Fanfic Writer Ditches the "Fan" Part

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Not to step all over Cathy Young's beat, but a 23-year old fanfic writer has turned online success into a book deal, of which the first installment is hitting shelves.

La Septima M—The Seventh M—is the first of three books that 23-year-old Chilean journalism student Francisca Solar was contracted to write by publishers Random House, following the online success of her unofficial sixth Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Decline of the High Elves.

Launched at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, La Septima M centres on a mysterious series of suicides amongst young people in the fictional community of Puerto Fake.

"All the things I know about literature, about writing, I learned in the fan fiction world," Solar told BBC World Service's The Word programme.

"I owe it everything."

This is sort of a dog-bites-man story (if not a "dog bites man and then watches Spock and Kirk do the nasty" story). Of course someone who writes book-length stories involving other peoples' fictional characters can write books involving her own fictional characters. Cathy Young proves that (and more) in the new issue of Reason.

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  1. This brings up a real issue I have with copywrite law. Harry Potter is a social phenomon. I understand the need for intellectual property, but isn’t there also a competing need for authors to be able to comment on and work with the larger culture? Copywrite law doesn’t seem to take that into account. For example, a few years ago a woman wrote a version of Gone With The Wind from the black perspective and got sued by the Mitchel estate, successfully I think. Gone With The Wind is part of our culture and a pretty offensive part to black people. I think the value of that woman being able to comment on and expand the black perspective on Gone With the Wind or this writter being able to take Harry Potter in whatever direction she wants is more important than the Mitchel estate or JK Rowling’s ability to control their creation once it is out in society.

  2. John: I’ve been pondering this very issue quite a bit lately. While I agree that there need to be restrictions to prevent plagiarism, I cna’t help but wonder where we draw the line, especially when considering how many of our modern works are merely rehashings of previous authors works, or expanions thereupon.

  3. This rule of thumb was learned long ago, back in the age of the First Napsterian Wars, circa 1999: Pay no attention to the intellectual-property arguments of those people who use the word “copywrite.”

  4. Self,

    Yeah it is a bit ironic that the biggest proponent of eternal copyright is the Walt Disney Corporation most of whose assets are just reworks of older stories. If there had been a Brothers’ Grimm corporation in the 1930s, we never would have gotten Walt Disney’s Cinderella or Snow White. That to me seems like a real loss and thanks to Walt Disney and Congress we might not get a 21st Century retelling of the Lion King. I can’t help but think our culture will be poorer because of it.

  5. Click back to the Reason Online home page, scroll all the way to the bottom, and you’ll find this little delight:

    ?2007 Reason Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

    The irony is most delicious when copyright debates come up in this forum.

  6. Ed,

    I know a lot of the posters on here are pretty anti-copyright, but what about the staff and mag itself? I am not really sure where they stand to be honest. I don’t think being libertarian is necessarily antithetical to strong copyright protection.

  7. Ed…I highly doubt that anyone here has a problem with copyrights in general. I mean, they are an absolute necessity for any author to sustain a living. It’s the intellectual copyright idea that some of us take issue with.

  8. All ideology aside, I’ve been saying J.K. Rowling is a hack for years. A blind monkey with 4 fingers could write better prose.

    Now back to my newest novel, Jurassic Park 7.

    1. shut the hell up. jk rowling is the best, most talented author i have ever seen. and now they’re letting some fan writer steal her books? i don’t think so. this solar girl better not get that book published or else i’ll run up there and kill her myself. it is plagurism! i refuse to let it happen! and if it does ever get published i’ll never read it. i’ll take the book and stomp on it and convince everyone not to read that crap. oh, and, i read decline of the high elves and it was horrible. worst book i’ve ever read.

  9. So, when the print edition with the fanfic column by Cathy Young first came out, some of us on another forum started joking about writing Reason fanfic.

    I would like to write a story called “On the Third Hand.” Ron Bailey uses biotechnology to give Cathy Young a third hand. This enables her to write columns that are 50% longer: “On the one hand, and on the other hand, and on yet another hand.”

    There will be a sequel, where Jacob Sullum invents an incredibly elaborate device that requires three hands to operate. All I can say about the device is that it involves water and tubes and stuff like that.

