George R. R. Martin on fan fiction

You may or may not know that bestselling author Diana Gabaldon's post on why she opposes fan fiction involving the world she created and its characters created an enormous shit storm which brought hundreds of frustrated fanfic writers to mudsling her on her blog.

On Not a Blog, GRRM elaborated on his thoughts regarding that particular topic. Here's an excerpt:

My position on so-called "fan fiction" is pretty well known. I'm against it, for a variety of reasons that I've stated previously more than once. I won't repeat 'em here.

My position is not unique. It is not universal either, I realize. Some writers actually encourage fan fiction (I know some of them, have heard their arguments), others don't seem to care one way or another (I know many of those). Many writers have no idea that it exists, no concept of what it is (in part because of the confusing term "fan fiction," which subject I will return to later), and have given the subject no thought. So there's a wide range of opinion on this matter, even among writers.


Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that's fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that... well, I think their wishes should be respected.

Myself, I think the writers who allow fan fiction are making a mistake. I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (but perhaps not Diana Gabaldon, who comes from outside SF and thus may not be familiar with the case I am about to cite) had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit. She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.


A writer's creations are his livelihood. Those copyrights are ultimately all that separates an ERB from a HPL. Is it any wonder that most writers are so protective of them?

Those of us, like Diana Galabdon and myself, who prefer not to allow fan fictioners to use our worlds and characters are not doing it just to be mean. We are doing it to protect ourselves and our creations.

Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That's something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana's blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use (it is NOT fair use, by the way, not as I understand the term, and I have a certain familiarity with what is and isn't fair use thanks to my own experiences with THE ARMAGEDDON RAG), but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law -- a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it. Once you have done that, anyone can do whatever the hell they want with your stuff. If I let Peter and Paul and Nancy publish their Ice & Fire fanfics, and say nothing, then I have no ground to stand on when Bill B. Hack and Ripoff Publishing decide they will publish an Ice & Fire novel and make some bucks. Peter and Paul and Nancy may be the nicest people in the world, motivated only by sincere love of my world and characters, but Bill B. Hack and Ripoff don't give a damn. They just want the bucks.


I have gone on longer than I intended, but I think this is important stuff. "Fan fiction" -- or whatever you want to call it -- has been around for a long time, but never like now. The internet has changed everything. Whereas before the fanfic might be published in obscure fanzines with a circulation of a hundred, now tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, can read these... well, let's just call them "unauthorized derivative works." (Except in cases where the writer has authorized 'em, which I suppose would be "authorized derivative works.") More than ever, we need some boundaries here.

I salute Diana Gabaldon for opening the debate.

To read the full article, follow this link.

Personally, I have no idea why some would waste time reading fan fiction. It's all quite pointless, if you ask me. Sure, it might be fun to write, I guess. In my version of WoT, dumbass Perrin would wise up soon enough and let Faile rot and die wherever she's managed to get trapped yet again, and Sansa would get decapitated early on so we don't have to put up with her for the rest of ASOIAF. Oh yeah, both Richard and Kahlan would also die in the opening chapter of Wizard's First Rule. Or perhaps I'd make Richard a commie. . . Oh, the possibilities!

Hmmm, perhaps fanfic isn't that bad, after all. . .:P

In the end, it's as GRRM said. SFF authors toil endlessly to create worlds and characters that will touch us and capture our imagination. It's their call whether or not they feel comfortable having fan with impressive or dubious writing skills "borrow" these creations to write their own stories.

26 commentaires:

Taedirk said...

How is reading fan fiction "wasting time" more than reading anything else? Just because it's a pre-existing setting doesn't automatically make it less worthy. Alt-History stories are all What If? stories -- are they equally "wasting time" because that never really happened? Fantasy is inherently different from a non-fiction story - I guess they're "wasting time" because they could never happen either.

Anonymous said...

