Hello, I’m HatedLove6, and that‘s what I used to do. Welcome. Some of you may know me as the Mary-Sue Guru or for my Mary-Sue guides, but I’m not here to talk about that. If you want to read about Mary-Sues, I have two series of guides and rants called Mary-Sue: Who is She? and The Mary-Sue Complaints Checklist, but this is a guide purely for fan fiction, particularly for those who are new to it. I’ll hopefully cover what it is, why write it; why not write original fiction, the fandom creators and the fan fiction writers along with their rights. I’m not here to dictate what a good fan fiction is or tell you not to do that or such. Who am I to judge what quality is? All this is is a collection of tips and guides in presenting your fan fiction in the best way possible.
I’ve been writing fan fiction since 2005; some were bad, a few were atrocious, but some I have truly enjoyed writing and continue to do so. I honestly think that I’m going to be writing fan fiction for the rest of my life, it‘s that enjoyable. It takes me back to those good old days, except there are no brothers or cousins or anyone else bossing me around this time. During these years of learning and practicing, I figure that maybe it could be beneficial for some people new to fan fiction to read what I have learned from the get-go instead of the years learning the hard way. Please keep in mind that I’m from the United States, so our laws may not be applicable from wherever you are.
Let’s start right now with what fan fiction is.
Fan fiction is a story media that based upon already copyrighted work that is usually made by fans. It could be written stories, in script format, performed in plays or a video, animated as a cartoon or even drawn as comics.
Is it illegal?
To be honest, it’s on the fence, and it’s a case by case basis. Some creators don’t allow fan fiction or fan art at all, some have put limits and breaks on what kind of fan fiction is appropriate, and a majority don’t really care because they see fan fiction as free advertisements to the original work. I know I’ve found new stuff to enjoy through fan fiction. So as long as you don’t break any of the creators’ personal rules regarding fan fiction or fan art, and you follow the fair use laws, you should be fine.
What is public domain and fair use?
Public domain is creative works or ideas that either is ineligible for copyrights, was never registered for copyrights between 1978 and 1989, or the copyright has expired and is free for distributing and copying. Most copyrights only last between 70 to 120 years after the creator has passed away, so while you cannot have the original DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” (unless you’re a bajillionaire and can buy the painting that the museum rightfully owns and also has rights to sell detailed copies), you are allowed to purchase or get a hold of the copies and do whatever you want with them, basically, including publishing in books or post on websites, use it for research papers, all without needing permission, but citations are still recommended.
Fair use, on the other hand, is between public domain and a work being completely protected. It’s basically an exception to copyright in which a person can make something out of a limited use of the copyrighted material without the creator‘s permission; however there are some creators who have filed their works under a derivative law that specifically bans this exception from public viewing, so, fair use or not, you‘re not allowed to write fan fiction or make fan art of this specific copyrighted material. For a work such as fan fiction to be considered in fair use, it cannot: (1) be made for profit, or affect the owner’s profit of the copyrighted material (2) be a hate work against the original copyrighted material or the creator, and (3) have enough material from the copyright works to be considered plagiarism. In case of fan fiction and fan art rather than an article, essay, tutorial or other non-fiction works for educational purposes, the latter will be more forgiving in a court of law than fictional works (this includes fan poetry).
Isn’t fan fiction plagiarism anyway?
It doesn’t have to be. There are two forms of plagiarism that are recognized by most: copying by verbatim of another’s copyrighted work (writing a transcription of a cartoon, or copying paragraphs and paragraphs of a book, for example), and using material without citing the source or putting up a disclaimer. If you do the first part, your fan fiction is not under fair use any more, and is also considered to be plagiarism, but if you don’t do the first, but also don’t do the second, it could be considered fair use still, but can be considered as plagiarism. In other words, if you don’t copy the copyrighted material and you cite the source or put up a disclaimer, it’s not considered plagiarism and you should be safe within the fair use law.
That being said, even though your fan fiction is technically under someone else’s copyright, you also hold a right to be recognized for your fan fiction, so if someone plagiarizes your work, something can be done about it. Did the creator write your fan fiction? No, you did. This was your additional idea to an already existing fandom; therefore, that little bit is yours. There is even a reason as to why some creators are not allowed to read fan fictions based on their own work, and the fan fiction author can even sue the creator for making a profit off of something based off of their fan fiction if that happens.
So which creators can’t I make fan fiction for at all?
Keep in mind, you can make fan fiction for these authors; however you cannot put them online or publish them in magazines or release it to the public. If you keep it a secret in your private journals and don’t share it with anyone, you’re safe. If I have missed anyone, be sure to let me know so I can add their names to this list as soon as possible.
