Fan Fiction: A Form of Writing as Authentic as Any Other
Creative writing is a difficult task many attempt but feel they cannot accomplish. It takes a lot of work to create and develop characters, to write the world they are in, and then make a cohesive plot for these characters to live through and respond to appropriately. Characterization is key, and flow is of utmost importance. The privileged people who are able to accomplish these feats are greatly admired and praised. Yet, there is a negative view on people who perform a nearly identical task but in a different manner: fan fiction authors. Fan fiction is the creation of fiction based on some official work that has acquired a fan base. The people who write fan fiction are very devoted to these works—often times movies, books, or shows, but also music and other genres of art—and enjoy exploring the possibilities within the worlds they choose to be part of. They write about their favorite characters, making sure to write them in character as they should be, and explore the world they are in. The negative stigma attached to fan fiction unfortunately comes from the fact that the characters these authors write for already exist as do the worlds. Yet it should be kept in mind that a lot of work goes into the plot as well as any original characters that may be developed. But the stereotype of “lazy writing” still sticks like old chewed gum on the bottom of a comfortable chair. Fan fiction is not lazy writing; it takes a lot of work, and it should be respected just as other works of fiction are. Fans are humans so they should be expected to be inquisitive and creative. They will have questions; they will imagine their favorite characters in certain situations; they will wonder how the plot would differ if a certain character was not there or if a different choice was made at some point. In the words of Ms. Kalinowski, “People … are ‘pattern-finding and story-telling animals. It’s what [they] do.’ They do not need an economic incentive. They will create because they want to bring something into the world, to express criticism, or simply express themselves” (2014). So when fans write out these situations, it should not come as a surprise, nor should their desire to share their work with other fans to see if others agree that their plot would work. Most fans work hard to write their stories as if it were to actually be part of the original content they are interested in. A lot of time and dedication goes into these pieces, just like any other piece of original work. Therefore, fan fiction should be treated fairly and with respect because it is legitimate writing (which can even be cited as such through academic writing), and should not be punished because of copyright issues.
The writing of fan fiction is an old practice that dates back many decades. But when it really took off to the point of becoming a subculture was during the 60s thanks to Star Trek and fanzines (Thomas). People were very attached to the show and wanted to participate in the culture surrounding it. This is known as participatory culture. Writing fan fiction is a way of commenting on aspects of the original work. This could be something as simple as the type of relationship Steve Rogers, the protagonist, and Bucky Barnes, his best friend, had prior to Steve becoming Captain America. This could also be something as drastic as Neville Longbottom—a quirky, interesting side character with key similarities in his tragic background as the protagonist Harry Potter—should have been revealed to be the true Chosen One that was to defeat lord Voldemort. Authors see particular characteristics that, when changed, could make quite a different spin-off. Within the context of Captain America, the dynamic the two friends shared was very interesting. But when looked at from an objective stand point, it could be seen as toxic. Bucky expected Steve to listen to whatever he had to say; he made Steve go to events that he knew Steve would not enjoy, and would bring companions along he knew would not be kind to Steve. Once Steve was on equal footing with Bucky thanks to the serum, Bucky said comments that were very cruel when looked at closely. A female finally paid attention to Steve instead of Bucky, and Bucky lashed out in a very passive-aggressive manner. This therefore could be fuel for fan fiction authors, a gold mine of information and ideas for stories. Fan fiction authors could explore the dynamic between the two friends and write back stories to explain why they stayed so close. Authors could write what goes through the characters head’s while they experience those moments that question the strength of the friendship, or moments that validate their loyalty. This is all with the effort to comment on the canon (official) information, and for authors to give their own opinion. If this opinion is well liked, it becomes fanon, or part of “the body of fan-created works that help to contribute to the community’s growing understanding of the source text” (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). But by commenting through fan fiction, these authors also participate in the gifting culture. Gifting culture is the production of works that are spread with no intention of making a profit (De Kosnik). The reason for this gifting culture is because the goals of a fan fiction author are not to cause problems for the original creators. Fan fiction authors love the works, and often times the creators of these works as well. They are not attempting to take fans away from the author. In fact, it is usually the opposite. They hope to bring fans into the fandom (i.e.- the community of fans for one specific show, movie, book, etc) through their own, usually shorter, works. Because of this gifting culture, financial profit is not taken away from the original authors (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). Fan fiction can even be considered free advertising for the original works (De Kosnik) if fan fiction authors’ works are popular enough. Since fan fiction has essentially no negative effects on the original works, fan fiction really should cause no legal issues. Yet, there is the Copyright Issues dilemma.
