Sunday, March 29, 2009

Russet Noon: Bad Eggs and Plagiarism

Have you heard of Russet Noon yet?  I'm torn, because I'm helping the author become famous, and yet I want the world to know that copyright thievery is alive and well.  Authors beware.
From the Absolute Write Water Cooler:

I know my opinion doesn't matter, but here goes.  I used to write fanfic.  I don't have time these days.  I speak from experience when I say  it is much easier to write something using someone else's world and characters.  The hard part is if you care enough to get the details right, which requires rereading the source material often.  This is necessary and important work, especially if you are working from a piece of fiction in the public domain (or you have permission) and you don't want to make a fool of yourself to the primary audience--people who love that original piece of fiction.  The new author has to know his/her stuff inside and out.

Having said that it's easier to write fanfic, that doesn't mean it's easy or worthless.  All writing is hard and sometimes that hard work pays off to produce really good fiction.  But because it's easier, it's very tempting for people like the author of Russet Noon to come into the picture and, rather than try to write an original piece and try to stand out in the slush pile, they ride on the coattails of existing success.  Again, a perfectly legitimate thing to do, though it's not usually as respected as original effort, but you must have the original author's permission.  

If you've read the Absolute Write thread or Googled around the web, you've probably become familiar with the various arguments for and against.

What, you say?  There are arguments for publishing this?

One argument that ticked me off is that some believe that because the original author has declared she won't write in the series anymore, others should continue onward in her place.  The readers are entitled to more!  The original author and publisher shouldn't deny the readers that pleasure.  Grrr ... poopyheaded entitlement poopyheads!

When I was a kid, if I finished with a series of books and I wasn't done emotionally, I would create my own stories.  I wouldn't write most of them down.  I remember I wrote one about Jana of the Jungle (so embarrassing ...) but the rest I concocted in my mind, often while running around wild with sticks and plywood (staffs, 'bows,' swords and shields) in the woods behind my mom's house.  I didn't share these stories, but if I did it wouldn't be a crime.  But if I decided I was going to write my own Lord of the Rings novel, publish it and make money off of it without going to the Tolkien estate for permission (and sending them their cut) it would be a crime.  Just as it's wrong for comics to steal material from other standup comedians, using company logos to imply that your affiliated with a group that you're not affiliated with, or using artwork or photography without compensating the artist or photographer.  

But I digress.  You know all this stuff.  It's really pretty simple.  Don't pass off someone else's hard work, whether in part or in entirety, as your own and then try to make money off of it.  The vast majority of fanfic writers don't have any illusions that what they create is something they can profit from or claim as their own in any but the loosest sense.  They write disclaimers and all share in good, honest fun.  Making money off of it without respect to copyright and trademark, is plain and blatant thievery.

Stephanie Meyer can defend herself just fine.  Everything will end up golden and grand for her, no matter how it breaks.  I think the author of Russet Noon is beyond deluded to believe that Ms. Meyer will read the book and be fine with everything and come to some sort of mutually equitable solution, but I could be wrong.  I hope that for the rest of us, Ms. Meyer won't condone this.  If she does (and believe me, it will be against the advice of her lawyers,) it'll make things that much more difficult for those writers who don't have deep pockets who then have books pop up based on their work, with no apology and no accompanying acknowledgement or compensation.  I hope Ms. Meyer makes an example of this person to warn away imitators.  Believe me, there will be those who try to pull the same stunt again and again, and if Russet Noon is legitimized in anyway, the ranks of thieves will swell to unprecedented proportions.

I also hope that the reverse doesn't happen--the yank-down of all fanfic online.  I don't read it, not interested, but it's fun and a good place for novice writers to test the waters.  Prolific pro writers sometimes play there too, taking a break from the tough job of developing their original material.  I don't want that to go away because of this bad egg.  Alas, sometimes when a bad egg is broken, it stinks it up for the whole barnyard.  (That last is a nod to Charlotte's Web.)

One final note:  if you want a compelling reason why fanfic writers ought to lay low, investigate the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover.  If the idea of two years of work being lost because someone played in your sandbox and claimed that you stole their fair share of the sand makes you shiver, you're not alone.  The reverse is not too fun either--putting a lot of work into a fanfic (are you sensing another good reason not to do this?) and then trying to sort out what your 'cut' of that ought to be, if anything.  Or how about pissing off the person whose work you admire so much that you're fanficing all over the place with it, or making that author quit writing in that world altogether?  I don't think I could show my face in public, honestly.  Panel at a convention?  I would not want to answer pointed questions about what right I thought I had to ask for half (or whatever percentage) of another author's royalties when that author wrote the whole thing.  Writers know what ideas are worth.  Seriously.  Stephen King gives away the ones that his monster under the bed produces if you're really struggling.

I'm not sure what the 'truth' of the situation is.  I just know that should I be so lucky as to have novels published, I'll have a hard time deciding whether or not I should turn a blind eye to fanfic (I won't be allowed to read them for various legal reasons) or spend time diligently informing various fanfic sites that unfortunately I can't allow any fanfic based on my work.  How sad is that?!  I don't want that.  I want everyone to have fun and enjoy the written word.  Unfortunately, others have decided to stink things up.  Poopyheads. 

No doubt that this is muddy water.  I say, if you want to write, go swimming in clear water.  Write original work.  And don't make a stink.  If nothing else scares you, consider that you might get wanked.  


The Moody Minstrel said...

It would suck if fanfic wound up being totally wiped out as a result of fark-ups like this biological backwash and the moron behind the Darkover fiasco. Yes, a lot of fanfic isn't worth the paper it's printed on (or the bandwidth it takes up), but there is a good amount that is good, clean fun done in good faith. I would offer as examples some very clever Doctor Who fanfic I've read as well as the "Troopers" fanfic videos (a Star Wars version of the "Cops" reality TV program, in case you don't know). Those came with disclaimers attached so it was clear from the beginning where the creators stood, something the authors of the original material clearly appreciated. (George Lucas himself said he enjoyed and was flattered by the "Troopers" videos.)

All it takes is a couple of pathetic slimewraps to wreck everything for everyone else.

Things that puzzle this other goddess.... said...

OMG how fricken moronic can people be? Don't answer that, it was wayyyy too obvious!

Steve Perry said...

Theft, plain and simple, and the way the copyright laws are, if you don't defend your child when somebody tries to snatch it, you can lose her.

Years ago, Quinn Yarbro told a fan not to use her characters, the fan did so anyway, and Yarbro had to sue or risk allowing -- through some weird quirk of the law -- her characters to fall into the public domain.

The way around this, for fan-fic, is to do what Trek does -- a limited license for X-number of copies for a buck or even nothing. But when you publish the stuff for money, it's not fan-fic anymore.

Kami said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

The latest as of 4/4/09 is that she took down her website but tried to make it look like it was censored and banned. Um, if the administrator took it down, it would just show up as an error, website not found. And it wouldn't have the template as a background.

Pity quest = fail!