  10. “Now back to my newest novel, Jurassic Park 7”

    Why not? Who is to say you couldn’t do a better job than Crighton?

  11. I have little problem with the original (1790) copyright act, which had a maximum term of 28 years.

    Today’s copyright rules are absurd, especially when dealing with the term limits. Life of the author PLUS 70 years!? 95-120 years for corporate works!? I also don’t like the fact that copyright is now automatic. It leads to situations where works can remain under copyright but no longer have an owner (putting them in legal limbo).

  12. I…doubt that anyone here has a problem with copyrights in general….It’s the intellectual copyright idea that some of us take issue with.

    They are one in the same. The product comes from the intellect.

  13. The difference ed is on one hand you have a copyright disallowing me to photocopy the latest harry potter book and then go down and sell it on the street for half the price you can get it at Barnes and Noble, and on the other hand you have a law disallowing me from writing a novel that happens to feature the characters from Harry Potter. Can you spot the difference?

  14. It seems to me there are two issues: Creative control and finance.

    Copyright allows writers to make money off their work, like patents. This is good as it encourages literary production, provided it doesn’t last too long (28 years sounds right, 120 sounds too long). However, it also allows them to prevent derivations (like The Wind Done Gone, as I believe the Gone With The Wind derivation was called). I’d like to see these separated–20-30 years wherein nobody could do anything without the author’s permission, and another time period wherein the author had to grant licenses, but would be paid for licensing. After that, it’d be fair game.

    That way we could get our comments on past works faster, and the incentive to create would still be there.

  15. John,

    You’ll be hearing from my lawyers re the following line:

    Now back to my newest novel, Jurassic Park 7

    Which was used without my express written permission.

  16. The general concept of copyright — protecting the right of an individual to copy and distribute his/her creative work for financial gain — seems to make sense to me even from a libertarian point view.

    Whatever laws that should exist should be there to protect the rights of individuals not society as a whole — a direct libertarian principle.

    So the fact that society as a whole may be deprived of some benefit if someone other than the original creator is prevented from distributing a creative work is irrelevant.

    So it seems clear to me that the direct copying and distribution of an existing creative work, when that harms the creator of the work, should be forbidden.

    The creation and distribution of derivative works is a more complicated problem. Some derivative works (e.g. fanfic) may increase the value of the original creative work. Where others may damage the ability of the creator to profit from continued distribution of copies of the original work. I don’t think there is a single correct answer for this situation — so I guess that’s why we use courts to sort the problem out.

    As to duration of copyright protection, unless you think that individuals should be prohibited from assigning property rights to others — for whatever reason — then there is nothing wrong with heirs or companies holding onto copyrights for infinity.

    Do you really think your house should be up for grabs after twenty years regardless of whether you are dead or alive — regardless of whether you have sold it or willed it to an heir?

  17. Of course someone who writes book-length stories involving other peoples’ fictional characters can write books involving her own fictional characters.

    I dunno – it seems like a big part of writing fiction is coming up with your own original characters. Write a story with Han Solo and Darth Vader and much of your work is already done for you.

  18. What carrick said.
    It’s quittin’ time and I hear the beer calling.

  19. The general concept of copyright — protecting the right of an individual to copy and distribute his/her creative work for financial gain — seems to make sense to me even from a libertarian point view.

    Whatever laws that should exist should be there to protect the rights of individuals not society as a whole — a direct libertarian principle.

    So the fact that society as a whole may be deprived of some benefit if someone other than the original creator is prevented from distributing a creative work is irrelevant.

    The thing is, giving people the right to somehow own ideas takes away from my right to exercise free speech.

    Sorry, but in the libertarian philosophy there is no room for copyright…the government cannot use force to prevent me from writing or selling words or ideas.

  20. Carrick, excellent post.

    Prepare for the barrage of idiocy about “copyright is not a ‘real right,’ it’s a privilege invented by government,” etc.

    The right to the fruits of one’s own mind is among the most fundamental moral principles.

    Many libertarians who post online seem to be against copyright not because they’re libertarians, but because they’re online. The cult of technology — whose adherents by definition are found in great numbers in Internet discussions — is what’s responsible for much of the copyright-anarchy blah-blah.

    That, and people being miffed that somebody wanted to take away all the “hey, free music, dude!” stuff.

