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May 25, 2007

My Policy on Fanfic and Other Adaptations of My Work

In the wake of my recent posts about FanLib, and for other reasons, I've been asked a bit about how I feel about fan fiction in my universes and/or people adapting my work to other media (particularly film). So, here's what I think about that, posted here so I can refer people back to it rather than say it over and over privately.

Note the following is not a legal agreement for anything. It's just me talking in a theoretical sense.

First: I do retain and reserve all rights to my work. I'm not very squishy about that fact. Just so you know. If you play in my universe, you implicitly accept I have the right to come around, say "mine!" and then stomp off with all your pretty toys. Yeah, I know. I'm a dick. What can I say.

Second: As long as you can deal with that first point, as far as I'm concerned, you may play in my universe(s) as long as the emphasis is on "play." This means that nothing you do in my universes may:

a) Generate any sort of economic benefit for you, in any form;
b) Generate any sort of economic benefit for any third party;
c) Cause me economic detriment of any sort.

Basically, don't try to make any money of my universes, and please don't do something that's going to make it difficult for me to make money off my universes. My mortgages and my daughter's college education fund thank you in advance.

That said, some quick thoughts on stuff in particular:

Fanfic: Have fun. Don't show it to me. And for God's sake, if you see me at a con, don't tell me about this great John Perry/Lazarus Long/The Skipper from Gilligan's Island slash you wrote/saw on a LiveJournal group. I don't want to know. Seriously.

Fan art: I actually don't mind seeing this, although you should know that me saying "Cool!" does not constitute canonical approval. As above, you can skip showing me the hentai or the yaoi, especially if it involves the Skipper from Gilligan's Island.

Filk: I can't imagine why anyone would want to make filk out of any of my stuff, but hey, whatever.

Movie/TV scripts: We're aggressively trying to sell movie/TV rights, so do keep all movie/TV adaptations for your own amusement/edification only, which is to say it would make me happy for you not to float them even as specs to agents, etc. Definitely don't send these to me.

Audio/Podcast versions: These are also rights we're shopping. Read it aloud for your own amusement; please don't post or broadcast.

School projects: Some folks at design/animation/art schools have contacted me wanting to know if they can use some of my work as elements of their school work. My line on this is as long as it's for educational purposes, that's fine. Hope you get a good grade. I'm not going to be involved with your design process, but after it's done, if you want to show it to me, that's fine.

Parodies: Dude, parody's totally covered by fair use. You don't even have to ask. Just make it, you know, good.

Actual, Genuine Licensing: If you want to license any part of my work -- and you would have to if you have a project that entails even attempting to make money, or doing anything that is in a field where I could make money off it -- then you need to contact me. I'll point you in the direction of my business representatives. When in doubt, contact me.

Questions? Leave 'em in the comment thread.

Posted by john at May 25, 2007 04:51 PM

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Joel Finkle | May 25, 2007 04:57 PM

What would the licensing fees be for bacon pre-stuck with double-sticky tape and stamped with likenesses of John Perry and Jane Sagan?

John Scalzi | May 25, 2007 05:00 PM

Unbelievably high, because I'd want all my money up front for such a ridiculous idea.

Dr. Phil | May 25, 2007 05:17 PM

Very sane list -- and practical, too.

That said, I am hoping for someone of the filk persuasion to bring to ConFusion in January "The Legend of the Ghost Brigades".

Until then, a friend of mine blogged today about this example of math geek filk, which I found charming.

Dr. Phil

Chang, for rizzle. | May 25, 2007 05:26 PM

Uh, did you get my idea about Jared Dirac Black Jellybeans? I found a factory in China that just did 50 tons of them on spec. LEmme know.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | May 25, 2007 05:28 PM

All very sensible, and I hope you don't think I'm being a parking-lot lawyer when I ask about your statement that no fanfic based in your universes may "generate any sort of economic benefit for you, in any form."

I doubt very much that you mean to exclude the possibility that someone's fanfic might garner them a reputation as a talented writer who ought to be encouraged to tackle non-fanfic work. We've already seen this happen in a few cases--sometimes the reputation spread in stages from circles of fanfic-writing friends to distant publishing professionals, and in a case or three the distant publishing professionals have noticed the unusually good fanfic directly. Since it's absolutely no skin off your nose if this happens, I can't imagine that you'd mind, but a strict reading of the phrasing "generate any sort of economic benefit for you" could hold it to cover these cases.

I dunno, maybe this really is just a gnat, but it bothers me.

Michael Rawdon | May 25, 2007 05:32 PM

Filk: I can't imagine why anyone would want to make filk out of any of my stuff, but hey, whatever.

