Feral Copyright and Fandom | jdickins | July 27, 2012


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Feral Copyright and Fandom

by jdickins Show/Hide

Feral copyright is a term describing copyright as it is understood and practiced by non-practitioners. Because fanfiction is a legal gray area, most definitive statements about it are expressions of how copyright is understood in the wild rather than an actual legal opinion.

The first two pieces here explain a particularly important example of feral copyright—an incident involving a fan and published author Marion Zimmer Bradley which has influenced how many older authors view fanficiton. The third is an example of one way fans try to interact with copyright—by assigning away their rights to the characters in the stories they write. The last is a lengthly and well-argued piece making the case that fanfiction is a natural extension of a more honestly communal approach to cultural creation.


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  1. 1 Show/Hide More Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy
    First paragraph: “Beyond her well-known writing career, Marion Zimmer Bradley (often called MZB) is famous in fandom as the central figure in a controversy over fanfiction which supposedly made it impossible for her to publish one of her own novels. The story is told often and in widely varying forms throughout fandom and among professional authors. It's frequently cited by authors who object to fanfiction to one degree or another, or as evidence that professional authors should avoid reading fanfic based on their published works, to a degree that approaches ‘urban legend' status. The details in popular accounts vary widely, involving alleged threats of lawsuits on both sides and estimates of the amount of material lost ranging from incomplete notes to ‘four years of work'.”
  2. 2 Show/Hide More The Contraband Incident: The strange case of Marion Zimmer Bradley
    First paragraph: “When fans create a new work from the preexisting material of their fandom, they are doing so for their own, sometimes disparate purposes. And while most authors at best enjoy their admirers' activities, and at worst actively try to force them to end it, very few are interested in engaging with it meaningfully. Most restrict themselves to short statements in interviews or on their official Web sites. The late Marion Zimmer Bradley, however, was quite different. She said of her own most famous fictional world, ‘I didn't invent Darkover, I discovered it.'”
  3. 3 Show/Hide More The Piteousness of Disclaimers
    Original Creator: jdickins
    Disclaimers on fan works demonstrate their unclear legal status. They do not preclude an infringement suit, but some believe disclaimers/author credits may appease nervous authors. Here are some examples:
  4. 4 Show/Hide More FanFiction.net Content Guidelines

    In addition to published authors and fanfiction writers and readers having to negotiate copyright in the wild, the online service providers who host fan works have their own policies. This is a link to a copy of fanfiction.net's position.

    The official version of the list of authors who have informed fanfiction.net they do not want their works to be mentioned in fanfiction is here (but it requires a user account to view): https://www.fanfiction.net/story/story_tab_guide.php

    Here is the list:

    Anne Rice
    Archie comics
    Dennis L. McKiernan
    Irene Radford
    J.R. Ward
    Laurell K. Hamilton
    Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
    P.N. Elrod
    Raymond Feist
    Robin Hobb
    Robin McKinley
    Terry Goodkind

  5. 5 Show/Hide More "I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay" by Aja Romano (bookshop)
    Original Creator: jdickins
    In addition to using disclaimers, some fans engage deeply in copyright debates about originality and derivation and what Martha Woodmansee call's the “romantic conception of the author” and the future of the entertainment industry. This post includes a great many examples of pieces of classical literature which fit most definitions of fanfiction but also articulates well why fans choose to risk costly litigation for a hobby and addresses the most common complaints about fanfiction which arise from critical authors.
  6. 6 Show/Hide More Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson
    Original Creator: jdickins
    Core quote: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and bene-volently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

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May 21, 2013

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