- Anne Rice (Anne Rampling, A.N. Roquelaure)
- 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 (Megan Lindholm)
- Robin McKinley
- Terry Goodkind
Are there any authors that limit what I can do in fan fiction?
Yes. While I only know of two authors that fit this category, if there are more, I’ll add them.
J.K. Rowling doesn’t want any racism or pornography in fan fiction based on her works, but other than that, she seems OK with it.
Anne McCaffery used to not allow fan fiction at all, but changed her mind before she passed away. Her conditions are that as long as it’s not for profit or is used non-commercially, there must be a disclaimer citing back to her on the transcripts or stories, the site that hosts the RPG, fan art or fan fiction can’t contain adds that sell these fan stuffs that doesn’t make her profit, along with these sites being free to sign up and register along with being free to post stuff online, and, of course, no pornography.
What is RPF? Is it like RPG?
RPF stands for Real Person Fiction, so it is not a Role-Playing Game. This is a fan fiction that focuses on a real live person, usually a famous celebrity. If the Real Person Fiction focuses on the actor or actress, it focuses on the person, not the roles they have played in a movie, show or play. I’ve never dabbled in this, nor do I want to, but there are some things I would like to say. If you are writing RPF, keep in mind that while a person cannot be copyrighted, if you write about them getting into drugs, alcohol, pedophilia, rape, being an abuser, basically anything that portrays them as breaking the law, you are misrepresenting the person you are writing about which can affect their lives, their job, their relationship to the public, and therefore breaks one of the rules to fair use and you can pay a penalty. Big time. It’s considered libel especially if you didn‘t get this celebrity‘s documented permission in order for you to write this story. Libel is dangerous even in original fiction. That’s why you see this disclaimer on one of the first few pages of every story:
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Personally, I don’t care if you write this stuff, but be careful, and don’t bring me in the middle of it. And before you ask, yes, I do consider this to be a fan fiction type because the writers would probably be a fan of this person; however be aware that this fan fiction guide is not aimed towards RPF, therefore some things may not apply or there maybe some additional rule that you should know, but wasn‘t mentioned because this guide is focusing on fan fiction based on fictional fandoms. I don’t have anything against people writing RPF, but to be honest, I don’t know enough to write a guide for it.
Please remember that I’m not a lawyer, nor do I hold any degrees in anything, so not everything regarding copyright, public domain, fair use, and libel is accurate. If there’s anything that needs to be added or corrected, please let me know. Now let’s move on, shall we?
How do I type a disclaimer, and where do I put it?
A lot of sites that host fan fiction actually don’t put it in the site rules or guidelines telling you that you have to put up a disclaimer, which is really weird, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In sites such as Ghosts of the Vanguard that have a story notes section, that would be a great place to put a disclaimer because it automatically shows up on every chapter, but in the author notes of the first chapter is enough if you don‘t have a story notes section. I seriously doubt, unless it’s a site requirement, that you have to copy and paste the disclaimer on every chapter in a fan fiction story, but if you’re on a site like Deviantart where the chapters are kind of separated from each other and you have to manually link them to each other, then I would say that you have to put a disclaimer on every chapter. Quizilla is tricky, but because this site allows you to connect all of the chapters of a story together on the site instead of having you manually link them, then I would say that the first chapter would be enough; however if you use the quiz-format to write the fan fiction, then you have to put up the disclaimer on every chapter because the chapters can‘t be linked together.
Firstly, see if you are allowed to post the fan fiction. Like I said before, some authors don’t allow fan fiction at all, period. If you have discovered that this person doesn’t allow fan fiction, don’t bother with a disclaimer because you’re not allowed to post it anyway. If you can’t find the writer or creator, find the corporation or publisher that owns the fandom, but always keep in mind that the writer or creator is always the best person to cite in a disclaimer. Then make sure to state that all canon material belongs to this person, and that this fan fiction is for non-profit entertainment purposes. It should look somewhat like this:
Ouran High School Host Club, its setting, and characters are in ownership and copyright of Hatori Bisco. This fan fiction is for non-profit entertainment purposes under fair use. The original characters and ideas outside of Bisco’s copyrighted material belong to me.
You can also thank the author for creating the fandom, but it’s just a courtesy thing. It kind of goes without saying, I think.
For RPF, you can combine the above disclaimer along with the original fiction character libel disclaimer, stating that the story is non-profit; you don’t own the person and all of the events within the story are purely fictional.
Also keep in mind, that even if you put up a disclaimer and that the RPF is still within fair use and not plagiarism, the celebrity, like many fandom creators, can still call for a cease and desist and register themselves—their name, image, and likeness—under a law similar to the derivative law that creators have for their original ficiton.
Is that all I need to know?
Of course not! There’s much more that I wish to tell you! But I don’t want to put it all under one chapter.