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 (www.absolutewrite.com) 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.