|See also:||Copyright, TPTB, Header, Fair Use, Age Statement|
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A disclaimer is a statement that indicates that the fan is not claiming to own, or to have invented, any copyrighted characters or concepts that she is writing about.
Many fanfic authors post overall disclaimers on their websites, while some include disclaimers on each individual page containing a fanwork.
Some disclaimers are very matter-of-fact, stating "I don't own these characters" or "Not mine," while others specifically credit individuals ("Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon") or the corporate TPTB who may own the actual copyright ("Due South belongs to Alliance Atlantis.")
Another common aspect of a disclaimer is for the author to state that she is making no profit from her fanwork.
Although a disclaimer would probably not do much to deter a company or individual who really wanted to sue a fan for copyright infringement, disclaimers are generally seen as a gesture of good faith from fans, and are traditional in many areas of fandom. Some communities, archives or mailing lists will not allow stories to be posted without proper disclaimers.
Disclaimers on RPF generally emphasize two things: first, that the author knows that her story is fictional, and second, that she does not intend for anyone to actually believe that it is true. However, some fans have noted with annoyance that RPF sometimes includes a copyright disclaimer, despite the fact that RPF characters are not copyrighted.
Use of disclaimers varies from fandom to fandom, and not all fans use them or take them seriously if they do. There is no one simple reason for the variations of fannish culture around this issue, but some fans believe that the decentralized control of fic posting that Livejournal made easy, led to more people making up their own rules. It's possible that a lot of fans use them simply because the standard fic header they've picked up from a community or an archive has a space for it. A 2016 Fansplaining episode noted that usage of disclaimers varied between different fan archives such as Wattpad and AO3 and that posting a disclaimer "also shows that you're a member of an in-group" (i.e. that you understand the local fannish cultural norm).
Disclaimers Get Snarky
Humorous disclaimers started to become more popular later, and were a reflection of fans' understanding that disclaimers didn't carry a lot of weight. These humorous disclaimers also display fans' increasing boredom with the general wording. It is not uncommon to see disclaimers stating: "I don't own the show, if I did it would have more porn" or "The characters don't belong to me, I'm just borrowing them for a while" or "Not mine, don't sue, I have nothing but student loans anyway."
The 2012 academic paper "But this is my story and this is how I wanted to write it": Author's notes as a fannish claim to power in fan fiction writing talks about this usage of disclaimers:
From a fan in 2015:By its specific focus, each different type of paratext is crucial in addressing the audience, and is thus imbued with a certain degree of power, as fan battles of recent years have demonstrated. Almost all paratextual forms have seen their fair share of conflict and have consequently changed, with examples testifying to the contested nature of how power is delineated abounding. Disclaimers, for instance, were devised to ensure a certain kind of protection against legal complaints; but nowadays, they have frequently become a simple formula that is often made fun of by more or less openly acknowledging that the fans do not own the metatext according to copyright and trademark restrictions: "Guess who doesn't own this? That's right, me, but I am working on kidnapping myself a pair of Winchesters," writes PissedOffEskimo (2007), specifically not mentioning Supernatural's network, The CW, or its creator, Eric Kripke, whose intellectual property she transforms by her fan fiction.
There was a transition period in, I think, the early 2000s or so, where the lengthy headers were still de rigueur and part of demonstrating that you were a respectable fanwriter, but the disclaimer got SNARKY AS FUCK. I reckon people had gotten progressively more jaded/tired of writing “I own nothing, I am nothing, please dear god nebulously defined copyright holders don’t sue me.” The disclaimer started turning into lurid descriptions of what you’d do with the characters if you “owned” them, the many ways in which canon would be better if you controlled it, etc. Some of them were like, two words long - “Not mine” - while others were masterpieces of invective. Ultimately, I guess fans either got wise to how ineffective and indeed counterproductive this would be if you ever did get hit with a C&D, or the lengthy headers just didn’t make the transition over from LJ fandom - you could probably write a scholarly thesis just about how and why it happened, actually - but still. Good times.
Examples of Disclaimers
From a Sentinel fiction website: "Disclaimer: These are works of purely speculative fiction. It is not intended to infringe on any rights by and of the companies and/or individuals involved in the production of any series mentioned here." 
This disclaimer is succinct: "Aw, bite me." 
From Abstract Transmissions: "This copyright in no way infringes on the copyrights and/or trademarks of any mentioned media. (We'd only put ya in here if yuz was good, so ya oughta be flattered.)"
From an X-Files fic header: "Disclaimer: Dear Chris, you know they don't belong to me. Also, you leave so many delicious little holes open in your characterization, we fanfic writers just can't help ourselves. Anyhow, please forgive me and remember that suing me is useless. I have lots of lawyers in my family who will provide me with pro bono legal aid. Besides, I'm broke. Love, Dasha PS- How about that big smooshy kiss in the last episode of season seven? With tongue, please. Oh, and whatever happened to the Mulderglasses?" 
From a Stargate Atlantis fic in 2009: "If I owned them I would be sitting on an island beach right now with a frosty drink and a pair of cabana boys. Instead, I just shoveled a foot of snow from the roof of my car. Draw your own conclusions." 
It is wise to copyright your zine. The far, far majority of zine editors use a common law copyright, which is perfectly legal, but which is not listed with the Library of Congress. This consists of running a copyright in your zine, generally with a disclaimer that it is "an amateur publication, not for profit and not intended to infringe on any other legally existing copyrights." I don't know of any instance in which a zine editor has been taken to court or in which the common law copyright has been forced to stand up in litigation. In the unlikely event you ever find yourself in this situation, get yourself a good lawyer! But don't lose any sleep over it. As I said, I've never heard of a zine editor getting sued by the copyright holder.
