I posted the other day on the ethics of fan fiction. One of the comments, which I declined to publish, informed me that it is breaking no laws to write fan fiction and post it on the internet, with credit to the original author.
The laws being broken are usually called ‘Copyright Act’. All western countries have them, and there are international agreements – such as the Berne Convention – enforcing them across national boundaries. It’s one of the tenets of intellectual property law, and it’s not rocket science.
Both the law, and morality, is on the original author’s side. Indeed, here in New Zealand, the act of copying alone suffices to break the law. You do not have to sell or republish the infringing work. Crediting the source makes no difference. And as I’ve noted before, Google have broken that law by scanning some of my books held in US universities.
Deliberately copying somebody else’s ideas is also called ‘plagiarism’. I have heard of people falling into accidental plagiarism. The trap for non-fiction writers involves note-taking, followed by note-using months later, without remembering that the notes were verbatim from another book. Sloppy, but it happens even to experienced writers.
However, fan fic is deliberate plagiarism.
I think it happens for two reasons. One is that readers (or viewers) get an emotional response from the original and enjoy extending it. The other is that it is also, I think, part of the learning curve for beginning writers. But out in the real world – the world of publishing, the world where people need to sell written stuff to make a living, the fact that something is popular does not make it common property. It isn’t.
My advice? People who write fan fiction are more than capable of making original stuff up instead – and should. What’s more, I’ll help them be original. I publish how-to advice on this blog. The blogroll below has links to more. Check it out. I think it’s great to see new original writers out there, creating. Anybody with me on that?
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Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012