As Kaelyn Christian writes in “Fan Fiction and the Fair Use Doctrine,” “for as long as there has been storytelling, there has been fan fiction” (277). It can also be said that, for as long as there has been fan fiction, there has been debate about the legality of appropriating the fictional characters and worlds of copyrighted works for creative purposes. Central to this debate has been the voice of the author, whose writings have served as inspiration for these derivative works.
Opinions among writers on the topic of fan fiction have been decidedly split. While some authors, like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyers, have opted to take more conciliatory approaches, not exactly encouraging fan fiction, but, at the very least, tacitly accepting it as a sort of creative outlet for the fans of their works, others, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne Rice, George R.R. Martin, and Ursula K. Leguin, have been much more vocal in expressing their displeasure, pointing to potential losses of income and violation of their copyrights as some of the reasons for their disavowal of the practice.
And so, for years, fan fiction has operated in “a copyright gray area” (Christian 277), where it is has been understood as being neither strictly legal or strictly illegal.
In May 2013, the “World’s Largest Online Retailer” launched Kindle Worlds, “a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.” Partnering with companies such as Warner Bros Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment, RosettaBooks, and Valiant Entertainment, and authors like Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch, and Neal Stephenson, Amazon obtained the licenses to various copyrighted materials, including, strangely enough, the works of Kurt Vonnegut as well as young adult book series, like Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Sarah Shephard’s Pretty Little Liars, and L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries, thereby entitling fan fiction writers to “write new stories based on [these] featured Worlds [and] engage an audience of readers,” while “earn[ing] royalties” at the same time.
Although Kindle Worlds has been dismissed by many as a cash grab, another opportunity for Amazon to turn an easy profit, the launch of the program could also benefit authors and fan fiction writers alike, allowing members of the former group to retain the rights to their intellectual property, while giving the latter group legal permission to publish new stories based on existing materials. Perhaps, it could also help effectuate a reconciliation between authors and fan fiction writers, and give fan fiction the legitimacy it has long desired.
Christian, Kaelyn. “Fan Fiction and the Fair use Doctrine.” The Serials Librarian 65.3-4 (2013): 277-85.
Web. 4 Feb. 2014