Thursday, April 18, 2013

Slippery Slope

I'll come right out and say it: I'm a pessimist. After last week's foray into fan fiction, I got wondering about a couple of things. 50 Shades of Grey to the contrary, there's no money to be made in fanfic. They're not your characters. They belong to E. L. James and Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling and Eric Kripke and Joss Whedon or whoever created them in the first place. We write this stuff for the love, not the money, because trying to make money from it is called plagiarism. If you absolutely have to write fanfic and still want to get a check, you can do what I did: write an original story and "cast" the actors from the TV show as the leads. Chances are, if you're writing AU (alternate universe) to start with, the story and characters are going to mutate anyway and by the time you're done you'll have an original work on your hands. Saves a lot of bucks on lawyer fees.

That scene I wrote last week was meant as a joke, just for laughs. But my pessimistic brain got to thinking. Suppose, in the wide open world of the Internet, somebody connected to the show stumbled across my joke scene. Suppose they liked it, enough that they decided to incorporate it onto the show or in one of the tie-in books. Suppose they did this without telling me. So one evening I'm watching the show, or reading a book, and there's my scene, almost word-for-word. Either it's the most amazing coincidence in the history of TV fiction, or I've just been ripped off.

What are my legal options? I'd say zip. It was a piece of fanfic, stuck on the web as a free read for everyone to see and rip off. The characters don't belong to me. If anyone would be accused to stealing it would be me, for using someone else's creations in the first place.

This is all hypothetical, of course, and the odds are astronomically against it actually happenings. Too bad. I'd love to see that scene on TV, even if I didn't get paid for it.

And then, in the world of weird coincidences, I ran across a thread on  the Absolute Write forums ( that took my paranoid can of worms and slapped a whole new label on it. See what you think about this:

There's this indie writer (can't remember his name, Howey something or other; maybe I'll look it up later) who indie published a story, "Wool," and a number of sequels. It did well and got him noticed. "Howey" has a publisher now, and his "Wool" series has fans and a following.

"Howey" appreciates his fans so much he's encouraging them to write their own stories set in the "Wool" universe. Not just write them, but publish them. On Amazon. For money.

Yeah, you read that right. This guy is encouraging his readers to write, publish and sell their own fanfic based on his original concepts. What a guy.

And what a potential mess.

Hey, it's his decision. If he wants to give away his rights and cut into his own profits, that's up to him. I'm not sure what his publisher or agent thinks about this. Here's what the folks on AW think: is he out of his freakin' mind? Does he expect to get a percentage from any derivative works? What happens if somebody writes something that violates his concept of his universe? What happens if it takes off, a la 50 Shades? Would he go after the writer then? Who now owns the rights to his creation, if he's basically given them away?

Or the question that occurred to me after I wrote last week's scene, but didn't want to mention for fear of giving unscrupulous people ideas: what's to stop somebody from taking all that free literature that's been posted all over the Internet, changing a few names and scenes here and there, and selling it as your own?  What legal recourse do you have if it was fan fiction to start with?

Or, as I explained to Savanna, suppose someone else had turned E. L. James's original fan fiction into 50 Shades of Grey? What could she do? Go cry to Stephenie Meyers?

I think I'll avoid the whole mess by not writing fanfic any more. Or if I do, it'll only be short scenes like last week's. Or I won't post it where it can be pirated by anyone with a computer. I like to make money from what I do. That's why those books I mentioned earlier in the post never had a fanfic version. I've never denied its origins, but it's an original work now, and I own it. So there.

We'll be putting a copyright notice up on the Shapeshifter Seductions blog in the near future. We've had enough problems excising all the risky names from the characters for indie publication (it was fine when we were doing it for free, but once you start raking in the bucks lawyers come sniffing around). Now people are going to listen to this guy and think it's okay to rip off any book or TV show because this one writer said so. Not our stuff, folks. We own it. Hands off.

Fasten your seatbelts, readers. We're in for a bumpy ride. I think that paraphrased line is from All About Eve. I'm citing all references from here on in.


Savanna Kougar said...

lol in terms of the end of your post, Pat ... hell, that line *it's going to be a bumpy ride* was probably ripped off in the first place... meaning, in part, I hear someone say a certain expression. I like it, and I have a character who would also 'naturally' say that because they're from that part of the country, or that particular social group...

Yeah, this whole who owns what -- in some cases -- is a sticky wicket on many levels. I sure don't think anyone has the right to rip off characters or a particular world created by an author.

