Back to: Party Election Broadcast | Forward to: We appear to have a hung parliament

FAQ: Fanfic

(Updated Dec 2016)

There is (2010) 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

(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.

  1. 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.)
  2. In any case, I have a surplus of Charlie Stross character fanfic of my own to write, KTHX.
  3. 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.)
  4. If I want to read your fanfic, then I might ask you to email me a waiver if it looks like I'm writing something in the same area. No waiver, no eyeballs. (But it's very unlikely.)

D) Having said this, I do not mind you writing encourage you to write fanfic using my characters and share it with your friends as long as you don't 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:

  1. 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.

  2. If you've got a commercial idea, drop me a line and we'll talk business. If your idea is viable (and doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spork) I will be happy to discuss collaboration/sharecropping/licensing/co-marketing deals.

  3. 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.
In summary: I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters — rather, I am a glittery and avaricious dragon who is jealous of his steaming pile of gold. If you do not steal the dragon's gold, the dragon will leave you alone. Offer to bring the dragon more gold and the dragon will be your friend.



Or to rephrase it in Python,

import CommonSense

I spoke to the chap who's doing the Laundry RPG for Cubicle 7 at the wonderful Conpulsion. Seems like a very nice guy, and I'm definitely getting the rpg (even though it'll surely be too trad for my tastes by now). I'm curious how they'll translate the powerlessness and overwhelming horror of normal Call of Cthulhu into the world of the Laundry, where the horrors, while real, seem decidedly manageable. Slumbering Ancient God From Beyond The Stars? There's an app for that.


I'm curious how they'll translate the powerlessness and overwhelming horror of normal Call of Cthulhu into the world of the Laundry, where the horrors, while real, seem decidedly manageable.

That's because you haven't read "The Fuller Memorandum" yet. (The Cubicle 7 guys got a very early preview ...) In Bob's universe, Things can only get better is a very bitter joke.


Do not understand fanfic at all, but this seems quite sensible.


I prefer Scalzi's version, but you appear to be on much the same page.


I think this all sounds extremely sensible, up to every little detail. In that exact way, I do not fully understand Diana Gebaldon's POV.

If someone writes fanfic, puts it on a fanfic website and for the rest plays by the Stross rules, why should she really care about it one way or the other? Let alone hammer on the law and all that?

This is not to argue with her. She can of course have any opinion she wants and in this case she has legal rights to back up that opinion too. But why the strong reaction to something that doesn't have to affect her?

Or has fanfic grown so big that many fans expect an author to respond to at least some parts of it?


The Laundry seems like reverse fan fic: what if I took my own characters and put them into someone else's head?


I know Charlie reads Scalzi's blog; so if I see him using my Lemming of the BDA idea for a Laundry novel, Eric Idle and I will sue him down to the ground. I, being Michael Palin (Mrs.) (Deceased) (RCVS) of course.


The Laundry seems like reverse fan fic: what if I took my own characters and put them into someone else's head?

Isn't that just fiction?


PrivateIron: eh?

(I do not "read" John's blog; I peep at it from time to time. Keeping up with it -- and the comments there -- would be a full time job.)


My commiserations - I didn't realise that the Society for the Extermination of Strosses had managed to get the coveted 'royal' prefix. Must have been a hot Friday afternoon in the Privy Council when they nodded that one through.


In summary: I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters — rather, I am a glittery and avaricious dragon who is jealous of his steaming pile of gold. If you do not steal the dragon's gold, the dragon will leave you alone. Offer to bring the dragon more gold and the dragon will be your friend.

Sweetie, I confess I have only stumbled here by the most random of happenstance, but this paragraph alone is enough to make me look for your books henceforth. (Well, okay, I was already borne along on a tide of good will by the excellent common sense of all your previous remarks pertaining to fanfic - but this sealed the deal. Eminently sensible.)

Oooh - and Wikipedia informs me that you're from Leeds! Well, there you are then - no wonder you're a sensible chap.

(Why yes, I am a Yorkshire lass - what gave it away?)


In shameless pander mode, I'll repost my advice here for how authors can nip fanfic in the bud:


Kate seems to think authors can’t stop fanfic, but she’s wrong.

There are several concrete steps that authors can take to discourage fanfic:

First, no maps. If you include a map in your book, you’re only going to encourage fans to write about the guy who discovered that ‘there be dragons,’ and the adventures of their dragonkin offspring.

Second, no genealogies. And especially avoid entries such as Lord Kieran, 23rd Marquis of the Dragonmarch.

Background factual details create – to borrow a legal term – an attractive nuisance. The worst offender by far in this regard was CJ Cherryh’s Angel With a Sword, and the subsequent Merovingen Nights shared world anthologies, which included appendices that detailed the setting’s geography, politics, flora and fauna, and technology.

Third, bring your C game. You want to write just badly enough that people don’t want to read your work, but not so bad that it encourages readers to do better. This is tricky, and requires an advanced mastery of the craft, but I know that you, dear author (by whom I mean any authors who may wind up reading this, and not necessarily our esteemed host in particular, who has a most rational attitude towards fanfic) , are eminently capable of pulling it off. If I may borrow an example from television, I’ll refer you to Cleopatra 2525, which, while better than it deserved to be, seemed primarily created so that Sam Raimi would have a ready supply of Sarge/Hel/Cleo slash fiction close at hand.


@ Jim

I knew that was one way to read the question, but I could not think of a better, succinct way to put it.

Charlie puts them (figuratively) into another author's head (e.g. Deighton's) as narrator. (They also go into the reader's head the old fashioned way, but that was not the point.) He is not borrowing characters and settings, though he may be parodying or imitating a few. However, he was borrowing a style/voice. I believe he has said that he is turning away from that conceit for subsequent tales in the series.

I just thought it was an odd parallel to the fan fic debate.


Charlie, what about writing fanfic? It's not unheard of for an author to take a liking to someone else's universe; I've recently ran into Steven Brust's Firefly novel and it was a highly enjoyable affair. I know that writing for money must take front stage to anything else, but weren't you ever, you know, tempted?

Incidentaly, that novel is online under a CC license, if someone is interested.


If anyone's interested in reading some good fanfic, I'd recommend Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.


Laur, I'm doing this for a living (writing). It's fun, but I need to pay the bills. If I ever get into a position where I have enough spare time to write fanfic (as opposed to blog entries) ... well, it'll be a first. Also, I have more ideas for my own stuff than time in which to write them.

Having said that, if I found something I realy liked I might reconsider ... but my first thought would be to ask the content owners if they're interested in me writing (official, authorized) tie-in material. And my second thought would be to take the bits I like, re-purpose them, add some stuff of my own, and mix something new.


I have always been irritated by the people who "know" that fanfic is "illegal". Largely because they're crazy.

