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Fanfiction And Literature: A Study On An Upcoming Literary Classification

By Juliana Cappa Martins de Oliveira

English 150-30 11 Sept. 2009

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Fanfiction And Literature: A Study On An Upcoming Literary Classification The origins of fanfiction are unknown, but a fact remains about this modern-time phenomenon: it is leaving on its wake a great change in the literary world, as well as a great amount of unanswered questions about its position within this world. Fanfiction, however, is not a largely known term. Despite its popularity within movie, series and book fandoms, it is not very recognized outside of them. Fanfictions were overlooked during many decades, therefore mystifying their true origins, but their meaning remained the same through time: they are stories written by fans, utilizing the characters or the universe of the object of their fanaticism. With the growth of book and movies phenomena, such as Twilight, Harry Potter and The Princess Diaries, they became more present in the Internet, and with them were raised the obvious questions: what is fanfiction's place in the Literary world? Are fanfictions allowed to have copyrights? Are they infringements of the Copyright Law in the USA? Are fanfictions a literary universe as valid as that of books, newspaper articles and essays, which should be recognized and respected, in the rights of its authors? First, before any of these questions is answered, it is necessary to present more deeply the unknown universe of fanfic (as fanfiction is popularly called by fans). According to Cathy Young, in her article “The Fanfiction Phenomena”: Fanfic has been around for a long time, but it has attracted an unusual amount of media attention in the last three or four years. Several major papers, including The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and The Wall Street Journal, have devoted articles to the phenomenon—though no one seems sure whether to treat it as a literary genre or a quaintly amusing hobby.

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Although fanfiction starts, for most authors, as nothing but an amusing hobby, for those with talent it becomes a great way to practice. By situating their plot in an already created universe, or utilizing specific characters that have already been invented, young writers have the development of their writing skills and emerging of their talent facilitated. Although they are not creating the basic structure of the world they will be writing about, and therefore will not practice this specific part of imagination, they have relative freedom with the changes they can make in this already existing universe, and can develop their writing skills easily through that. As a stepping stone, fanfictions have been used in Middle and High Schools, as well as some Colleges, as an educational tool to build confidence in a student about its writing competence; this has led famous writers such as Meg Cabot to write books of their own later in life. Also, the proximity experienced between writer and reader in the fanfiction universe have no match in the literary world. Most of the websites that provide hosting for fanfiction, such as Fanfiction.net and Media Miner provide authors with a review system, where the readers are allowed to post comments on each of the chapters, thus creating a feedback line that cannot be found in any other literary genre. This feedback tends to, most of the times, bond writers and readers, slowly modifying the writing style of the author to satisfy its audience. As a morphing genre, invented primarily to please readers and writers alike, fanfiction writing has a much larger realm of activity and experimenting than book, essay or article writing. It is a safe place to investigate new writing and creative methods, that, sometimes, can change the literary world forever, like Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series supposedly did. Therefore, it is easy to assume that the main purpose of a fanfiction does not rest in profiting. The pleasure a writer gets from a direct connection with its audience and the development of his/her skills are the main gains he/she has from writing fanfiction. In contrast,

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all the other literary genre (books, plays, articles, etc), with the exception of essays, are profitdriven, what sometimes can deprive the writing of personality, style and even of quality. Nevertheless, the connection of fanfic to books is quite remarkable, much more so than with any other literary genre. Since fanfictions many times derivate from books, and mimics the writing style and the arrangement of the text found in them (in chapters, with a plot and solid characters), it is easy to notice why it is much easier to characterize fanfiction as something of its own when comparing it to books, which are its closest relatives in the literary world. Therefore, a better understanding of the history, purpose and methodology in a book will make it easier to understand why fanfiction can be a literary category in and of itself. The initial purpose of books, when they were first invented as we know them, in the 7 th century, was to propagate knowledge. Fiction novels were not created until the 11th century, during Medieval Times, and that was when things started changing for literature, since the focus on profit began in these early stages. The writers had more freedom with their creations back then (thanks partially to the lack of editors and brand-name publishers) but they also lacked polishing in their writing styles and systematization of the publishing of books. In this sense, early books were very much like fanfictions; yet, the same way that books eventually conquered the right to proper editing and standardization, so have fanfictions in the last three or four years. With the growth in number of beta-readers (name given to fanfiction editors) and the creation of large posting portals, as the supra-cited Fanfiction.net and Media Miner, which standardized the publishing of these stories, fanfictions have matured as a literary division, without losing its characteristic creative and writing autonomy and uniqueness. Despite this closeness between early books and modern-era fanfiction writing styles, books morphed with time. The publishing world grew, and with it the editing process, creating a massification of book writing. A great many times the usage of a “formula of success” that

