This is a tricky subject and one a lot of people DO wonder about, whether they write, or simply read works based on the property of others. Fan fiction has been a training ground for many, many authors over the years, and while it does in real ways violate existing copyright, most publishers, authors, and film companies have long ago stopped exerting energy trying to prevent the use of their property in this fashion. With the advent of the internet, the task would be monumental and never-ending, and would never be successful anyway.
I wrote fan fiction for twenty years, it taught me to hone a story-telling skill, find a voice, and ultimately how to craft a story people want to read. A couple of years ago I was introduced to another form of fan fiction–the world of role-play writing. Some of this writing involves created original characters, but MUCH of it is based on the work of authors and film writers. Authors hold copyright to work, along with their publishers, that’s a straight-forward concept anyone can understand. But copyright is a flexible interpretation to some, and it can be argued that what another writer creates based on the work of someone else still belongs to the person who created the new work. It’s my understanding that original content IS copyrighted to the writer who does in fact write it. Realistically if your “source” characters (someone else’s creations) can be changed to “Jack and Jill” and still work–it’s unlikely you’ve violated anyone’s copyright, and you have in fact created something that is uniquely yours.
What happens if the work is written by two people, though? Does either of them have the right to summarily change the work of the other? I have no idea, but common sense is telling me that if you recycle, repost, or have a third party re-write the work of the original author, WITHOUT their permission, then you are violating their rights. (I’d love to know if that’s a correct assumption, simply as a curiosity, so if we have a lawyer reading, please let us know!)
Recently I was asked for the second time if a novel of mine could be role-played on Facebook. The first time I was approached, I thought it would be amazing and fun. In the end, I changed my mind. In the year and a half since then, I’ve grown to understand why many authors are uncomfortable with the concept of role-play, fan fictions, and any unauthorized use of their work. The second request came only a couple of weeks ago, and it was a different novel than the one I was first asked about, but the answer is the same–an appreciative but firm no. If they choose to do it anyway, they do it without author sanction. I respect the fact that there are many talented people who like to tell stories, and have no desire to pursue a writing career, they simply want to share with like-minded fans. I think for me what has changed my mind so radically about so much of this is the simple fact that too many people view it as their right, and that is where you really DO violate an author/creator’s legally held rights. When you choose to “interpret” or “represent” a fictional character that belongs to someone else, you become an ambassador of sorts for that author and character. That is a responsibility, and one too many people forget when they get caught up in their make-believe.
At the end of the day, if you violate too many rights, and show flagrant disrespect for the creations of others, you will probably find yourself facing legal troubles. When in doubt, ask, that simple. Most authors are approachable and reasonable. When you change partners to write fan fiction or role-play, don’t recycle what you did with an earlier partner, because that is a blatant violation of rights unless they tell you it’s okay to have your new partner rewrite the stories you own with them. And, perhaps the most important rule of all is to always remember that whether you’re “playing a role” or writing a fan fiction, you represent other people’s work to the readers you’re courting. Behave in a way that does not do your source a disservice, because that source still has the right to sue your ass if he/she chooses to.
If you’d like to know more about ©Copyrights, check out this very informative and useful article: http://asidefromwriting.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/writing-101-copyright/
And, in case you wondered, yes, everything on this blog is copyrighted and registered with identification numbers, just like ALL my work, and that includes fan fictions, role-play writing, and my professional works.