They like to talk about copyright. Copyright subsists in the expression of an idea: the sequence and arrangement of words on the page. It also transfers to some derivatives of that expression: minor changes to the arrangement of words on the page don't make it go away. This is where copyright stops.

Copyright on characters does not exist. Copyright on ideas, settings, or plots does not exist. People like to point at things like Mickey Mouse - that's not a copyright on a character, it's a copyright on a drawing (and on any other drawings which are substantially the same). You can copyright a drawing, and control the use of that drawing. You can copyright a written description of a character, and control the use of that description. You have no copyright over other descriptions of that character not written by you, or stories written about them. You will find no laws or precedents that grant you any kind of copyright with respect to them.

Copyright on names only exists if the name involves a creative step. If you make a distinctive character and call it "Jim Black" then you don't have a copyright here, because you didn't do anything creative in coming up with that name. If you have a made-up name that is significantly creative and original then you may have some rights over it - but your lawyer's going to want to be paid in advance, because it's fairly thin ground.

So, what rights do you have? Why do we hear stories of lawsuits being pressed and won over such things? Firstly, there's the good old "settle and claim you won" tactic - a threat of a large and expensive lawsuit, from a large corporation to an individual, will usually make them fold because the corporation wins even if they lose; the cost of fighting the suit would bankrupt the individual. Secondly and more interestingly: you do have some trademark rights over characters and names.

Trademarks are not like copyright. They are not a right to exclusive control of everything to do with the trademark until the sun burns out. Trademark law is complex and varies depending on where you live, but the core of it is simple: it is illegal to do business in a way that passes off your product as being some other trademarked product. This is about naming and deception - you can't write and sell a book that claims to be "Charlie Stross's Laundry" without his permission. There is a specific requirement for your product to be misleading or confusing to your customers. If that doesn't happen, there's no trademark violation. (Whether a product is trademarked is highly specific to jurisdiction, but in most places there's no registration requirement)

Making an incidental reference to somebody else's characters in your story, or even a cameo appearance - probably not a trademark violation so long as it's not in the marketing material (but check with your lawyer first, this is complex and subtle!).

Writing any fanfic you like and putting it on some obscure webpage - not likely to violate anything, since it would be hard to make the case that anybody might be misled by this.

Anything that falls under Charlie's point D, particularly with respect to:

unless you do so in a manner that fucks with my ability to earn a living
  • that's probably going to be a trademark violation. Not guaranteed though; if you have a smart lawyer then you could come up with a book that fucks with his ability to earn a living while not breaking any actual laws. But that would be kinda mean.

The reason why this is suggested:

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.

Trademark is specifically concerned with naming and deception. If you change all the names, logos, and other identifying marks, and claim it's your own work, even if the ideas are blatantly copied, it's not a trademark violation - and as noted earlier, it's not a copyright violation so long as you aren't (substantially) copying actual words from the page. You don't actually need permission from anybody to do this.

Finally, some jurisdictions have "moral rights". This one is extremely specific: it is the right to be associated with your own creations, and to not be associated with things you did not create. In jurisdictions which have these rights (which notably does not include the US for literature, but does include most of Europe) then there are no circumstances under which you can claim or imply that Charlie wrote something unless either (a) he really wrote it, or (b) you have his explicit personal permission (not his descendants - moral rights aren't transferable). This is not normally relevant to fanfic, but it's another reason why you can't claim something is "Charlie Stross's Laundry" without his permission.

Now, Diana Gabaldon is just crazy. In particular that "Really. I'm not making it up; this is International Copyright Law." line is pure fantasy, as several people have pointed out in the comments there.

(Charlie's policy is basically sound, although his ability to enforce some parts of it would be limited - but that's fair enough, it's just a statement of what his position is going to be)


I'm not entirely sure I want to know the answer, but why is the dragon's pile of gold steaming?


I followed the link to Diana's blog post... oh my $gods. The vehemance people have about the issue is crazy. I think if perhaps the fan-fic writers of the world couched their arguments with a bit less... freaking out? would actually lead to dialogue instead of people yelling at each other.

If/when I'm ever in that position of having derivative works made from my own, I think I'll take Jim Butcher's stance on it to save myself the heartache.


In any case in your case fanfic is rather moot. I mean "I'm gonna write a really kinky scene involving Manfred Macx" isn't much of a threat as much as a insurmountable challenge to top the cannon text.


Gah! Attempting to read that screed with its USENET era pseudo markup and [g] (presumably "grin") peppering it everywhere to give lie to the idea this person is a , you know, real writer nearly made me gouge my eyes out etc etc (to borrow the style for fair-use "comedic" effect - lest her lawyers are crouching nearby - and point out that real writers know how to use language to say what they want in the way they want it to be read, and thus need no smileyface punctuation to defuse crappy style) .

I get that she(?) doesn't like fanfic happening and the whys of it, though her grasp of what people can and cannot do legally seems a bit litigation-heavy, legal-standing lite from the little I know of the lawsuit business (wife is terminally enmeshed in the US Law biz and sometimes wants to talk about it: I usually let her do so for about five minutes or until I get toothache, then offer to show her how to configure her own e-mail settings and she goes away).

This being the case, why doesn't The Author simply include a plain English statement to the effect that permission to use any of her characters or settings in any way, shape or form is expressly not granted to anyone in the endpapers of her books and save the blogspot bandwidth for useful, world-changing stuff like my blog?


Mr Suffield (17) has, I'm afraid, confused "the law is" with "the law should be" on how characters are (and are not) protected/protectable. Extending the problems to setting (e.g., completely unrelated new characters in the Outlander universe) is left as an exercise for the student.

(1) Characters are protected by copyright. See, e.g., Tarzan and Sam Spade. That these cases are mostly incoherent and often flat wrong is beside the point: They are the law in the US, and are often followed in the UK and Germany. (Less so in France, but that's primarily due to procedural quirks and the vastly greater presence of droit morale.)

(2) One need not literally reproduce a trademark to infringe it. The body of "trademark law" is a vast and rolling sea filled with various monsters (not to mention flotsam and jetsom). Literal reproduction is merely the most obvious and most commonly litigated variety of trademark infringement claim. "Passing off" (and its counterpart "reverse passing off") is only part of the picture.

Trademark (in its WIPO-era conception) is most emphatically not "specifically concerned with naming and deception." It is, instead, specifically concerned with the accurate representation of the quality and origin of goods and services; that is most commonly seen by the public in "naming and deception," but it extends well beyond that into tarnishment/disparagement (even when not objectively deceptive), among other areas.

(3) In a theoretical sense, pre-WIPO trademark law provides a more coherent and sensible explanation of what one can, and cannot, do in someone else's sandbox1 without explicit approval. Copyright law — and, in particular, copyright law prior to the 1976 Act (US), 1988 Act (UK), and the various 1970s and 1980s revisions in continental Europe — is intellectually unsatisfying as a theoretical framework. Nonetheless, for procedural reasons (differing types of evidence necessary, differing elements of the cases, and the scope of available remedies), copyright law has dominated actual litigation on these matters, and particularly did so in the US. That means that whether we like it or not; whether we think there's a better framework or not; whether we think the substance should be different or not; whether we think that different parties should have the right of decision or not — that's the law.