  21. So what is property . . it is a key component of the means to generate wealth.

    Historically, it was land for growing crops or raising livestock. Then it grew to include the capacity to manufacture widgets, and now it includes “inventions” and other creative works.

    To me a story is just a real as a chunk of ground.

    jimmy . . your right to free speech is not absolute. You are not allowed to write or speak things that harm me.

    Devaluing my creative works and preventing me from profiting from them is definitely a harm.

    So don’t steal my ideas unless you can afford a good lawyer.

  22. John:

    The Mitchell estate was not successful in its suit against the author of The Wind Done Gone, but if I recall correctly the only reason the author could get away with it was that she claimed her new work was a parody.

  23. The Mitchell estate was not successful in its suit against the author of The Wind Done Gone, but if I recall correctly the only reason the author could get away with it was that she claimed her new work was a parody.

    The concepts of “fair use” offer alot of leeway in creating deriviate works which specifically includes parody.

  24. Sorry, but in the libertarian philosophy there is no room for copyright…the government cannot use force to prevent me from writing or selling words or ideas.

    Creative works are referred to as “intellectual property.” Property rights are what separate libertarianism from anarchy.

  25. There is a need to put things into the public domain at some point. The public domain is the well upon which we draw for further creative works. Further, copyright protection often inhibits the access to information. Consider the Google project to scan books. There are books that are rotting in libraries that have been out of print for years, yet cannot be made available to the general public because of copyright protection. I don’t see any benefit to that.

    Carrick also is way to dismissive of the problem of derivative works. Copyright protection is a direct control on our freedom of expression. If I think someone like Michael Moore is a clown, why can’t I make a parody of Bowling for Columbine? Currently, I can’t, unless I want to deal with Michael Moore’s no doubt well paid lawyers. Copyright infringes on our ability to digest and comment on art. Certainly, some protection is needed, but protection forever?

    Lastly, Carrick makes the point about land. The law does recognize the need to put land into the most productive hands. For example, there is the rule against perpetuities to prevent a person for dictating the ownership of his property in perpetuity. Another example is adverse possession. If someone doesn’t use their land productively and allows someone else to live on the land without objection, eventually they loose title to the land. Limiting copyright protection to a set number of years is the same principle; putting assets in the most productive hands.

  26. I forgot about fair use. I could parady Moore, but I couldn’t expand on Moore. So that is a bad example.

  27. If I think someone like Michael Moore is a clown, why can’t I make a parody of Bowling for Columbine?

    What part of copyright law is keeping you from parodying “Bowling for Columbine”?

  28. The public domain is the well upon which we draw for further creative works.

    It is amazing the people who hate the idea of “commons” in terms of physical property love the idea of “public domain” for intellectual property.

    If I think someone like Michael Moore is a clown, why can’t I make a parody of Bowling for Columbine?

    Copyright is not absolute. You definitely can parody anyone you like. This is well established through many court cases.

    For example, there is the rule against perpetuities to prevent a person for dictating the ownership of his property in perpetuity. Another example is adverse possession. If someone doesn’t use their land productively and allows someone else to live on the land without objection, eventually they loose title to the land.

    More wildly anti-libertarian ideas.

  29. What if the Bible were still under copyright and you had to get permission and pay royalties every time an artist wanted to incorporate Bible passages into paintings, novels, poems, songs, movies, TV shows, stand up comedy routines, etc.?

    What if Shakespeare were still under copyright and you had to get permission to quote him in artistic works?

    I understand the point of copyright, but at some point things have to go into the public domain for the continued progress of the arts.

  30. Ferchrissakes, how long is Disney going to hang on to that damn mouse?!

  31. To me a story is just a real as a chunk of ground.

    They’re vastly different. If you own a piece of ground or house and I take them from you. You’ve lost something tangible. You can no longer seek shelter in the house, you can no longer make profit from the ground.

    If I take an idea from you, what have I deprived you of? That idea is still yours, you can still charge others to listen to your idea. You can still profit off of novel uses of this idea.

  32. Thoreau: I would like to write a story called “On the Third Hand.” Ron Bailey uses biotechnology to give Cathy Young a third hand. This enables her to write columns that are 50% longer: “On the one hand, and on the other hand, and on yet another hand.”

