23 July 2015

This is my best writing thus far.

Image by Daniel Dalton of  Buzzfeed.
Writer and designer duo Daniel Dalton and Paul Curry teamed up to create this fabulous Mad Libs version of 50 Shades. I definitely got my giggles in for today; if you want to share the laughter, feel free to post your story (or its link) into the comments below!


At dinner we fill up on wine and decide to skip straight to dessert. Christian leads me to the Cenobite realm. I slip out of my skin and bend over the Aga.

He blindfolds me, and binds my wrists with my own dreams.

The wine has my head spinning, and the feel of his inflated sense of self-worth in control of my body has me wetter than a small lake or reservoir.

Christian leans over and whispers in my ear, “I'm going to stick my fleshy Mjolnir in your weeping cavern.”

I can't see, but my other senses are electrified. My skin retracts as I hear him behind me secreting his venom.

He chastises my sex and I squeal in delight, the sharp pain making my future disappear. I want more. “Christian, please, swear loyalty to my Dark Lord.”

I've spoken out of turn, and he spanks my privilege. I hear him unwrap a condom. The anticipation has my knees shaking. My vulva is glowing.

He grabs my hips, slowly sliding his Elder Wand deep into my servants' quarters and I gasp as he starts drifting into me like a mild breeze.

He grabs a handful of my non-corporeal essence and I cling to a fibre glass model of the HMS Victory amidst the might of his misguided technique.

“Your sex feels so good,” he whispers, imposing his metalcore side project into my already overflowing Ikea Billy bookcase. He reaches round and deftly inspects my Longbottom as our bodies collide faster and harder.

My heart is pounding, and my body is tense in anticipation of his impending think-piece. I feel my own excitement build as he starts to embiggen inside me, his fingers making shadow puppets on my interactive red button.

"I am going to depart for Valhalla,” he tells me. “Would you like permission to ride the apocalypse with me?”

”Yes,” I gasp, glad he’s not going to make me beg for his angry sauce.

“Where do you want it,” he asks, pulling hard on my hair. We're both right on the edge.

“In my cave of forgotten dreams, please.” I manage to utter as my body tightens and convulses, a powerful epiphany exploding through me as he astrally projects his full-strength homebrew into my Cascadia fault line.

He unties me and we slump to the floor, panting, delirious, covered in each other’s abject misery.

“I enjoyed that,” I tell him. “I like it when you butter my slam tent.”

“My cock refracts light,” he grins, as we lie together in temporary bliss.


Want to write your own "Fifty Shades" story? Click here.

12 July 2015

Yes, fanworks are illegal: harsh truths about copyright & Fair Use.

Brain Thief . Licensed from Stock Unlimited.
Update - June 7, 2020: This article was originally written in 2015 and a lot has changed since then! It was shared on Seton Hill's website the same year and updated in 2019, and thanks to the publicity on that website, it's been cited as a source in several different articles, essays, and presentations, and quite a few forums. Here are a few:

There are also articles and comments out there (especially in forums) that argue that I am right and that I'm wrong. The main recurring point is that theft is larceny and when I use the term "theft" here I am incorrect in doing so based on that definition.   

So, let me clarify: I am talking about the simple, bare-bones definition of theft as explained in Lexico:
The action or crime of stealing.
The key word here is the action. This is what I primarily mean by the term "theft" in this article. I hope that clears this up. Another way to look at it is simply taking someone else's creation that you did not originally create. 

I also want to clarify that I ENJOY AND WRITE FANFICTION and that the purpose of this post is to not stop you or me from writing it. It's to educate you on why other people may be against it, why someone may ask you to stop writing it and take your work down, and what the law -- for now -- says about it.

The law changes all the time. New precedents are being set all the time. So, it is up to you to keep abreast of the situation and practice due diligence with understanding what you can and can't do when you use someone else's intellectual property. It is not my responsibility to do this, even though I decided to write this article in 2015. This will be my last update on it.

This post is meant to help you. It is not to be referred to as a hardcore legal guide or argument. It was always meant to be a simple explainer, nothing more.

It looks like it has helped others, for which I'm grateful, but please remember: I am not a lawyer. I'm just a writer, and a writer of fanfiction.  Thank you for your support of this article over the years. I greatly appreciate it.