If I were building "a law of character protection" tabula rasa, it would look an awful lot like trademark law in substance and an awful lot like copyright law in procedure. We'd avoid nonsense like the mixed precedent and language in the Lexicon case, or (for that matter) the Seinfeld Aptitude Test and Twin Peaks controversies. (The less said about the implications of the various Naxos cases in the US, and the musical transcription cases in the UK and France, the better.) There would, in fact, be a noncommercial exception... which, contrary to the implication in Mr Suffield's piece, does not exist; it is, at best, a gate with a lot of holes in it that usually operates to limit remedies, not liability. Of course, I'd also consult a lot more authors and literary scholars on how to build such a law, instead of having it descend from law more properly applicable to replacement car parts.

That, however, is exactly what we do not have. There is no tabula rasa; I'm not sure there is even anything consistent enough to be called a tabula of any kind.

(4) Diana Gabaldon is not crazy. She may be overreacting. She may be doing things differently than we might prefer, or than we might see as in her best interest. Hell, she might very well know that herself... but she has no choice. One of the distinctions between copyright and trademark law is the "must defend" aspect of trademark law. If I see a copyright infringement of my work, I am allowed to laugh it off with no damage to the copyright itself — I won't lose the copyright if I don't defend it against each infringement of which I am aware.2 On the other hand, I can lose all mark ownership rights if I allow my mark to become "generic"; Xerox, for example, came perilously close to this for dry-process xerography ("Just go xerox this report, Johnson"). JK Rowling's books present an excellent example: Just read the copyright notice in HPHBP, or the complaint filed in the Lexicon suit.3

That's the real reason that Gabaldon and/or her lawyers and/or Hollywood creatures who hold options on her works are being so absolute: Proclaiming absolute lack of permission is good evidence of intent to defend a mark. In a sense, if she wishes to retain rights necessary for film transactions, she must be absolutist, and preferably an a preemptive manner.

(5) Finally, these things get ugly a lot more often than it might otherwise seem. Just because there isn't a written decision by a judge over the provenance of The Terminator doesn't mean there wasn't a lawsuit; and many times these things get settled without a lawsuit. In turn, that means that the law itself is simply not adapting to reality as quickly as it might or should. Unfortunately, under the rule of law as implemented in common law that's what we're stuck with... and believe me, the alternative to the rule of law (common law or otherwise) is worse.

(6) Last, and far from least, keep in mind that it's never "just the characters" that show up in fan fiction. There are always elements (sometimes greater, sometimes lesser) of the setting that show up; one can't write about Captain Kirk, or about Ensign Chekhov, without dragging the United Federation of Planets, phasers, communicators, and velour uniform shirts into it — even by implication, which is enough to create an issue under trademark law. Merely transplanting Captain Kirk to a Napoleonic-era frigate and watching him interact with Horatio Hornblower would still drag quite a bit of baggage along.

* * *

In short, it's just nowhere near as simple as Mr Suffield makes it sound. It might be nice if it was; there's some theoretical attraction to his position (although I think, on balance, that he's leaving too much out); but it simply does not explain Ms Gabaldon's behavior, or Marion Zimmer Bradley's behavior, or James Cameron's behavior, because they're all stuck in the very messy, largely incoherent real world.

1 For those on the eastern side of the Pond, this is an American term for knowingly writing derivative works created by someone else, regardless of authority/permission to do so. For example, when John Gardner wrote a James Bond novel, he was playing in Ian Fleming's sandbox. Maybe you already know this; I've had a few lifted eyebrows with this shorthand from European colleagues, though, so I'm explaining it in detail.

2 Contrary to various myths put about, copyright has never been a defend-it-or-lose-it right. Failure to defend against every known infringement might limit one's remedies, but it does not limit one's ownership.

3 It is not a coincidence that JKR's lawyers in that instance were actually Hollywood lawyers who represented Warner Brothers... the film licensee.


I think Charlie's position is not just well reasoned for today, but for tomorrow as well. If, as is possible, creative people will find it ever harder to make a living of the actual works and have to make a living off other things like appearances, spinoff's etc, fanfic is possibly going to be one of the media that creates the wider audience and increases the value of the creative person.

It is going to those sort of network effects that is going to propel Charlie from being a successful genre fiction writer into a bigger name, associated with movies, games, etc.


" 18:

I'm not entirely sure I want to know the answer, but why is the dragon's pile of gold steaming?"

Can I suggest something along the lines of dragon sized indoor plumbing is in short supply?


Your view strikes me as reasoned and moderate. It's all fun and games till somebody loses money.

I'm generally not much interested in reading fanfic; so little of it is of real literary merit. But there are exceptions. For example, I'm currently following "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality," which I actually enjoy more than I did Rowling's HP, quite apart from the whimsy of a HP who lucidly explains the sheer absurdity of quidditch as a sport. And for that matter, as a game master who has run campaigns based on a lot of books and even a televison series, I can't very well condemn the fanfic impulse.

But it occurred to me a few years ago that what we would now call "fanfic" has occurred a number of times in literary history. Ancient Greece had the nostoi, a series of epics written by people who thought Homer's story about Odysseus coming home from Troy was really cool and they'd tell the story of how somebody else came home from Troy. And practically all the Arthurian stories we know now were fanfic based on much less familiar Welsh originals, or so I understand; we have Lancelot because some French guy thought this Arthur was really cool and he ought to have a Frenchman at the Round Table, and of course a French knight would be better than anyone else. The drive to avoid fanfic at all costs is not necessarily a service to literary merit.

But I can understand why you might not want to read much of it. If I ever run a Laundry campaign I promise not to tell you stories of the PCs' adventures, whether face to face or online. . . .


In Bob's universe, Things can only get better is a very bitter joke.

Well, yes, I suppose the Bosch hell in that video is still a marked improvement over the seemingly inevitable fate faced by Bob's world.


What about getting paid indirectly for fanfic? Say by posting it to a blog and getting advertising revenue. Sounds like that would be within your rules as it doesn't directly affect your ability to make a living.


What about getting paid indirectly for fanfic?

Two answers:

  • Do not attempt to rules lawyer me. The rules are subject to change if I think you're deliberately winding me up.

  • If you don't own the ad-revenue-generating site (e.g. I have no problem with that. If you own the ad-revenue-generating site you're posting fanfic on but the revenue is strictly going on paying for the site, ditto. If you're turning a profit (hah! snort! wheeze! You slay me!) that'd be different.

  • Oh, and a third answer, taking a leaf from Jim Butcher's book: I'll look a lot more kindly on fanfic activities that are distributed under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, because that's an implicit disclaimer of intent to profit from it. Even if you're taking ads to help pay for your site.


