What is fanfiction?
Many people may not know what fanfiction is, and I suspect that some people that might pop into this site, may not even have heard the term "fanfiction" before. Therefore I am so kind as to quote from Wikipedia (any words you don't understand, hover and see if there is a link to my dictionary-page):
Fan fiction or fanfiction (also abbreviated to fan fic, fanfic, or fic) is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator. It is a popular form of fan labor, particularly since the advent of the Internet.
Fan fiction is rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's creator or publisher, and is rarely professionally published. It may or may not infringe on the original author's copyright, depending on the jurisdiction and on such questions as whether or not it qualifies as "fair use" (see Legal issues with fan fiction). Attitudes of authors and copyright owners of original works to fan fiction have ranged from indifference to encouragement to rejection. Copyright owners have occasionally responded with legal action.
Fan fiction is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe (often referred to as "canon") and simultaneously existing outside it. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based.
A review of the two largest sites, FanFiction.Net and Archive of Our Own, shows that firstly, a large percentage of the efforts are 'crossovers' where one or more book-based universes or characters are conflated; secondly, an even larger proportion are very short (at less than 1000 words); thirdly, a significant number of the larger works are incomplete; fourthly, that the readership for many genres is very low.
Earlier meanings of the term
The term "fan fiction" has been attested in print as early as 1939; in this earliest known citation, it is used in a disparaging way to refer to amateurish science fiction (as opposed to "pro fiction"). The term also appears in the 1944 Fancyclopedia, an encyclopedia of fandom jargon. It is defined there as "fiction about fans, or sometimes about pros, and occasionally bringing in some famous characters from [science fiction] stories." The book also mentions that the term is "[s]ometimes improperly used to mean fan science fiction, that is, ordinary fantasy published in a fan magazine."
The modern phenomenon of fan fiction as an expression of fandom and fan interaction was popularized and defined via Star Trek fandom and their fanzines published in the 1960s. The first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia (1967), contained some fan fiction; many others followed its example. These fanzines were produced via offset printing and mimeography, and mailed to other fans or sold at science fiction conventions for a small fee to help recoup costs. Unlike other aspects of fandom, women dominated fan fiction authoring; 83% of Star Trek fan fiction authors were female by 1970, and 90% by 1973. One scholar states that fan fiction "fill[s] the need of a mostly female audience for fictional narratives that expand the boundary of the official source products offered on the television and movie screen."
Fan fiction has become more popular and widespread since the advent of the World Wide Web; according to one estimate, fan fiction comprises one third of all content about books on the Web. In addition to traditional fanzines and conventions, Usenet group electronic mailing lists were established for fan fiction as well as fan discussion. Online, searchable fan fiction archives were also established. The online archives were initially non-commercial hand-tended and fandom- or topic-specific. These archives were followed by non-commercial automated databases. In 1998, the not-for-profit site FanFiction.Net came online, which allowed anyone to upload content in any fandom. The ability to self-publish fan fiction at an easily accessible common archive that did not require insider knowledge to join, and the ability to review the stories directly on the site, became popular quite quickly. One popular example of modern fan fiction is E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey *. This series was originally written as fan fiction for the Twilight series of books and movies and played off the characters of Bella and Edward. In order to not infringe on copyright issues, James changed the character names to Anna and Christian for the purposes of her novels, which is a practice known as 'pulling-to-publish'. Anna Todd's 2013 fan fiction After about the English boy band One Direction secured a book and movie deal with renamed characters in 2014.
On May 22, 2013, the online retailer Amazon.com established a new publishing service, Kindle Worlds. This service would enable fan fiction stories of certain licensed media properties to be sold in the Kindle Store with terms including 35% of net sales for works of 10,000 words or more and 20% for short fiction ranging from 5000 to 10,000 words. However, this arrangement includes restrictions on content, copyright violations, poor document formatting and/or using misleading titles **.
