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Author Topic: How far does copyright and publishing rights extend to fanfiction?  (Read 3821 times)
erinnightwalker
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« Topic Start: December 18, 2009, 10:10:11 pm »

I am writing a fanfiction story and I'm trying to figure out if i want to post it on Fanfic.net. My problem comes from my own addition to the story that is not originally found in the story I'm fanficcing. If I post it up on the site, if I later want to publish a story using that original (from me) idea could I legally do it? Please respond with links if possible, because this is too good to keep to myself, yet I won't post it up if it means that I lose the chance at using the original idea.

and please, answer quick before I pull out the rest of my hair  Cry
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« Reply #1: December 18, 2009, 11:53:19 pm »

I am writing a fanfiction story and I'm trying to figure out if i want to post it on Fanfic.net. My problem comes from my own addition to the story that is not originally found in the story I'm fanficcing. If I post it up on the site, if I later want to publish a story using that original (from me) idea could I legally do it? Please respond with links if possible, because this is too good to keep to myself, yet I won't post it up if it means that I lose the chance at using the original idea.

and please, answer quick before I pull out the rest of my hair  Cry

To the best of my knowledge, one cannot copyright titles or ideas.

You cannot copyright fanfic, either, as far as I know, since it is unauthorized (=copyright violation) itself. 

Fanlit writers are only tolerated by the original artists when we are careful to respect their concepts and to avoid making any money at it.  That's easier in the internet age; back in prehistory when we printed zines and sold them to one another, there probably were people who did make a small profit, but none that I know of had print runs large enough to make enough money for the copyright holders to take notice.

Many were more antagonistic re protecting their concepts; George Lucas sued several fanlit writers in order to stop them from telling stories with adult sexual content, which he held as damaging to the image of his product.  IIRC, Anne MacCaffrey doesn't allow fanlit in her worlds, and neither does Katherine Kurtz, but Marion Zimmer Bradley always did, and Mercedes Lackey, following her, also does.  Lackey's character Diana Tregarde debuted in a fanzine in the 1980s, and Tannim was an unnamed but recognizable extra in one of the stories.

JMHO; YMMV.  If it varies enough, consult a copyright attorney.

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erinnightwalker
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« Reply #2: December 19, 2009, 12:15:49 am »

To the best of my knowledge, one cannot copyright titles or ideas.

You cannot copyright fanfic, either, as far as I know, since it is unauthorized (=copyright violation) itself. 

Fanlit writers are only tolerated by the original artists when we are careful to respect their concepts and to avoid making any money at it.  That's easier in the internet age; back in prehistory when we printed zines and sold them to one another, there probably were people who did make a small profit, but none that I know of had print runs large enough to make enough money for the copyright holders to take notice.

Many were more antagonistic re protecting their concepts; George Lucas sued several fanlit writers in order to stop them from telling stories with adult sexual content, which he held as damaging to the image of his product.  IIRC, Anne MacCaffrey doesn't allow fanlit in her worlds, and neither does Katherine Kurtz, but Marion Zimmer Bradley always did, and Mercedes Lackey, following her, also does.  Lackey's character Diana Tregarde debuted in a fanzine in the 1980s, and Tannim was an unnamed but recognizable extra in one of the stories.

JMHO; YMMV.  If it varies enough, consult a copyright attorney.



I don't plan on making money off the fanfic itself (in the Henson Labyrinth universe). I'm just trying to figure out if a concept I'm using as a major part of the plot could be reused in a possible later (non-fanfic) story, or if I should scrap it as a fanfic and try to make it its own story. If there's no way I could re-use the plot device then I won't post it to the fanfic site. I understand the "can't copyright title" thing but my idea is specific enough that I think, separate from the fanfic, it should be copyrightable. Well, at least the mechanics by which I make it work. (Kinda like McCaffery has her own brand of dragons no one else can make off with, without closing off dragons for the rest of us.)
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« Reply #3: December 19, 2009, 12:38:38 am »

I understand the "can't copyright title" thing but my idea is specific enough that I think, separate from the fanfic, it should be copyrightable. Well, at least the mechanics by which I make it work. (Kinda like McCaffery has her own brand of dragons no one else can make off with, without closing off dragons for the rest of us.)


