Fanfic, for those who don’t know, is when fans write new works featuring copyrighted characters and settings created by another author, generally without permission of the copyright owner.1 So, for example, if I write a short story featuring Harry Potter or set on the Starship Enterprise (or featuring Harry and the Enterprise), that would be fanfic.
Fanfiction can hurt writers and here’s how — sod money, money has nothing to do with it, this is a totally emotional argument.
If other people can take my characters and my universe and write their own things about them, wrong (and it’ll always be wrong, to me, because I know what wasn’t in the story and they can’t) while I’m alive and don’t want them to (dead is different, this is about the inside of my head and my creativity, which won’t be an issue when I’m dead), then I’m not safe to let my stories and my characters out there because they might be desecrated. The thought of it makes my throat close up. Just reading this here and thinking about it will probably stop me writing any more today.
If I’m not safe to publish, I won’t.
That might not hurt anyone except me, and the other writers who feel this way. There are probably quite sufficient writers who don’t feel this way that there would still be books. But there definitely wouldn’t be any more of mine.
I’m sorry that Jo Walton feels that way, and if I wrote fanfic I would definitely refrain from writing any featuring her characters or settings.
However, some writers are deterred from writing by the prospect of criticism. But I don’t think anyone would say that therefore criticism should be discouraged, or argue that this is a good reason for criticism to lack legal protection. That some writers are hurt by the prospect of reader response, in whatever form, is unfortunate, but not a reason to outlaw the response.
(Please note that for all I know, Jo Walton thinks fanfic should be fully legal and as protected as any other writings. I have no idea what her opinion on fanfic and legality is.)
Now, those who want fanfic to be illegal, but criticism to be legal, might respond that criticism serves some valuable functions, and I agree. But I don’t think criticism serves any function that fanfic doesn’t also serve, albeit in different ways.
- I’m sure someone out there has written a definition with fewer holes in it. [↩]