All fan fiction authors know about Copyright Issues. That is the reason the general rule of thumb for fan fiction authors is to write a disclaimer that can be seen on every chapter that is posted. No one wants to get into legal trouble because it can be claimed that a fan fiction author is plagiarizing. Most do not have the desire to fight this case, nor do they have the means to even do so. Fighting this legal issue would be drawn out, long, and tedious. It would take a lot to support, and it would take a lot to prove. What is necessary to prove about fan fiction to show that it is not damaging to the author is to prove that the works are both derivative and transformative. Enough of the original material must be part of the fan fiction to prove that the work is derivative, but the piece must be different enough from the original to prove that it is transformative. Therefore, a fan fiction where the main characters of the show Doctor Who are thrown into college as human students and human professors would probably not pass the test as it would not completely pass the derivative portion. Without the Tardis, the different enemies, and aliens in general, people without the background of Doctor Who might read the piece and think it is simply a college story about a professor named David Ten and a woman named Rose Tyler. There would of course also be some side stories of the young freshmen Amy Pond, her boyfriend Rory and their new friend Matt, the quirky professor Donna Noble, and the mysterious exchange student Clara Oswald. However, the significance of the characters and their portrayals would be missed, and therefore the derivative aspect would be lost. Yet this would very much pass the transformative aspect of the test because the work is really completely transformed so far from the original, some may not even see a similarity other than the names. The Fair Use Doctrine does give some leeway in terms of the prevention of negative consequences in two ways: the second factor deems Fair Use of a Copyrighted work by “the nature of the copyright work;” and the third which is “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyright as a whole” (Kalinowski). The judges in charge of verifying whether a derivative work passes the standards are required to “incorporate their own subjective value judgments” because they have to say if a piece is “trivial” or transformative enough to not impede on the copyright owner’s rights. However, as was stated in Ms. Kalinowski’s article, “[w]ithout knowledge of the creative process, judges lack an important tool to evaluate originality and must rely on their own definitions when applying these tests.”
The problem with this procedure is that the judges do not always know the fandom. They do not always know the characters or the characters or the original stories, so when they read a piece of fan fiction and think it “trivial,” they do not really have all the information necessary to make that decision. The fans and original creators are the ones who know the characters, the world, and the story’s mythology. They are the ones who would be able to say if a piece is trivial or transformative. A judge who has never seen Supernatural would not know the dynamic Team Free Will (Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester, and Castiel the angel) has. A fan fiction that follows the original story line and writes an extra “episode” so to say about the brothers investigation the curse of Macbeth at a local theater might be seen as trivial because whether that episode is seen or not, it makes no difference to the original creators. But the derivative aspect and creativity involved in writing it as if it were part of the show should be taken into consideration. Unless that judge were to read the piece and have seen the show, that judge would not be able to decisively say that piece should not be protected.
If a piece is very well know, much like Gone With the Wind, and a work is made based off of that, there would be a much higher chance of that work getting better results (De Kosnik). One example would be The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Gone With the Wind. It challenged parts of the story that portrayed slavery in a positive light and the author gave a commentary that was of significance and deemed important enough to hear. The reason this can be used under a fan fiction lens is because, for all intents and purposes, this piece was a fan fiction. The world of the novel Gone With the Wind was used; the characters were all there, but there was a different protagonist; the main events were all the same; and it stuck very close to the original thus showing that it was a derivative work.
The significance of derivative works is their commentary. According to Mayer-Schonberger and Wong, “[a]cademics take published ideas of others and expand them, apply them to different contexts or genres, test them, rephrase and reframe them, and even reinterpret them” (2014). This is not at all different from what fan fiction authors do with derivative works. In the “Fan or Foe” article, the correlation between academic articles and fan fiction is drawn. This article shows how fan fiction has its legitimacy because of the parallels: “the same way… academic authors seek to augment a body of knowledge with their writing, so do fan fiction authors hope to contribute their interpretations and analysis to a narrative growing in richness” (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). There is “a level of respect and reverence” (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong) from fan fiction authors that show the lack of a malignant intent. This article even goes further and talks about the control aspect that is the main reason for copyright issues today. Since “authors assert that they are the sole and true creators of their… works,… only they are permitted to retain and exercise intellectual control over the fictional… [works] they have created” (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). However, this notion of genius from a single person started during the romantic period and was not the case before then (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). Before that point, “Writing was seen as a largely derivative process in which authors built upon ideas and works that preceded them—and the concept of authorships reflected that” (Mayer-Schonberger and Wong). Therefore, there was no desire for control before, nor were there so many issues when building upon already established works as there are today.
