A Dangerous Trend?

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Title: A Dangerous Trend?
Creator: Alexis Fegan Black
Date(s): February 1988
Medium: print
Fandom: mainly Star Trek
Topic:
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A Dangerous Trend? is a 1988 essay by Alexis Fegan Black.

It was printed in On the Double #6.

Over the years, fandom has been keenly conscious of the fact that fanzines are - and must remain - strictly "amateur publications". In this brief article, I would like to address some questions I've been asked by potential writers recently.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

While I realize this is a delicate matter, I also feel it's one that needs to be discussed - and that is the subject of monetary payment for stories within the realms of fandom. The majority of editors do not offer monetary payment for stories, poetry and art for two major reasons:

1) In order for fandom to remain "amateur publishing", and therefore to remain acceptable in the eyes of Paramount, for example, monetary payment can not be paid for works of STAR TREK fiction. This creates an immediate infringement upon the copyrights held by Paramount, PocketBooks, Bantam and other publishers; and

2) Fanzines are a non-profit venture.

I have been deeply dismayed by the recent "trend" toward zine editors offering "cash awards" for stories, poetry and art. Essentially, by doing this, editors are opening themselves - and all of fandom - up to potential entanglements with Paramount and other holders of STAR TREK copyrights.

I am not speaking specifically of zines which have a story contest once a year or so - a contest in which the editor is basically offering the "cash prize" out of her own pocket What I am talk ing about are the zines which are making this procedure common, offering "cash awards" for everything accepted by the editor, or for offering "cash awards" for every issue of their fanzine. At that point, the stories are no longer legitimate "contest winners", but become paid-professional writing.

This is treading on thin ice, as it suddenly elevates these editors to the status of "professional publishers" - a status which Paramount does not take lightly. So long as we remain "amateurs", Paramount tends to look the other way. But if we set this dangerous precedent and open ourselves up as "professionals", sooner of later the consequences will be grave. If Paramount takes note of these "cash award" prizes, the simple fact is that they are going to want "a piece of the action", so to speak. Should that happen, fanzine editors would be required to purchase licenses which, plain and simply, they cannot afford.

If an editor wants to offer prizes to her writers, perhaps the best-way to go would be an old-fashioned barter system - i.e., STAR TREK lobby cards, photos, a piece of fan art, or other items given as a "thank you". This is still somewhat questionable, since fan writing and art, by its very nature, is done for the love of STAR TREK, and to be able to hone one's skills.

Traditionally, "payment" for having one's work in a fanzine is a copy of the zine in which one's work appears. On the other hand, it may not seem entirely fair to give Mary Jones a copy of the zine for a single poem, and to give Sue Smith a copy of the zine for a 100 page novella. At times like these, editors are usually quite amenable. If Sue Smith asked for an extra copy to give to her best friend, most editors wouldn't deny that she deserved that extra copy. But if Sue Smith wanted $300.00 for that story, maybe Sue Smith shouldn't be writing for fanzines in the first place.

By placing ourselves in the category of professional publishers, we stand the risk of bringing fandom onto very shaky ground, creating a sense of negative competition that exists primarily in the world of professional publishing. Additionally, writers can become alienated if they aren't paid for a story, and later find out that their best friend was paid. All in all, I dont think fandom needs this kind of attitude. If writers want to write for "cash awards" on a steady basis (other than as part of an occasional contest paid for out of the editor's own pocket), then perhaps they should seek more traditionally professional realms for their work.

Let's keep fandom on fandom.

Fan Comments

On the issue that was raised about monetary payment for stories, etc., does anyone know what the exact legal position a fanzine is in this regard? I've heard from 2 different people that two different people that fanzines are "legally amateur" as long as they run less than 10,000 copies and are not subject to copyright infringement. I would presume there is a similar small- peanuts amateur status as far as payment to contributors is concerned, but I really have no idea.

I've just run a contest and have decided it's not really worth it in terms of providing an added inducement to writers and artists. I still received excellent work for the zine, but only one or two people mentioned any interest in the contest, and I still had to do the usual begging and pleading to get all the work I felt the zine needed. The contributors are doing this for love, and while a bit of cash in hand is also nice, it doesn't really urge anyone on. They write or draw from their current inspiration. [1]

References

  1. by Gayle F, printed in On the Double 7/8, quoted with permission