The Legality of fanfiction: Protecting the rights of writers

  What do you do when your favorite book, TV show, or movie ends? Most people would move onto similar shows in order to satiate their screen time cravings, or or talk about it on forums with friends to clear up some loose ends. However, some individuals take matters into their own hands and simply create more content of their own–, in the form of fanfiction. 

  While fanfiction is infamous for its  obscene nature and cringey self-inserts fanfictions, other frequent visitors of websites that feature such writing will attest to the mountains of content that explores the worlds of popular and niche fandoms alike. In short, fanfiction is read and written by many people who wish to enjoy more of their favorite stories and their characters. Yet, due to its status as “fan”-fiction, its legality is once again being called into question. 

  In a recent widespread trend, Etsy businesses have started selling physical copies of fanfiction stolen from the popular fanfiction website “Archive of our own”, or Ao3 for short. However, by doing so, they place the actual fanfiction author at risk of lawsuits from the original publishers. 

  The line between fanwork and published creators has always been under debate, including the categories of fanart, unofficial merchandise, and of course, fanfiction. Veterans of the internet who frequent these spaces understand the simple time-honored rules of creating such content—, do not monetize your work or face potential legal action from large companies who absolutely have the time and resources to take you on. 

  As such, popular fanfiction websites such as Wattpad, Fanfiction.net, and especially Ao3 have had strict regulations to prevent a potential shut down of their entire website, including a warning to not profit off any work posted on their sites.   

  So far, the sellers as well as buyers of shops that re-bind stolen fanfiction argue that their products are printed and bookbound by hand, and therefore they are allowed to sell their craft. This stance is reinforced by the comment sections of the sellers on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, who aggressively leave remarks such as “if you do not like it, do not buy it”, and “it is not hurting anyone”, and the like.  However, their claims are far from the truth. By actively making a large profit off of a story that was not written by them, and additionally using characters already under certain copyright laws, these sellers put the entire collective of all fanfiction posted publicly in danger. 

  In response to this, many prominent fanfic authors have removed their most popular works from fanfiction websites, in an effort to protect themselves legally, as well as to avoid additional drama from uncooperative creators.  

  So what precedent does this interaction set for the future of fanfiction? While it does add onto the risk of legal troubles that fanfiction authors can face, websites like Ao3 do have a legal team on hand in order to step in and prevent some issues, though their guidelines acknowledge that they will not be able to extend their resources to every legal case. 

  The Ao3 website also provides resources that explain how fanfiction falls under fair use laws as recreational art. 

  In addition, there are still plenty of reasons why publishing or media companies do not go after works such as fanfiction. One reason being that it often provides free marketing for their book or show, as writing often inspires fanart and discussions, and discussions mean attention, whether good or bad. Fanfiction also strengthens the community that surrounds a piece of media, and along with spreading its popularity, can help grow and maintain its relevance. 

  Knowing this, important figures such as Neil Gaiman, author of several books such as American Gods, Coraline, Good Omens, and more, have been vocal about their support for works created by fans. In a tweet from Neil Gaiman from Nov. 29th, 2017, he responds to another user asking his opinion on fanfiction, to which he responds that he supports it, as he had won a Hugo Award for his  own fanfiction of another book series. Currently, the Good Omens fandom sits at top 6 for most popular fanfiction category on the Ao3, and the television adaptation was recently greenlit for a third season. 

  On the other hand, some authors are more wary of fanfictions, as while they do promote discussion and community, there is no effective way to control what your audience decides to do with your characters, especially when a majority of authors are also legally prohibited from reading fanfiction of their own books due to the reverse happening. Because of this, fanfictions that fall under these conditions mostly go ignored. 

  Between the intricacies of copyright laws and the discussion over intellectual property, the debate has resulted in both sides coexisting in a delicate symbiotic relationship. Though the uproar caused by unlawful book sellers have pushed popular fanfiction authors to remove their works, it is unlikely that anything bigger will occur as a result, so long as fellow creators learn to respect the works of other creators. 

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