    Mr Suffield is also, despite your slightly patronsing tone, entirely correct, as least as UK copyright and trademark law goes (I guess he's in the UK judging by the the rightness of his terminology). US and UK/EU law is surprisingly divergent for both copyright and trademarks, and it's unwise to assert that the rules of one apply to the other.

    I don't think I've ever heard of "literal reproduction" of a trademark: the test is similarity of the alleged infringing mark and the goods or service with those of the registration. TM infringement also has to be "in the course of trade", so commercial by definition. Copyright infringement requires actual copying of a substantial part of the work in question, so lifting character names alone is not going to be infringement, however fervently authors may wish it otherwise.

    The Modern Law of Copyright and Designs (Laddie, Prescott & Vitoria) devotes a whole chapter to protection of literary characters: essentially they say best to rely on TMs, and moral rights, (Chapter 37, if you have it handy).


    Surely because the dragon's breath is hot, moist and near?


    That's not breath.

    Not everything that glitters is gold.


    I can see some horrible differences between US and UK laws.

    And yet I get told there aren't any, usually in ways that imply that US Law rules the world.

    It might save a lot of trouble is people would only make clear just where they're looking from. No "moral rights" in US Law? From my English PoV, that looks about right as a general principle, never mind copyright.


    I'm afraid that this comment (29) overstates the requirements for infringement of copyright, even under UK law. The 1988 Act (and the common law stretching back to the eighteenth century) also gives the original author the exclusive right to make derivative works from an original. This may, or may not, result in/require copying substantial parts of the source work. For example, the later Bond films (those not based on specific Ian Fleming-penned novels) would have been both trademark and copyright infringements, under US and UK law, whether or not the earlier films had been done and whether or not there had been trademark registrations in any element earlier.

    In short, substantial copying of exact expression is one — but not the only — way of infringing copyright, under US law, UK law, and the Berne Convention. The exact contours do vary by nation... but that's not what I was trying to point out. My point is that fan fiction and character protection are an incredible mess that Mr Suffield's post vastly oversimplified, and in a misleading way (and substantively incorrect under both US and UK law, let alone continental European).


    I have not experienced this personally, but I know people who have worked with Gabaldon and she is [ CENSORED BY MODERATOR for potentially libelous content. Please read the moderation policy before posting again! -- cs. ]


    Thanks for guiding me to Jim Butcher's website.

    Requiring fanfic posters to license their work as derivative under Creative Commons looks like a better way of dealing with fanfic. If it's art for non-commercial art's sake, a CC license works pretty well. If the fanfic artist can't stomach the restrictions of a CC license, then they're pretty much signaling that they're going to be trouble.

    Interesting tidbit: it looks like the same agent represents Diana Gabaldon and Cory Doctorow. Not sure what this means, except...weird!


    I'm not going to do this point-by-point, because I don't really want to get sidetracked into a discussion of the excessive complexity and craziness in trademark law. It isn't relevant to fanfic.

    Characters are protected by copyright. See, e.g., Tarzan and Sam Spade.

    Proper citations or drop it. I want actual legislation or significant judicial precedent, not handwaving. Most of the rest of your argument collapses in the absence of copyrights on ideas.

    One of the distinctions between copyright and trademark law is the "must defend" aspect of trademark law.

    The exact details of what you have to do to keep a trademark are highly variable depending on jurisdiction, but almost everywhere allows you to ignore minor or incidental unauthorised use. When your lawyer tells you that you absolutely must sue this grandma who knitted a pair of socks with a picture of your trademark on them, or a school kid who wrote a story for English class with one of your characters in it... get a second opinion.

    (Yes, I skipped a lot of detail. There's a limit to what you can say in a blog comment, particularly when you're trying to avoid getting caught up in all the details which vary in each jurisdiction)

    For the record I am neither a producer nor a consumer of fanfic

    Uhh, don't hit me but isn't the laundry essentially HP Lovecraft fanfic?

    Actually this makes me think that the definition of fanfic is more related to the qualifications of the writer in question rather than the specific sandbox being played in.

    Peter Watts' The things doesn't strike me as movie fanfiction either, and I've spent essentially half my life reading successive paid reinterpretations by multiple writers of stuff originally created by Bob Kane or Stan Lee & co. all work for hire being essentially paid pro level fics on existing material.

    Fun fact, fanfics are older than one would think, the first part of Don Quixote was so successful that someone released an unauthorized sequel, which prompted Cervantes to release his proper authentic second part to the book.

    And of course there's the whole Japanese dojinshi industry, widely tolerated by the "legit" publishers as a gauge for series popularity, source of new artists and outlet for ah, fan prurience.

    My take is, someone creating content is adding to the sandbox, regardless of the quality level. Unlike say piracy it's very hard to see it being actually harmful. Some scenarios have been mentioned of course but they lie in the realm of the trigger happy lawyer rather than the real world, imho.


    Uhh, don't hit me but isn't the laundry essentially HP Lovecraft fanfic?


    For one thing, there are extensive but subtle differences between the laundryverse and HPL's mythos. (HPL is a character is a forthcoming novella; hopefully that'll put things in the frame.)

    For another, an almost invariably defining characteristic of fanfic is use of the original author's characters. (That's also the flashpoint for authors such as Diana Gabaldon getting hot under the collar about it.)


    And there are other sorts of homages besides fanfic -- there's pastiches, parodies, and such.

    Saturn's Children is a pastiche of Heinlein; I'd say that the Laundryverse occupies the same genre as Lovecraft, more than anything else.

    An example of a work that had the "serial numbers filed off," I think, is the rather good Mageworlds series, by Doyle and MacDonald -- it's classic space opera, very reminiscent of Star Wars.


    (1) Citations: I'm not going to string-cite every single case in these chains, and particularly not going to try to run the companion cases down in other jurisdictions. Each character was involved with upwards of twenty cases, and those cases have been cited for the proposition that character is protected under the 1909 US Copyright Act (and its pre-reunification German counterparts, and the pre-1988 UK counterpart) hundreds of times.

    That said, the leading (not necessarily last!) cases in each line concerning the copyrightability of "character" are probably:

    Tarzan: Start with Burroughs v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 519 F. Supp. 388 (S.D.N.Y. 1981), which rather inelegantly and ineptly tries to explain the copyright claims and distinction between character and overall work, but nonetheless does so more clearly than the other decisions do (primarily due to procedural issues). Unfortunately, it also assumes considerable familiarity with prior cases involving Tarzan stretching back fifty years, and various disputes continue to this day... and was overturned in part on other grounds a year or so later, even though this opinion continues to be cited for this issue!