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involves a famous Publisher, Editor and a good marketing campaign, as well as a balanced mix of all fiction genres (romance, fiction, action, etc) within the text, give reading different books a sensation of déjà vu1; although there still are individualities to them, the butchering process of turning the first manuscript of a story into the final version that reaches bookstores tends to simplify a lot of the uniqueness of books. The right pacing, the right wording, the right plot and stereotypes for characters, it all has to be there to make the book sell and make more profit. What is unique to every book, however, is its plot, characters and writing style. There is no denying that best-selling formulas have generalized some aspects of the creative process, character building and plot and universe invention; but the creativity of the writer is portrayed in his writing style and on the small quirks that turn each book on a story of its own. These characteristics, however, are closely mimicked by fanfictions; although fanfics borrow some characters, pre-existing plots and/or a universe from a book, series or movie, they still hold true to their creative value. Many stories are focused on characters from books that have minor appearances, like stories about Jasper Cullen in the Twilight books, and many other fanfictions encompass situations from books and put them into an entirely different universe (the so-called Alternate Universe fanfictions, or AU), shaping out the characters to these new environments in which they are inserted - an example of this technique being the introduction of Harry Potter and Ginny Wesley's love story, from the Harry Potter saga, into modern-time non-magical New York. But are these inventions enough to classify fanfiction as a writing genre on its own, such as essays, articles and books, protected by Copyright Laws?

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Déjà vu – from the French “already seen”, it is connected with the sensation of having already lived or seen a scene that you are experiencing for supposedly the first time in the present.

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It is necessary, initially, to determine what is officially defended by the Copyright Law. Chapter 1 § 102 of the Copyright Law of the United States of America states that: Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The US Copyright Office Website explains this further, proposing that: Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Therefore, one can assume that all literary work, whether derived from another work or not, is protected by the Copyright Law. Although the plot or characters of a fanfiction are not directly protected, once they are put into text form and published on-line, they are automatically covered by Copyright, and cannot be copied or utilized in any way without the authorization of the author – but is this true? This query leads to further questioning: if fanfiction is protected by Copyright Laws and no author can copy another author's idea and re-write it, why would fanfiction writers be allowed to write fanfictions in the first place, when they are apparently violating the rights of the original work's author? The fact is that fanfiction is not an infringement of the Copyright Laws. Chapter 5 § 506 of the Copyright Law determines that infringements to the copyrights of an author will only occur when the new piece reproduces the original work directly, word by word, whether in

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its whole or just a part of it, or when it is utilized with “purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain”. As aforementioned, fanfiction's main purpose is not profit, and it does not make a direct reproduction of the original author's work. It merely borrows certain ideas or characters from the book or series, and reproduces them in a work that has its own literary credit and personality. Since ideas and characters are not protected by the Copyright Law, fanfiction does not violate it. Furthermore, fanfiction in and of itself is just as protected by copyright as the original book or series; although no direct reproduction of it is allowed without the author's permission, the reutilization of ideas and characters from them is allowed. Consequently, considering all of the information given, the position of fanfiction becomes clear: it is a literary category in and of itself, with its own peculiarities and values; it is protected by the Copyright Law the same way a book is, considering their relating characteristics; and it does not infringe the Copyright of the original work's author, because it has no financial purpose and only utilizes ideas and abstract concepts from the original work. Thus, it is necessary to acknowledge this emerging literary universe, with its richness and beauty, and all that it has to give to mankind, as an essential part of what society is considering literature in modern times, and as a re-invention of the direct bond between author and reader that had become so lacking lately.

Works Cited

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Young, Cathy. “The Fanfiction Phenomena”. Reason Online, February, 2007. <http://www.reason.com/news/show/118379.html> "The Copyright Law of the United States". US Copyright Office Website, October, 2007. <http://www.copyright.gov/title17/> “FAQ: Copyright In General”. US Copyright Office Website, 12 July, 2006. <http://www.copyright.gov/title17/>

Related Links Fanficion.net <http://www.fanfiction.net/> Media Miner <http://www.mediaminer.org/>

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