Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fan-Fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Stealing Ideas

The Fifty Shades of Grey movie is coming out this week and I'm planning on seeing it. I read the first book, it wasn't my favorite book, but I think this might be one time when the movie is better than the book.

A lot of people on social media refuse to see it though. They are angry because they view E.L. James as a thief. They think she stole Stephenie Meyer's characters and is using them to make millions of dollars. The books started out as Twilight fan-fiction. They've changed the names of E.L. James' original work, but little else.

I agree that it's wrong to steal from other authors, but I don't believe E.L. James stole from Stephenie Meyer. If she had, Stephenie Meyer would sue her. Don't think it's some kind of benevolence on Stephenie Meyer's part that has caused her to never take E.L. James to court. They are both business savvy people or they wouldn't be as rich as they are. Neither of them would hesitate to sue someone they felt stole from them.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with fan-fiction. I didn't have any money at that age, so I'd go on fanfiction.net and read a bunch of fan fiction stories about my favorite television or movie characters because I couldn't afford the amount of books I wanted to read. I loved to read and express my opinion, so I'd comment on every story. This is how I learned about the different types of fan-fiction out there.

Here are the four types I've noticed (there may be more):

1.) Rewrites

Where the fan-fiction author takes a story, rewrites it completely and maybe changes a few tiny details so the story is more to their liking or who writes the story from a brand new perspective to explore a certain character and their viewpoints on things.

2.) Sequels

They take the story that's already there and try to continue it.

3.) What If's

Where the fan-fiction author takes a story and writes about something they wished would happen. Like, with the Harry Potter series: What if Harry and Hermione had fallen in love? Things like that.

4.) Alternate Universes - This is where you take a few characters from the book and throw them into your own universe and probably change aspects of their personality and appearance to fit this universe. All you really keep are the names and maybe a few references to the original story.

For instance, I once read an "Alternate Universe" version of Pride and Prejudice. It was supposed to be the same story if it took place in the 1970's. Most of the details of the story changed. There was a few similarities in the progression of the plot, sort of, (just that Elizabeth was disgusted with Darcy really) and the characters kept the same names, but they had to be completely different people. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet was a hippie. And they had completely different experiences, like going on shopping trips and things.

So essentially, it's a whole new story even though it's a fan-fiction.

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The first three stories are completely dependent on the original work. The fourth one is not and could exist even if the original work disappeared from our existence. The first three would violate copyright laws if they were published, but I believe that the fourth would not as long as you changed the names and any other relevant details.

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The thing about E.L. James' books is that she wrote Alternate Universe fan-fiction. Christian Grey is NOT a vampire. He has a different back story. He's a different age than Edward. Same with Anastasia Steele, she isn't a high school teenage girl with an overprotective father like Bella was. The storylines have nothing in common, I had to search really hard for the similarities in the two book series and there were only traces of this here and there. I'm pretty sure that Stephenie Meyer would be appalled at the morality of E.L. James' books. Meyer's characters do not believe in abortion and try to follow God. E.L. James...well...her characters just do whatever they want and love sex before marriage.

They are far from the same book.

I just find it really strange how confrontational people get about this. I technically am writing and selling fan-fiction right now. It's not only E.L. James who tried to do this. I write retellings of Greek Mythology. My fan-fiction is more like the rewrites-the Greek myths you know and love rewritten from a new perspective where I try to change your view of the original stories. Many other authors have stolen from Greek Mythology as well, including Rick Riordan and C.S. Lewis. In fact, most fantasy authors take elements from pasts myths in some way, that's what makes our books fantasy novels.

I just think there needs to come a point when people stop hearing the word "fan-fiction" and automatically think "stolen." Some of it is stolen work, yes, and would be illegal to publish. You can't publish a sequel to someone else's book, for instance, without their permission. And you can't steal people's books and sell them without their permission either.

But this is not what E.L. James did. This is why I am not at all offended by publishers publishing fan-fiction.

5 comments:

Lee Diogeneia said...