    Sam Spade: At minimum, one must read both Hammett v. Warner Brothers Pictures, 176 F.2d 145 (2d Cir. 1949) and Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broadcasting System, 216 F.2d 945 (9th Cir. 1954) to begin to get a flavor of this particular monster... and the litigation itself resembles The Maltese Falcon (as written by Hammett, not as filmed) more than I'm comfortable with. I do not have the citations to the German parallel matters handy, but I can probably run them down if it's really necessary.

    One last note concerning both lines of cases: The poor writing of the 1909 Act made things much more complex, as did the distinction (in US law) between federal copyright claims and state contract claims. The underlying contracts are models of exactly why the public distrusts the legal profession... and, simultaneously, of how dangerous it can be to have nonlawyers drafting IP license agreements!

    (2) I think we have a failure to communicate here, mostly on my part.

    "Defend the mark" need not mean "sue everyone who comes near it." A proper defense of the mark can include, as Xerox does (and, arguably, Gabaldon is doing), ads in appropriate locations reminding people to use the mark properly and that it has an owner. A proper defense of the mark can include cease and desist letters that are not followed up with litigation. A proper defense of the mark can include a nominal-fee retrospective license. A proper defense of the mark can, of course, include litigation.

    In other words, one need not employ the nuclear option in response to every trademark infringement of which one becomes aware; one need instead take only commercially reasonable steps in response. But one must take those steps... and whether silence is ever a commercially reasonable step is highly questionable.

    I did not mean to imply that only litigation is adequate defense of a mark; I meant only to imply that complete silence is ordinarily insufficient, and that a pattern of complete silence will almost always be insufficient. If you took anything different away, that's primarily due to my failure to communicate.


    This is so sensible and reasonable that my faith in the internet is almost restored. ;)


    Oh darn, there went my plans for drawing a Laundry guro doujin for sale at Comiket. Even if I could interest you in shared profits it would sadly fail the "gouging my eyes out" clause.


    I have but one single query: who exactly is this Diana Gebaldon person? Also, should I give a toss (cos I don't think I ought to)?

    Apart from that, see you November 5th in Birmingham Charles!


    As a fanfic writer, I want to say thanks for your fantastic, evenhanded post! I didn't know of your work yesterday, but after reading this I really want to try it. Anyone with so much wit and good sense must have some seriously cool stories to tell!


    She writes door-stop sized novels that are a blend of historical, time travel, and romance. She was once a professor of biology (I think?) and her father was an historian, so her descriptions can get a) lengthy and b) at times too detailed to hold my interest.

    I think she's a fine enough person who maybe needs to let her agent and/or lawyer do the talking w/r/t legal issues. And frankly, I think she needs to take a heavier hand on moderating comments on her blog. She's letting it be run like a forum instead and the signal-to-noise ratio has gotten stupid at this point.


    I appreciate your very sensible position.

    I would also note that, in my (limited, self-selected, non-professional) experience, fanfic seems more often to act as a form of advertising than as any conceivable drain on revenue. Fanfic communities create an environment where there is a real incentive to stay on top of the fanned author's new work. Fanfic keeps the hype going when there's nothing new on the market, so that the fans don't go lukewarm and decide to wait for the book to come out in paperback, or in the remainder market, or whatever. It even sometimes happens that one gets interested in a capital-A Author by following a favorite fanfic author into an unfamiliar universe. In the hands of actual fans (a category in which I do not include people who want to fraudulently sue you), I really don't see how fanfic can do harm, commercially speaking.

    As a tangent to all this, I have definitely been in the situation where knowing that an author tends to hyperventilate about fanfic (~coughpoppyzbritecough~) has kept me from buying their work at all. Regardless of whether their work would inspire me to fic anyway, it's simply not a point of view that I wish to support. I wasn't going to read Diana Gabaldon anway, but it sounds like she would fall into that category for me as well.

    Now some snark: I'd also like to know how Gabaldon "inadvertently comes upon" fanfic involving her characters. I have never in my life come upon fanfic inadvertently; it's usually a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Maybe as an author you have a reasonable chance of coming across badly-sorted materials if you tend to surf your own fan communities...?


    On the subject of Laundry stories resembling HP Lovecraft's world, the answer is simple; Lovecraft essentially gave the entire world permission to write in his world. Brian Lumley, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and many, many others have either written in Lovecraft's world, or imported Lovecraftian horrors into their own story cycles. The "Cthulhu Mythos" have been a shared universe since the 1920s. Also, Lovecraft borrowed from previous writers... Charlie is the latest inheritor of an old, old tradition.

    On the "filed the serial numbers" off subject, I got published in Rudy Rucker's webzine Flurb with a story that's essentially a Stross knock off. I wrote it after some science fiction fans made fun of the concept of a "veteran" suicide bomber - I just had to prove it was possible and it fit rather nicely into a Strossian singularity mold.

    BTW, Charlie, which author's head will The Fuller Memorandom" be written in? I've been desperately hoping for a John Le Carre pastiche.


    It's a long time since I've actually met Charlie, but he's a decent bloke. And I'd rather read his work than fanfic it.


    Isn't Diana Gabaldon spiteful and narrow-minded? ( Or that's how she comes across to me, at least... )

    A much greater author than her, the now-passed-and-regretted MZB had NO problems with fanfic. Indeed, there were a whole series of "official" Darkover fanfic novels and shorts, from which everyone profited.


    Alex: nope, sorry, no John le Carre.

    Can you cope with Anthony Price as a substitute?


    In response to Charlie's 'rules change' in the comments regarding profiting from ads...

    Loved Charlie's original post, but this rules change smells funny, because it sounds like what Charlie really cares about is not whether his ability to make a profit is interfered with, nor whether somebody else happens to make a noninterfering profit (if makes a profit, it's all good in his book), but what he cares about is that the writer of the fanfic should make no profit, not even ad profit, regardless of whether it affects him in any way.

    This seems an odd reward for so much work on the part of his fans. They put all their love and hearts into it -- nobody writes a fanfic who doesn't care DEEPLY -- nobody -- and what they get in return is somebody like Charlie saying, essentially, 'Anybody can profit from this but you.'

    Seems unnecessarily punitive. Nobody thinks website ad profit is a bonzanza and nobody thinks website ad profit is enough all by itself to interfere with anybody else's market position, because those eyeballs would have been there anywy. The website ads change the equation not at all; the only reason to deny them is punitive.


    Seems unnecessarily punitive. Nobody thinks website ad profit is a bonzanza and nobody thinks website ad profit is enough all by itself to interfere with anybody else's market position.

    You're getting into hypothetical grey areas here; as if you're looking for an excuse to pick a fight with me.

    See my second option above: as I wrote, "if you've got a commercial idea, drop me a line and we'll talk business". And note that there's a difference between making a profit and covering your running costs.