    That might violate Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s copyright.

  33. The fair use doctrine is well established. This supports quoting portions of a creative work for reviews, critiques, social commentaries, and so forth.

    Derivitive works are protected for satire or parody.

    What you can’t do is make wholesale copies of a creative work and try to gain some financial benefit from it.

    If you are accused of violating a copyright, then magnitude of the financial loss of the original creator and the financial benefits to the “copier” are weighed.

    If there is no financial loss to the first party and no financial benefit the second, there would be no damages awarded in a civil trial.

    Hence, Google making digital copies of smoldering books in old libaries. I doubt anyone will ever successfully sue Google over this.

  34. Okay, enough of the lawyerly chatter. Bottom line: Can I use Angela Keaton, Cathy Young, Kerry Howley and Katherine Mangu-Ward without permission as characters in my “Bartenders of Gor” libertarian-slanted Firefly/Gor/Cheers crossover fanfic, or not?

  35. Stevo:

    If it’s a parody, you probably can. Also, if you can successfully argue that the ladies in question are “public figures.”

    A few facts and opinions:

    While there was a lawsuit over The Wind Done Gone, the book was not suppressed. Explicitly labeled “An Unauthorized Parody”, it was well on its way to being deemed protected under Fair Use by the courts. There’s been a parody exception in copyright law for a long time, and as long as the publisher or film studio isn’t passing the derivative work off as the work of the copyright holders, parodies usually survive such challenges. The characters did not share the names of the Mitchell originals, and it would have been difficult to prove that a reader would have confused the two works. It’s the same thing Mad Magazine always pulled off.

    As for the “automatic copyright” inhering in newly created works, injustices had been done in the past when naive creators didn’t jump through the registration hoops correctly. What’s more, publishers often had policies that demanded that authors turn over all rights to them as a consequence of payment. In magazine publishing, the reversion of rights to the author so he could publish an anthology of his stories with a trade house, or the practice of only buying some rights – first North American Serial rights, frex – became standard. But in less prestigious markets, creators had to beg, often in vain, for a share of the profits if a continuing character took off. Edgar Rice Burroughs managed to keep control of Tarzan and made millions. Siegel and Shuster sold all rights to Superman when they accepted $10 a page for the first story in Action Comics #1, and nearly wound up paupers.

    S&S wrested a small portion of the vast stream of dough their seminal character made possible when DC Comics screwed up, and developed “Superboy” when Siegel was in the Army. Siegel sued, because the company had previously turned down his proposal to launch a similar character. After the case was settled, with the Cleveland boys losing on the question of ownership of Superman, while receiving some compensation for his younger incarnation, the duo was frozen out of production of “their” strip, and went on to ply their trade elsewhere – rather unsuccessfully.

    Then there are the songwriters, singers and other musicians who cut who knows how many phonographic recordings from the 1920s on, and never held copyright in the sheet music, arrangements or recorded performances. Some of the early jazz, blues and country artists got paid like factory hands, and as late as the 1950s you got producers like Norman Petty cutting themselves into the publishing rights on songs for which they may never have written a note. Assigning copyright to the creator at the creation of a work is an attempt to avoid that kind of abuse, which used to be endemic. The phenomenon of self-publishing and self-distribution has certainly been helped by it. Corporate ownership has not been thwarted by it. “Work for hire” policies have just been made explicit, and those who enter into them do so with their eyes open.

    There are conflicting ideologies behind copyright and patents. The Constitution treats them as grants of privilege, done by the sovereign because rewarding the creators will increase the production of works and inventions that will make life better for all. Some of us justify copyright and patents on a property rights basis, and as such would not have a philosophical objection to continuing ownership for indefinite periods. A person and his or her heirs can own a piece of land in perpetuity, and nobody creates that – Dutch polders excepted, I suppose. Aren’t unique expressions of ideas more worthy of such extended ownership? Yes, there are technical questions to be dealt with. One can’t patent a scientific principle one discovers, just devices used to exploit it, and unobvious ones, at that. Just the same, one couldn’t copyright an “ur-plot”, such as “Boy Meets Girl”, just the particular expression of that idea. But in both cases, he who creates should be able to own, whether it is the product of one’s strong back or one’s agile mind.

