Who were the writers against fanfiction? A brief history of the time when fandoms could be denounced and how things have changed over time.

Nowadays, the works and their fandoms are closely linked. The creators of works (books, films, TV series, etc.) often keep in close contact with fans, cultivating a community alive and prolific. Indeed, it is no secret that emotional involvement leads to loyalty of the fan base.

Also for this reason, the creators of works often encourage the creation of tributes to their work, including fanfiction and fanart. Being not for profit, in fact, these fanworks do not affect the copyright of the original works, but they are de facto free advertising.

However, there has been a long time in which we have seen a strong line-up of writers and writers against fanfictions based on their works. You know all the good stories about Game of Thrones? Here, before the release of the television series there was not even a shadow of it. And what about the fanfiction on Outlander? Again, the author of the book from which the television series was based had banned them. We don't even talk about what could happen to fanwriters who wanted to “play” with the characters of Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice!

What had put these writers and writers against fanfictions? What were the consequences for the various fandoms? What has changed in recent years? With this article, let's take a little look.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, the example set by (almost) all writers against fanfiction
Marion Zimmer Bradley, the example set by (almost) all writers against fanfiction

Writers and writers against fanfictions: the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley

When it comes to writers and writers against fanfictions, the story of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Every writer against fanfiction literally quotes the story of Marion Zimmer Bradley, although the question is more nebulous than it seems. Let's see what happened to the famous feminist writer. To do this, we will rely on the sources collected by the fantasy and science fiction writer Jim C. Hines.

At first, Marion Zimmer Bradley encouraged fanfictions inspired by your works. For example, he didn't believe he invented the world of Darkover, but to have simply discovered it. And so he said:

If others wish to play in my fantasy world, who am I to slam its gates and in churlish voice demand that they build their own? ... Why should I deny myself the pleasure of seeing these young writers learning to do their thing by, for a little while, doing my thing with me?

In 1986, the fan Jean Lamb published the short story Masks, set in the setting of Darkover, on the fanzine Moon Phases. On what happened next, the matter is unclear, but we have two versions main events.

Different and unclear testimonials

Marion Zimmer Bradley, in a letter to Writers Digest of 1993, claimed that Lamb had written a story set in the world of Darkover, using the characters and setting of the writer. The problem was that the setting used by Lamb overlapped that used by the writer for her next Darkover novel. Since Lamb had sent her a copy of the fanzine the story was published in and Bradley had read it, the publisher would not publish the new novel.

Jean Lamb, on the other hand, says he received it a letter offering her money (a few hundred dollars) and a dedication for all the rights on Masks. Lamb had tried very politely to bargain for a better deal. The answer had been: be satisfied with what we offer you, because writers far better than you have been paid less.

The testimonials of two other fanwriters

Mercedes Lackey, a fantasy writer who often collaborated with Marion Zimmer Bradley at the time, tells a still different version. In fact, according to her, Bradley, while writing a new book on Darkover, particularly appreciated Lamb's approach. asked the fan to re-propose her idea in the new book, offering her a classic recognition on the cover of the book. This kind of deal had been proposed to other fanwriters other times, according to Lackey.

Finally, we also have the testimony of Elizabeth Waters, another fanwriter who confirms that Bradley had borrowed the work of her fans at other times. Waters says that in 1977 she had written her own story set in the world of Darkover, which was sent by a friend of hers at Bradley. The writer then reworked this fanfiction in the story The Keeper's Price, who then gave the name to Marion Zimmer Bradley's entire collection of stories about Darkover. The Keeper's Price is titled here as one collaboration between Bradley and Waters.

The consequences of the diatribe

At the end of all this mess, Jean Lamb and Marion Zimmer Bradley have not found an agreement and Bradley's new book was not published.

This led the writer to change your fanfiction policy:

Let this be a warning to other authors who might be tempted to be similarly generous with their universes, I know now why Arthur Conan Doyle refused to allow anyone to write about Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to be more accommodating, but I don't like where it has gotten me. It's enough to make anyone into a misanthrope.

Now, it is not clear who, between Bradley and Lamb, approached a lawyer first, nor is it clear how much of Bradley's work was lost. Without more information, it is difficult to say whether Bradley's offer was too poor or whether Lamb was unreasonable. However, there is also no evidence that Jean Lamb had sued Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The responsibilities of Marion Zimmer Bradley

However, it is quite clear that the problem did not arise from the fact that Darkover fans wrote fanfictions, but from the fact that Bradley wanted to use the stories of their fans in their new worksis. And if some fans, rightly, were happy to be publicly thanked and did not give any problems, other fans, justly rightly, claimed to keep the rights to their work.

What happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley, therefore, should not be used as a warning to authors not to allow fans to write fanfictions. On the contrary, it should warn writers about reading and using material written by their fans.

One of the major fanfiction writers: George RR Martin
One of the major fanfiction writers: George RR Martin

Writers against fanfictions: the case of George RR Martin

In the early 2000s the phenomenon of fanfictions was already fully in motion and several online platforms had formed that acted as archives. However, although fanfictions, if free, do not violate copyright rules and are protected by the Fair use, not all authors want others to use their characters.

Some authors, like George RR Martin, they support fanfictions on their works as long as no one sends them to them. In fact, a fanfiction could always turn up that follows the path that Martin thought for his books and the author could be accused of plagiarism of fanfiction. Martin, in fact, reports the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley, claiming that her episode had a profound effect on him and on other science fiction writers.

Does allowing fanfictions lose the rights to your works? Martin's fears

The big problem, for Martin, is the fact that people write fan fiction without first asking the author's permission. Also, giving other people permission to write fanfiction based on their own stories ends up make the author lose control and, above all, the rights over his works. Martin gives the example of Lovecraft, who allowed so many people to use and rework their works for free, that he died penniless.

A writer's creations are his livelihood. […] Those of us, like Diana Galabdon and myself, who prefer not to allow fan fictioners to use our worlds and characters are not doing it just to be mean. We are doing it to protect ourselves and our creations.

Finally, according to Martin, fanfictions are not legal, are not part of Fair Use and are, in essence, a copyright infringement. So, again according to Martin, if an author does not defend the copyright of his works when a fanwriter writes a free fanfiction, then he is giving up the rights to his works. Consequently, the same author will not be able to complain when another writer publishes a story in the Chronicles of Ice and Fire, without his permission and earning us money.

A brief comment on the question: Martin is paranoid and the facts deny him

Now, Martin's fanfiction post is old and long gone. Martin gave his work to HBO and we all know that when they left the two works behind, Benioff and Weiss did a terrible job. We talked extensively about the eighth season, passing from too hype to the final ash, reviewing all the episodes (8 × 01, 8 × 02, 8 × 03, 8 × 04, 8 × 05 e 8 × 06). There are fanfiction writers who would have done a better job.

However, I would like to say a few words about Martin's paranoia regarding the loss of rights: copyright doesn't work that way. JK Rowling proves it. Indeed, JK Rowling, as we will say shortly, approves and appreciates fanfictions, lets fans create their own material and none of this has ever affected the rights of his works. Rowling only objects to fanmade material on which someone makes money.

The Harry Potter Lexicon: when JK Rowling asserted his copyright

And indeed, when Steve Vander Ark published The Harry Potter Lexicon. The Most Complete and Amazing Reference to the Magical World of Harry Potter, Rowling and Warner Bros. have reported him. This complaint then prevented the book from being published with that title and with that amount of citations. Thus, the guide has become Lexicon. Unauthorized guide to the Harry Potter novels and world, such as do not violate copyright rules.

This means that not only there is a difference between free fanfiction and works for profit, but also that a famous writer can approve fanfictions without losing the rights to her works. Martin's fears are absurd and border on paranoia. Additionally, she reads the story of Marion Zimmer Bradley without remembering that Bradley made the mistake of using fan work (asking permission of course!) To earn money. That was Marion Zimmer Bradley's problem, not allowing fanfiction to be written.

Another writer against fanfictions: Diana Gabaldon. Photo by Terence Patrick for Variety
Another writer against fanfiction: Diana Gabaldon. Photo by Terence Patrick for Variety

Writers against fanfictions: the case of Diana Gabaldon

In his post, Martin quotes Diana Gabaldon, which at the time had started the discussion on the possibility of drafting fanfiction.

In fact, the author of Outlander, categorically prohibits any fanfiction on your own narrative universe. Gabaldon, in a 2010 post on her blog (which she has now conveniently deleted), wrote that fanfictions are immoral and illegal. Ah, and that make her want to throw up every time she met one based on her characters, comparing fanfictions to selling their children to slavers. We talk about this post here and you can still read it here (because what is published on the internet remains on the internet!).

However, it is amusing to think that works inspired by her books disturb her, when she herself does Outlander has inspired by Doctor Who. In fact, Jamie Fraser's character (Gabaldon's handsome red-haired Scottish boy) is inspired by the Doctor's companion from 1966 to 1969, Jamie McCrimmon. Additionally, Gabaldon complains that her characters are used for erotic scenes that qualify as "masturbatory fantasies." But the critique is certainly interesting, when made by an author whose books (and the show inspired by them) are full of erotic scenes.

