Wednesday, May 7, 2008

When does your fan-fic become copyright infringement?

When you make an entire novel out of it and then ask me to represent it to a publisher.

I just received a query from someone wanting to write a novel set in the world of a very popular science fiction franchise, one that currently enjoys a booming (and legit) business through a major New York publisher by licensing that publisher the rights to use the characters and world. (No, it was not a Star Wars novel, but you're getting warm. Think another long-running series that begins with the letter S and has about a billion books associated with it. Also, bald captain. Thinking...Thinking... Ha! Got it? Good.)

Here's a piece of advice for you would-be-writers: Do not EVER - under any circumstances - send an agent a query for a novel based on someone else's characters or world. Just don't.

14 comments:

archangelbeth said...

*facepalm*

My most charitable thought is that perhaps the author was under the impression that all the licensed TV-show novels were written on spec and then, via an agent, sold to the licensed line?

S. E. Ward said...

Holy Carp and the whole Mackerel Choir. "DON'T DO THAT" is Fanfic Rule #1. At the absolute least, this author needs to learn the fine art of Filing Off Serial Numbers. More likely, he needs a visit from the Clue-by-Four Fairy.

strangerface said...

Was it this lady by chance? Oh wait. Wrong Star ____. Oh well.

janegodzilla said...

What about work that's entered the public domain? I realize that doesn't apply in this particular case, but I'm thinking specifically of books like "Wicked", "Finn," "The Looking Glass Wars", etc. Do most agents/editors frown down on that sort of thing unless it's REALLY good?

S. E. Ward said...

Oh, hey, did you get my email? Just want to make sure it didn't get eaten somewhere.

Jinx said...

Seriously??? Someone actually sent a query about this? *shakes head*

Helen said...

Works in the public domain are fine, I believe, once an original and/or derivative spin on the work is taken and it fits into the fair usage definition. Works like Wicked and The Looking Glass Wars have been very successful, and many authors/songwriters/whatever have mined Lewis Carroll for material over the years.

...or I hope so because if not, over a year of my life has just gone to waste...

As for that query... that is Fanfic Rule #1 that You Do Not Break, Ever. *shakes head*

La Gringa said...

Yes, public domain stuff is absolutely fine.

Ulysses said...

I've ranted about fan fiction before, but not this aspect.

If you can do something good with someone else's world and characters, then you've got the chops to do something good with your own.

nymeria87 said...

*shakes head*

There's a reason why fanfiction is an entirely different thing from writing your own novel. It will never cease to amaze me what some authors think they can sell as their own work. Makes me wonder if they've ever heard the word copyright. Come on...

*still incredulous*

Spectre-7 said...

This brings up an interesting question... How exactly does a budding author break into series fiction? Working on spec clearly isn't the right answer, but a proposal and writing sample seems insufficient. Is that the kind of work where you don't call them, they call you?

Not that I'm looking to write Jedi Kids Versus the Empire Remnant: The Second Clone War or the New Adventures of Old Kirk. I've never had any great lust for writing in someone else's world, and that's probably why I know nothing about it, but I am a little curious now.

La Gringa said...

Most publishers who have a licensed franchise series of books will look for authors who have published their own fiction first. After all, they need to know that you can actually write a novel worth publishing before they entrust you with their franchise. If you are a published author and you're interested in doing work-for-hire - anything from franchised fiction to movie adaptations - you can let your agent know that you are actively seeking such work. Then your agent will let the appropriate editors know.

Some franchises (like the Star Wars adult fiction line) work a little differently. In these cases, the editor will work with the licensor to identify a particular writer that they feel would be the best writer for a particular story.

For example, when Terry Brooks was chosen to write the novelization of Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace, it was because George Lucas actually requested him. With other less high-profile works in the Star Wars series, the editor at Lucasfilm and the editor at Del Rey brainstormed about which writers to approach for various books, based on the individual writer's style.

Hope that helps.

Spectre-7 said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the info!

Just_Me said...

I fear fan fiction....