herongale: (hitagi- argues)
herongale ([personal profile] herongale) wrote2010-05-08 04:18 am
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Oh, GRRM. Why must you cantanker on so?

Okay, so George R.R. Martin has written a post defending his decision to forbid fanfiction of his works. You can read it here.

Here is my reply. I posted it in the comments section of his post but will also reproduce it here, because it's two damn pages long and because I can.

Dear GRRM:

There is one area where I think that you and the fanfic writers of the world would agree on: the internet does change everything.

And the changes, I believe, will not be in your favor.

Financial value is assigned according to several different variables, but probably the most important one is scarcity. The internet makes self-publishing a valid option for writers, in a way that never really existed before, and the ramifications are being seen across the full spectrum of creative/content-driven media. You see it in "the death of journalism," wherein traditional news sources are being threatened by blogs and content aggregators (such as Google). You see it in "the death of television," in the sense that people are finding it more convenient and pleasurable to watch television shows and movies on their computers or mobile devices.

And you see it in "the death of the novel," in which the publishing world is stymied by the fact that for every person out there who wants to make a career out of writing, there are another ten or maybe another ten thousand who are quite willing to do it for free.

I can see why this threatens you. You are perhaps right to feel threatened by it. Just because something is “free” doesn’t mean that it isn’t commodified.

In the case of fanfiction, the commodity in question isn’t money, but rather time, and attention, and affection. These are all classic human commodities which have been around long before humans invented money, and thus on a very important gut level, these commodities are often treasured above all others, including by people such as yourself, who have leveraged the commodity of your creativity both fiscally and emotionally.

It is important to separate out that which you have a right to control, and that which you don’t.

I have always believed that it is important to protect professional writers by allowing them to make money off their works. You’ll find that most fanfic writers actually agree with you in the sense that the fiscal worth of your stories ought to be protected. You should be able to make money off of it. Fanfiction should not be allowed to get in the way of that.

But there is another trade you are making with your fans, and this trade is not financial at all: people who enjoy and adore your work are giving you fame, and respect, and love. You chose to make this trade when you decided to make your stories public. I am well familiar with Neil Gaiman's "GRRM is not your bitch” post, and I wouldn’t debate the core argument he made there, which is that buying a book doesn’t entitle you to make demands of the author in terms of how often they publish, what they publish, or even if they publish.

Here is the trade you have made, the bargain you have struck: you have given us your stories so that we in turn may hold them in our hearts.

Yeah, I know, that sounds pretty damn corny, but it’s true. The practical upshot of this is that your fans are free to imagine whatever they wish in regards to your stories, to imagine what the characters might do in situations that you haven’t presented, or to simply walk (figuratively) in the world you have created, imagining what sorts of adventures might be had there outside of the story you have given us.

I highly doubt you’d question the basic human right to imagination. But it’s obvious that you question the application of that imagination, and have decided that only imagination in isolation is valuable… despite the fact that humans are social animals, who for thousands and thousands of years have been swapping stories and ideas freely.

Why do you do this? Honestly, why do you care? Setting aside your very real interest in protecting the financial worth of your stories, I wonder: at what point does sharing become verboten? You certainly wouldn’t claim that people shouldn’t talk about your stories, even to the extent of talking about the sorts of scenarios they’ve cooked up about them, such as speculating about what is happening “off screen.” So long as it’s not fiction, according to you and people who agree with you, it’s fair use.

But why?

So long as your financial interests are protected, why would you care about what people want to imagine in regards to your works?

It’s obvious you do. You say that “consent” is at the heart of the argument, not financial rewards. And so for you, you seem to think that you have the right to veto power over the natural consequences of imagination that your own stories have created. Not just legally, not just financially, but… morally.

I really don’t get how you can feel that way. I think the reason that a lot of fanfic writers get upset when they hear about writers forbidding fanfiction is that there is a visceral “how dare you?” response, a natural recoiling from restrictions that strike at the heart of a basic human right: the right to free thought, and free speech, and to freely associate with others.

You don’t get to define for fanfic writers who their social circles are. You don’t get to define what they choose to talk about in their free time. You know this already. But for many of us, the people we write for online are our social circles. The forums we post to are our places to talk. If I were talking to a friend I know in real life, telling them a story that I imagined based on characters you created, I doubt you’d want to interfere with that. But when it comes to the internet, the difference is in scale, not in kind.

I think there’s something you really don’t understand about internet fan culture, which is this: the respect you want is respect that you already have. For the vast majority of fans online, the very fact that you have asked for people not to post fan stories on the internet is enough to keep them from doing so. Why? Because to them, you are implicitly a part of their social circles, and it’s just not nice to be a dick to someone who has so generously given the world stories which are so moving and so good.

