Friday, June 29, 2012

The Legality of Fanfiction a Grey Area?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the legality of fanfiction after the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey which originally was written as Twilight fanfiction under the title of Master ofthe Universe. In truth the legality of fanfiction has been argued for much longer than that, but with Fifty Shades success I feel this talk has grown. Some feel that any use of another’s characters is copyright infringement, that fanfiction is stealing from another author’s hard work. I however think differently.
There are ways to use another author’s characters and even their entire story, re-write them as your own and still have it be legal to sell. How moral or ethical this is varies by opinion. The best example of this is a parody. The Hunger Pains is a parody of The Hunger Games, Nightlight is a parody of Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Earl Grey is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. These books take the work of the original author and basically make fun of it. We know they’re based off another’s work, that’s the joke. Personally I don’t like parodies when it's so obvious they're mocking a particular book. I find them to be disrespectful and un-enjoyable reads, but they are perfectly legal to create and profit from. There are some fun reads out there that make fun of overused concepts and those can be quite entertaining.
Fanfiction is writing using another author’s characters to explore one’s own ideas. Works of fanfic are done out of admiration and appreciation for an author and their work. The goal is to create a story with characters that are recognizable as another author’s, have them act in ways that are believable to that character but put them in a setting or storyline that is your own creation. They are created for entertainment and not for profit. Fanfic is important because it allows fans to connect and share ideas. It encourages interest in a particular author or book, or TV series to grow.
I think there are a lot of authors out there who started writing, and grew their skills writing fanfic, then decided to write their own stories and created wonderful books. And then, there are some who took their fanfic stories down from sites they had them posted at to change the names of their characters and publish them as their own work. Again, how moral and ethical this is varies by opinion, and also varies by how extensively the published work is from the original piece of fanfiction. Karen A. Wyle made a blog post a short while ago on Twilight, Fifty Shades, and Copyright Law which seems to suggest that what E.L. James did in creating Fifty Shades of Grey is perfectly legal as well as ethical. It is a persuasive read.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with fanfiction. I used to write some myself. I support it and would hate to see anyone try to make it illegal. However, my thoughts get a little more muddled when I see an author post a story as fanfiction (Master of the Universe); a form of writing that usually includes a disclaimer which says the following is for entertainment purposes only and that the characters do not belong to them, and then takes that same piece of work, changes little to it and then tries to sell it as their own original work (Fifty Shades of Grey). Write fanfic, write your own original pieces, be inspired by other authors and their characters. But, don’t take something and call it one thing, and then turn around and call it the complete opposite of what it was originally without changing it.

I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, however from what I understand it has barely been changed from its original work as a piece of Twilight fanfiction, which should have been written for entertainment purposes only. I would have preferred for E.L James to have published Fifty Shades as hers without posting it as fanfic first. Or, had she taken that fanfic story and changed it in a way in which Fifty Shades no longer could be confused with her fanfic piece I would feel like there isn’t any controversy here. (In other words had it been less than 89% the same as the fanfic story (Dear Author
) But she didn’t, which leaves me feeling like maybe there are some issues with how she went about getting this book published.
Her fanfic story was obviously AU (Alternate Universe) and James did create a lot of her own material in creating it, but I feel she didn’t go about things in the right way when it comes to truly making this her own work. She wrote her characters to be Edward and Bella. That was the point when she wrote it as fanfiction, I find it wrong if she did nothing but changes their names and then call them hers. There have been many who’ve said her characters in Master of the Universe and in turn Fifty Shades of Grey do not resemble Bella and Edward well, but they were still written to be such originally.
Fifty Shades of Grey could be considered transformative work in the eyes of some, and it may be considered stealing in the eyes of others. Personally my opinion is that it’s not stolen, it is a piece that was inspired by Twilight and should be considered transformative. However, the way E.L James gained a following by originally posting it as a Twilight fanfiction story bothers me, and may be the reason I choose not to read this book.