Original article text, dated July 2015, with updated links: I'm writing this post because fanfiction is a buzzword again, thanks to the publication of "Grey" by E. L. James--or, more specifically, the Twitter debacle that was #AskELJames, which included tweets slamming fanfiction in general. I've seen several posts from authors defending fanfiction in response to such tweets--and fanfiction very well should be defended--but I'm also disheartened to see that many well-intentioned people misunderstand the legalities of fanfiction and the Fair Use clause, and are shooting incorrect information out there into the world.

Before I elaborate on the legal stuff, let me add this disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am not licensed to provide legal counsel to anyone. But I do know copyright and fair use, because it's an integral part of what I do for a living (I make things, yay!). That, and the U.S. Copyright Office website is very clear on defining these terms, so I have no problem discussing them and linking to the source material throughout this post.


Here are the icky truths that people don't always want to hear, especially when it comes to fanworks:
  • Without permission directly granted from the original copyright owner, any creation of derivative works is illegal. 
  • Copyright violators do not determine if their work falls under the protection of Fair Use; that decision is made through arbitration
  • Fair Use is not a right. Fair Use is a defense argument used in legal proceedings, and is a circumstantial provision that does not guarantee protection for those who violate copyright law.
  • Attribution isn't a protection from copyright violation, but you still need to do it anyway.
  • Including disclaimers with derivative works ("All rights belong to their prospective owners" / "These characters don't belong to me" / "Work is protected under Fair Use") is not a protection from copyright violation. If you're going to bother including a disclaimer, you still need to properly attribute the author, copyright holder, and trademark owner.
And probably the biggest one that puts people into defense-mode:

Taking something that isn't yours, without permission, is stealing.  


The specific erroneous statement that pushed me to write this post was a pro blogger's claim that fanfiction is "a transformative work protected under copyright law."

Well...there are two ways to interpret that statement:
  1. Transformation of an original work doesn't violate copyright.
  2. The transformation itself (the new work) is protected under copyright law.
#1 is incorrect.
#2 is correct.

Fun, right?

Fanworks--fanfiction, fan art, fan films--are derivatives of an original work. They "transform" the original work by taking major pieces from it (characters, plot, etc.) and placing those original components in new scenarios with new depictions. Without permission from the original copyright holder to build upon, transmit, copy, and transform a preexisting work, derivatives are illegal.

Why are they illegal? Because, as Title 17 of the US Code explains, rights to a created work are exclusive to the creator. It's a Constitutional Provision meant to protect authors and their work, but is also meant to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" by limiting the exclusivity of the work--meaning, eventually, creations will  belong to everyone (Source). Until that time passes, you cannot take what isn't yours, no matter how well-intentioned you may be.


It is very important to emphasize that copyright does not protect ideas, but instead, how ideas are rendered.

The Star Wars vs. Harry Potter infographic is effective because it illustrates that these works share ideas but their creators render them very, very differently. J. K. Rowling decided to write a fantasy set in a parallel, magical world that exists along with our own, set in the UK in the relative present. George Lucas decided to write a space opera set "long ago in a galaxy far far away." Concepts may overlap, but the key elements of the narrative--characters, dialogue, voice, etc.--are original, wholly belonging to their respective creators.

In other words, ideas are intangibles that belong to and are shared by everyone, but their specific, unique expressions, once physically rendered, belong to the individual creator. In the US (and many other countries worldwide), that uniquely rendered piece is automatically protected under copyright law. What is one man's hobby is another one's livelihood, and copyright law is designed to protect both.


And now, a case study!

Once upon a time, fanfiction author Snow Queen's Ice Dragon took Twilight's lead characters Bella and Edward, as created by author Stephenie Meyer, and wrote them into a new story called "Master of the Universe." She, like thousands of other readers, wanted more from Bella and Edward's relationship--Twilight was marketed to teenagers, and adult readers wanted to see something that reflected adult interests and situations. "Master of the Universe" was a fanfic that included Bella and Edward in a BDSM, sexual relationship--an R-rated Twilight readers were looking for.

Snow Queen's Ice Dragon broke the law when she wrote "Master of the Universe," because she did not invent, and did not own, the characters of Bella and Edward--Stephenie Meyer did. The only way Snow Queen's Ice Dragon fanfic would be legal is if she contacted author Stephenie Meyer directly to get permission to publish "Master of the Universe" (yes, posting online means you are, in fact, publishing your work).

She published it anyway. And it was so popular that it she later decided to commercially self-publish it as an ebook, and after making a good deal of money from that, made a deal with Random House and made a hell of a lot more money. "Master of the Universe" is now known  as "Fifty Shades of Grey" and Snow Queen's Ice Dragon is now known as E. L. James. And she's a bazillionaire, because she gave her fans exactly they wanted.