Some argue that fan fiction does not fall under fair use. The 2009 ruling by United States District Court judge Deborah A. Batts, permanently prohibiting publication in the United States of a book by a Swedish writer whose protagonist is a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, may be seen as upholding this position regarding publishing fan fiction, as the judge stated, "To the extent Defendants contend that 60 Years and the character of Mr. C direct parodied comment or criticism at Catcher or Holden Caulfield, as opposed to Salinger himself, the Court finds such contentions to be post-hoc rationalizations employed through vague generalizations about the alleged naivety of the original, rather than reasonably perceivable parody."
Others such as the Organization for Transformative Works uphold the legality of non-profit fan fiction under the fair use doctrine, as it is a creative, transformative process.
In 1981, Lucasfilm Ltd. sent out a letter to several fanzine publishers, asserting Lucasfilm's copyright to all Star Wars characters and insisting that no fanzine publish pornography. The letter also alluded to possible legal action that could be taken against fanzines that did not comply.
The Harry Potter Lexicon is one case where the encyclopaedia-like website about everything in the Harry Potter series, moved towards publishing and commercializing the Lexicon as a supplementary and complementary source of information to the series. Rowling and her publishers levied a lawsuit against the website creator, Steven Vander Ark, and the publishing company, RDR Books, for a breach of copyright. While the lawsuit did conclude in Vander Ark's favor, the main issue in contention was the majority of the Lexicon copied a majority of the Series' material and does not transform enough of the material to be held separately from the series itself.
While the HP Lexicon case is an example of Western culture treatment of fan fiction and copyright law, in China, Harry Potter fan fiction is less addressed in legal conflicts but is used as a cultural and educational tool between Western and Chinese cultures. More specifically, while there are a number of "fake" Harry Potter books in China, most of these books are treated as addressing concepts and issues found in Chinese culture. This transformative usage of Harry Potter in fan fiction is mainly from the desire to enhance and express value to Chinese tradition and culture.
Some prominent authors have given their blessings to fan fiction, notably J.K. Rowling. Rowling said she was "flattered" that people wanted to write their own stories based on her fictional characters. Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has put links on her website to fan fiction sites about her characters from the Twilight series. The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name "Snowqueen's Icedragon". The piece featured characters named after Stephenie Meyer's characters in Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.
As an example of changing views on the subject, author Orson Scott Card (best known for the Enders Game series) once stated on his website, "to write fiction using my characters is morally identical to moving into my house without invitation and throwing out my family." He changed his mind completely and since has assisted fan fiction contests, arguing to the Wall Street Journal that "Every piece of fan fiction is an ad for my book. What kind of idiot would I be to want that to disappear?"
However, Anne Rice has consistently and aggressively prevented fan fiction based on any of her "fictional" characters (mostly those from her famous Interview with the Vampire and its sequels in The Vampire Chronicles). She, along with Anne McCaffrey (whose stance has been changed by her son, Todd McCaffrey, since her death) and Raymond Feist, have asked to have any fiction related to their series removed from FanFiction.Net. George R.R. Martin, who was selected by Time magazine as one of the "2011 Time 100" and is most famous for his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is also strongly opposed to fan fiction, believing it to be copyright infringement and a bad exercise for aspiring writers. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, creators of the Liaden universe, strongly oppose fan fiction written in their universe. Sharon Lee has stated, "I don’t want 'other people interpreting' our characters. Interpreting our characters is what Steve and I do; it’s our job. Nobody else is going to get it right. This may sound rude and elitist, but honestly, it’s not easy for us to get it right sometimes, and we’ve been living with these characters... for a very long time... We built our universes, and our characters; they are our intellectual property; and they are not toys lying about some virtual sandbox for other kids to pick up and modify at their whim. Steve and I do not sanction fanfic written in our universes; any such work that exists, exists without our permission, and certainly without our support."
* This website does not approve of the actions of the character Christian Grey in the trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey. While the fetishes and kinks intended are perfectly okay, the stalking, abuse and general behaviour of Christian Grey is not okay. Read about why Fifty Shades of Grey is bad here.
** This website does not approve of Amazon.com's fanfiction publishing service.