As far as what you mentioned about fanfic or free stories on the web, that's already happened. The stories are stolen and put on Amazon for sale. One writer discovered a bunch of her stories that she'd offered for free, being sold on Amazon. Since she could prove it... well, she got some satisfaction.

Really, it's past time to offer stories for free, imo. For gosh sake, offer them for 99cents. That's not much to try out an author, or check out a story.

Fanfic would likely be much more of a problem for obvious reasons. Although, there have been times when the names were simply changed, the stories stolen, and put out for sale.

Okay, I'll confess. I can't write every story there is for the world/universes I build as an author. So, I had this thought, oh about five years ago. If another author did want to play in my world, either use my secondary characters, or create new characters... well, I thought about having a contract where I get ten percent off the top as the original creator, and I have final approval simply to make certain the story works for my world.

But no takers so far.

And since over at SHAPESHIFTER SEDUCTIONS we've all created the Talbot's Peak world/universe, that's equal opportunity for us, but for no other authors.

Pat C. said...

Just checked; the writer's name is Hugh Howey. I was close.

What you're proposing was done by Marion Zimmer Bradley with her "Darkover" universe back in the '70s and '80s. She used to encourage fan writers and let them play in her world. There were even Darkover anthologies with stories written by the fans, paid for and professionally published by DAW Books, all with MZB's blessing.

At least until a fan wrote a story that duplicated the plot of the "real" novel MZB was working on. Or she read the fan story, liked the idea, and tried to buy it from the fan writer. Accounts differ depending on who you talk to. The upshot was, the fan made demands, MZB said no, lawyers were called in, the book got dropped, and a year of MZB's work had to be scrapped. That was the end of the Darkover anthologies, and of MZB encouraging fan fiction.

Tie-in novels are a whole different animal. They're assigned and contracted by the publisher, and have to meet the copyright holder's standards. (Bottom line: no slash. Drat.)

Bottom line: write all the fanfic you want, but don't try to sell it, even if the original author says you can, without every little contingency covered in writing and under a lawyer's watchful eye. Yeah, it'd be easier for us if somebody else wrote our books for us, but imagine if their books sold better. I know I'd be royally pissed.

Savanna Kougar said...

Since I personally 'rarely' write anything close to fanfic, I'm not in that particular situation. And don't intend to be.

I wouldn't encourage the writing of fanfic in terms of my author worlds and characters. What I'm proposing is another author/writer who wants to write a spinoff, and we strike a deal. And if her/his book outdid mine, well, hell my sister made it a rule to outdo me in school, and absolutely hated it when I inadvertently outdid her. Not because I tried. It just happened on my on merits.

So, upshot, no, I wouldn't exactly like it if this other author's book did better, that is, in terms of my petty ego. On the other hand, it would likely boost the sales of my book.

Savanna Kougar said...

And actually, my thought is, that the more Shapeshifter Seductions books we're able to write and publish, then the more we'll end up selling. In part because there could be readers who simply like being in the Talbot Peak's world we've created.

Pat C. said...

Then I'd better get to work on mine. That'll be Rick and Bari. I think I'll leave Jase and Burne in Philadelphia because I've got ideas for a possible series, and because it's M/M. Don't want to shake up the readers too much right off the bat.

Pat C. said...

PS: Sergei has a secondary role in it! Yay!

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, sounds good. Do you have a Talbot's Peak character list? Other than your main starring cast?

Savanna Kougar said...

by the by... if you read my blog hop flash, were Digger and Laurie okay as far as characterization?

Pat C. said...

No problems with Digger and Laurie. I haven't used them enough for them to have established personalities yet, other than Digger pals around with bunnies and Laurie's a vegetarian.

TP cast list for that story, or in general? So far for the story I've got Rick and Bari, Ravi, Sergei,and Miss Elly. Others may pop up; I won't know until I get there. Somebody's going to have to rat out Bari's whereabouts to Ravi, but whether it's a regular or somebody knew I won't know until I write the scene.

I think J&B will have a better chance with Siren or somebody because it's M/M. The TP story will have to be self-pubbed. A couple of scenes have already appeared for free on SSS. I've heard M/F doesn't do that well on Siren these days anyway.

Savanna Kougar said...

Cast list in general for your flash scenes.

Yeah, since m/m is the going thing right now, then I'd go with that.

Last I read of the submissions guidelines at Siren, it was some percentage of the story that had been made public... one reason I self-pubbed HMSC... although, as it turned out, since it went so long, probably I would met those guidelines... still, Indie is probably better in the long scheme.