Disclaimer - Boy, I am getting sick of these things. But, I'm too paranoid not to write it down. So, Mulder and Scully belong to CC, 1013, and FOX. Everybody else in here belong to me.
I wasn't going to do this, but better safe than sorry. So, here's the "gateway" site, such as it is; go past this page at your own risk. Read the next paragraph, make an informed decision, and pick a place to go....
The stuff I talk about, and write about, and rant about, is slash. Slash is for grown-ups who don't mind -- who even enjoy -- the thought of media characters who have the same plumbing being involved in romantic and/or sexual (or sexually charged) relationships with one another. Me, I like male/male pairings, so that's what I deal with here. If you can't deal with it, or you're under the age of majority in your city/state/country, please go somewhere else. This [link to a site that is now offline] is a nice place, give it a try. If you deliberately read any further or hit any link other than the one in the previous sentence, don't complain to me (or my ISP) if you find your moral sensibilities offended.
If you're still not sure what you think about all this, read the next paragraph. If you can't figure out why I'm making you waste your time reading this stuff, go straight to the links that'll get you into my site.
If you are intrigued but confused about why someone would like this slash stuff, what the appeal is, my best advice is to read a poem. Specifically, read The Thousandth Man by Rudyard Kipling; that poem is the very essence of what slash is about. It's about a relationship between two men that is stronger than anything else in the world, a relationship that takes priority over everything else. In slash, that relationship is pushed past every boundary, including sexual. Done right, it's intense and moving and beautiful. And hot. <g> Of course, there's also slash between enemies (wherein the resolved violence tension gets interpreted as unresolved sexual tension, fondly known as UST), and between perfect strangers (usually a crossover, usually written because the two characters in question would just be so damn pretty together -- no one ever said slash needed to be meaningful all the time!).
Come to the conclusion that this isn't for you? This [link to a site that is now offline] is still a nice place, give it a try.
If you're still here, you probably want to see the rest of these pages, huh? Right! On to the slash and the rants...(note: by clicking on this link you are declaring yourself to be over the age of majority in your particular geopolitical area, and voluntarily exposing yourself to the contents. Yes, I know it's overkill to keep saying that, but at least no one can say they weren't warned.) 
I’m 24, and I read my first stories around 2003 or so... What I remember most, though, is the “slash warning”/”don’t like, don’t read” that came on pretty much every slash fic or slash website I saw, because apparently if you didn’t say that you would get flamed by homophobic readers.
Oh lord, and DISCLAIMERS on EVERYTHING. Every fic on FF.NET was all **DISCLAIMERRRRR* I don’t own these characters or *insert show/franchise name here* but lol, I wish I did!" People genuinely feared the copyright gremlins and way back in the early days, once in a while you stumbled across websites or such that could genuinely be confused with something official, especially in tiny fandoms. Because lets face it, EVERYONE’S website on Geocities looked like wonky shit.
Oh man, I remember the hilarity of elaborate disclaimers, but the threat of being sued/approached by TPTB/sent to jail (Shut up! I was a dramatic youth >.>) felt real. Everyone “knew” one person who knew someone who’d been sent a letter from TPTB about their fiction, or had been sued for copyright infringement (which adult-me realizes wasn’t as much of a problem as it seemed like at the time, but it WAS a problem. The relationship between fans like us and TPTB was NOT GOOD.).
Really aggressive disclaimers on slash fic (GAY STUFF IF YOU DON’T LIKE DON’T READ etc), and a general terror of homophobia. So many people were genuinely frightened of what would happen if their story about Trowa and Quatre kissing got into the “wrong” hands that it seems unimaginable now.
Fanfiction.net then quickly became a thing. The individual disclaimers…were so annoying… some websites never got over them (adultfanfiction.net deleted one of my fics because I didn’t write a serious disclaimer, I’ve hated it ever since, though for more reasons than that). They made no sense though because if someone wanted to sue you, they still could, though to my knowledge no one has ever been sued.
- meta-ish type stuff posted on September 22, 2008 by bluefall, accessed November 1, 2010 
- So I’m on AO3 ...(the forgotten history of disclaimers) (2016)
- Every Disclaimer You Need in One Convenient Location (around 2002)
- Example at slashypunkboys: "Disclaimer: Don't own them." untitled post by pokeswithspoons, Archived version, 2003-06-24.
- meta-ish type stuff posted on September 22, 2008 by bluefall, accessed November 1, 2010
- reference link
- Fansplaining: Larry is Real, 15:20 minutes in, posted 24 February 2016.
- Herzog, Alexandra. 2012. “‘But This Is My Story and This Is How I Wanted to Write It’: Author’s Notes as a Fannish Claim to Power in Fan Fiction Writing.” Transformative Works and Cultures 11. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0406.
- a comment by innocent-smith, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
- Gena's Sentinel Fan Fiction, accessed November 1, 2010, now offline
- from Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe at squidge.org
- Across a Crowded Room, posted to Gossamer (August 3, 1999)
- Triptych Chapter 1: Reflections, a stargate: atlantis fanfic; archive link
-  by LinziDay
- from an article, "How to Make a Zine" by Mary Urhausen and Cheree Cargill in the June 1991 issue of Southern Enclave : PDF file of zine, accessed November 1, 2010
- 12 Steps to Success, from a fan in November 1995
-  by Arduinna (roughly 1999)
- a comment about a common disclaimer in early online slash fandom:comment on Tumblr by geiszlerandgaila, January 26, 2015. See Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
- a comment by odamakilock, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
- a comment by cornmouse, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
- a comment by alittlethor, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
- a comment by lemon-and-chai, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread)
- reference link