There is currently a debate/flame war/storm in a teacup raging in certain quarters of the internet over fantasy author Diana Gabaldon's recent declaration of war on fanfic. Seeing this is a topic of major concern to writers and readers of fanfic, I thought I'd better nail my own colours to the mast. If you know what fanfic is and you don't care, you might as well stop reading now.
If you don't know what fanfic is, well, wikipedia has this to say: "... stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Fan fiction, therefore, is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore tend to presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based." And if you want to see what this means in practice, your first port of call is Fanfiction.net.
(For the record I am neither a producer nor a consumer of fanfic.)
What follows below is my [draft] policy on fanfic with respect to my own work.
A) I write for a living.
B) No, the characters in my stories are not real people, and I do not care if you want to write stories about them.
C) This doesn't mean I want to read your stories about my characters, however.
- Life's too short. (I have a multi-year backlog of reading; I do not read fast: and the fact of your having written fanfic about my characters is not, in and of itself, sufficient to give you a priority claim on my attention.)
- In any case, I have a surplus of Charlie Stross character fanfic of my own to write, KTHX.
- There is the perpetual paranoid author's worry that $FAN will show $AUTHOR a neat idea, $AUTHOR will write a book with the idea in it, and $FAN will sue $AUTHOR for plagiarism. It's about as likely as being hit by lightning, twice, but — no thanks. (Something similar has happened to J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown. I can happily live without lawsuits.)
- If for some reason I do want to read your fanfic, then bearing in mind point (3) above I may ask you to sign a waiver. No signature, no eyeballs.
D) Having said this, I do not mind you writing fanfic using my characters and sharing it with your friends unless you do so in a manner that fucks with my ability to earn a living.
What constitute "things that can fuck with my ability to earn a living"?
There is no exhaustive list, but in general anything that involves selling derivative works needs my explicit written permission first. And you should be aware that I might have to deny it if what's being sold clashes with derivative rights I've already licensed.
For example, I cannot license role playing game materials for the Laundry universe because Cubicle 7 has bought the exclusive rights to develop and sell a Laundry RPG. (I can put you in touch with Cubicle 7 so you can discuss it with them — who knows? They may like the idea of third-party RPG supplements — but I can't cut you a deal on something I've already sold.)
Again, if you want to make an amateur movie based on one of my stories, it stops being fine the instant you start trying to sell it, because that would stop me selling those movie rights. (And if you do something based on the Laundry, I'm afraid there are some dudes with an office on Beverley Hills Drive who have a lock on those rights for the next couple of years — and they have Hollywood lawyers.)
If you want to sell fanfic based on my work, you have three options:
- File off the serial numbers, rename the characters, and try to sell it as All Your Own Work. This is, believe it or not, neither illegal nor immoral and I have no problem with it as long as you don't try to market it on the back of my name and reputation.
- If you've got a commercial idea, drop me a line and we'll talk business. If your idea is viable (and doesn't want to make me gouge my eyes out with a rusty spork) I will be happy to discuss collaboration/sharecropping/licensing/co-marketing deals.
- If you are proposing to sell something for charitable purposes (e.g. auctioning a fanfic manuscript to raise money for a good cause) then, as long as the charity in question isn't something like the Royal Society For The Extermination of Strosses, I'll almost certainly say "yes" — but remember: it's polite to check with me first before leveraging my brand.