Saturday, October 16, 2004

Lee Goldberg vs. the FanFic Universe

Television writer and novelist Lee Goldberg has launched a one-man crusade against the underground world of "FanFic" (stories written by fans using characters from movies, TV shows, and popular culture in new situations or adventures) and the people who write it (see here, here, here and here).

Okay, maybe he's not really going that far, but he's unhappy about it. Lee's objections are basically twofold: 1) most fanfic consists of stealing the work of others and thus is unethical if not illegal; and 2) fanfic is pointless, not real writing and of little or no value.

I wasn't aware of the extent of the FanFic sub-culture, but it really seems to have become quite a phenomenon on the internet. I have been surprised (and, admittedly, a little disturbed) to see the passion that FanFiccers have for their endeavors and the vehemence with which they will defend them.

I love the fact that these television programs and novels have resonated so strongly with viewers and readers that they want to continue the stories on their own.

At the same time, though, I lament that so much energy is being spent (I won't go so far as to say wasted) on something that ultimately is fairly pointless. Not that we always have to spend our time wisely -- after all, that's why God invented Free Cell -- but I do hate to see potentially good writing being squandered.

There is so much awful writing in the world already that it saddens me to see would-be writers pursuing something that doesn't even have the chance to be great.

As my wife will freely admit, I love to argue and occasionally find myself getting sucked into these pointless discussions. Of course, that doesn't mean they can't be fun as well.

After reading the ongoing arguments, and throwing in my two cents, of course, I have come to the following conclusions:

1) Most FanFic is a violation of the copyrights of the original creators. (The main exception to this is works in the public domain, which are free for all.)

2) This violation doesn't really amount to much and is probably not actionable in most cases.

2a) Most writers of FanFic are unaware (or don't care) that they are violating copyrights.

2b) They aren't making any money off it anyway.

3) There is no essential difference between writing FanFic involving Huckleberry Finn or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, other than the copyright concerns.

4) Writing FanFic is a diverting hobby for some people.

5) Writing FanFic might be of some use to its creator as a learning tool, but the writer would be a lot better off creating his/her own works, if they can.

6) Presumably FanFic is fun for some peple to read, although hardly anyone seems to be making this point. (I get the impression that FanFic has many writers, but few readers.)

7) Most FanFic is crap (Sturgeon's Law in action), but some of it's pretty good.

8) The sexually-oriented FanFic (slash, mpreg, etc.) is downright creepy -- and there's quite a bit of it out there.

9) One will never convince FanFic writers that they'd be better off pursuing works of their own -- and they'll get mad if you try.

And, perhaps, most importantly...

10) FanFic is not a serious thing, nor an important one, so there's no point in treating it as such. It's fun for those who practice it, largely harmless, probably pointless, and the discussion of it has occupied too much of my time the past couple days.