Ethics and Etiquette: A Proposal for the Buying and Selling of Fanzines

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Title: Ethics and Etiquette: A Proposal for the Buying and Selling of Fanzines
Creator: Mary Urhausen
Date(s): June 1989
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic: Zines
External Links: Ethics and Etiquette: A Proposal for the Buying and Selling of Fanzines
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A Proposal for the Buying and Selling of Fanzines is an essay by Mary Urhausen.

While the topic was buying and selling zines, the main thrust of the article was "the unauthorized xeroxing of zines, presumably zines out-of-print... or otherwise unavailable zines."

This essay was published in Southern Enclave #22 and is online here.

The author of this essay wrote a sequel six months later: see The "Clone Wars" Revisited.

More more on this topic, see Zine Piracy.

An Excerpt

One of the time-honored tenets of fandom has always been that "fandom runs on mutual trust." Perhaps no fannish endeavor relies more heavily on this belief than the buying and selling of fanzines. When it comes to an enterprise that involves such vast amounts of time and money, long distance communication, and legions of unpaid volunteers, goodwill has long been that grease that lubricates the gears. Unfortunately, like most time-honored tenets, the code of "mutual trust" hasn't always been an absolute. Fans, for all their sterling qualities as a group, are still just people; and in any diverse groups there are bound to be a few individuals who deviate from the ideal.

A Prompt for Fans

The article, and its follow-up The "Clone Wars" Revisited, generated MUCH discussion.

It also prompted individual fans to post various blanket permissions regarding their fanworks, one of the first in media fandom. See Pat Nussman, Debbie Kittle, Carolyn Golledge, and Melanie Guttierrez for examples.

Reactions and Reviews

I enjoyed your article on fanzine ethics and etiquette and agree with nearly everything you said. The one problem I can see is when no one knows how to reach either a publisher who's no longer publishing or an author/artist no longer involved in the fandom to obtain permission. Personally, I have never considered even asking for an zine to be copied for me. It's always "felt" wrong, but there has been the occasional story or art piece that has caught my eye in a zine belonging to a friend. Rarely, that friend has photocopied the story or artwork for me, knowing that I wanted it solely for my own pleasure. If that makes me a thief, I apologize and profess ignorance, but neither myself nor my friend knew how to contact those involved to get "legal" clearance. Still, thanks to your enlightening article, I now feel measurably guilty.[1]

I'm shocked and appalled that there are those who think of some fans as "thieves" for wanting to read and enjoy what other fans meant to be enjoyed! Has it come to this, turning on each other? I never imagined such an attitude existed in SW fandom. While I agree with most of the ethical code proposed, the logic behind the charge of "stealing" OOP zines escapes me. Such a charge would be valid only if the owner of the zine profited from copies or deprived the editor/contributors of profit by reprinting. I agree the selling of OOP zine copies for more than cost is unethical but since, ostensibly, neither editors nor contributors make any money producing a zine, I do not see what is being stolen. How can someone "steal" what I, as a contributor, GAVE away to be enjoyed by others? If I am wrong, please correct me, but I've been under the impression that those of us involved with zine production are motivated by love for the particular fandom and a desire to share our creativity with other fans. Why would anyone who poured so much talent, effort and time into a zine--whether editing, writing or illustrating--rather see their work die than be shared? As an author/artist, I am saddened to think an editor may one day thwart my intention to share my work with other fans by calling their sharing it with one another a crime. I hope, too, that those same editors never copy a passage from a library book, or trade needlework patterns or cookbook recipes. What the attempt to criminalize generosity and sharing between fans really means--in my POV--is that there are two classes of fans, the Haves and the Have Nots. The Have Nots (latecomers, newcomers or the unlucky) can hear about this great zine, or that great story but we can never read it unless someone takes pity on us and lends us a copy. Owning it, of course, if forever Forbidden by the Haves, since they have the Originals and love them too much to part with them but not enough to share them. After all, the editors and contributors forgot to say "If we only wanted one person to read this, we would have kept it in a notebook under our beds." So...the ideas and art and sharing stop here? That's not what I want for something I poured my heart and soul and money (yes! authors and artists spend their own money, too, on supplies and postage) into for over a year. I would be flattered if people were interested in my work after it was out of print. Not only would I give my permission to reprint my story or art, I'd copy my originals if no one else would. These comments may not endear me to my editor but I am entitled to my opinion and would not have offered it on such a controversial subject if Mary hadn't asked for responses. I can't imagine there will be many folks straddling the fence on this one; my conscience wouldn't allow it. If I'm going to err, it's going to be on the side that offers the greatest chance for creative expression of any kind to survive. To lock a book away, to prevent the continued expression and expansion of its contents, kills not only the idea it holds but the love that was put into it. Love of ideas and sharing them is what holds fandoms together. When those things evaporate, or are restricted, fandoms die. This may not change anyone's mind, but I hope it illustrates how the copying issue can be seen validly from another POV.[2]

