Fan Fiction: Bane or Boone? by Noelle Hay

Remember that really weird dream you had about Legolas? You might call it a fantasy, but write it down, it becomes “fan fiction.”

Fans are often dissatisfied with bits and pieces of their favorite series. There is little they can do to remedy their frustration – or is there? If you just cant stand Buffys sidekick Willow, you can replace her through the somewhat

shadowed creation on the internet called “fan fiction.”

Parodies are protected under the law, but using characters from a copyrighted publication for derivative work is not. This means that almost every fan fiction being written is infringing on the copyright. Copyright law is clear – or is it? Do a simple search on any search engine online and millions upon millions of fan authored imitations of the original spring up.

Fans take advantage of the partly cloudy conditions of copyright law. They feed their fanaticism for a certain story or show with their own additions. Good, bad or just plain awful, the webmaster of the God Awful Fan Fiction site ( says of it “Fan fiction is fiction written by fans, for fans. Fans get so much enjoyment from their chosen fandom. What is produced professionally isn’t enough so they produce their own. TV shows, movies, stage shows, books; if it has fans it probably has fan fiction.”

Hard core fans write these stories, spreading their zeal like a contagion. This disease is one many companies hope can not be cured. They blissfully look the other way while fan stories spread and a few more zeros are added to the bottom line of the profit margin. The copyright holders of Hercules: the

Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess understood that these narratives were being produced by a solid base of fans that multiplied as the

fiction was shared. This base kept Xena on air for 7 seasons in syndication and for years of repeats following the shows finale.

Often, these fan authored tales can resurrect a story from the dead.

Lord of the Rings did not appeal to pop culture 5 years ago. It got onto the silver screen because fans refused to let it dwell in obscurity. Tolkienites, devotees of Professor Tolkien, kept Middle Earth alive, extending the hand of fellowship, strengthening and solidifying their community, in a large part, through internet fan fiction. Knowing that there was a solid core of fans on the internet New Line set up a media blitz – directly targeting enthusiasts.

If the accolades of Peter Jacksons adaptation of Tolkiens novel, which include 13 Oscar nominations are justified in its toping of the years bestselling DVD and film release for 2002, then the targeting ploy paid off. Investors will be able to thrive off an invigorated and growing fan base.

Not all companies share this enthusiasm for the fan. Universal comes down hard on any Star Trek and X-Files tales by fans. Anne McCaffrey and Ann Rice have pursued fan centered websites for removal of stories related to their works.

Every author faces a loss of intentions and integrity of their original story. That is a part of the business. Once a novel is published, as the word publication indicates; it belongs to the public. How consumers relate to it in the realm of fandom is a reflection on the author’s ability to connect with their audience.

In the short term you can measure success of a story by sales, but in the long term it must be measured by how long and brightly it burns in the fan community. There are over 55 THOUSAND Harry Potter stories on and JK Rowling has only published 4 of a promised 7 books. There are over 25 thousand stories for Digimon and several thousand for various video games. The evidence of connection to the consumer is alive on these sites.

These fan authors are not, for the most part, professional writers. But what they lack in talent or in ingenuity, they make up for in zeal. The communities they inhabit on the internet have been the targets of savvy marketing and shrewd research.

Fans feel little guilt over their little bit of infringement. Perhaps that is their right as supporters, financially and emotionally, of any given story. The stories that were once relegated to the lined paper between hard covers of a journal are now shared on the web along with fan art and fan sites.

As the entertainment industry expands, it is natural that the influence of the fan expands as well. Fans are the lifeblood of entertainment; books, movies, television or theater. Science Fiction conventions have made a multi-million dollar enterprise out of giving fans a prominent display to their productions. Their

success is a measure of the wealth and width of fandom. Those who wish to profit from the fans would do well to court them in all the places they dwell.

Fan fiction lingers in the shades between free speech and copyright protection, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there is enough for any author worth their merit on the internet.

You can email the author of this article at

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Noelle Hay, All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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