I've been involved in the periphery of fanfiction for a very long time, and my perspective has changed much over the years. Saying that, the most reasonable response to fanfiction that I've seen is the request that fanfic authors not publish their work until the original author is done with their work on the subject. Is Ian Fleming done with James Bond? Probably. Is Robert Jordan done with Wheel of Time. Nope. A notice in published works to this effect is probably enough that most would be authors will keep their work to themselves for quite a while.

The second thought that I have in regards to authors is that they should probably establish the defense of their copyright with a strongly worded letter to sites like and posts to any related newsgroups. Rumiko Takahashi should probably have her lawyer post a message on rec.arts.anime.creative. Check back later 6 months later and then thank the group or the moderation for being considerate of your wishes. If they haven't complied, send a message with a more serious tone. You can establish that you've defended your copyright without being seen as a bad guy. If you read fanfics of your own work, never admit to it except to request that they are not published. Never allude to the actual content.

If people love your work, some of them will write fanfiction. Because they love your work, they will most likely respect your wishes up to a point. Be cool and be nice, but be firm.

shadows59 said...

At least fan fiction is a free waste of time.

As long as the fan fiction writers aren't trying to make money off of it, I don't see how the author wins by going to war to stop it. They would be attacking their own audience. The best thing, it seems to me, would be to not read it and treat it like free advertising.

Not read it to protect both the creator and the fans. There's no reason to assume that the creator couldn't be just as much a thief as anyone else.

Well, the best best thing would be if the fan fiction is good enough to be published, do so with the original creator getting a credit and a cut of the royalties.

Unknown said...

Hope I look like an idiot, but this seems to be another GRRM post that is going to go horribly wrong. Also I think that other people's work should only be an inspiration, and fanfic writers should find what inspires them in the authors work and try to translate it into something of their own. Unless it is something like the Stars(wars and trek), or characters that should be public domain by now(many of the DC and Marvel comics characters), I agree with GRRM and others. Speak in your own voice even if it is an obvious riff on another person's work.

Desk Jockey said...

I think writing Fan-Fiction is fine. Publishing it, however, is another matter.

I understand the idea of practicing your craft, and all that. But, really, people shouldn't publish their fan-fic if that is the purpose behind it. Let it sit on the hard drive, and publish your original stuff.

machinery said...

wow, g. martin wrote more today on this ridiculous subject than he did on a dance over the past month ... how about that ?

Sam said...

... Unfortunately, while I sympathize with GRRM, he's... not actually write about a lot of his ideas regarding copywrite law and fair use. Fanfiction, assuming that the authors arent making money off of it, would fall under protection of fair use laws, as far as I'm aware. Archives of it, of course, may not have that same protection, but the story itself is covered.

That said, if an author requests that no fanfiction be published, it seems quite reasonable to me, and I strongly support the idea that no one would publish said fiction.

Regarding 'Write in your own voice blahblahblah' comments. You're overlooking something. This is not professional writing. It's a chance to tell your story. And, frequently, people have stories that take place in other peoples worlds. We had them as children, when we imagined ourselves as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we have them today in fanfiction, in 'oh many wouldn't that be cool' conversations, and in Role Playing. To say that it is some how invalid to write in another persons world dismisses the idea that they are telling a worth while story. If I walked away from something I cared about with an idea for a story, I probably didn't really care that much. It entertained me, but did not touch me deeply enough to matter.

I can see where GRRM comes from, and where other authors do, especially in the case of MZB, but it seems to me that this is not just making a mountain out of a molehill, but making enemies of fans. If fanfiction goes so strongly against a copywrite that it should be forbidden as a whole or derided, then what about cosplaying? Discussions? Where do you draw the line between 'Fine discourse' and 'YOU CANT DO THAT, YOU'RE STEALING IDEAS.'

Besides, isn't the whole 'protect your copywrite' issue the reason why Disclaimers are required in stories? To disavow any claim to the characters and situations therein?

Anonymous said...

WoT fan fiction (by Brandon Sanderson) is a vastly success.

dwlandis said...

Didn't GRRM write a fan fiction involving his characters and Jordan's on his blog??

Bob said...

a priori, Sam is right on tne legal front.

