Imagine a world where amazing fanfic was the norm, not the exception: only copyright stands in the way

On the Pocket site, there’s a fascinating story about fanfic – fan fiction – which Wikipedia defines as “fictional writing written in an amateur capacity by fans, unauthorized by [the original work’s creator or publisher], but based on an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator(s) as a basis for their writing.” As that indicates, it’s creativity that takes as its starting point the works of others, often without the permission of the original creators. The Pocket post is about a hugely popular piece of fan fiction called “All the Young Dudes“, which extends the Harry Potter story:

it’s a 526,969-word fic that currently has a whopping 7.5 million hits on the fanfiction site, Archive of Our Own. All the Young Dudes is set in the era when Harry’s parents attended Hogwarts (ahem, known as the Marauders era), and features both familiar faces, and a budding romance between two of the series’ most beloved figures: Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.

This no minor derivative work:

The 188-chapter story has now spawned a fandom of its own. For many original [Harry Potter] fans, the story has become canon, and the ways in which it extends far beyond the universe J.K. Rowling created are all part of the appeal. All the Young Dudes has a huge presence on social media, spawned audiobooks, has 16,000 ratings on Goodreads, has been fancasted, and is even the subject of a conspiracy theory involving Taylor Swift.

This sounds an unalloyed benefit for everyone: fans of Harry Potter, fans of the new fan fiction, and J.K. Rowling herself, since it increases interest in her fictional world, and drives sales of her books. According to Wikipedia, by 2014 there were already almost 750,000 Harry Potter fan stories on the Web, and Rowling herself has said she was “flattered” that people wanted to write their own stories based on her fictional characters. However, not all authors have such an enlightened attitude, as Wikipedia notes:

Fan fiction is rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work’s creator or publisher and is rarely professionally published. It may infringe on the original author’s copyright, depending on the jurisdiction and on legal questions such as whether or not it qualifies as “fair use” (see Legal issues with fan fiction). Attitudes of authors and copyright owners of original works to fan fiction have ranged from indifference to encouragement to rejection. Copyright owners have occasionally responded with legal action.

Fan fiction – and the huge popularity of examples such as “All the Young Dudes” – is yet another demonstration of how copyright so often harms and hinders creativity, rather than helping it. Imagine how much more fan fiction – and reading pleasure – there would be in the world if copyright could no longer act as a legal brake on people’s natural urge to build on what they love and share the result with everyone.

Featured image by Archive of our Own.

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