    (My main concern is that I don't want to wake up one morning and find something I designed has been appropriated and turned into a viral marketing campaign by J. Random Corporation, or a computer game by Activision ... or to find a fanfic author selling novels set in one of my universes commercially who then turns around and threatens to sue me for misappropriation of their IP. Or an equivalent nightmare scenario. These are less likely to occur if there's a strict non-commercial or non-profit disclaimer in play.)

    ((Note that I don't preclude releasing more of my own material under CC or equivalent non-commercial licenses in future, either. I'd like to do more of that; alas, there are contractual problems.))


    Actually Greg,

    Looks like Diana Gabaldon does have some class after all. I'm linking to her follow-on posting to the original flame that inspired us all.


    This is what I wrote in my LJ, when someone else commented to me that DG is a ... well, something not nice:

    "I think what happened is, one of her "people" (assistant, agent, somebody...) sent her the link regarding this charity auction, and it prompted her to have to actually make a statement on the subject, and that prompted her to seek out some of the fic in question to see what it was about and happened upon some that was written like crap. That's my guess.

    Because the whole blog post culminated in her conundrum regarding the charity auction: she was opposed to fanfic of her works, yet there was an auction happening for a good cause. What to do?

    How I would have handled it was, be less wordy (but, having read 4 or 5 of her books, I know that's just crazy talk). I would have said, hey, guys, I have this conundrum: I'm opposed to people writing fanfic about my characters. It's my wish that you don't. However I've just been told about this auction, and now I don't know what to do.

    That's what I would have said, were it my blog."


    Hi Charlie,

    I've never read Anthony Price, so I can't comment, but I'll doubtless enjoy it regardless.

    Meanwhile, I'll console myself with the thought that The Little Non-Euclidian Drummer Girl, The Naive and Sentimental Shoggoth, or The Spy Who Came In From R'leyh is bubbling somewhere in the back of your brain, just waiting for something ordinary, (like one of those pictures of Alex Guiness fondling a night-gaunt they used to sell at Piccadilly Circus) to bring them forward and into print.


    Alex: no, definitely not. I am not touching Le Carre with a ten-foot bargepole. (If you want Lovecraftian Le Carre you need to read "Declare" by Tim Powers.)

    The next Laundry novel will be Peter O'Donnell.


    Peter O'Donnel? Oooh! That will be fun. I'll assume that "Mo-desty Blaize" puns fit very nicely here...

    The extreme firmness, even, dare I say, near testiness of your reply does bring up the question, however. Why no Le Carre? Please understand, I'm not trying to push you in that direction - they're your books - but it's obviously something which you've thought out carefully and come to a firm conclusion about, so if you could satisfy my curiosity I'd be much obliged.


    Why no Le Carre?

    See the afterword to "The Atrocity Archives" for an explanation.


    I think that you explain your feelings very well and I would have no problem abiding by your guidelines if I wrote fan fic in your world.

    That being said, your last paragraph had me giggling like mad and now I will need to hunt your stuff down to read. :D


    I shudder to think what the Laundry equivalent of "the nailer" would be.


    That move was rendered obsolescent by The Sun in the early 70s.

    Hmm. Tentacles ...


    I think that Charlie trailed a little while ago that TFM would be Anthony Price-esque, I'd never heard of AP until then to I went to abebooks and got some of them. They're quite fun in their own way but one thing I recognised at once was that sense of wheels within wheels mounted on more wheels with everything turned on its head on the last page. Which I love. Now, who else does that...?


    Peter O'Donnell? Yay!

    Are tentacles exact enough to work with throwing knives?


    I enjoyed your take on the subject. Your ending left me laughing so much I had to read it to my sister. However, it seems that everyone wants to ignore what actually got a lot of fanficcers in a rage. We are fine with her not wanting us to write about her characters. Personally, I only made it through about 50 pages of her first book before I got bored and moved on to something else, so I wouldn't be writing in her fandom, anyway. What angered so many people was that she was judgmental and insulting. You managed to get your point across without insulting anyone.

    And as far as the class someone said that she had when posted her follow-up blog, I have to disagree. She didn't apologize for the insults or for her numerous instances of poor wording. That follow-up reads like her agent got wind of it all, realized that she had riled up a lot of people, and told her that bad publicity is definitely NOT better than no publicity at all and she better fix this.


    Sorry, Charlie, I couldn't resist.

    "We have a problem," Angleton explains, gesturing at some rather impressive bondage furniture. "You have been a very bad boy, Robert, and you need to be punished."

    Just then, Mo wanders in with a Cthulhu mask and an electric summoning grid, and I know exactly what kind of day I'm about to have... pity I haven't had enough coffee yet to properly enjoy it.


    The writers of the Supernatural TV show did a nice take on fanfic. They turn fan conventions and fan fic into an in-show piece of canon. The bit where the two main characters have just found out that they're also characters in books and fanfic and go online is great:

    "They do realise that we're brothers..." "Apparently so... and it doesn't bother them."

    Obviously they found some Supernatural Slash :-).

    67: "Xerox, for example, came perilously close to this for dry-process xerography ("Just go xerox this report, Johnson"

    I'm afraid that's pushing it. Turning proper names into generic nouns/verbs is a standard process in language evolution - it's a case of neosemanticism, with the original meaning spectrum being broadened - and has jack to do with trademark infringement. In my first language, a bicycle is called a rover (yes, we have no other word for it. We used to have a word for bicycle which sounded somewhat like "bicycle", but it's been obsolete for over 80 years) and every sneaker is called an adidas - not because these companies were sloppy in trademark protection, but because their products were the first of their kind on the market, and thus became popular and the name stuck. More contemporary example: I'm not sure about the UK or the US, but around here every mp3 player is colloquially referred to as an iPod (which makes real iPod owners somewhat sad), and once again, not because Apple is not conscious of how important trademark protection is. Everyday language is not something that can be limited via official trademark regulations (unless you're striving for comical effect, like China Mieville in 'Tis The Season). Xerox did not have to be sloppy about copyright protection to become a generic verb - it was just the first to do something.


    Obviously you haven't read "Decelerando", the doomer AU where luddites prevent a singularity for long enough to produce a peak-everything planetary dieoff, and Manfred becomes "Mad Macx", siring a clan of orthoscottish clones using the remnants of Dolly-tech.


    I can see the TV spinoff now: La Ghulette Nikita. ("If I believed for even one second that you weren't actually a transdimensional homicidal anthropophagic succubus, Nikita, I would have no choice but to cancel you.")



    Uhh, don't hit me but isn't the laundry essentially HP Lovecraft fanfic?


    For one thing, there are extensive but subtle differences between the laundryverse and HPL's mythos.

    Doesn't rule out being fanfic. Lots of stuff that is clearly fanfic has "extensive but subtle differences" from the source material.

    For another, an almost invariably defining characteristic of fanfic is use of the original author's characters.

    A) "Almost invariably" == "sometimes not" B) Cthulhu is a character, and I'm pretty sure that you reference other HPL god-equivalents by proper name.

