Can you get sued for writing in your own world?

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WinterDusk14

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Seriously? I downloaded the online version of Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker. He said something about the lines that people who wrote fanfictions, and the author use the ideas written in the fanfic, that author can get sued?
 

WildScribe

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Um... well, it is plagiarism, but you are technically plagiarizing an illegally derivative work, so... sticky.
 

Chasing the Horizon

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Since you can't copyright ideas I'm not sure how that would work? Unless the writer stole the fan-fic writer's actual words, or characters they themselves had created.
 

MacAllister

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Yes, Virginia, if a writer was to swipe a piece of fanfic and try to claim it as his own, it would be plagiarism.

Far more often, some over-entitled fanfic writer sees similarities and levels charges of plagiarism, when in fact there was never any such thing. But it can still be pretty damaging to a writer's reputation. This is why many, many writers refuse flatly to look at people's unpublished manuscripts.

There's been more than one lawsuit that I know of, guys, and many charges of plagiarism--and that's just plain career-ending, in many cases--from fan-fic writers who claim the original creator has either stolen an idea or plagiarized a work.
 

MacAllister

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Mostly, not much, Stlight. And the vast majority of us will never actually need to worry about it, either.

But in practical terms, if you're famous, don't read fanfic of your work?

No matter who you are, try very hard to be respectful if you're a fanfic writer, or a reader of fanfic, and remember that fans are playing in someone else's sandbox, and that creator might not be done with the world yet, either.

And perhaps most of all, understand that ideas are pretty much finite. Two or three thousand years ago, a famous wise man said, "There is nothing new under the sun" and it was true then, and it's true now.

Most of all, what we can each do is strive to be as original as possible. Sure it's easier to cheat a little, and use that character that you and a buddy dreamed up, late one night...But a cheat is still a cheat.

Often, avid fans pick up on the natural direction for a long set of interconnected works to go -- and write fanfic based on those subliminal-but-pretty-logical conclusions. No fair claiming plagiarism, if you just accidentally guessed what happens next because a writer left you clues, you know?
 

Terie

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Could someone in the know explain the Marion Zimmer Bradley DARKOVER case? I've never fully understood that one, but IIRC, one of her books was pulled out of publication because of it.
 

Mac H.

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Could someone in the know explain the Marion Zimmer Bradley DARKOVER case? I've never fully understood that one, but IIRC, one of her books was pulled out of publication because of it.
Is this the one you are referring to ?

Ref:

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written/msg/80c1db3e5e35c1f9

Here's what happened. It _was_ fanfic, but published under MZB's more or less aegis as a permitted issue of MOON PHASES (Nina Boal, editor).
...
I received a letter offering me a sum and a dedication for all rights to the
text. I attempted at that point to _very politely_ negotiate a better deal.
...
At that point I did not threaten any sort of suit whatsoever; in fact, a few
months later I received a letter from Ms. Bradley's lawyer threatening me with
a suit should I be a bit too frank about Ms. Bradley's um, writing methods, and
who her current collaborators were at the time (at least that is how I took the lawyer's phrasing). Needless to say, I could not afford to defend myself if
sued. Winning with the truth could have bankrupted me (and probably still
could).
...
It's been a long strange trip. But it DID cure me of fanfic.

Another version of the encounter:

Author Raymond Feist (Magician, and others) explains. "Marion [Zimmer Bradley] was working on a Darkover novel, and at the same time reading and editing fan fiction for her Darkover 'zine. She found a story that was very similar in theme to what she was doing in her novel under work, and a character she really liked. So she contacted the author of that bit and asked if she could use the material and the character, and would give the author a tip-of-the-hat mention in the dedication. The author replied that Marion would have to split royalties, put the other author's name on the book, and if she used any of the material or similar (like the stuff Marion was already writing) the author would sue.

"This was a woman who enjoyed fan writing and nurtured it, and the wannabe writer turned on her… [MZB] canned the project she was working on. Her publisher wasn't really happy about losing the book, nor were her readers. Marion changed her policy on fan fiction at that point, and in the end, a [fanfic writer] who was, in my opinion, greedy and stupid ruined it for a lot of Marion's fans."

Mac
 
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Polenth

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Could someone in the know explain the Marion Zimmer Bradley DARKOVER case? I've never fully understood that one, but IIRC, one of her books was pulled out of publication because of it.

This site has various quotes discussing all the possible ins and outs:
http://www.fanworks.org/writersresource/?action=define&authorid=53&tool=fanpolicy

The short take-away point would be: never read fan fiction. Don't reply if a fan sends it to you... delete it the moment you know what it is (or destroy it, if they send a paper copy).
 

Ken

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... what a nightmare for an author.

The short take-away point would be: never read fan fiction. Don't reply if a fan sends it to you... delete it the moment you know what it is (or destroy it, if they send a paper copy).

Or better yet, return it (unopened) to sender, if possible.
 
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Mr. Anonymous

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I've actually heard a lot of writers mention they stay away from fan fics set in their own worlds and they refuse to read any stories sent to them (in general) by fans for this very reason.
 

Terie

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Is this the one you are referring to ?

That's the one. Thanks! And whichever side one chooses to believe, the bottom line is clear: authors shouldn't read fan-fic. (Other takeaways are possible, but those move into personal preferences.)

I brought that up to address the OP's question, but didn't want to say anything about the details when I couldn't remember what they were.

You can get sued for anything, of course; that doesn't mean you'll lose. But if you read someone's fan-fic set in your world and it turns out you were going to do something similar, yes, they could sue. They might or might not win, but they could sue.
 

kuwisdelu

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Not just fanfic, but I've read many writers will refuse to read work by anyone they don't know so no one can accuse them of stealing ideas from something someone sent them.

