The Slippery Slope Between Fanfiction and Plagiarizing an Author’s Work

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Fan fiction has existed alongside storytelling, throughout history.  My undergraduate Shakespeare courses featured heated discussions on whether or not The Bard’s plays were homages to, or plagiarized copies of  “Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans.”  The similarities were uncanny, to say the least.  Another infamous case involved a college student who had a “photographic” memory and plagiarized a popular, “darling” series about six or seven years ago.   Authors are influenced by stories they read or hear, but most acknowledge their sources of inspiration, either in their writing or in interviews about their books.  New Title on Someone Else's Chapter

Recently, one of the biggest fan fiction “success stories” rose out of anonymity and became a household name.  She re-wrote an incredibly popular Young Adult (YA) series, based in Washington State, into one of the best-selling trilogies of the past decade.  By changing her story substantially, the fan fiction author ensured it would not be confused with the original.  She further set the right example, by explaining that the YA series was her inspiration.  She went on to self-publish her series, and continues to profit from it.

I read both series.  I am not a fan of YA (or its older, sexed up cousin, New Adult (NA)) novels, but the original was a sweet, well-written set of stories.  The author captured the angst and irrational emotions of hormonal teens, experiencing their first loves.  My twelve-year-old self would have LOVED this series.  My 45-year-old self thought it was “cute” and perfect for its tween/pre-teen/teenage demographics.   It was spun-off into movie series juggernaut that propelled the actors into the stratosphere of stardom, and brought more attention to the book series.

The fan fiction series, however, left a lot to be desired.  This author kept the location as Washington State, only moving the action to the city of Seattle.   The characters are chronologically older, but less mature.   The stories are entirely too wordy and should have been condensed  into one book.  The action is decidedly more “adult,” in that the characters engage in sexual activities that incorporate an alternative lifestyle.  Sadly, the author did not research this lifestyle thoroughly.   She failed miserably in conveying the three key tenets of this lifestyle in her work: safe, sane and consensual.   Be that as it may, this series has provided a venue for adults to discuss sex in a more open, provocative way.   That is a good thing.   This series has been greenlighted and could be in theaters next Summer (according to Perez Hilton’s website FSOG Movie Deal).    No comment.   (It’s already been done.  Just watch the movie Secretary, starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, then come back and tell me about it…you’re welcome).

With all that off my chest, I arrive at the reason for my post today.

 Plagiarizing another person’s work, is STEALING. 

Fan FictionI am not accusing the above unnamed authors of stealing, because clearly they did not.   Unfortunately, not every writer of fan fiction is honest, and the number of plagiarized works is growing at an alarming rate.  Perhaps the plagiarists were always there (i.e., Shakespeare, etc.), but the Internet seems to bring out the worst in people.  The lure of fame, money and/or greed by taking someone else’s hard work, changing the title and a few names, adding your name as “author,” and releasing it to an unsuspecting public, is magnetic.  And illegal.

In the past two weeks, some super sleuth book bloggers/reviewers uncovered at least five plagiarized books being sold as “original works.”    These people were not professionals who worked for publishing companies, simply fans of books, who noticed uncanny similarities to books they had already read.  Furthermore, several had hosted the thieves on their blogs to PROMOTE the plagiarized works.   Not only were the bloggers/reviewers duped, they knew they inadvertently “helped” hurt other authors they cared for.   I believe they, along with the wronged authors were innocent victims of liars and thieves.

Teresa Mummert provides a great chronology on her blog, for those who like to follow the bouncing ball “Plagiarism” from Author Teresa Mummert’s Blog

I started this post as a cautionary tale, but it is not.  If you choose to steal another person’s work you are a THIEF, and deserve the world of hurt that accompanies legal action against plagiarists.  It is a fantastic way to destroy your life and credibility, immediately, so HAVE AT IT. Just know that the Internet is forever.  Fans of books are a smart, resourceful, loyal community who protects its own (authors and books) and we will find you.

My advice: write the stories that live within you.   Place your characters in worlds of your own creation, but write what you know.   Then, give credit where credit is due, for your inspiration.  Thank the authors who write the stories that move you, by buying, reading and promoting their work.  Not by copying and pasting it into a new file, and calling it yours.

You are more interesting than you think you are, and your story has not been told…by you.  So write it.

