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Plagiarism, fan fiction, and intellectual property

Oct 14: Read the Jordan Castillo Price’s post on this blog.

Angela James sent this link on Twitter. Basically, someone took an Jordan Castillo Price’s original, published novel, posted it as an original fan fiction work, and was found out.  She defended herself by saying, “Plagiarism is a social construct, which has little meaning outside of specific contexts.”

Ridiculous.  I could make that social construct argument for many things, including possibly even money, but not plagiarism.

If there’s one thing people want, it’s credit for their ideas.

In a utopian society where none of us needed to work for our survival, most of us would still fight to the death for recognition of our ideas.  We create art to communicate with other people, but also to express our unique selves.  To validate our unique selves.  To create something that comes from within us — something we are proud of — and have someone essentially steal our identity… this is not about money, and not even about getting praised.  It’s about wanting to control what (we feel) is uniquely, intimately ours.

Some people (I had a note on Open Source people here, but it was in error) would argue that “ideas belong to everybody, no matter who creates them,” but I don’t believe that human nature will allow that.  At least, every time *I* have heard that expressed, something in me rebels.  After all, even before something gets made in the physical form, it’s an idea in someone’s mind.  Maybe I’m just a capitalist beyond reform and used to the commercialization of ideas, but there is just something right about a patent/copyright system to me (even with its many problems.)

Is idea monopolization right/good?

I don’t know if this “it’s mine!” impulse is beneficial or not.  I’m certainly not against fan fiction, but aren’t characters ideas?  If I were to write professionally, I wouldn’t mind if people wrote their own stories with my characters, even if people wrote horror-porn.  I don’t think I would even mind if they made money from it, as long as I got credit for the original work.

When I read authors’ “it’s mine” reactions to people using their world and characters, I think it’s pretty stupid.  “Characters exist in the minds of the readers,” I said to my friend Debbie.  “Trying to stamp out fan fiction is like trying to keep people from committing thought crimes.  It can’t be done.”

The difference between plagiarism and fan fiction?

Creating an original work with someone else’s characters is different from plagiarism.  It took me a little while, and a discussion with my philosophy major brother, to figure out what it was.  Speaking only for myself, the difference is this:

Plagiarism is 90-100% the ideas of the original creator.  Fanfiction (or sampling, remixing, etc) uses source material from someone else’s work, but is mostly the idea of the remixer. If I do a retelling of, say, Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, the source material comes from HCA, but most of the ideas are mine, and I will feel like the story is mostly mine.  It is the same with fanfiction; in my own opinion, the fanfiction works are 90% the original ideas of the fanfiction author, not the original.