The following is my opinion and should not be taken personally, EB. I like you, I just don't agree with you:

Stephanie Meyer is too stupid to sue E.L. James. She's been interviewed about it--she even sounds stupid in the interviews. She claims she hasn't even read it--which I wouldn't doubt considering that it's erotica and Meyers is a practicing Mormon. Savvy business woman my arse. lol Other authors HAVE successfully sued in cases like this for FAR LESS obvious reasons.

That James is a thief isn't opinion, though.
See the link I included to see the technical comparisons of 50 and the James' fanfic Masters of the Universe. The score was 89% the same. I'll tell you what--if I wrote a book (even a dumb one like Twilight), I would FLIP if someone took my work, changed only a few words and then proceeded to make money off of it. That is the DEFINITION of stealing intellectual property (IP). Personally, I find it mighty suspicious that the publishing companies aren't battling over this. I wonder if they share the same corporate parent...
http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/master-of-the-universe-versus-fifty-shades-by-e-l-james-comparison/

On to the rest... rewriting Greek and Roman mythology is not fan fiction, my friend. As someone with two university writing degrees and one literature degree, I can tell you that for certain. Mythology is widely considered archetypal and so is Shakespeare (which, at its core, relies on the same mythological archetypes anyway...technically, Shakespeare provides us with archetypal plots, while mythology provides us with archetypal characters...). In addition, as far as mythology goes (including fairy tales), it has no owners. No person or estate owns it as IP. At most, it belongs to a culture--which you may even claim heritage from--which means you own it as much as the next guy. Even if you are using the same character names, it's not fanfic. It's a "re-imagining" and is legally and intellectually considered original work.

This is why people can re-tell various fairy tales and mythological stories and NOT GET SUED BY DISNEY! Can you imagine? Besides, Disney itself did a re-imagining of a Japanese Fairy Tale called Ponyo--that's how we got "Little Mermaid." (And then we got Ponyo anyway...which I think is a better story, but that's beside the point! lol) We can criticize it as unoriginal, but it wasn't stolen original IP. Another example is the popular, American-produced anime-style cartoon called "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (and the second Avatar series)--these were born of Japanese mythology. Still not stolen IP.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I'm not going to tell you that your's is wrong. I don't spend time fighting about this online. However, I am boycotting the movie and suggesting that others do too, because it sets a bad precedent for writers of original works. I've done re-telling of Greek myths as well--I can't be angry with you because you do it too. Hundreds of people have retold them and borrowed from them. But this is not the same as that. Not even a little.

Love ya girl. Peace.

E.B. Black said...

Lee: I want you to know that I am always fine with people expressing their opinions on my blog, even if they disagree with mine and I appreciate your post.

I like your argument better than some others I have heard. Other people haven't really shown me any similarities or tried to point anything out. They've just told me that all fan-fiction is bad and that was it.

Also, it's funny that you bring up Shakespeare because I'm going to eventually write a book series someday (I already have the covers, but it'll probably be quite a while in the future) that have some Shakespeare stuff as part of their story as well, so it's good to know that both Greek Mythology and Shakespeare are considered just archetypes.

Anyway, I'd be interested kind of in comparing the two books myself now like that post you showed me.

Anonymous said...

@Lee:
1. that comparison really says absoluely nothing. Master of Universe had very little in common with Twilight except character names. it was basically 50 shades with the names from the Twilight series. Even as a fan fiction, it was worlds apart from Twilight except for the NAMES (and certain character traits, but really can you sue someone by basing your claims on something like oooh both Bella and ANA had 0 personality and were clumsy and both Edward and Christian were stalkers? You can't, because there is no IP infringement)

2. On calling Steph M stupid. . .the woman has build a movie production company. I would refrain from calling her stupid. I am not the greatest fan of her, but she's def not stupid.

yes she might not have read it but you bet her entire team from editor to publicist to agent to God knows who did. If there would have been reasons for suing, her team would have found it.

@ E.B. I think your arguments (including the classification of fan fiction) are very valid!

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