    The line between 'original' and 'fanfic' is very blurry, and has been since well before the term fanfic was invented.

    I like the Gaiman/Pratchett attitude: "Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on."


    "Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on."

    ... and of course that's a paraphrase of something Tolkein wrote in his famous essay, 'On Fairy-stories'.

    Mainly I'm posting to emphasize what Charlie said above: if you like the Laundry books, you must read Tim Powers' Declare. I'm desperately trying to avoid blurting too much about the core idea, but the book is fantastic in all senses of the word. It's not using the Cthulhu mythos, but it's pure gold and channels Le Carré perfectly.


    Why is the gold steaming? Because it was newly provided by a malicious leprechaun and is mostly Au-197. What is the dragon's roll against gamma?


    Haha, that was great. Anyone confused by "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" may find it helpful to acquire some familiarity with the work of Eliezer Yudkowsky (AFAICT, the story's author) before proceeding. Warning: he may (but then again, may not) be the leader of a radical atheist millenarian death cult. He certainly inspires a rather extreme level of loyalty in his disciples.


    Okay, so since I have no interest in reading fanfic, what I got out of this post was:


    (It took every ounce of self-control I have not to capslock that...)

    Hmm, would Jeremy Irons be too obvious as Angleton?


    Yeah I didn't want to continue the subject because I didn't want to seem accusatory in this context, as if there was anything wrong with it either way. It's just that as a specific example, HPL isn't really a character driven author so I very much doubt any actual HPL fanfiction out there uses any of his characters.

    They don't tend to have a lot of staying power, you see.

    Wait, I remembered one, Herbert West! He does get around a lot even now. But aside from him, all of HPL's human characters tend to end up eaten or gibbering insanely at the end of his stories. West himself technically dies in his story, iirc.

    Since we're on the subject, I couldn't help thinking while reading Iron Sunrise and Singularity Sky that some of the themes were very similar to Adam Warren's Dirty Pair comics... the posthuman AI overlord, the human diaspora, the trouble consultant agents, the induced novas... all not unusual SF tropes and themes, but I really began to wonder when Rachel Mansour flashes an ID card with a three-W logo... nahh, coincidence.


    Fanfic is for writers too insecure or unimaginative enough to come up with their own works, or worse, exploiting the success of another's creation. Never understood it. Same with fan films. Invest in your own talent, not someone else's.



    Re-calibrate your sensors - Hollywood people have paid for the option, which makes the chances of one being made closer to 1% than 0%.


    I do like your policy, but I think you're best bet would be to go on record with a blanket "please don't do this, I won't allow it"...

    You assume people are reasonable, logical and sensible. Have you ever met any lawyers? Now that there may be a Laundry film, let me run this little scenario by you:

    1) Someone writes some fanfic which features the Laundry characters, but in a different situation/dimension, whatever. 2) Whoever has the rights to the Laundry decides they don't want to do any of the stories you've written, hires four different writers, rewrites the story several times, and come up with a train wreck script that is somewhat similar to fanfic in 1) above. Film gets made. 3) Fanfic writer sues production company for stealing his idea.

    Blanket denial of rights will probably help with this, or at least cut down the amount of fanfic out there. I don't think the fanfic writer will prevail, but do you really want to have future Laundry stuff tied up in knots for 3-5 years whilst all the legal stuff gets sorted out?


    Coltrane: Fanfic is for writers too insecure or unimaginative enough to come up with their own works

    Wrong, wrong, untrue, and you've got your wrong hat on.

    Off the top of my head, considering only the past three years, I know of one fanfic writer who won the Campbell award and was on the shortlist for the Hugo award for best novel, and another fanfic writer ("Firefly", anyone?) who merely got a Nebula nomination and the New York Times bestseller list.

    Both these fanfic writers are rather better known for their own series' of novels.

    (See if you can figure out who I'm talking about. I'm pretty certain there are more where they came from ...)


    Chris, my take on this is that it's entirely up to the production company -- should they, ahem, raise the money to actually go into production -- to police their rights. (At least, in the absence of a contract requiring me to police the rights on their behalf -- and it'd take an awful lot of arm-wrestling to get me to agree to such an obligation, as the only bait they've got is money: I can happily live without seeing a Laundry movie or TV series, not being in love with the screen.)


    This is basically what happened to Alan Moore. His comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is fanfiction, really, bringing together most of the classic heroes from 19th century fiction - Mr. Hyde, Alan Quatermain, Mina Murray, Captain Nemo, etc...

    Then the movie was made with only a passing resemblance to the comic, and then someone sued the film company claiming they had stolen their idea (A draft script called "cast of characters" using the same basic concept) and that they had commissioned Moore to create the comic purely as a cover for the theft.

    Moore had to take the stand to deny this and was so outraged by the whole ordeal that he since has refused all credit and compensation for the movies based on his creations - Constantine, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Watchmen.

    "they seemed to believe that the head of 20th Century Fox called me up and persuaded me to steal this screenplay, turning it into a comic book which they could then adapt back into a movie, to camouflage petty larceny." Moore testified in a deposition, a process so painful that he surmised he would have been better treated had he "molested and murdered a busload of retarded children after giving them heroin." Fox's settlement of the case insulted Moore, who interpreted it as an admission of guilt.


    The Campbell award winner can't be Mr Scalzi or you would have mentioned the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award as well, surely? Must read the Little Fuzzies since he thinks so much of them.

    Brian Aldiss, M. John Harrison, Norman Spinrad, Moebius and James Sallis have all used Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius 'verse. That's some mixture of secure and imaginative.


    I do not fully understand Diana Gebaldon's POV.

    I do. Basically, her characters are her intellectual property. They belong to her, and not to anyone else. In essence, they are her, in a refracted form. She invented them, developed them, and gave them life on the page. They represent untold hours and years of emotional and creative investment.

    If she chooses not to allow someone else to use them in a creative fashion, in public, that is surely her right, in every moral and legal sense.


    I disagree. She may feel attached to them, but the only way she can practically prevent other people from using them is to refrain from publishing. Once you publish, you're putting your ideas out in the cold open world at large, where people will misunderstand, misappropriate, and abuse them.

    Trying to assert control under those circumstances is an emotionally-motivated mistake, of the same class as arguing with reviewers. You can't control how someone perceives your fiction -- how they interpret it in their own head -- and to the extent that a pen and paper (or a computer screen) is an extention of their heads, you can't control how they interpret what you gave them in their extended consciousness.

    It's nuts. And it bespeaks a disturbing inability to distinguish fiction from reality, in my view, if an author can't distance themselves from the characters they write (once they finish writing).


    It's a shame we'll never know what authors think of particular fanfics. Because of the "legal reasons" stuff, they can't admit to reading it. But I bet they do.

    Would be interesting to hear Rowling's opinion on some of the more unusual endfics, or see RTD's (not strictly an author) thoughts on the millions of people who kept Ianto alive.