    As for fanfic, I only think it is a problem when its distribution impinges on the rights of the creator/copyright-holder or his designee. If the folks who produced Xena were opposed to depictions of the Warrior Princess and her sidekick as lesbian lovers, either because it might hurt their commercial prospects or due to moral scruples, slapping down the fanficcers into X/G shipping would make sense. If they figure it either doesn’t hurt or might help, they can leave them alone. It’s the creator’s call.

    Kevin

  36. Since people have complained that Reason went to hell in a handbasket when Virginia Postrel left, I propose an alternative universe fic called V for Virginia, in which she’s still the editor. David Weigal isn’t hired, and instead he writes for Mother Jones.

    (Just kidding, Weige. I don’t see why everybody else gets so upset with you.)

    It’s either that or a Carpet Humping Guy/Reason Pillow Girl shipper fic.

  37. Oops, in my effort to correct the “Weigal” misspelling I introduced my own “Weige” misspelling (notice the lack of an “l” at the end).

    Sorry, Weigel.

  38. Well, it can’t be any worse that that horrible X-Men/Star Trek TNG cross over novel someone got published some years ago.

  39. carrick,

    You’re a most reasonable man. I like the tone and logic of your first post on this thread. Nice to see that someone is thinking clearly around here and that the nuts don’t run Arkham.

  40. Nice to see that someone is thinking clearly around here and that the nuts don’t run Arkham.

    Isn’t Arkham Asylum somebody else’s intellectual property? And yet you use it in your own comment.

  41. Just a little follow-up if anyone is still reading this.

    For John and others that fret that copyright allows ideas to be locked into a strongbox where no one else can touch them, you are mistaken.

    You cannot copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. If you read my expression of an idea, internalize it, and restate the idea in your own words; you have not infringed my copyright. If you do not credit me as the originator of the idea, you may be guilty of plagiarism, but not copyright infringement.

    If you read an article that I have written, then summarize my ideas in a new article – giving me due credit of course – you may then expand on the ideas and your article is now an original work. You have not infringed my copyright.

    Alternatively, if you take a copy of source code that I have written, tweak it a bit, and add new modules; then you have created a derivative work. If you do not have my permission to do so, then you have infringed my copyright.

    If you take a novel that I have written, borrow the main characters and locations; and write the characters into a new story; then you have created another type of derivative work. Again, if you do not have my permission to do so, then you have infringed my copyright. However, if your new story is social commentary in the form of a parody of my work, then the fair use doctrine protects you.

    Copyright law does not lock away key ideas and prevent the advancement of society. It only protects the ability of the originator of a creative work to profit from his/her efforts for as long as the market finds value in that work.

  42. I can’t believe that no one has mentioned any of the newer alternatives to copyright, such as Creative Commons and GPL. Copyright only allows for non-infringement of one’s work, without any regard to possible permitted exceptions; these newer formats address such concerns right from the outset, and are available in more flexible formats according to the user’s desire.

    Re fanfiction: It’s like the dancing bear – the amazing thing is not how well he dances, but that he can dance at all. Have any of you any read any fanfiction lately? A lot of it is, I’m sorry to say, dreadful.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject lately for an upcoming project, and have used my real email if anyone wants to discuss the subject further.

  43. Whoops – email added

  44. Stevo Darkly: Okay, enough of the lawyerly chatter. Bottom line: Can I use Angela Keaton, Cathy Young, Kerry Howley and Katherine Mangu-Ward without permission as characters in my “Bartenders of Gor” libertarian-slanted Firefly/Gor/Cheers crossover fanfic, or not?

    kevrob: If it’s a parody, you probably can. Also, if you can successfully argue that the ladies in question are “public figures.”

    Lawyerly chatter aside, Gor is incapable of being parodied for the same reason it is incapable of being read without snorts of derisive laughter. It is, however, both capable and richly deserving of ridicule.

  45. D.A.R. — Bwa ha ha! You have linked well.

    Confession: The only Gor stuff I’ve actually read consists of some extremely guilt-ridden browsing in the bookstore, but that seems to capture the formulae pretty well.

    I will never actually get around to writing of Sam Malone of Gor and his “kacheera.”

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