Turning fanfiction into an original work
December 16, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

If one decided to publish a work of fanfiction as an original work, what sort of protections would be necessary? I'm thinking of publishing a fanfiction work by changing names and places associated with the source material to original names, but are those the only protections I should be taking?

Long story short: I've been encouraged in my fanfiction community to submit my work for publication as an original work. For those that don't know, fanfiction is "a genre of amateur creative expression that features characters from movies, TV shows, and popular culture in new situations or adventures. "

After overcoming my reluctance to publish, I thought that I would need to do no more than change the names and settings in the story so that they couldn't be traced back to the source material, a la Fifty Shades of Grey. However, I have a few specific concerns.

* Part of the work is posted on Fanfiction.net. However, I have forgotten (!) the e-mail address I used for a log in. Attempts to reach someone at the site are presently unsuccessful. I would simply remove the part of the story posted there if I had my log in, but I have no current solution to that problem.

* There is a section at TVTropes.com devoted to my fic. I do not know who created it, but obviously I cannot remove it.

If I start making enough money on this story to catch someone's notice, is having these excerpts of the story using the original fanfic character names and places floating around on the internet going to cause me any problems? Or is the fact that I've made a good faith effort to revise things enough of a legal figleaf?
posted by Roentgen to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You'll probably need to remove the story from anywhere it is uploaded. You'll also need to accept the possibility that people will accuse you of plagiarizing it.

If you want to publish through a traditional publisher, they may insist that the fanfiction version be taken down.

TVTropes.com is a wiki: you may well be able to remove the page associated with your story, at least after the story is no longer out there in the public domain.

(As an aside: fanfiction and original fiction do not always share the same characteristics, and a story that works great as fic may not always work as well in an original context. But I'm assuming you already know this and intend to revise the story to flesh out the settings and characterizations, for instance.)
posted by suelac at 10:44 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might want to contact the Organization for Transformative Works. They might be able to give you some advice.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:12 AM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

The technical term for what you're thinking of doing is "filing off the serial numbers" and it has a long history in fandom.

I think it depends a lot on the work in question. If it's an AU, the changes might be minimal. However, if it's based in a canon with dense worldbuilding (e.g. the Potterverse), it may not be possible to convincingly excise the original universe from the story.

It also will depend on how you publish -- self-publishing is one thing. If you're working with agents or publishers, I think you would need to be upfront with them about the work's history.

As far as Fanfiction.net goes, I'd look into whether you might be able to file a DCMA takedown notice against the work (as the author of the story) -- not sure if it'd work or not, but it's something to check out.

I dunno. I know of people who've done this and had negative experiences. I also know of people who've written fanfic, gone on to publish completely original work that had nothing to do with their fanfic, and STILL had negative experiences.

Is there a reason why you're tied to publishing THIS story, instead of writing a different story? You can work with characters who have a similar dynamic, but place them in your own universe.
posted by pie ninja at 11:43 AM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Make absolutely sure, beyond just a find-and-replace, that you've removed the offending names from the manuscript, or else the editors who catch it are going to have a laugh about it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:17 PM on December 16, 2015

Speaking strictly as a reader, I know of two fan fictions still accessible on fanfiction.net and other websites, that have been published by Interlude Press (I don't know the association with that particular company). My understanding is names were changed and of course everything from canon was changed and the stories were expanded. So I think your fiction wouldn't necessarily need to be removed from the web.
posted by threesquare at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2015

Filing off the serial numbers!

YMMV, but fandom looks with some disdain on fic writers who "go pro" merely by pulling a fanfic off the web and republishing it with the names changed for profit. A lot of the early fandom derision for Fifty Shades of Grey came from Twilight fandom writers doing the pull-and-publish. Fans get pissed that they lose access to a favorite story, other fans get pissed that the generous "purity" of fandom work is now tainted with $$$, and the writer isn't fooling anyone with the copyright pretense (unless it's, say, a Harry Potter fan who buys an intriguing-looking new "wizard school" book only to discover it's just an old HP fic with names changed).

In my experience, you're best served by one of these methods with fan writing:

1. Use your fanfic as a springboard for your original work. Pro author Naomi Novik (who still writes fanfic) is very open that her popular Temeraire series started as an Aubrey-Maturin / Master and Commander AU that went feral and took on a life of its own. Captured Prince by Supacat is an original story that nonetheless heavily uses fandom tropes that any fan reader will recognize.

2. Write fic based in a fandom that's already out of copyright, which gives you a lot more leeway. Lovecraft, Jane Austen, and Sherlock Holmes sequels are already huge unto themselves in both fan and pro circles. I know of at least one fan-turned-pro who wrote a Sherlock Holmes short story for Yuletide that was later published in a Holmesian anthology by a major publisher under the author's real name. The original Yuletide story is still on the web since I checked 5 minutes ago, so they must have worked things out legally.

3. AO3 has a "visible to registered users only" option that limits access to a story without removing it. Put your original fanfic under registration limit, publish the "names changed" version of the story openly online for free, publicize the names-changed version to attract people to your other, original work, while making it clear that it's an altered version of a fan work.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:06 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Part of the work is posted on Fanfiction.net. However, I have forgotten (!) the e-mail address I used for a log in.

Assuming you don't want to keep the 'serial numbered' version up, it's not really a concern. A DMCA challenge will get it down without your involvement.

There is a section at TVTropes.com devoted to my fic. I do not know who created it, but obviously I cannot remove it.

This is in line with the above, but it's far less likely to be taken down.

Or is the fact that I've made a good faith effort to revise things enough of a legal figleaf?

As long as you successfully did that, it's fine. Everyone knows 50 Shades was originally Twilight fanfic, after all.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:51 PM on December 16, 2015

If you're googling for the readily-available PDF of the Original Fifty Shades, it was "Masters of the Universe" by Snowqueen's Icedragon.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:10 PM on December 16, 2015

File off the serial numbers & go for it! No one cares.

FF.net might never get back to you, even if they do, there's no proof that it's your account. Try every old email you can think of, then forget about it. You can take down the tvtropes page yourself, or leave it. No one really looks at those.

Ask yourself: What would Cassie Claire do? What would SnowQueenIceDragon do?
posted by betweenthebars at 9:09 PM on December 16, 2015

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