But there was still a huge outcry from the public about the situation, saying that the similarities warranted legal action. My basic understanding is that Random House and E. L. James scrubbed "Master of the Universe" of all of its Twilight references, but kept everything else. Why? Because "everything else" legally belongs to E. L. James--it's her unique rendition of overlapping ideas.

Random House asserts that "[...]  the 50 Shades series is wholly original fiction and that the author has warranted it [a]s original fiction, deviating substantially from the original fan fiction known as Master of the Universe" (Source). The internet disagrees with Random House's claim and there's some pretty interesting line-by-line comparisons showing that not a lot was changed between "Master" and "50 Shades"...but legally, does it matter?

  • E. L. James's "Fifty Shades of Grey" does not contain Stephenie Meyer's plot, characters, and original prose--it is a work unique to E.L. James.
  • Stephenie Meyer recognized that "Fifty Shades" was completely different than her own (source). Her acquiescence demonstrates that she does not see a copyright or legal issue with the publication of "Fifty Shades." 
  • "Master of the Universe," which did violate copyright, was taken down and is unavailable to readers except for the small snippets in blog posts where people are making comparisons between that and "Fifty Shades." Essentially, "Master of the Universe" no longer exists, and Stephenie Meyer chose not to take legal action against E. L. James for "Master" or "50 Shades."

Basically, the copyright violations were removed, and most importantly, the original author doesn't care about the copyright violation anyway, so that's that.


Why are you writing this? Are you against fanfiction or something?

Nope. I love fanfiction. I wrote Harry Potter parodies and fanfiction starting as early as 1999, before the internet made fandoms and fanworks a tangible thing. I tend to do fanart more than anything else, but I recently wrote fanfic for Darker than Black that I hope to post online at some point, and some dirty fanfic for Dramatical Murder that may never see the light of day because I can't believe my brain could pump something like that out.

Fanfiction is amazing because it allows you to be experimental in safe parameters, and indeed write things you never thought your brain could pump out. Fanfiction is a great way to learn to write, and a great way to learn about directly connecting to an audience and fulfilling their needs, which is key if you want to break out into commercial fiction. Fanfiction communities can provide great support and direct feedback. And above all else, fanfiction is incredibly fun...

Which is why you shouldn't stop writing fanfic, or making fan art, or shooting fan films and making parodies.

You just need to be aware that there is a risk when you publish this stuff, and it's simply this: if the copyright owner makes a claim against your work, you must submit to the demands of the copyright holder.

That means if the author tells you to take something down, you take it down and you leave it down. It also means that if the author seeks litigation, you must recognize that they have the right to do so (and that's when you can hope your lawyer will use the Fair Use defense).

Many authors and artists are just fine with fanworks. They see fans as invaluable, and sometimes even as family; they also recognize the perks of fanfic and fanarts--free publicity, a built-in, dedicated audience, and (depending on their attitude), a source for valid criticism and mutual inspiration.

There are others who are vehemently against fanfiction (George R. R. Martin and Anne Rice, for example) and they have every right, legal and personal, to discourage it (while fans are important, authors don't "owe" them).  There may be authors who don't have a problem with fanfiction, but their publishers, agents, or licensees do, so the author professionally sides with them (Ursula Le Guin is an example). And there are some authors who admit they don't quite understand fanfiction, so they stay neutral or avoid it altogether (like Juliet Marillier).

If you're not sure about an author's personal stance on fanworks, you can usually find out their policy or opinion directly on their websites. Another great resource is fanlore.org's vast compilation of Professional Author Fanfic Policies, which continues to grow as more information is made available. I highly recommend checking it out!

Don't be afraid of making fanworks. Fanworks are amazing!

Just be informed, and make decisions that mitigate potential consequences of copyright violation:

  1. Try to get permission from the copyright holder if you want to publish a derivative work. If you don't know where to start, read this article. It's not as difficult as you may think to contact the owner for permissions, and I'm speaking from experience.
  2. Know the author or artist's policies on fanworks--if they're against it, then you probably shouldn't publish.
  3. Authors and artists who are against fanworks are not bad people. One of the arguments I read from a particularly frothy Anne Rice complaint is that she had no right to go after fans, and that she should be appreciative that fanfiction of her work even exists. Nope. Authors don't owe you accolades or adoration because you "borrowed" something they labored over. If they are "unappreciative" of your appropriation, you don't fire back with a "you should be grateful!" argument. Nope nope nope.
  4. Publish in safe communities, where fanworks are promoted and encouraged (Archive of Our Own, which won a Hugofanfiction.net, deviantArt, Wattpad, etc).
  5. Don't sell fanworks! If you charge for anything that is derivative or transformative, this will hurt the Fair Use defense if legal action is taken against you. Plus, profiting off of others' work without permission is just a dick thing to do. Although many fanartists sell derivative work (posters, tee shirts, etc.), they might've gotten the licensing to do so. And if they didn't, just because it seems like they're getting away with it doesn't necessarily mean it'll go that way for you, too. There will always be a risk if you sell derivative works without permission; if you want to play it safe, stay not-for-profit.
  6. Always provide proper attribution when you use things that aren't yours, and if you're going to do a disclaimer, you need to be very clear--writing "I don't own this" is a WELL, DUH. Something like, "This is a non-commercial work of fanfiction. The characters of Draco Malfoy and Luna Lovegood are the sole invention and property of author J. K. Rowling" is a lot more effective than "Rights belong to their prospective owners," which is a weak, deliberately vague statement. Attribution and disclaimers do not negate copyright violation, but they are a factor in determining the Fair Use defense (which again, is decided in the courts, and not by you). Attribution and disclaimers also provide credit where credit is due, which is the proper way to go about acknowledging work that isn't yours. 
  7. Comply with all requests and don't get defensive about it. Again, if you didn't get permission to take it,  you stole it. The original owner has the right to send a cease-and-desist or DCMA takedown notice, and you must comply with their request. If they choose to take legal action against you, they are in their right to do so. I personally never hear of litigation happening unless the infringement harms the original owner's livelihood in some way (hurting their business, theft of profits, etc.), so usually, it's a request for deletion and nothing beyond that (in other words, don't panic!).
  8. If you want to make money off of fanworks, check out places like Kindle Worlds, which has several franchises available for fanfic writers to legally publish their works for profit (UPDATE: KINDLE WORLDS WAS SHUTTERED IN 2018).  You can also check out works in the public domain, or search Creative Commons for licenses that allow derivative works for commercial purposes.


Holy cats, this was a long one. I hope you found it helpful, and if you have any questions about Copyright and Fair Use, don't be afraid to consult the US Copyright Office website, which explains both in detail. The Stanford Law Libraries site for Copyright and Fair Use is another excellent source for more information.


Shameless advertisement: If you like what you've read in this article, check out my Convention appearances on the Works section of the site--I cover this and more in my panel Fanfic into Fiction. I'll be at Matsuricon in August. Stop and say hello!


Shameless advertisement, June 2020: This article was cited in another one I wrote for Speculative Chic: Theft in the Time of Corona

10 July 2015

It's official: I'm presenting at Matsuricon!

Logo (c) 2015 by Matsuricon. Source.
I'm pretty excited! I'll be a first-time presenter and first-time attendee for this year's Matsuricon, a Japanese pop-culture convention in Columbus, Ohio. I submitted a few panels to Matsuricon for their perusal, so the only thing I know for certain right now is that Fanfic into Fiction has been selected! My Bad Artist's Guide to Good Comics was rejected, and I'm actually very, very okay with that. It is my only presentation that relies heavily on visual aids (read: laptop) and since I'm having technology issues (read: laptop) it works out really well that I won't be presenting it--indeed, I was considering pulling it altogether anyway. Meanwhile, I'm awaiting the fate of one last submission, so I'm keeping mum until I know for certain what's what, but I'm happy to be bringing one of my most popular panels ever to Matsuricon.

I hope to build a little home with this new convention. I was a longtime resident of downtown Columbus and adore any excuse to come back, so Matsuricon's location makes me really happy. Given the amount of times I attended Ohayocon, which takes place in the same location, I know the convention area really well. So while Matsuricon is new to me, I won't be flying in completely blind.

The guest list looks amazing; the convention regularly donates to charity; and their VIP experience includes an actual social event with the guests! I also like that while Matsuricon is at the Hyatt Regency and Columbus Convention Center, it looks like their convention attendance rate is a little more manageable than what's popped up at Ohayocon. I don't think I'll get as claustrophobic as I have at other events in the past, which is nice. 

At the moment, I'm trying to work out the logistics of housing and the funding situation. I'm also not at my physically fittest, so I'm debating whether or not to cosplay at this one (there's not a lot of time left to decide!). In the meantime, I'll keep you posted with more details as I learn them.