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About fanfiction: it’s more complicated than it seems

Previously on Zanna Garrick, I mentioned mentioned fanfiction as something fans could try if they weren’t 100% satisfied with a story and wanted to give it their own twist. I’ve never wrote fanfiction myself, but I’ve read quite a few pieces, and some of them were actually good.

My favorite one? A piece on an Italian fanfiction website about Sailor Mars/Rea falling in love with Motley Crue bassist. It impressed me because, instead of presenting a low-conflict “slice of life” setting as I’ve seen done pretty much everywhere, the author had put Rea and Nikki through a fair amount of trouble. Unfortunately enough, she never finished the story, but I enjoyed reading it while it lasted.

Since it has never really been my jam, I’ve never taken fanfiction seriously and I’d never thought about it as a legal issue: I saw it as a free fan expression that remained confined on websites, and that could be forever ignored by the author of the real story. But like pretty much everything in this life, it’s more complicated than it seems.

The amount of fanfiction out there combined with the shortening of the perceived distance between content creators and fans (thank you, social media) has made it so that many authors came to know about fanfiction inspired by their stories. Some of them, such as G.R.R. Martin, don’t want their creation to be handled by anyone else than themselves (then why don’t you finish it yourself, George?).

Some others, such as J.K. Rowling, approve fan-fiction. The mother of Hogwarts and Harry Potter has declared that she finds fanfiction about her own opera entertaining, as long as it’s not done for profit. I have to say I’m quite surprised by her open-mindedness on the matter and wonder if she tolerated any possible tweak to her stories, but I guess we’ll never know. Moreover, I’ve already spent enough words on her.

The position of Rowling about fanfiction, anyway, seems to be shared by many other content creators, and this is what allows fanfiction websites to thrive. But what happens if a fanfiction author wants to publish and sell it? You probably already knew, but I found out about it only as I researched for this article and I was surprised to know that Fifty Shades of Grey was born as a Twilight fanfiction.

The legal aspect of fanfiction is quite complicated. Under Italian law, what seems to be important for a published fanfiction piece is the consensus from the author of the original opera: if it’s missing, then it’s a copyright violation. United States law explicitly introduces the concept of derivative work: a work that consists of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations or other modification which represent an original work of authorship. If fanfiction is classified as derivative work, then it’s allowed as long as the author abides by the copyright laws of the original work and doesn’t violate the doctrine of fair use. Which, more or less, equals to have consensus from the author of the original story or to change it enough to make it “yours”.

I’ve asked the same question to a bunch of fellow writers and they all seem to agree on the fact that they’d allow fanfiction on their own operas. Many of them agree with the “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” philosophy (and I agree with it). I also received a few negative answers: someone told me that they see their work as belonging only to themselves, while for someone else the refusal is motivated by a kind of anxiety about reception of their own work.

In general, anyway, I received way more “yes” than “no” as an answer, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the majority of people who answered belong to the indie authors community.

What about me? Well, I think it would feel good to have people inspired by my work, and I’d be so curious to see how my work inspired other writers. As I wrote “We Gotta Get Out” I realized there were a few spots where I thought I could have made things happen in a different way, and I’d like people to do the same. I think I’d also love to help and participate in the developmental phase if the author needed/wanted my help.

My only request would be an easy and easily verifiable one: credit me as the creator of the original story. Vanity, after all, is my favorite sin.

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