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May 23, 2007

FanLib to Fanficcers: All Your Writing Are Belong To us

Blogger Lis Riba did some looking around on Teh Intarweebs for more information on FanLib, the "legal" fan fiction site sponsored by a number of media companies, and found this .pdf brochure in which the company pitches the FanLib fanfic experience to content creators, and in doing so reveals that they don't actually understand how fan fiction works in the slightest, they're under the mistaken impression that they're going to be able to control how stories get written, and that most fanfic writers will be pleased to have their work subsequently hijacked by others.

For example, on page 3 of the .pdf file, in the "Managed and Moderated to the Max" heading, FanLib touts to media folks "a customized environment YOU control," in which "players must 'stay within the lines'" with "restrictive terms-of-service," a "profanity filter" and "full monitoring & management of submissions." And here's the kicker: "Completed work is just 1st draft to be polished by the pros."

Now, I don't pretend to be incredibly intimate with the thought processes of fan writers, but honestly. Telling a fervent fanficcer he or she can only write a certain approved way? Yeah, that's going to work. Also, personally speaking, there's only one way I'd allow anyone to consider any story I wrote as a "1st draft to be polished by pros," and that would be if there were payment involved of at least the WGA minimum (which, for an hour-long drama, would be $12,299, thank you very much). Otherwise they could kiss my ass, fanfic or not. It's important to note that nowhere in the FanLib brochure is the idea that fan writers might get financially compensated for their work.

So here's the thing: Fanfic writers appear to have two choices here: Accept that what they're doing is fundamentally a violation of copyright and do it on the down low, and in doing so, have the freedom to play with the characters they love any way they want -- or play the FanLib game, in which they're controlled and exploited as cheap labor by the copyright holders. Again, I'm not someone who writes fanfic, but if I were, I know which of these I'd be doing, and it's not the one that has a brochure attached.

(See Lis Riba's take on all this here)

Posted by john at May 23, 2007 03:57 PM

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Lis Riba | May 23, 2007 05:14 PM

Actually, while I do use LiveJournal, that's a secondary account I mostly use for viewing friends' pages.

I consider myself primarily a blogger (more than LJer).

But thanks for the link. :)

John Scalzi | May 23, 2007 05:26 PM


PixelFish | May 23, 2007 05:40 PM

Erk. I hadn't seen the bit about the final copy on fanlib being considered as the first draft for the various properties. That's kind of revolting.

Kate | May 23, 2007 06:06 PM

I don't know... that brochure is total eye candy! They're going to need a lot people to submit a lot of stuff to pay for that kind of marketing.


Once I'm finished with a piece, as long as no one is profiting, I'd be happy to have fans explore my universe. What better way of flattery than to have someone write in the universe you created. It actually means that you're original work was appreciated.

Annalee Flower Horne | May 23, 2007 06:32 PM

said it before; say it again: fanfiction + money = ew. If someone wants to make money off my work, they're payin' me, and it's not called fanfiction. In all other instances, it's best of all parties involved if the pros either ban it outright or turn a blind eye.

I read fanfic and I love fandom, but we're nuts, yo. Seriously, there's a reason fandom_wank is so popular: we are completely loco. And introducing money into that equation creates one stinky pile of crazy.

Steve Buchheit | May 23, 2007 06:50 PM

Hey lookie there, real honest-to-god, pixel-stained techno-peasants!

G. Jules | May 23, 2007 06:57 PM

For the record, the brochure was created before the FanLib site, to advertise the fan contests (for example, the L-Word script contest). So some of the content isn't about FanLib the website in particular.

However, that doesn't change the fact that it still gives a pretty good picture of their exploitative and demeaning attitude towards fans.

Edwin Steussy | May 23, 2007 07:02 PM

Pretty clearly, this is pitched to publishing houses for them to cash in on Web 2.0 sensibilities (participant-oriented content). Can't imagine any major IP's (Star Trek, Star Wars, 24, Bob the Builder, ...) signing up with them. I wonder what they charge for all of this?

Aztec Goddess | May 23, 2007 08:37 PM

If you ask me, the only reason to write fanfic is to do things with the characters or universe that the original copyright holders can't or won't do. So coloring within the lines? The whole POINT is to color outside the lines!

Schloi | May 23, 2007 09:04 PM

it looks like a fantastic piece of marketing anyway, you gotta bet some marketing goon thought this was a great idea, of course they ignored the idea that fans are thinking human beings, but hey, they're executives, they don't like human beings, they like profit

Eric | May 23, 2007 11:49 PM

Okay, now I kind of have an urge to start writing fanfic to see if I can help break up their little tea party. I'll bet their profanity filters aren't any better at catching euphemism, double entendre and archaic slang than anyone else's.

Stan | May 24, 2007 08:51 AM

So, what are their guidelines for slashfic and when are those going to get turned into new TV episodes?

That could be a whole new Trek series right there.

DM | May 24, 2007 11:52 AM

I don't think FanLib will snag any but the most naive and/or uninformed of fanfic writers. There's simply nothing in it for us. We already have sites where our content is monitored more than we'd like, and writing within rigidly defined guidelines rather defeats the purpose of fanfic in general.

Plus nobody likes being someone else's prize heifer, doing work-for-hire that doesn't actually involve monetary compensation for the fanfic writer OR the beloved copyright holder.

An Eric | May 24, 2007 11:52 AM

That could be a whole new Trek series right there.

Episode One - "Tales Of The City On The Edge Of Forever."

This could be gold. Someone call Paramount and Showtime.

Lis Riba | May 24, 2007 12:01 PM

Episode One - "Tales Of The City On The Edge Of Forever."

Not if Harlan Ellison® has anything to say about it...

Last year, Ellison launched "a legal action against Pocket Books over current and upcoming novels about Edith Keeler" claiming "neither Paramount nor Pocket Books has the publication or adaptation rights to CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER" and demanding "a trailer-truck full of cash"

Haven't heard how that turned out...

[PS: I think another comment of mine from yesterday got caught in the moderation queue; it had a few more links on FanLib for folks wanting to read further.]

Eric | May 24, 2007 06:57 PM

Oops - in my haste to make a weak joke I forgot that [a certain litigious author] had reserved all rights in perpetuity and eternity and in all universes and all dimensions regardless of Fair Use provisions for satire and commentary and so on until all the cows come home backwards to the everloving script for [a certain famous Star Trek episode which, like Bloody Mary or a Lovecraftian beast, will not have the name repeated for fear it will summon the monsters].

(I think it's funny how I sound a teeny bit like him when I don't use enough commas, but I'm easily amused by myself....)

Sorry, John. I never meant to get all of us sued. Maybe Athena will still be able to go to night school at a community college someday if she and you and Kristi all work three jobs apiece. If I have anything left over after I've sold my cat, I will happily contribute to make amends for bringing this down upon everyone. I've blown it, and horribly: I've heard - I don't remember where - that he never loses in court.

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