Other People’s Playgrounds

This is another excerpt from my daily tirades in Zendom. Clare asked about something I’d said earlier:

Maybe I’m the only person who makes this distinction, but I think there’s a significant difference between borrowing TV characters and raiding someone’s book (be it HP, LotR, Jane Austen or Trek novelizations). I wonder if HP fandom is such a thieving lot (no offense intended) because of their original sin of raiding the books.

I just got around to answering Clare’s questions (in bold) today.

Interesting distinction. Why is it significant?
The show is primarily visual (once you hire Jeri Ryan, anyway) and completely external. There is no first-person, no third-person-limited, not even an omniscient POV. It’s flat dialogue, camera’s-eye view. What you can do on TV or in the movies is very different from what you can do in a book. So in some sense you’re not invading the author’s turf by making a film of a book, and you’re not invading the screenwriters’ turf by writing fanfic about a show. [In that case,] you’re doing something new, in a medium whose artistic standards differ significantly.

Making TV shows is a corporate enterprise. Writing a novel is an individual art. By writing litfic, you’re doing the same thing the author does, in her territory, without her permission. Almost by definition you’re doing it worse, because writing is an art and her universe is whatever she makes it to be. You’re munging her world.

Also, now that there is a movie of HP (and LOTR for that matter), is there a difference between borrowing characters from that medium instead of borrowing the same characters from the book?
The act is different, and the results would be different, but the author (or someone inheriting the author’s rights) is still there to be offended, and you still won’t be able to get it right because the book is the standard of what’s right for that work in the literary realm. Not that that matters in and of itself (teen fanfic writers rarely get much right from the literary perspective), but doing someone universe wrong is not something you’d want done to you, is it?

Also, what if I were to use Buffy characters from the screenplays themselves rather than the ones on my TV screen?
I’ve used Jim’s reviews for a lot of my fic. The screenplay is just a version of the show with visuals mostly removed. It’s not any closer to a book.

And are the trek characters in the novels different characters [from] the ones on the screen even though they have the same name?
You know how I hate pay-per-fic. […] Media novels are a unique case. There isn’t a single author with a single vision you’re munging, and because of Paramount’s restrictions and the fact that the show came first, they’re a kind of fanfic themselves. The mere existence of Trek novels does not make Trek fanfic into litfic.

Nevertheless, it would be just as wrong to take the original characters or original settings from a Trek novel as it would be from anyone else’s novel. I’ve preached against Justin in fic on exactly this basis - Justin is the property of Jeri Taylor. Paramount has the right under copyright to use him, but if we use him, we’re appropriating an author’s work, whether or not she sold him out to a corporation.

I may seem a little inconsistent here considering that I defended plagiarism in my blog a while back. Using someone’s universe and plagiarizing their exact words are two different issues. You don’t infringe on anyone’s vision by minor acts of plagiarism - you do it by writing litfic in the first place. People don’t seem to understand that (in cases where no one pays for the plagiarized work) plagiarism is an offense against the reader, not against the original author. Plagiarism is merely unoriginality where originality was expected - and I, for one, don’t expect originality in fanfic. So that there’s plagiarism in HPfic doesn’t bother me. That there is HPfic at all is a little disturbing, and LotRfic even more so.

Litficcing is an offense against the original author - not much of a legal offense if no money changes hands and the fandom doesn’t affect the mass-market, but an artistic offense nonetheless. I wouldn’t do it (or rather I wouldn’t make it publicly available) unless the author were (1) long dead, along with his copyright heirs or (2) explicitly unopposed to the activity.

Nevertheless, I believe people have the right to litfic. I find it squicky and irreverent (especially in the case of LotR), but the right to reinterpret what’s thrown at you by the culture is inalienable. While I could live with being both plagiarized and litficced, I wouldn’t do it to someone else because I’m an author myself. I respect the art. I don’t respect TV shows - not even BtVS, which is a close call.

Someday, I’ll get back to real-time blogging.

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