Saturday, May 3, 2008

Place Your Bets

Current Reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Inspirational Quote: "If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." -- Kingsley Amis.

In this corner, J. K. Rowling, multi-billionaire author of the Harry Potter books.

In this corner, some guy named Steve VanderArk, rabid Harry Potter fan, trivia collector, and web master.

The backstory goes like this: Rowling writes some popular books. VanderArk builds a fan site "lexicon" that details everything that is known or speculated on by Potterphiles world wide. Rowling loves it right up until VanderArk decides to publish a paper version. Money becomes involved, and, as day follows night, so do lawyers.

Rowling sees it as appropriation of her work.

VanderArk sees it as homage du art.

The lawyers see it as a shower of money. Oh, and a chance to hammer out copyright rules in an internet world.

Some see it as a chance to define "publishing." Is it published if it's on the web? Traditional publishers believe that web published and "published" are two different things. If it doesn't have an ISBN, then it's not published. Publishers of web magazines, and web counterparts of print magazines respond, "What does that make our stuff, then?"

Here's a chance for the law to decide. Yes, it looks like a David and Goliath battle. Personally, I'm hoping for Goliath.

Why? Because of fan fiction. There's a lot of it out there. I don't write the stuff because I've got enough of my own worlds and characters to play with, but I respect those who do. I have no doubt that a 50K-word Firefly fan novel is just as difficult to write as a 50K-word original fiction. If you wrote it, bravo. If it's actually GOOD, wow.

What worries me is that the law might decide that VanderArk's work is an original creation, that a compendium of someone else's words is on a par with the work of art from which it draws.

I don't have any characters that are worth writing fan fiction about. However, if I did, and you wrote fan fiction based on my work, I'd still be behind you all the way.

Just don't try to get it published.

These are my characters. My world. Not yours. The book/television/movie/comic/puppet show was a labor of love for me, but more than that, I put myself out there. I approached an agent. I got rejected a horrible number of times. I got accepted somewhere, then waited forever until my agent snagged a publisher. Then I had to endure edits and marketing binges until finally, my world and characters showed up on your bookshelf.

I did that, not you.

I don't mind if you release your little homage on the web, where effort is minimal and rewards are intangible. However, if you take my world and my characters and you try to publish your story for compensation, then I'm going to come down on you so hard your teeth will rattle for days.

My world. My characters. I created them. I fought for them. Maybe, like Rowling, I skipped a few meals for them. Maybe you came up with the plot, but for all the rest of the hard stuff, you just read and borrowed. That's not enough to qualify you as a creator. That's not enough to qualify you to be rewarded for your effort with anything more than a smattering of applause.

In fact, your trying to profit from my work is an insult to me and to what I put myself through creating something worth imitating.

Don't you dare.

Now go write something. Make it original. Make it good. Become a creator instead of an imitator.

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