12 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope Between Fanfiction and Plagiarizing an Author’s Work

    MichelleW (MsRomanticReads) said:
    June 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Well put, Michelle! I couldn’t have said it better.

      Michelle responded:
      June 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks, Michelle! I was “inspired” by all the crap that’s been going on.

        MichelleW (MsRomanticReads) said:
        June 27, 2013 at 7:50 pm

        Then consider googling Cassandra Clare and plagiarism.

        Michelle responded:
        June 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm

        I’m disgusted and speechless. WTF?

        MichelleW (MsRomanticReads) said:
        June 27, 2013 at 8:07 pm

        I know, right?

    Hayson Manning said:
    June 28, 2013 at 3:45 am

    It horrifies me that this happens. Seriously people you can’t write your own words but have to steal someone who has scooped out their soul with a spoon to get the words down. I’ve been reading a post today about Tamara Webber’s Easy was basically lifted in chunks by (I can’t say writer. I don’t know what to call her except in expletive language). Makes me want to hurl.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and awesome post.


      Michelle responded:
      June 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      It sickens me to know how much work – blood, sweat, tears, and time away from family – authors put into their work, to have someone steal it. And, those who “sponsor” fan fiction website only help perpetuate this issue. It’s completely unregulated, save for those readers who happen upon plagiarized material.

      The more I read about it, the more protective I become of the authors (and reputable bloggers/reviewers) I like…or don’t like. It doesn’t matter. Stealing is stealing.

      Thanks for stopping by, luv,

    shannonemmel said:
    July 6, 2013 at 5:01 am

    HI Michelle–
    Very interesting post! I did a blog a while back on FanFic:

    You might find it interesting, if you haven’t already seen it.

    Passing off stories of others as original work is wrong, and I agree with you on that. However, the link above contains a video clip regarding the history of FanFic. I found it quite “enlightening”.

    Also…(speaking of :Slippery Slopes”…”Kindle Worlds” is publishing AND selling fanfiction with the blessing of the copyright holders…at least those they are contracted with to do so. My understanding is that the copyright holder gets paid, as well as the submitting author, and Amazon get’s their share, too.

    Kindle Worlds launched with stories from TV series based sources, including , Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girls, BUT–

    I know that multi published Barry Eisler announced on 6/27 that his popular “John Rain” series characters officially part of KindleWrolds…

    It will be interesting to see how it all plays out…

    Thanks for the great post!


      Michelle responded:
      July 6, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your insight. I would hate for fan fiction to go the way of Napster, but if there’s a way for royalties to be paid for the copyright holders (hopefully, it’s the authors), that may be a good deterrent for thieves.

      I’m still not happy with Amazon for launching Kindle Worlds. It’s a decision based entirely on greed, IMO.

      Thank you,

    Inion N. Mathair said:
    July 28, 2013 at 1:05 am

    Well, well, well….a woman with conviction. Careful sweetheart, the other women who’ve been principled and passionate, found their necks fit tightly into a noose, or were put on stakes and lit on fire!! lol. I got to tell you, I’m totally crushing on you right now. (intellectually that is) You remind me so much of my daughter who’s passion for the craft can be heard in her posts that we write on our blog. It’s brilliant Michelle. And so few have the courage to say what you just did. So afraid that they will kick against the pricks and somehow, make the wrong statements which will isolate them from the writing community. I whole heartedly agree with you. And having written three novels, and a slew of short stories and poems, with my daughter. Every single one of them, came from our lives, influences that made up the journey we’ve walked so far. They are our children. And for someone to take them and make them their own, would be no different than stealing our children! I find you a breath of fresh air, intelligent, and writing about topics that are not only pertinent to today’s writer, but necessary! And I intend on passing this blog over to my daughter to read, who I’m sure will raise a banner in your honor! lol

      Michelle responded:
      July 28, 2013 at 1:22 am

      And, I wrote that post after “cooling off.” LOL It was a week where both Independent and Traditional authors were the targets of thieves and I reached my breaking point. I am not naive enough to believe it’s not happening each and every day, but we MUST continue to speak truth to power. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “well behaved women rarely make history.” So, let them start the fire, we’ll bring the marshmallows and LOTS of like-minded friends. 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by and adding to our conversation!

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