Don't know if that happens much, but I know I've read it somewhere. On the internet. It must be true.
 

Old Hack

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Since you can't copyright ideas I'm not sure how that would work? Unless the writer stole the fan-fic writer's actual words, or characters they themselves had created.

It's often assumed that plagiarism = word-for-word copying of someone else's work, and presenting it as your own; and that as you can't copyright ideas, you're allowed to use the worlds that other writers have created in your own work, or to rewrite other people's works and get away with it scott-free.

This is not the case.

When an author builds a world of his or her own, whether it's SF, fantasy or just plain literary fiction (because every fictional world is different from reality), that world is part of the writer's expression of his or her idea. So the details which build that world (the geography, the politics, the laws, the flora and fauna) are part of the writer's copyright, and any use of them will be a copyright infringement or a plagiarism, depending on how they're used.

I've spoken with IP lawyers about plagiarism a few times in this past year and one thing they have all told me is that in most cases, plagiarisers have a skewed understanding of the law, and insist they've done nothing wrong: they hear that bit about "you can't copyright ideas" and plunder those ideas thinking they're safe to do so. This misunderstanding of the law doesn't protect them from the consequences of breaking it, though. It's far safer--and far more ethical--to not risk such consequences in the first place by working with your own ideas, and nothing else, right from the start.
 

waylander

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Not just fanfic, but I've read many writers will refuse to read work by anyone they don't know so no one can accuse them of stealing ideas from something someone sent them.

Don't know if that happens much, but I know I've read it somewhere. On the internet. It must be true.


The point is that other writers, including well-known ones, have also read this on the internet and will refuse to read other people's unpublished work.
 

gothicangel

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Hang on, plagiarism is the copying ad vertim, right?

So surely fan fiction is copyright infringement, rather than plagiarism?
 

kaitie

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What surprises me is that a fanfic author would sue an actual author over an idea considering said author could in theory sue the fanfic author for using the characters without permission in the first place. I mean, I wouldn't want to do that because it seems really unfair and I find fanfic pretty harmless, but to say, "I'm suing you for this technically illegal thing I did," is a little um...ballsy.

I do think, though, that the more popular a writer becomes the more careful they'd have to be. The same way anyone famous becomes a target for people hoping to sue. There will always be someone out there who will try something if they see a quick buck in it.

The Marion Zimmer Bradley story is sad. No matter which way it went down, it's disappointing because I think it's awesome she had been so supportive of the group in the first place.
 

kaitie

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Hang on, plagiarism is the copying ad vertim, right?

So surely fan fiction is copyright infringement, rather than plagiarism?

I think in theory both are considered cases of copyright infringement. I don't think plagiarism is illegal in the same way. I might be wrong about that, but I'm pretty sure if you're plagiarized, you sue for copyright infringement.
 

Parametric

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Hang on, plagiarism is the copying ad vertim, right?

So surely fan fiction is copyright infringement, rather than plagiarism?

I think in theory both are considered cases of copyright infringement. I don't think plagiarism is illegal in the same way. I might be wrong about that, but I'm pretty sure if you're plagiarized, you sue for copyright infringement.

I'm just starting the copyright section of my intellectual property unit, but my understanding is this:

Plagiarism is an ethical issue - passing off somebody else's work as your own. Copyright infringement is a legal issue - doing something to a work that only the copyright holder is allowed to do, like copy it, publish it, revise it, etc. (Note that there is no copyright in ideas, only in the execution. Text can be copyrighted, ideas are not.) The two often go hand in hand, as when you publish somebody else's story pretending it's your own, but not necessarily.

Stealing someone's ideas pretending they're your own = plagiarism.
Publishing someone's text without permission, but clearly stating the original author = copyright infringement.
Publishing someone's text verbatim pretending you wrote it = copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Fanfiction is not necessarily plagiarism if the author is clear about what elements are original and which not. A lot of fanfiction has disclaimers at the top for this purpose. I believe that technically posting fanfiction is copyright infringement because you are publishing (posting on the internet is a form of publishing) a work derived from somebody else's copyright.
 
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Maxinquaye

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Mac H.

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That's the one. Thanks! And whichever side one chooses to believe, the bottom line is clear: authors shouldn't read fan-fic.
Actually, if you read carefully it's clear that those two vastly different accounts don't contradict at all. (eg: "AT THAT POINT I didn't threaten to sue" doesn't contradict "She threatened to sue")

They can both be 100% accurate.

Mac
 
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gothicangel

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I have to admit the only area I've come across plagiarism [not mine!] is in academia when students fail to reference properly.
 

the_Unknown

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Authors (and many people) let their good nature get the best of them--most companies (especially game companies) have been using fan content for years with no issue.

The way to do it is never to ask, but make available an electronic submission of their fanfiction (or whatever) and the terms of the submission require them to forfeit all rights. Offering a token prize every now and then is usually all that is desired.
 

kaitie

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I have to admit the only area I've come across plagiarism [not mine!] is in academia when students fail to reference properly.

Or when professors steal other people's work...happens a lot more often than you'd think. It's pretty sick, really.
 

Parametric

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Authors (and many people) let their good nature get the best of them--most companies (especially game companies) have been using fan content for years with no issue.

The way to do it is never to ask, but make available an electronic submission of their fanfiction (or whatever) and the terms of the submission require them to forfeit all rights. Offering a token prize every now and then is usually all that is desired.

Surely passing off other people's work as your own is still plagiarism, even if you used the law to ensure that you're not infringing copyright.
 
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