If you write both fanfiction and original stories, you know there’s a tension between the two – as a fanfic author you want the freedom to use other people’s characters, but as an author you kind of hate the thought that someone out there could take your precious creations and do creepy things with them…
Copyright hasn’t always existed – at one point the only way to copy a book was to write it out by hand, which definitely cut down on the number of copies of each book there were – but over time people developed the idea of “intellectual property” and created copyright laws to protect that. It’s kind of a weird idea when you think about it. Everyone can legally protect their ownership of the wild flights of imagination they came up with inside their head. I mean, plots and characters you write about don’t actually exist except in the pages of your book, but you still own them. Wow, that imaginary country I dreamed up yesterday actually belongs to me. 🙂
Of course, there are good reasons for intellectual property rights. It would be worse than frustrating to know someone took your book, changed one scene in it, and is making millions of dollars by publishing it as their own. On the other hand, a certain kind of freedom is lost. Back in the ‘good old days,’ people made up all kinds of stories about Robin Hood, Merlin or Cinderella, because no one claimed they owned them. No one would protest if you took a random character from Homer’s Iliad and expanded on his adventures. And you could take a little poem known as he Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, rewrite it as ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and become famous.
It’s a human urge, when an author or screenwriter or whoever presents you with a new world and a set of characters, to want to experiment and play around with it. No wonder fanfiction was created. There’s no way a creator can output enough stuff to satisfy the demands of all his or her fans. And people will always want to answer the question of “what if – ?”
I wonder (I’m just theorizing here) if stories used to be viewed more as collective creations, with various communities adding and adapting them over time. Whereas now we think of them as individual creations, and no one but the author can say what is allowed to be done with them.
Not that there’s any middle ground that I can see. We all have to work within the system we live in. But I’m glad the internet allows us a bit of leeway in experimenting with things like fanfiction, while the law does offer us authors protection when things go wrong.
Would you prefer copyright anarchy, or draconian legislation? What do you think?
(For more of my thoughts on fanfiction, see this post)