And on a more general note, I would flame something like 'if you are a real artist, then your creation does not belong to you once out in the world', meaning you do not control the imagination or your readers.

But I have no time to elaborate, so just trolling by ... :)

Unknown said...

CyndiF said...

Everyone is ignoring the real reason for fan fiction: bizarre sex pairings among well-loved characters.

Sam said...

I think part of what GRRM talks about in there, with the author not being willing to let go of their characters, is actually a bad thing. I mean, we're all attached to our characters, but I think if his connection is that strong, it could be part of why he's having so much trouble with Dance. You end up being too 'in your characters' and not enough in the story.

mathias said...
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Unknown said...

Sam and ze18q62f6vw42ua unfortunately aren't right about fair use under the copyright law. Fair use is not as simple as determining if the author is or is not selling his fan faction.

At the risk of being overly lawyerly, the right place to start for any discussion of the law is with the appropriate statute.

The fair use section of the copyright law (17 U.S.C. 107) lists six specific examples of fair use: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, and research. None of these specific six examples are as straightforward as they seem in the statutes. For example, the case law surrounding the teaching example prevents a teacher from reusing copied materials from year-to-year and place limits the number of times and the frequency with which the copied material can be used.

The statute also provides four factors to be used to determine fair use. They are:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

A court or jury would weigh all four factors and reach a decision on whether a specific piece of fan fiction is a fair use. However, most of the discussion I've read recently on this topic deals in generalities. As a general matter, I believe the fair use factors weigh against fan fiction as a fair use. At the very least, it should be obvious that there isn't a clear answer as to whether a piece of fan fiction would be a fair use

For typical fan fiction, the first factor "purpose and character of the use" weighs in favor of fair use because the fan fiction is not likely to be sold or otherwise used commercially.

The second factor "nature of the work" weighs against fair use. The nature of the work factor considers whether the copyrighted work is fiction or non-fiction, with copying of a non-fiction work being more likely to be fair use.

The third factor "amount and substantiality of the portion used" is tricky. This factor asks if portions of the copyrighted work are copied directly (not too likely for fan fiction) and if the portions copied go to the "heart" of the copyrighted work (more likely for fan fiction because of the copying of characters, themes, and settings). Lets call this one a wash.

The fourth factor "effect on potential market" weighs against fair use. This factor clearly weighs against fair use. By producing unauthorized derivative works, the fan fiction author has impacted the value of the copyrighted work by diluting the market for potential authorized derivative works.

We can argue policy all day as to whether the law with respect to fair use is in fact, fair. But at the very least, we should put the arguments about whether a work is fair use in the correct legal framework.

Unknown said...

I think the author is totally within his rights to be against fanfiction, but he is a fan-hating nazi if he does so. And you can tell YOUR own story in the universe of someone else,using their ideas and characters instead of creating your own.
Glad we cleared that up.

Unknown said...

Interesting post, Chris.
What surprised me most is that fan fictions are apparently automatically derived works. I have this naive vision of copyright being about the words (/expression of ideas) rather than the ideas, but I guess Westeros and the Lannisters and the Starks as we know them are copyrighted by G.R.R.M.

I could be wrong but I think copyright enforcement can be selective - the MPAA copyrights have never been voided because they didn't go against *all* people infringing.

For the 4th factor, it could be argued that fan fictions help maintain an interest in the work and extend its reach to more people... But I'm no lawyer so maybe this wouldn't hold.

In the end, while I don't read fan fictions IMHO they should be allowed.

John The Bookworm said...

GRRM has made me a bit angry. While I get the reason why he's doing this, he's going about it in such a wrong way. It's like he's saying 'Thanks for being my fan, but you can't stay in this world longer than me.' Authors need to understand that when they share their creativity with the masses through publishing, they are sharing their world. People will like it, and they will base stories off of it. It happens. What he should do is politely tell fans he doesn't want it instead of throwing a bunch of copyright issues out there, which is going overboard for something a simple 'No' works for. Also, many great authors have started out in fanfiction. It's like using training wheels on a bicycle. It allows a beginner to build up skill and practice until they can do it on their own. And another issue here is that most people don't profit off of it. They do it to stay in the world they love. As an author who has years between books, he should be happy there are people keeping it fresh, in a way, until his latest book comes out. But that's just me.