    As she put it (I paraphrase from memory), it's a matter of total freedom what you think about someone else's story in your own mind [and by extension, in the privacy of your home]; what you do with it in public is not.

    IOW, she is not trying to control how someone perceives her fiction, what they think about it, or what they say about it. But she is saying they don't have a legal or moral right to appropriate her characters and use them in a creative work, posted on the internet.

    I believe she is fully aware she cannot stop it, other than to request that fan-fiction based on her works not be displayed or distributed in public.

    As to distancing herself from the characters...well, she hasn't finished writing about them, now has she? But even if she had, she is not of the temperament to remain sanguine about someone tampering with them. Nor is George RR Martin and many other writers as well.

    It's a different view from yours, but neither invalid nor unusual, I don't think.


    thanks for this this reply to Coltrane in particular, Mr. Stross. i read and write fanfic for primarily tv media (highlander, etc), and this idea:

    "Fanfic is for writers too insecure or unimaginative enough to come up with their own works, or worse, exploiting the success of another's creation. Never understood it. Same with fan films. Invest in your own talent, not someone else's."

    has always been one that irked me. fanfic, for me, is specifically a hobby, and probably always will be. for one, i know enough writers and have heard the story of how hard it is to break into the book market to know that i really don't care to take on the stress of trying to make it as a published author right now.

    for another, i have invested in 'my own talents' - i've got a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M in aerospace engineering, and a master's degree from U. of Cincinnati in fluid flow and propulsion. i'm currently employed by a Dept. of Defense contractor doing systems integration engineering, and computational modeling. it's a great job, and i love it, not the least because i'm a math and science nut.

    so i have developed my own talents, and put them to good use. but i write fanfiction when i want to do something else with my time, the same way i cross-stitch, or garden. i'm not expecting to get anywhere, although i'm delighted when i receive praise for my works. but there are other things in the world than our one-true-talent, and i like trying to do new and challenging things. like writing.

    anyway, i want to thank you again, and wish you the best of luck. my own backlog of to-be-read items is quite long, but i will definitely add your stuff to the list.


    (yeah, i come from the days of net.handles...)


    You, dear dragon Sir, win at life and have just earned yourself just a bit more of that gold you are so greedy about. I don't know what the heck (was going to write something else but let's go with "heck") your books are about, but surely the owner of so much awesome deserves to be in my bookshelf.


    My girlfriend is a lawyer (well, bachelor of law and she has some sort of master's degree in EU law and IPR).

    This is the first thing she explained to me about law: if you strip out all the excess verbiage from a discussion between lawyers, what remains is usually "it depends".

    I am pleased to see that it still seems to apply. If nothing else, it should guarantee her a continued steady income. :-)

    Also, kudos to Our Glorious Host for the enlightened fanfic policy.


    I have never read your work before, however, after reading this I will certainly give it a try. I admire both good humor and common sense, something in short supply these days, and as you show both in this blog entry I find myself wanting to read more of your words. I especially like the ending of your blog entry. That was too funny. :)

    I have no problem with a writer, such as Ms. Gabaldon, stating they don't want fanfic written about their characters. It's her sandbox and she is entitled to decide who, if anybody, is allowed to play in it. My problem, and I think a lot of fanfic writers would agree, is with her arrogant hypocrisy.

    According to Ms. Gabaldon graphic sex scenes in fanfic is tantamount to pornography. Worse, she says that it is the masturbatory fantasy of the writer. Apparently when paid authors, such as Gabaldon, write graphic sex scenes it's literature. cue eye-roll She also seems to object to slash fanfic, while including homosexual characters and male rape in her books. Though others might disagree, I think arrogant hypocrisy is an accurate description of such a stance.

    While I won't cease reading her Outlander series; I see no reason to deprive myself of the enjoyment; I will be sure to buy them second-hand. I abhor hypocrisy and double-standards, yet I like the books. Therefore I've decided that depriving the author of my few dollars is a good protest that will still allow me to enjoy the series. At least I will until she either (a) finishes the series or (b)jumps the shark, to use a t.v. term.


    I'm an erstwhile fanfic writer, myself, and I like your pov. I can be a real writer if and when I want to, and I respect your rights as a person that gains a living from writing original fic (and the rights of the people I filked from), but as a fan, I seriously had a great need to work out some big ideas as a fanfic writer, and hopefully I gave myself enough ideas from that process to maybe launch something eventually--but even if I don't, I was only kind of having an affair with my characters, I wasn't married to them, and they weren't stained by my indiscretion with them.

    And my fanfic was always sexual--shoot, why not? In fact, I think the sexual nature and the geek nature of fanfic combine to make is so less potentially commercial to positively disinterest the original writers from wanting to be fanfic scarecrows.

    I wrote in the Highlander fanverse for a bit--and that was a busted franchise even when I started on it. But it was a robust fandom. Because it was a fandom robustly conned, ficc'd and all, I sometimes wondered if the potential of our response didn't make the franchise more conserative and f'd up the possibilities of making good storylines--a) for fear of us screaming "That ain't canon!"

    or b) We knowingly liken the story-line to a great fanfic we know of.

    This is silly, and suggests I give too much credit to the Powers that be for understanding our folkways enough to let them make a deadly impact. I only know I saw a massively fanfic-rich genre environment die but then again, the license-holders might have had a vision....

    Ballocks---I say us fanfic writers create a fandom with or without continuing franchise interest or involvement, probably. And it would behoove the franchises to want us to continue to maintain our desire for "new story" in advance of our appetite. That would include original fic writers--cater to your fanfickers--they are your biggest fans. So Gabaldon should have faked a little admiration that she is read and that she is copied. It means she exists. And there is still a market for her fiction. And she encountered little harm.


    Here via a link about this whole fanfic/DB mess, but after reading another post on this subject, I feel compelled to point out: you're the only one that can use the Creative Commons licenses. You, as the Creator on High, get to tell Us (lowly readers, consumers of your Great Work, Shellers-Out of currency in the name of Amusement and Entertainment) how we can use YOUR work.

    We can stick a CC on our fanfics, fanart, fanvids, and what-have-you, but it makes no sense, really, because all that does is tell OTHER people how to use a work that's already derivative.

    Simply put: A Creative Commons license dictates what others may do with a work, not what that work is.


    Necroposting powers ENGAGE!

    What is OP's opinion on illustrations of characters and scenes from OP's work?

    (genuine curiosity here, not trying to stir the pot)


    I'm already sufficiently traumatized by the cover paintings that my publishers put on my books that I don't think fan illustrations are going to do me any additional harm. (Forget the stuff you're familiar with like the US cover of "Saturn's Children" -- some of the covers on the translations are just, like, AAAGH!)



    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 5, 2010 10:25 AM.

    Party Election Broadcast was the previous entry in this blog.

    We appear to have a hung parliament is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

    Search this blog