Fanfiction is a subject of contention among the writing community. Many vehemently hate it and consider it to be a desecration of the author’s original intent and copyrighted works. Many people hate it because there are so many fanfictions that are just poorly written garbage, and to be fair, most of them are pretty terrible. Others believe that it’s a harmless creative outlet for die-hard fans who have fallen so in love with the universe and characters created by an author that they can’t get enough and continue to explore the story/characters on their own. Isn’t inspiring the imagination of others with your work a form of flattery? A lot of fanfiction greatly deviates from the source material to the point of being almost unrecognizable from the author’s original fiction (aside from some names, physical descriptions, and settings), but the author’s original work is still what set off that spark of inspiration that caused them to write that story in the first place. Many modern original fiction authors actually cut their teeth by writing fanfiction first.
So what do I think of fanfiction, and what is my personal policy on it?
Fanfiction is an interesting topic for me. I don’t entirely love or hate it. It’s got its good points and its bad.
1. Questionable quality?
(Con) Most of it is very poorly written, but that’s because most of it is written by young writers. VERY young writers. Most fanfic writers are in their teens and tweens.
(Pro) But this same point is also good because, think about it, these very young people may have NEVER discovered their passion for writing if not for trying their hand at fanfiction first. Perhaps they write a few fanfics and discover they love writing. Perhaps they start tinkering with ideas for their own original works. Becoming a good writer takes practice, and we all have to start somewhere; and like it or not, fanfiction has helped many budding writers develop their craft.
2. Intellectual property?
(Con) If you’re a writer, the stories you create are your babies. You don’t want to see someone steal your baby, give it a bad haircut, dress it up like a clown and parade it down the street. For some writers discovering that someone wrote fanfiction inspired by their work feels just like that – like someone has stolen their baby and done something terrible to it.
(Pro) Here’s the thing; most fanfiction will NEVER be as beloved or as well-known as the original work. No one, and nothing, can officially change an author’s already published story, except for the author or someone who has been given the author’s consent to contribute to their work. That’s called canon. For example, no matter HOW many people write Harry Potter fanfiction, they cannot change that the seven original books written by J.K. Rowling are THE official books. How she wrote her story is the canon, anyone who takes inspiration from her work and writes something that does not comply with her canon is not going to be able to erase or alter what has already been made by J.K. because they are not the author. Fanfic writers can add to a storyverse; they can never take away.
(Con) But what if someone steals the idea from the author and they get rich and famous? Look at E.L. James. Everyone knows Fifty Shades of Grey started as a Twilight fanfiction, and to publish it legally, she just changed the names and a few details, and BOOM, she made more money than Stephany Meyers. What if someone rips off your idea/story and only makes a few changes to skirt the law and gets away with it?
(Pro) To avoid copyright infringement, one must ensure that their work is “transformative” in nature. Someone may take their original inspiration from an author’s story, but if they want to make it their own, they have to change it enough to where it can legally count as its own thing, and it’s not as easy as changing some names and character descriptions. There usually has to be changes to the premise and plot so that it no longer resembles the author’s original work. For example, there are no vampires or werewolves in Fifty Shades of Grey, now are there? That’s a pretty major change because the paranormal aspects of Twilight serve as the premise for the entire series, but all that is missing from Fifty Shades. Fifty Shades was made different enough to become its own original story, regardless of where or how the author received her inspirational spark.
(Con) What if someone writes fanfiction of your work and they’re illegally making money off your copyright? This happens. I have seen fanfiction writers who have their own Patreons, and people pay them to write fanfiction. It would seem to me that something like that SHOULD be illegal because they’re profiting off another person’s copyrighted work, even if they are making changes. Fanfiction should be non-profit and for fun only.
(Pro) While some people do illegally profit from others’ works, MOST fanfiction is written entirely as a not-for-profit creative outlet. Some polite, or at least somewhat legally savvy fanfic writers, will even put a legal disclaimer saying something along the lines of: “I do not own NAMEOFWORK. All works belong to their respective owners, and I make no profit from this story.” They’re basically covering their asses and saying, “Look, bro, this was just for fun. I’m not making any money off this shit. Don’t sue me, man.” And if they really are writing just for fun, and they really aren’t making any money off it, I don’t see the problem with it.
In conclusion, I know there are some authors or publishing houses out there that will relentlessly hunt down fanfic writers and sue them until you starve and die, even if they’re not making a dime or trying to claim the author’s copyright as their own, but to be honest, I don’t like that shit. As long as you’re not doing any harm, I will not come after you for writing fanfiction based on my work. If anything, I would be HONORED! I would LOVE it if people wrote fanfiction based on any of my stories. I would be SOOO flattered. I really would. Even if your story is wildly different from anything I’ve written and goes waaaay off-canon, I won’t even mind because knowing that I inspired you to write, or that my story meant THAT much to you, is the ultimate compliment to me. Have you written a fanfiction? Send me a link! I’ll read that shit. I will gobble it up! I don’t care how weird, gay, or kinky it is or how inexperienced you are as a writer. If you’ve been inspired by my work enough to write a fanfic, I will love it.
If you want to write any fanfiction based on my work, all I ask is that you adhere to my policy below:
- Do not steal my work and present it as your own. Do not claim that you are me or take credit for my original works. If you are writing a fanfiction inspired by my work, please acknowledge that I, J.M. Riddles, am the original story’s creator/copyright holder.
- Do not attempt to profit from my original work. You can write all the fanfics based on my work that you want for fun and for free, but don’t you dare monetize ANYTHING based on my copyrighted works.
- If you wish to write fanfiction based on any of my stories or characters, you are free to do ANYTHING you like with them. ANYTHING. You can write kinky shit. You can gay up all my characters. You can change the settings, physical descriptions, personalities; I don’t care. As long as you aren’t profiting or taking credit for any of the original canon work created by me, I don’t care. Have fun. Be dirty. Be weird.
- Please include an honest copyright disclaimer such as this one: “The rights to (insert original story title here) belong to J.M. Riddles. I make no profit from this work of fanfiction.”