Not that I'm a filky sort of guy, but I detect a failure of imagination here. :-)

John Scalzi | May 25, 2007 05:44 PM


"I doubt very much that you mean to exclude the possibility that someone's fanfic might garner them a reputation as a talented writer who ought to be encouraged to tackle non-fanfic work."

Indeed not. If seeing someone playing in my universe convinces an editor that person might do well playing in their own, I think that's groovy. If they want to put me in the acknowledgments of their book, that would be groovy, too. But, yeah, I don't see that as someone making a profit of my work, just showing that they could possibly make a profit off their own.

Nik | May 25, 2007 05:45 PM

What about homages? I'm assuming they fall under fair use, like parodies, but what's your take of someone giving a homage to you or your work?

John Scalzi | May 25, 2007 05:47 PM


As long as the homage doesn't involve my characters or specifics of my universe in any non-fair use way, I don't see how I would complain.

y | May 25, 2007 07:37 PM

I am a filky sort of guy, and I detect a challenge...

John Scalzi | May 25, 2007 07:42 PM

Well, I'm not saying filkers can't, y. I'm just not sure why filkers would.

Bluth | May 25, 2007 08:20 PM

These guidelines are well explained and very smart. We know what happened to GOB when he gave up animation rights to Baby Banana Grabber

Marcos | May 25, 2007 08:22 PM

If you don't think that John Perry is the stuff of which great filk is made, you must not grok filk. Which is perfectly understandable, since most folks don't grok filk. :)

I'm not saying I could personally make great filk out of it, but OMW is definitely fertile ground for it. And I feel confident saying that having barely made it through half the book, which I just purchased today...

Steve | May 25, 2007 10:10 PM

You ask not to be sent fanfic and movie scripts. Is this to protect you from fans claiming that you stole their ideas? I've heard a few authors talk about that.

John Scalzi | May 25, 2007 10:17 PM


Yeah, pretty much.

Nathan | May 26, 2007 12:43 AM

I'm surprised no-one's asked this yet, but what have you got against the skipper, little buddy?

Adam Rakunas | May 26, 2007 10:35 AM

Dammit, Nathan, you beat me to it! Though I was going to go the slashfic/fair use route:

Jonas Grumby looked down at his feet, which was a surprise in itself. His massive gut was gone, replaced with washboard abs and a barrel chest. He flexed, watching muscles ripple under his green skin.

And then the door to his room opened, and he smiled at the still-skinny man gangling in the doorway. "Hey, Little Buddy," said Grumby. "Let's see what these new bodies can do."

Um...did I mention fair use?

John H | May 26, 2007 10:36 AM

Okay, but what are your feelings on femslash involving Jane and...

Mary Ann and Ginger?


Princess Leia?


Ron | May 28, 2007 10:22 AM

I'm not sure this is a good idea, but what the hell: What's filk?

John Scalzi | May 28, 2007 10:51 AM


L. David Wheeler | May 29, 2007 12:54 PM

Y'know, this brings up something I've wondered about ever since getting into filk a few years back -- are songs inspired by/based by literary works or films automatically a subset of "fanfic?" Which covers maybe a third to a half of filk songs, as well as mainstream fare such as Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street" (Anne Rice).

(I ask as one who has been known to write songs from the perspective of the astronaut who goes rogue in Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles; from that of Bigby Wolf in the comic Fables; and from Charlie Brown. Heh.)

I tend to think fellow songwriters and I are doing something other than fanfic ("not that there's anything wrong with that," etc. etc.) -- riffing from authors' themes, expanding into universal emotions, etc. etc. But maybe that's an affectation. I suspect there are authors who don't care to have their work fanfic'd but who don't mind (or perhaps welcome) filk -- but there are probably authors who don't like either.

Does filk fall into your "I-don't-want-to-know" category in the same manner as fanfic?

John Scalzi | May 29, 2007 12:59 PM

Does it involve The Skipper?

MB | May 29, 2007 05:17 PM

It's included in your definition, but you might want to remind people that "no economic benefit" includes "is posted on a web page for which [fanfic author] receives advertising revenue". ;)

Cameron | May 30, 2007 02:52 AM

I mentioned this before on another subject but since you mentioned that your trying to sell movie and tv rights, have you considered a video game? If Bungie
picked up the project I think your game could out do Halo. Personally, I would want to see an MP-35
in action on an X-Box console

John Scalzi | May 30, 2007 07:27 AM


We're open to video game rights, although if they don't get sold a la carte, I'd imagine they'd get sold as a package deal with the movie rights (so it can become one of those crappy games that's rushed out to fit a movie release schedule).

L. David Wheeler | May 30, 2007 11:14 AM

Trying to figure out how a Skipper filk would go. Maybe the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'" replaced with "Little Buddy?"

I need more coffee. Or less.

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