On Amazon and FanFics
It turns out that Amazon is going to sell original fanfiction and let the writers profit from this. I first heard about this on Cortnee Howard’s post over at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, and she didn’t seem to be too happy about it. She wrote that “Basically, they get to earn money for plagiarizing.” I think Courtnee’s comments show a bit of a misunderstanding of what plagiarism is.
Let’s start with the formal definition: plagiarism is the wrongful appropriation of another author’s ideas or work and representing them as your own. Now, if Amazon did, in fact, obtain licenses favoring fanfic writers to allow them to write and publish Kindle novels based on the worlds of Vampire Diaries and other popular serials, these writers would be doing nothing “wrongful.” Furthermore, although fanfiction allows writers to borrow characters and settings because of the conventions of the genre, it is, outside of this borrowing, original work. If we look at one of the recent blockbuster novels this becomes clear. 50 Shades of Gray, a best-seller, started out as a Twilight fan fiction titled Masters of the Universe (which has funny enough since been taken down from FanFiction.Net.) The author swapped the characters’ names and removed the supernatural elements, and transformed her own derivative work into a completely “original” work. Does 50 Shades of Gray count as Twilight plagiarism? I would argue not.
This is not the only case where we see using other writers as influence to create something original. Pride Prejudice and Zombies is based on Jane Austen’s novel, but with zombies. It offers a completely different experience than Pride and Prejudice. Is this original work plagiarism? I would argue not. It’s derivative work, absolutely, but it’s transformative enough that it’s a new work unto its own.
I’ll just go ahead and end by saying that creating derivative work isn’t plagiarism as long as the new work is original – it’s derivative work. In academia we do it all the time when someone does an experiment and another researcher tries to replicate the results, or when a theorist comes up with a new way of thinking about texts and all the critics adopt it as the “cool new thing”. The flood of teenage wizard texts that covered the shelves of bookstores after the Harry Potter success were based on the Harry Potter concept, but were original works of its own.
I’ll just go ahead and finish with a few great quote from one of my mentors, Dr. Guertin, in a delightful short discussion online :
“If you write satire using characters drawn from life or from popular culture, it’s art, but this has no original input?”
“In what way is this plagiarism? If you write for a TV series, you are a participant. If you do it from the outside, then you’re a plagiarist?”