Does Fan Fiction Deserve a Readership or a Copyright Lawsuit?

Novels that are transparently taken from more original works are sometimes praised as the stuff of art and other times are lamented by authors who think they violate their sacred work. 

What's the Latest Development?


In the album Sketches of Spain, Miles Davis riffs on traditional Spanish flamenco music to create literally one of the most inspired jazz collections of all time. But writing seems to play by different rules. In 2011, a book billed as the sequel to The Catcher in the Rye was banned from publication by a US court. Today, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey has become an international bestseller though it takes Edward and Bella from Stephenie Meyer's best-selling Twilight fiction. "James took elements of Ms. Meyer's characters and plot and set them in the world of sexual submission and dominance," says the Wall Street Journal's Cynthia Crossen. 

What's the Big Idea?

Fan fiction, in which inspired fans write sequels to or spin-offs of an original work of fiction using the same characters, "exists in a legal gray area; it appears to violate copyright law, but it's a labor of love, not avarice." Typically published online and with a disclaimer stating the characters are not original, fan fiction is accepted by some professional authors but not by others. Michael Chabon, in his defense of fan fiction, makes the salient point that the history of art is the passing down of story forms and archetypal characters: "There is a degree to which...all literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction. ... All novels are sequels; influence is bliss."

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