The Legalities of Fan Fiction

The best thing about being a writer of fiction books, movies, and TV shows is your audience. They express their sheer love and appreciation for your work. You might have captured the interest of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world. It created a solid fan base where people are constantly looking forward to your work. After slaving away for months (or even years) on your work, there really is nothing more rewarding than that.

But what if, one day, you found online a story about your characters, a story that you didn’t write? This means someone else wrote this–a fan. How would you feel? Would you feel flattered that someone loved your characters so much that they created a story about them? Or would you feel robbed because someone used your characters in a story that you didn’t approve of?

Fan fiction has been around for decades. It sparked debates and even legal conflicts around the world. Here’s how you can better understand it. It’s especially if you’re the published writer whose work was turned into fan fiction.

What is Fan Fiction

In the most basic sense, fan fiction is a genre of fiction where the story and characters are based on another original work. The original–or, as most people say, “canon”, the material is often commercially successful books, TV shows, and movies. But they can also be about real people such as actors, musicians, and athletes.

Fan fiction works are often posted on these popular sites: Archives of Our Own and But they’re also posted to social media sites such as Tumblr and Live Journal. Writing encourages fans to get creative. It inspires them to reinterpret some stories that they love. And it creates strong online communities that bond over their shared love for their fandom.

Intellectual Property Rights

The trouble with fanfiction is how it goes against a published writer’s intellectual property rights. But to know how to protect your intellectual property, you must know what it is.

Intellectual property is a collection of intangible assets. They are products of your intellectual and creative minds. If you declare it in writing, then you legally own an idea and no one else can use it for their own gain. It has two main categories: copyright and industrial property. As a published fiction writer, your work is under the first category: copyright. It covers written and visual creative works. Your work is protected by copyright as long as you live and for about fifty years after your death.


Fan fiction and the U.S. Copyright Law

The U.S. Copyright Law prohibits the copying of original works without the author’s consent. With this in mind, it seems obvious that fan fiction is in violation of the U.S. Copyright Law. But no, it’s actually not that simple.

You see, fan fiction can be classified as a “derivative work.” It is a work that declares that it’s based on another preexisting work. It can be a work of translation, an adaptation to a different medium, an abridgment, among others. It can also be a copy of original work but with added editorial revisions, and annotations.

Fan fiction writers always declare that the stories they post online are based on original work and that the characters are owned by the author of the said original work. Because of this, fan fiction is a derivative work, which is perfectly legal.

The Responses of Published Writers

There are some writers who support it. For example, Harry Potter is one of the most popular bases of fan fiction works. On FanFiction.Net, it has over 800 thousand stories. But the author, J.K. Rowling, supports fan fiction. Her spokesperson said, “She’s flattered that people wanted to write their own stories [based on characters that she created].”

But there are some people who oppose to fan fiction and resort to filing lawsuits. One such case is The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer. It’s based on the characters from the stories of Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In June 2020, prior to the release of the film adaptation of Enola Holmes on Netflix, Doyle’s estate filed a lawsuit against Nancy Springer, Netflix, and many others for copyright infringement.

The debate over the legalities of fan fiction will always go on. Yes, fan fiction works can be classified as derivative works. Therefore, they’re not illegal. But that doesn’t necessarily stop some published writers from filing lawsuits for infringement. In the end, it’s up to you, as the author of the original work, to decide if a fan fiction work needs to be taken to court.

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