […]

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[…] my last post about the ethics of fan fiction, some of the comments from the fanfic community didn’t understand this point.  Most (if not […]

Lori M. Lee

Is it ever acceptable for a fanfic author to make money on their fanfic writings?

Unless it’s for charity, NO. Absolutely not. Fandom has been known to put together auctions of fanfic and fanart in order to raise donations for various relief organizations, which I think is great. But fanfiction for one’s own profit is NEVER okay.

There was this disturbing trend of fanfic writers taking fanfic commissions in order to make an extra buck–the same fanfic writers who put disclaimers at the beginning of their stories saying ‘These characters do not belong to me, I make no profit from writing this.’

Riiiight. *headdesk*

In short, I like this post 🙂

Sharon Slade Jackson
Sharon Slade Jackson

Weighing in on this conversation very late, so please excuse. But doesn’t this suggestion of selling fanfic to raise money for charities just force the charities to take money that has been collected in underhanded/unethical ways? Perhaps the word “force” is a bit strong, but donating money to a charity that has been earned through questionable means, especially if the writer can then count that donation as a tax break (which possibly some of them can, I don’t live in the US so I wouldn’t know), uses the charity as little more than a money launderer, IMO. Something to ponder.

Camaro
Camaro
Seems to me that this story has deeply polarized people. You either love it, as in SQUEEEEEING about it to everybody and their aunt, or you hate it. And then there are some like me who firmly fall in between. I tell everybody who asks about this series that I have a complete love/hate relationship with these books. There are things that I found really enjoyable and things that completely annoyed me. Incidentally, I find the P2P topic fascinating because of my own roots as a fanfiction writer (for a completely different fandom). I do have to say that I find the reasoning of the people who claim that these books have “nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do with Twilight” quite naive. I read FSoG knowing that the book used to be Twific and I could definitely tell. I recognized the Twilight ensemble of characters quite easily, hell I recognize a LOT of other things quite easily. It is surprising that at this point no one (that I know of) has bothered to really connect the dots and prove how the stories are similar. Seems like the logical thing to do. This is my humble attempt as I am tired of people not seeing it for whatever reason. – both Edward and Christian were adopted. – both Edward and Christian have a deep, dark, dangerous secret that no one is privy to, except for the heroine and by extension us – both Edward and Christian are rich and more sophisticated than… Read more »
Diana
Diana

Camaro: wow, indeed! The ones that say it’s totally different are totally deluded. I haven’t read it but find your analysis quite enlightening. In some cases James didn’t even change the initial of the names! now talk about shameless!

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[…] And speaking of genres, here’s a batch of genre-specific posts. My Summer Girl explains why teen fiction is NOT inferior; Novel Novice shares the magic of middle grade; Jay Kristoff defines steampunk; and Jami Gold asks, when does fan fiction cross an ethical line? […]

fanny
fanny
This is such an interesting debate. I’m not an author of fan fiction but I’ve read hundreds of them. There are a lot of stories in the Twi-fic world in which the plot is really creative and has barely anything to do with the original Twilight story. Some of them could be considered original stories if it wasn’t for the use of the characters’ names. But in my opinion, MOTU is definitely not one of those stories. One of the things that attracted me to this fic were the parallelisms between the original characters, the original Edward and Bella, and the ones in the fic. They’re human. They’re not in Forks. There are not vampires or warewolves in MOTU. But the simmilarities in their personalities are there and some of Edward and Bella’s traits inspired the fic. Edward’s complicated past makes him a tortured soul who considers himself unworthy of love. Bella is a normal girl, shy, a virgin, who meets Edward and feels connected to him and is always capable of seeing beyond his flaws because she loves him completely. The question is: Can this description be applied to both Twilight and MOTU? In my opinion, the answer is yes. So the facts that the story deals with a BDSM topic or that the locations are changed don’t make it an original work. Characters already created are being used again. Those characteristics are there and were basically the ones that inspired the story so you can’t claim your story… Read more »
Bones
Bones

My question:
How different is FSoG from the porn spoofs?
Look at SPACE NUTS (referenced by The 40 Year Old Virgin): A ridiculous explicit take on Mel Brook’s SPACE BALLS, which was a goof on STAR WARS, which was a retelling of a little known Kurosawa movie.
Okay, so maybe Princess Hubba Hubba is a long way off from Yuki. But to be fair, Christian Grey is no Mr. Darcy.
But are folks really so angry that FSoG got published? Or is the issue that it’s popular?
I don’t see this much buzz about about “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” or “A Clockwork Orgy.” (I’m not making these up. Seriously. They exist.)
Derivative porn has been around for ages. Why the upset now?

Lotta

Thank you Jami for a really good and interesting discussion!