If one were to really analyze any work, anything that is a spin-off, a sequel, a prequel, or in the same world, but has different authors or creators, those works could be classified as fan fiction. Within the anime adaption of the manga Bleach, there are many seasons that could be deemed fan fiction. That is because those seasons are not part of the original stories, they are just filler episodes — i.e.- episodes that are there to fill in the time necessary for the original creator, Tite Kubo, to write more. Nor do they have the same creators. They sometimes are used to comment on the dynamic of some of the characters (such as Ichigo and Rukia’s relationship); sometimes they are there as comedic relief from the seriousness and sometimes depressive storyline. But since they are using the same characters are in the same world, and are not created by the original author, these episodes can be called fan fiction. This is an example where fan fiction is not only allowed, but is seen in a positive light. This shows the kind of relationship that could be emulated with other works. Fan fictions are often written to theorize and to pass the times between episodes, seasons, or books. As Ms. Monroe stated, “fanfiction authors know how to speak back to the works they love. There are books they want to read. So instead of waiting for them, fans are writing them. And people are noticing” (2013). Fan fictions are written with the intent to occupy a reader’s attention while giving time to the original creator to finish their work. Though once the show, movie, or book is completely over, fan fiction helps keep people coming back to the original works because it keeps the interest alive once the creator is done with the works.
Due to the current situation however, this dynamic does not seem like it will happen anytime soon. Luckily, there is the fair use doctrine to help in the case of copyright infringement issues. To clarify, “[f]air use is a doctrine that provides that some uses of copyrighted works, beyond those specifically allowed in the Copyright Act in other discrete provisions, are not infringing” (Jamar). This means fan fiction is copyright eligible in the case of critiques, commentaries, researching, news, and classroom teaching (Jamar). If works are fair-use eligible, a test to determine whether the works are fair use or not takes place. According to Mr. Jamar’s article, the four factors of the test are:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (Jamar)
If these factors are met, then Fair Use can be cited as a safeguard against Copyright Infringement issues.
As was stated in Mr. Jamar’s article, works for the intent of classroom teaching are fair-use eligible. This helps establish the legitimacy of fan fiction within the academic realm. This is because, within education, time cannot and should not be wasted. If schools deem fan fiction worthy of being taught and used within a classroom environment, the education system sees its merit. Many positive aspects come from fan fiction within an academic setting. Spaces where students can write fan fiction are good because “these spaces motivate young people to write through self-directed and interest-based opportunities to share their work with an authentic audience” (Curwood et al). Fan fiction allows these young writers to learn how to take charge and complete a task because they are interested in the topic they are writing for. Schools and parents constantly preach about how a person should try to find a job in a field the student will enjoy because that is what that they will do for the rest of their lives. In the case of fan fiction, if a student enjoys writing, and discovers this passion through fan fiction, that is brilliant. The student experiences the joy of the future career and gets a taste of it before it becomes official, and is therefore able to make a wiser decision on a career choice. Also, since “[m]ore than a third of students’ writing took place outside school, and much of it occurred online,” (Curwood et al) this shows the significance of fan fiction within an academic setting. A third is quite a significant amount of students. Within the average school, there is a good couple of hundred. Hypothetically, if a school had three hundred students, one hundred are interested in writing and doing it on their own time. That is very important. Not only that, but fan fiction also helps students with their writing skills, with their interpersonal and socializing skills, and with developing their dedication and perseverance (Chandler-Olcatt and Mahar). The more a person writes, the more practice he or she gets, and the better that person’s writing becomes, therefore improving that person’s writing skills. Since most fan fiction is shared online, interacting with reviewers and other fan fiction authors helps a student learn how to social and learn what to say in certain situations, especially in the situation of negative feedback. And, last but not least, to be a fan fiction author or a writer in general requires a lot of dedication, so that stories will be completed, and perseverance so that negative comments or writers block will not bring a student’s self-worth down. Fan fiction also helps teach students how to interpret and redesign their perceived world by looking at orders of discourse or “the structured set of conventions associated with semiotic activity” (Black). By trying to write a person’s emotions and actions in certain activities, it forces writers to look at the way they themselves act within similar situations. According to Thomas, “online spaces devoted to fan fiction provide more than spaces for writing; they provide a supportive community for many young people… to express themselves and play with the texts they enjoy without fear of negativity or exclusion…” (2006). If classrooms could emulate that supportive environment found online, students would learn how to express themselves out loud in a clearer fashion and with much more ease. The fear of saying the wrong thing would not be as much of an issue. And exclusion would not be at the forefront of many students’ minds.