Luis Matos said...

I believe here the problem is actually legislation which is missing. If an author could include a link to a place where some valid legislation existed on her/his books, where the rights of fan-fiction people were clear, no problem would happen. Just like there is GPL and LGPL to protect the right of people who write software, there could be a piece of law which would state well-known rights (and lack thereof) from people who wrote fan-fiction. For example, you have the right to write it, but not commercially sell it, or even ask for any compensation if the author of the books uses similar ideas to the ones developed on your fan-fiction. That would make GRRM for example more at ease to let fan-fiction exist.

Unknown said...

"[...]Sansa would get decapitated early on so we don't have to put up with her for the rest of ASOIAF."

ROFLMAO! I'm so glad I'm not the only person who really wanted her gone. I recognized she was supposed to be a "goodie" but I hated her so very much.

Unknown said...

"How is reading fan fiction "wasting time" more than reading anything else?"

One person's wasting time is another person's "having a great time." I think watching TV is a waste of time, but millions of people still do it. Pat said it in a way that was clearly, to me at least, stated as an opinion, rather than trying to suggest "this is a fact." I really don't understand why, when it comes to certain issues, people get so upset because their opinion is different. Personally, I don't understand how anyone could like to eat raw oysters, but I bet those people who do aren't offended when I express my opinion that I don't get the attraction.

Bryce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryce said...

I have to say that if I were a published author, I think I'd be grateful for fan fiction.

At the end of the day, these authors get the ability to keep writing by making money off their work. Now, if I were a published author (which is the long term goal, of course ;) ) I would be quite happy that there were people so involved in the characters and settings I'd created that they wanted to actually write stories about them. I can't see how that would have a negative effect on my sales, so it just wouldn't bother me.

If anything, people taking time to put their words about your books on the internet, much like reviews from sites like the Hotlist, can only create more buzz and cause someone to pick up the first book and give it a go. Just my two cents, and I'm probably wrong, but that's the joy of the internet. :)

Anonymous said...

I like fanfiction and I write it as well, however, not about Martin's work. I was Googling his position on it because a friend is a fan. I wasn't sure. And I found this post. Anyway, I think fanfiction should be allowed. Then again, it will always piss off people...

Niclaire said...

Have to agree with my anonymous predecessor. Not to mention, if an author needs so much time as Martin does to write next book in a series, he should be glad there is something in the ether that keeps his fans in the universe. Free advertisement, as someone said.

Additionally - more as a margin note than anything else - the relevant law doesn't have to be US law. Servers can be situated anywhere, and fanfiction is hardly a big case of the Megaupload kind - not to mention, what is considered a copyright infringement in US, does not have to be in another country.

Unknown said...

As a fanfiction reader and author, I can understand where GRRM is coming from. BUT the majority of fanfiction stories are What If stories based on the original work. For some examples based on Game of Thrones: What if Ned had become king, not Robert? Or what if Ned wasn't executed but allowed to join the Night's Watch? So long as fanfiction remains that, there is no threat to the original stories, and can build interest in the original stories. Other times, the only thing you could recognize from the original is the characters. It is extremely rare that an author will guess at what is coming next in the series, and nigh on impossible that they will guess correctly. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that MZB's case is unique, and always will be.

Personally, if I were an original author, I'd consider fanfiction a great compliment and endorsement to my series. It would say that not only do I have fans, but fans that like and care enough about my stories that they want to use them for their own.

If GRRM is afraid of a situation like MZB's, then all he needs to do is state that no fanfiction author is allowed to write into Winds of Winter and Dreams of Spring. That way, both sides win. Martin doesn't have to worry about a lawsuit, and we get to keep writing our stories.