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

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