Anne Rice, the biggest fanfiction writer. Photo by Rob Kim / WireImage
Anne Rice, the biggest fanfiction writer. Photo by Rob Kim / WireImage

Anne Rice against fanfiction: the SpecWriter Massacre

But among all these authors, one in particular has unleashed its own lawyers against fanfiction: Anne Rice. The author of Interview with the vampire never made a secret of don't appreciate fanfictions, especially because it claims to be very possessive with its characters.

However, it wasn't until 2000 that Anne Rice explicitly banned the writing of fanfiction based on her works, going on the attack. In fact, previously, Rice had even encouraged her own fandom to write stories. But the8 April 2000, this message appeared on the Anne Rice website:

I do not allow fan fiction.
The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters.
It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.

After this statement, Anne Rice instructed her attorneys to send letters from Cease & Desist to the best known fanwriters. In essence, Rice threatened to drag them to court if they didn't clear their fanfictions on Vampire Chronicles. And since many fan fiction writers don't sail in gold, those who received these letters preferred to delete their stories.

The sudden disappearance from the web of many fanfictions on Vampire Chronicles has been renamed SpecWriter Massacre, since fan fiction at the time was also called "spec" (from speculative work).

The writer against fanfictions also on Fanfiction.net

In 2001, Anne Rice's attorneys have contacted also Fanfiction.net, which at the time was the largest and most popular fanfiction archive in existence. Rice's lawyers asked the archive to delete all the stories on Vampire Chronicles, stating that "As the copyright owner, Ms. Rice has the exclusive right to use such characters in literary material".

And although the authors and the authors of fanfiction on Vampire Chronicles for years they had preceded their stories with notices in which they emphasized that the characters belonged to Anne Rice and that the fanfiction was not for profit, which did not interest the legal team of the writer much. From the email to Fanfiction.net, we read:

Even when done on a nonprofit and / or amateur basis, such use of such characters and material without Ms. Rice's permission constitutes copyright infringement.

Fanfiction Writers: Neil Gaiman

Among the writers and writers against fanfictions, some stood out in favor in the early 2000s. Neil Gaiman, for example, already in 2002 it stated that the fanfictions, if free, on his works were indifferent to him. After all, according to Gaiman every kind of writing is useful to improve one's style, since a writer has to write a lot, therefore fanfictions are also welcome. Neil Gaiman writes in his blog:

As long as people aren't commercially exploiting characters I've created, and are doing it for each other, I don't see that there's any harm in it, and given how much people enjoy it, it's obviously doing some good. It doesn't bother me.

We must also take into account the fact that Gaiman has de facto written fanfiction, taking up issues left unresolved in other people's stories. For example, the short story is such The Problem of Susan, who faces like Susan Pevensie, in the Chronicles of Narnia (we talked about the next TV series with Netflix here !), has been left in our world to love lipsticks and stockings.

JK Rowling, the writer who changed the authors' approach to fanfictions
JK Rowling, the writer who changed the authors' approach to fanfiction

Fanfiction writers: JK Rowling

In 2004, J. K. Rowling claimed to be honored by the fact that some loved her characters so much that they wrote stories to us. Despite all the problems raised in recent times (Asian Nagini, Gay Dumbledore, all discussion on Piton), Rowling has changed the approach of many authors. If she, so famous, approved the fanfictions, it was ridiculous that others instead fight them with such ardor.

However, a letter that Rowling's attorneys sent to is noteworthy Restricted Section, a fanfiction site that hosted explicit material. Restricted Section it was created when Fanfiction.net eliminated all explicit stories in 2002. The fears of Rowling and Warner Bros. revolved around the fact that the underage fans of the author might come across pornographic material about Harry Potter. So, after this letter, the Restricted Section continued to work, but requiring readers of adult material to claim to be of legal age.

Outlander fanart by fanartist Joaellaine
Fanart of Outlander of the fanartist Joaellaine

The current situation: how Archive of Our Own protects fanfictions

Over the past ten years, the situation has changed a lot. Not only have we seen writers opposed to fanfictions soften their opinion on them, but we've also seen fanfiction authors get published by publishers and be very successful.

Authors who have had success with or after fanfiction

This is indeed the case with 50 shades of gray di THE JAMES and After di Anna Todd, whose fanfictions have been turned into original stories. Also Cassandra Claire, author of Shadowhunters Chronicles, was previously a well-known fanfiction writer on Harry Potter. Similarly, even the award-winning Seanan McGuire he started his career writing fanfiction, ending up seeing his short novel, Every Heart A Doorway, to win a Nebula prize, a Hugo prize and a Locus prize.

