Lots of People Make Money on Fanfic. Just Not the Authors

Fanbinding has exploded in recognition previously few years. Many fanbinders do adhere to a strict gift-economy stance in keeping with the writers whose work they’re binding, usually limiting the cash they accumulate, if any, to protecting materials prices. But the individuals promoting sure variations of widespread fics for revenue are lower from a distinct (e book) material. As they make cash off works the authors themselves can not promote, they’re placing these authors—and, arguably, fan fiction itself—in an untenable place.

“Technically speaking, the reproduction right belongs to the author of the fic, because that’s the ‘copy right’: They are the only person with the right to make copies of the fic,” says Stacey Lantagne, a copyright lawyer who focuses on fan fiction and teaches at Western New England University School of Law. Even although she notes it “might be considered an unsettled question of law officially,” fic authors do maintain the copyright to the unique components of their tales, although in fact not the underlying supply materials.

Is it authorized to bind another person’s fic? “Here is a typical lawyer answer: It depends,” Lantagne jokes. She says “it is likely legal to print someone else’s fanfic for your own personal, noncommercial use,” including that might probably lengthen to paying materials prices for another person to bind it, too. “Noncommercial” right here is vital. Like the authorized standing of fan fiction itself, the legality of fanbinding rests on honest use, the exception underneath US copyright legislation decided by components like how transformative a piece is, or if somebody is profiting off it—and taking cash away from the rights holder within the course of.

Fan fiction communities have traditionally relied on good-faith communication in the case of doing one thing else with somebody’s fic. Nothing’s stopping you from translating, remixing, or creating an audio model (often known as podficcing)—or, sure, printing and binding a model, nevertheless it’s good when you ask first. Some writers submit blanket permissions permitting any noncommercial engagement with their works, and a few, particularly in these hyper-popular corners of fandom, have particular steerage about fanbinding. Last 12 months, a charity public sale that garnered enormous sums of cash to bind others’ work led some writers—SenLinYu included—to change their insurance policies to permit private, noncommercial fanbinding solely.

While loads of followers have revered their needs, there’s clearly demand for these books—and thus, continued provide. Lantagne says that since litigation is extraordinarily costly, the one recourse a fan fiction author probably has on this state of affairs is to file DMCA takedown notices, a really tedious course of when there are a number of sellers on a number of websites. “This is what copyright holders have been complaining about ever since the DMCA was passed in the late 1990s—it’s a pain to have to file a DMCA notice everywhere copyright infringement crops up,” she says. “However, the alternative is something like YouTube’s Content ID being used to automatically block uploads, which we know is notoriously bad at accounting for fair use.”

Although unlawful sellers clearly deserve a great portion of blame, that continued demand—no matter fic authors’ needs—speaks to the way in which each scale and cash has been altering the fan fiction world lately. To be clear, there was by no means one singular “fan fiction community” or common set of norms, however the extensively accepted gift-economy framing has at all times been undergirded by the truth that many fan fiction readers are additionally writers, and tales are shared inside fandoms, with all of the structural ties they bring about. Pulling-to-publish was usually framed as a betrayal—we have been all on this nonmonetized boat collectively, and now you’ve jumped ship and cashed in.