By all means, use your legal rights. You have them, use them. If you want fan stories using your characters and creations taken down, I think you have the power to do so. In general, the fan community across the world will support you.

But please reconsider your general stance on fanfiction. I really don’t think I need someone’s say-so before I start cooking up stories in my head. And unless I’ve been specifically requested otherwise, I really don’t think I need consent to share those ideas in the form of stories, so long as I’m not infringing on anyone’s rights. The people who love your stories are free to imagine whatever they want, however they want, and it’s kind of tasteless to suggest that it’s wrong of them to do so. You place “consent” at the core of your argument, but I don’t think that’s the right place to start, at least not in how you’ve framed it.

You’d do a lot better if the core of your argument were courtesy. It’s just not courteous to flaunt the wishes of people such as yourself. You have your legal rights already, so it’s kind of idle to talk about that… but when making the case for why people shouldn’t share their fiction online, I think you’d be much better served in making it about the kindness and respect you deserve as a human being, and less about what right you have to police the inner workings of someone else’s mind.

Yours, [livejournal.com profile] herongale

[identity profile] flo-nelja.livejournal.com 2010-05-08 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
I love your argumentation a lot. Thank you. I could use some parts in the classic fanfic debate in French, if it doesn't bother you.

By the way, typo : it's Neil Gaiman, not Neal.
ext_3158: (edumacation)

[identity profile] kutsuwamushi.livejournal.com 2010-05-08 10:50 am (UTC)(link)

Nicely put.

[identity profile] cofie.livejournal.com 2010-05-08 12:28 pm (UTC)(link)
He is silly. He is just worried kids will wrte better than him or something. Or he is just bitching. :/ I must admit I don1t have much idea who he is but eh whatever.

Your writing here is a gem. I love it.

But this sadly will not change his mind. As I look on teh photo and read a bit of his "not lj blog" he seems to have done a final decision. And that's it.

[identity profile] vikki.livejournal.com 2010-05-08 12:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Hear hear! *claps*

[identity profile] mirage-shinkiro.livejournal.com 2010-05-08 04:23 pm (UTC)(link)
I find your argument to be extremely well-written and logical. And although modern fan fiction may be the result of Trek in the 1970s, or arguably Sherlock Holmes prior to that, in truth fan fiction is ancient, as I'm sure you know. As you say, it is a core human right to use one's imagination and a basic human response to use it on texts one has read/watched/heard. Only since the advent of concept of intellectual property rights has this even been an issue, and as you pointed out, if the monetary rewards of the author are not being stolen or infringed upon, there is no offense truly being committed. (Assuming it is not a case of plagiarism, by which I specifically mean the fan steals the material and claims s/he created it.)

As someone who writes original fiction as well, I have long since accepted that if I ever publish and make fans, I will have fan fiction written about my work. I will consider it a compliment, even knowing in advance that my characters will sometimes be portrayed OOC or even outright butchered in ways that will offend me. But I know fan fiction is actually a labor of love and would not revoke my "permission." In fact, after looking into the psychology, etc. of fanfic, I have wondered if most writers who "ban" fanfic of their work are either arrogant or insecure. Perhaps I am wrong, but the thought has crossed my mind.

However, the bigger issue may very well be that the fans of such authors can feel alienated, even slapped, as though their love of the characters or world has been rendered invalid because the implied message of such a stance is they are not allowed to think creatively about what they love. That could very well cost the author fans, which in turns costs them money. But I doubt they consider that when making their ruling.

Beyond that, I suspect intellectual property rights and copyrights will have to be re-imagined and reworked in the 21st century. Our entire schema is shifting, and the old models, as you pointed out, will not hold up.
silverthunder: (Avatar - Group Hug)

[personal profile] silverthunder 2010-05-08 06:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm constantly amazed by how you manage to put into words something that I am feeling but am unable to properly express. This is brilliant. Thank you for posting it.

[identity profile] mikkeneko.livejournal.com 2010-05-09 03:56 am (UTC)(link)
Personally, I feel the "no entitlement" thing goes both ways. What I owe the author for the time and energy and work that goes into their writing... I paid them when I bought the book and they got a penny off royalties/sales hit/word of mouth recommendation. I don't owe them anything more than that.

Questions about how to behave towards authors, treating them with respect and courtesy, yes, I definitely agree that that is important, but it's important because they are fellow human beings in a field I have great interest in, not because I owe them a debt of any kind. And if I owe them respect and courtesy merely for the fact that they exist and not for anything they necessary did for me... don't they also owe it in return?