Right, that makes sense to me. Well I would say that to be on the safe side, avoid publishing it the fanfic. However, if you don't mention it to publishers, there is so much fanfic out there that unless the story wins an award or otherwise becomes popular in the fanfic community, publishers likely won't know about it unless you mention it. And you really have no obligation too.
There's (hopefully, anyway!) always going to be some sort of original idea/character/plot in fanfic that the writer still has a right to, minus any obvious Labryinth, Star Trek etc. characters, settings  and plot elements.

Note that I am far from being a legal expert. P.S. I'm a fan of Labryinth so I'd like to see your story if you do decide to put it online, please link to it in this thread.
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erinnightwalker
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« Reply #4: December 19, 2009, 01:15:33 am »


Right, that makes sense to me. Well I would say that to be on the safe side, avoid publishing it the fanfic. However, if you don't mention it to publishers, there is so much fanfic out there that unless the story wins an award or otherwise becomes popular in the fanfic community, publishers likely won't know about it unless you mention it. And you really have no obligation too.
There's (hopefully, anyway!) always going to be some sort of original idea/character/plot in fanfic that the writer still has a right to, minus any obvious Labryinth, Star Trek etc. characters, settings  and plot elements.

Note that I am far from being a legal expert. P.S. I'm a fan of Labryinth so I'd like to see your story if you do decide to put it online, please link to it in this thread.


Well, I decided not to post it up. Its early enough that I can save the important bit, add a different spin, and come up with something completely different, I hope. Cross your fingers for me, because I haven't been this excited about a long term story since I trapped Satan in a Dr. Pepper bottle ^_^ Besides, any fans of a Jareth/Sarah romance would be bitterly disappointed. I kind of, um... turned her into a evil, conniving, beautiful sow XD And the sad part is, it wasn't that hard....
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« Reply #5: December 19, 2009, 08:23:41 am »

IIRC, Anne MacCaffrey doesn't allow fanlit in her worlds, and neither does Katherine Kurtz, but Marion Zimmer Bradley always did, and Mercedes Lackey, following her, also does.  Lackey's character Diana Tregarde debuted in a fanzine in the 1980s, and Tannim was an unnamed but recognizable extra in one of the stories.

http://chillingeffects.org/fanfic/ is a good place to start for resources, for anyone interested in the legal issues. They're complicated, and there isn't a lot of legal precedents.

Interestingly enough, Lackey has recently come around to being comfortable with fanfic in her worlds: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/10/19/mercedes-lackey-embr.html has an overview, along with a link to Lackey's post on the topic.
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« Reply #6: December 19, 2009, 09:11:02 am »

I don't plan on making money off the fanfic itself (in the Henson Labyrinth universe). I'm just trying to figure out if a concept I'm using as a major part of the plot could be reused in a possible later (non-fanfic) story, or if I should scrap it as a fanfic and try to make it its own story. If there's no way I could re-use the plot device then I won't post it to the fanfic site. I understand the "can't copyright title" thing but my idea is specific enough that I think, separate from the fanfic, it should be copyrightable.

The thing is, you can't copyright an idea. Copyright applies to the presentation of the idea in a stable form. The problem is, that once an idea's out there, other people can reference it, do other things with it, etc.

So, if you think you want to reuse the same idea later, it's probably better to avoid it in fanfic. It'd make things simpler in the long run.
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« Reply #7: December 24, 2009, 12:08:08 pm »

IIRC, Anne MacCaffrey doesn't allow fanlit in her worlds,

I think she started allowing it in... 2007? Maybe earlier? It was pretty recent anyways. Before she had her son actively shutting it down. They had Yahoo I think in a lawsuit unless they shut down every group that did roleplaying. It had to be strictly e-mail. Now you can sign your group up and the like for roleplaying to be "official". Fanfiction I think IS allowed, but I am unsure where.
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