This supportive community online is in a large part due to fandom: “while fandom is by no means a perfect community, it is for the most part a space where freedom to read and write are felt in a much more concrete way than in more official spaces” (Tosenberger). Fans are able to comment on the works they love so much. There is not a need to worry about the wording of a person’s ideas because of later repercussions in other, non fan fiction related events, nor is there any judgment that a person will have to worry about every time readers of the stories see the author. There may be those that say fan fiction changes the “master piece” of the original author’s characters, but as Ms. Kalinowski pointed out, “[e]ach manifestation of a character lives on safely and distinctly in the minds of consumers.” The supportive environment of fandom and online spaces helps reiterate what the canon material says is the proper way a characters acts. But fan fiction allows there to be multiple variations or “manifestations” within the minds of readers and authors. This can be taken into consideration from the courts’ perspective to help with the proper understanding of fan fiction. Most importantly however, in response to the idea that fan fiction is not “real,” this is what Ms. Monroe had to say:
Fanfiction authors are turning a deaf ear to those who tell them that fanfiction is not original literature, not real literature. Fan fiction authors reject the notion that one form of literature is more legitmate, more “real” than others. We’re talking to a literature that we love through its own medium, through a literature written for fans by fans, that is just as legitimate, just as real. It’s fanfiction. And it’s real for us” (Monroe).
Fan fiction is a form of respect to the original authors; there is no malicious intent against them. In fact, there are only positive intents behind fan fiction. That is, to comment and critique, and to talk to others with the same passion. The fact that fan fiction has been around for a long time shows that there is no threat from fan fiction. And all the positive aspects of fan fiction, and all the work it takes to make these piece shows that fan fiction is real writing as Ms. Monroe asserted. Fan fiction should be seen positively, it should be treated fairly, it should be treated as authentic writing, and copyright laws should reflect the legitimacy of fan fiction.
Black, Rebecca W. “Online Fan Fiction And Critical Media Literacy.” Journal of Computing In
Teaching Education 26.2 (2009): 75-80. Education Research Complete. Web. 2 Oct 2014.
Chandler-Olcatt, Kelly, and Donna Mahar. “Adolescents’ Anime-Inspired ‘Fanfictions’: An
Exploration of Multiliteracies.” Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 46.7 (2003): 556. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Sept 2014.
Curwood, Jen Scott, Alecia Marie Magnified, and Jayne C. Lammers. “Writers In The Wild:
Writers’ Motivation In Fan-Based Affinity Spaces.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56.8 (2013): 677-685. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Sept 2014.
De Kosnik, Abigail. “Should Fan Fiction Be Free?.” Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 118-124.
Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.
Jamar, Steven D. “When The Author Owns The World: Copyright Issues Arising From
Monetizing Fan Fiction.” Texas A&M Law Review 1.(2014): 959. LexisNexis Academic: Law Reviews. Web. 29 Sept 2014.
Kalinoski, Pamela. “The Fairest of Them All: The Creative Interest Of Female Fan Fiction
Writers And The Fair Use Doctrine.” William & Mary Journal Of Women & The Law 20.3 (2014): 655-683. Criminal Justice Abstracts. Web. 29 Sept 2014.
Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor, and Lena Wong. “Fan Or Foe? Fan Fiction, Authorship, And The
Fight For Control.” IDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review 54.1 (2014): 1 Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. 29 Sept 2014.
Monroe, Lauren W. “It’s Real For Us: The Literariness of Fanfiction and Its Use As Corrective
Fiction.” (2013): OAlster. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Thomas, Angela. “Fan Fiction Online: Engagement, Critical Response And Affective Play
Through Writing.” Australian Journal Of Language And Literacy, The 29.3 (2006): 226. Informit Indigenous Collection. 29 Sept 2014.
Tosenberger, Catherine. “Mature Poets Steal: Children’s Literature And The Unpublishabililty of
Fanfiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 39.1 (2014): 4-27. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 29 Sept 2014.