Pavarti K Tyler

I agree with you on every point. I think publishing fanfic is a really difficult thing and generally completely unethical. The publishing house you’re talking about has sent me a number of books to review as a blogger and with one I could smell the fanfic in the first 2 pages.

The flip side is I’m considering putting one of my stories out. It’s a Jacob/Bella AU AH story with them as adults. I wrote it as an OF but the writing community I had at the time was Twilight Fanfic so I put it there. I believe it’s strong enough as it’s own creature to publish, however, out of respect for the fanfic community I’ve decided it will be available free and any profits that may be made will be donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand (the charity Fandom Gives Back uses).

If you’d be interested in reading in (short – only 30k words or so) I’d love to have your input as I make this decision.

Addison
Addison

It’s always nice to see someone profiting off Stephenie Meyer fans. The ‘borrowed’ elements are far from subtle and I’m completely dumbfounded that she is getting away with this. How pathetic. She didn’t even bother to change the location.

Not to mention that it is a completely unrealistic, poor, and all around disgusting depiction of true BDSM relationships and scenarios. It’s insulting to people that actually participate in the lifestyle. I’ve been a submissive for many years, and I’ve spent time in a contracted relationship and it is not something to be treated as a disease, or practiced only by those with a dark past, as the author makes it out to be. She portrays it as something shameful, and that is ridiculous.

This story was a joke as fanfiction, and even more so now that people are supporting her blatant plagiarism. His name may be Christian Grey here, but really he’s just Edward Cullen with a riding crop, because that’s exactly what this started out as.

She used the fans, she used SM, and that is all there is to it. You can argue this until the end of time, her fans will simply say that we are jealous of her success. No, I am appalled that someone could be this disturbingly unethical and immoral. Period.

Wonderful post, by the way.

T
T

Two things that I find interesting as a member of the fandom and a once-avid fanfic reader:

1. I’ve seen more articles, blog posts, tweets, etc about her ethics (or lack thereof) than her talent as a writer or the quality of her book. Way to jump into the ultra competitive world of publishing!! If this black mark is ever erased from her reputation, I will spend the $30 on her paperback, even though I read it for free 2 yrs ago. (likelihood? slim to hell no!)

2. Instead of understanding that everyone has different tastes in books and is entitled to their own opinion, her stans attack on one of 2 fronts (the only 2 legs they can stand on, frankly): you’re either jealous of her success if you’re not begging for Christian to tug your tampon out, or you’re all for keeping a new female writer down (see Jennifer Weiner). Or they mix it up and accuse you of both. Acclaimed authors have to praise/rec every female author even if the books suck? Those stans are embarrassing-they blindly seek and attack. Their namedropping and asskissing are doing Icy’s rep as, well, icy no favors at all. Their automatic defending of a book that other (award-winning, respected) authors have bashed (on merit) gives the fandom (once a happy, fun environment) yet another bad name.

C
C
First off, let me just commend you for taking on this war. You might not have been privy to the hellacious battlefield that this has become in the Twi fandom, but you most certainly are now. (As an aside, I try to stay away from the minefield and the negativity it promotes, but good gracious, it’s everywhere these days.) Secondly, I’d like to say that it’s a welcomed reprieve to get a non-biased, outsider’s perspective on this matter. As a fandom community member since early ’08- both FF reader and sometimes writer- I often have wondered what the opinion of others outside of our three-ring circus would think about all of this hoopla. I thought your argument, as well as your comment replies, was respectful and accurate. Honestly, I have no horse in this race (she’ll continue to make her money, people will continue to argue the ethical-or lack thereof- high ground, repeat), and mostly find the dramatics of it all unwarranted, but I do have my opinions. Many times, I’ve seen fanfiction authors put disclaimers on their fanfiction stories. It was presented somewhat along the lines of “DISCLAIMER: All the characters, plot, settings, and blah blah blah belong to S.Meyers. No copyright infringement intended.” It’s been many years since I attempted to read MotU and I don’t recall if she ever put a disclaimer on it, but the point I’m trying to make is that most FF authors recognize that no matter how “original” or incomparable their work is… Read more »
Lea
Lea

First of all thank you for putting it so eloquently, it has been said over and over, at some point I hope someone listens.

I never liked this fanfiction, it was poorly written and the British sounding Americans to this day makes me shudder a bit.

I do not agree with pull to publish at all. 50 Shades for instance is word for word still the fanfiction, so that means the character formerly known as Edward, is still controlling with a touch of OCD, he still has green eyes, still unruly “copper” hair. At least brown with reddish streaks. The girl formerly known as Bella is still clumsy, has dark brown eyes, and brown “boring hair”, yes all Twilight fanfiction use that phrasing… directly from the Twilight book.

You’re taking someone else’s characters, characters the original author put their heart and soul into and making a profit.
It’s morally wrong, even though you can’t prove theft, to me it is.

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