But also in Italy we have had published fanwriters, as in the case of Virginia De Winter, known on Erika's Fanfiction Page as Savannah and arrived in bookstores with the saga of Black Friars.

The Archive of Our Own policy

And if in the meantime the phenomenon of fanfictions has grown to such levels as to have silenced the protests of opposing writers, other players have also taken the field. We had indeed spoken in this article, of the fanfiction site Archive of Our Own (AO3), who recently won a Hugo Award. In fact, AO3 is not only a fanfiction archive, but its managers, the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), constantly struggle to see the right of fans recognized to rework the writers' works for free.

Just to prevent anti-fanfiction writers and writers from resorting to intimidating fanwriters by fielding lawyers, OTW has a legal team ready to face the problem. In fact, if today Anne Rice threatened to report a fan she wrote a fanfiction on Vampire Chronicles, this fan could ask OTW for help. This help would come even if the fanfiction in question had not been uploaded to AO3. OTW, in fact, says that:

We are committed to defending fanworks against legal challenges. […] We have legal resources and alliances on which we can draw. However, that is not a guarantee that the organization can or will fight each battle. The Board will take into account a variety of factors, both legal and otherwise, in responding to a legal challenge.

Furthermore, on AO3 it is possible to report a fanfiction that plagiarizes another fanfiction, but authors cannot use the AO3 format to report a fanfiction as plagiarism of their work.

Please be aware that the OTW believes that transformative fanworks are legal; therefore, complaints based merely on the existence of fanwork based on copyrighted content or mentioning trademarks will not be pursued.
If you believe that your content has been reproduced in whole or in part, without transformative use (transformative use is defined by the OTW as adding something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the source with new expression, meaning, or message), please follow our procedures for reporting copyright infringement.

Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon and George RR Martin: are there fanfictions about their works today?

Precisely for this reason, today on AO3 we can find over a thousand fanfiction on Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice e almost two thousand stories on Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The section on A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin has over 30.000 fanfictionson the other hand, which still increase if the section dedicated to the show is also taken into account.

Su Fanfiction.net a section dedicated to Anne Rice has not yet been restored, but a few dozen fanfictions can be found on Outlander and almost nine thousand stories on A Song of Ice and Fire. Erika's Fanfiction Page, the Italian fanfiction archive, avoids Rice's books in turn, but has two sections dedicated to TV series Outlander e Game of Thrones.

And if Martin, Rice and Gabaldon weren't particularly retracted, the release of television series about their works (i.e. the release of derivative works) made it easier for fanwriters to circumvent their threats. In fact, the webmistress of EFP, Erika, says in fact that if the fanfiction on A Chronicle of Ice and Fire those on the television series are allowed.

However, Fanfiction.net still reports many authors who have specifically asked not to publish fanfiction about their works. In the list of the site, they stand out Laurel K. Hamilton, Robin Hobb e Terry Goodkind. However, Archive of Our Own also ignores the position of these authors. In fact, we can find sections dedicated to Robin Hobb, Laurel K. Hamilton and Terry Goodkind on the site.

What female fanfiction writers and writers should do. Image by Live Mag UK
What female fanfiction writers and writers should do. Image by Live Mag UK

Two final words on female writers and writers against fanfiction

Although it is legitimate that some writers and writers do not appreciate that others write about their characters, since it is normal to have a certain emotional attachment to their creations, my understanding drops sharply below zero when the aforementioned authors use legal (illegal) ways to discourage their fans.

Copyright can rightly come into play when someone tries to profit from creating someone else. We saw it happen and we could see that allowing fans to write fanfictions does not mean giving anyone the right to speculate on their works. Consequently, it is hoped that writers against fanfictions today have at least the decency to give real reasons for their antipathy.

As long as they are free, fanfictions are fine

However, when you stay in the nonprofit sphere and just write tributes and critiques of other people's stories, these transformative reworks should be allowed. Copyright should not extend to the possibility of others reflecting on the works. Even if this reflection and reworking were a sex scene: if the original author didn't include that kind of eroticism in their works, but the fans feel they need this kind of scene, then if they write it themselves /is.

Any writer who wants to be published (and therefore wants to earn money from their work) must be prepared for what the reading by the general public can mean. Reading by the general public means criticism, different interpretations, unexpected receptions of the characters. And fanfiction is also part of this. Fans will write the scenes the author left out of the book and write the erotic scenes that the publisher did not want to publish. Fanwriters will either criticize the original work by rewriting it from scratch, or strip it of its drama to enjoy the characters in a quiet Alternative Universe coffee shop.

And they wouldn't be doing anything wrong. So the authors should be a little quieter.

Cover image: I could keep you safe di bubug, fanart on Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark by George RR Martin