Fanfic for Fun and Profit

Posted by on May 22, 2013 in business of writing, copyright, writing | 6 comments

This just in:  Amazon is going to start selling fanfic, with royalties to be paid to both the author and the world-creator.  Color me… bemused?  Uncertain?  Confused?

Like many authors, I have an uneasy relationship with fanfic.  Although my first serious-to-me writing effort was a sequel to The Lord of the Rings (drafted when I was thirteen years old), I’ve never been serious about fanfic, and I’ve never participated in any of the many online communities dedicated to the craft.  As far as I know (and that’s the way I’d like to keep it), no one has created fics in my worlds.

As a lawyer, I’m not as rabidly anti-fanfic as most.  I understand the difference between copyright and trademark law, and the defense of estoppel (which applies to the latter, but not the former.)  While trademark owners can lose their marks if they don’t enforce against infringement, the same standard does not apply in copyright law.

Mostly, I just don’t understand the allure of fanfic.  I invest a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy, blood, sweat, tears, angst, etc. into creating my fictitious worlds.  I don’t understand the craving the pour all of that into someone else’s world.  It feels … like a cheat?  Like a waste?  Like…  A bunch of things that sound really negative, but I don’t actually mean them that way.  What I mean is, I don’t have the resources to do my writing and fanfic writing, and I don’t understand the investment some people make.

So.  I suspect that Amazon’s program is going to open the door for a lot of public discussion about fanfic.  It’ll add a lot of pressure to authors who have publicly demanded their work not be ficced.  It’ll raise some questions about plagiarism and continuity and, and, and…

Maybe I’ll go pop some popcorn.



  1. I’m…not sure what I think about this. On one hand, as someone who plays in a lot of roleplaying games based on other people’s work and then tries to write them up, you think I would be delighted. On the other hand, some of my best stuff comes from the work I had to do to file off the serial numbers, so to speak, on other people’s ideas.

    I certainly would be perfectly happy to have other people write fanfic stories in my universes…not that anyone is interested in doing that. 😉

    • Jagi – I would be intrigued by the aspects of my universe that ficcers found worthy of writing, but I would be very adverse to reading some fanfic set in my world. (Frex, I would not want to read sex scenes with my minor characters or animals…)

  2. I’ve never really done fanfic… And when I do, I don’t show people that work. I don’t think I agree with them getting paid for it. Also, it brings into question for the average reader which stories are cannon and which aren’t. I agree that if you want to post it online you should be able to, but without the authors permission to charge, you shouldn’t.

    • I would actually draw a pretty bright line at charging. As an author, derivative works created from my work have value. If a fanfic author receives payment for unlicensed work, I think that’s actually actionable in a court of law.

      (In the Amazon situation, it’s all licensed — the rightsholders (who may or may not be the authors of the original books; most of the properties were package deals where the books were works made for hire) are being paid, so I’m not at all worried about that.)

  3. So, what happens when published “fanfic” writers include plot developments in their stories which happen to be similar to something you were considering in the next official installment of the series? Can you be sued for plagiarism?

    As I recall, one author (I think it was either Todd McCaffrey or his mother, Anne) pointedly refused to accept plot suggestions from fans precisely because of fears over legal liability.


    Bob Shepard from Denver

    • There are at least two instances where authors were accused of plagiarism by fanfic authors — Marion Zimmer Bradley and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro both had (in)famous legal proceedings that were ultimately settled out of court. Yarbro, at least, reported that she lost a television or movie deal because of the confusion.

      I understand authors not accepting (in a formal fashion) plot recommendations. The situation is similar to the companies that publish board games, which will not review game submissions from outside designers, lest they be accused of infringing those designers’ work when they sell games that were developed in-house.