If you're taking votes, Cheree, I'll come down on the side that says it's okay to photocopy an oop zine if you unsuccessfully SASE, if you've tried to buy your own copy and simply can't find one. May I go on the record as stating that anyone who wants to photocopy JEDISTARDARKFALCONKNIGHT, whichever edition, is welcome to? I would add one comment to Mary's observations: Don't automatically assume the editor is out to rip you offI No matter what happens in an exchange between seller and buyer, there is no excuse for viscious letters being exchanged. And if you do receive a nasty note, please don't compound the issue by replying in kind--no need to get down in the gutter with the offender. I know of editors who have received vitriolic letters, accusing them of postal fraud, which were written two weeks after the original order was sent out. For heaven's sake, people, even professional mail order houses have 30 days to fulfill orders![3]

I'd like to talk about Mary Urhausen's "Ethics and Etiquette" article. Fascinating and so sensible! I confess I've never had many of the problems she's discussed. I've been lucky enough to buy many of my zines at cons-- mostly because I've heard so many horror stories about ordering through the mail! I'm also not really into xeroxing zines--there are still too many originals to spend money on. But I can see how copying zines can really burn an editor! My question is, if you sell a used zine of one that's still in print, isn't that much the same as sell- ing the xerox? I've bought used zines for half the price even if the zine is still available. The rationale, of course, is that it may not be worth $18-$20 but I'd be willing to try it for half price. Does that violate an editor's rights? Does it take money out of their pocket even though the original purchaser has a legitimate right to sell? I'd like to know how folks feel about this.[4]

As for my own zines -- once I've announced they're out of print, xerox at leisure. But photocopying any zine that's still available is the dirtiest possible pool. Yes, I know zines are expensive; check out printing costs sometime. The days of the 250-page, $7-including-postage zine have been gone these many, many moons. Gestetner mimeo on fibertone paper? Get real. We've been spoiled by computers, photo-offset, color covers, screened illos, and all those nifty bells and whistles that make a zine gorgeous--and expensive. Costs can be brought down by printing in mass quantities--but is it feasible these days to print 800 copies of a SW zine? How many years should a publisher have to wait to recover even a significant fraction of her costs? I know very few people who make a profit from their zines. Everybody else (including your humble and obedient) loses money. If you can't afford a zine by yourself, buy it in partnerhsip with a fellow fan and share. But please don't xerox something still in print. It's Just Not Nice.[5]

Though I agree with some of what Mary Urhausen says, we all must realize that fanzines are not the same as general issue magazines. You cannot go down to your local old book or out of print store and ask them to search for a fanzine that is out of print. Let me state that I draw a firm line between those zines that are available on the market and those that are out of print, and once a zine has been announced as out of print, it is in my opinion OOP unless the editor announces reissue or photocopy dates. There are suppositions being made here; they are: If a zine is OOP, the editor has recouped his or her financial investment in the zine (I do not consider time or effort or loss of sleep). The artists, authors, poets, puzzle makers, etc., contributed fan material to be read by fans, not to be locked up in a closet somewhere. Copies are not to be made on a commercial basis for general distribution without the agreement of the editor (you don't sell other people's material). If efforts to contact editors of OOP zines have gotten no response (letters not returned, SASEs not returned), I do not feel guilty about making copies. I was nice and reasonable and polite; if you could not be bothered to at least say "no" when using my stamp, don't complain. With our mobile and changeable society, many of the old addresses are no good. Getting in touch with many of the small presses that were in business 10 years ago is impossible. I know; I try. I search phone books and have friends in the area of last known addresses searching (bless you, bless you). I check fan listings, zine references and bug my fan friends. Still, over half my search-SASEs are never acknowledged or returned. IF YOU HAVE LOST INTEREST, DON'T PLAY FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE AND DEPRIVE OTHERS OF THE CHANCE TO READ THESE OOP ZINES. Most important--making copies is a pain in the nether parts. It takes time and costs money, in many cases more than the cost of the original zines. I make copies under conditions that the zine is OOP (I will copy whole in this case). Example: PHOENIX printed in 1980. I have copy 19 of 100 copies printed. I have never seen another copy and I have had mine for 6 years. This zine is 300 pages long; it would cost about $7.00 new. IF you could find it used, it would probably cost about $15.00. It would cost over $30 to copy the thing, plus postage. You only copy when you get desperate. I make copies of material that is OOP in single stories, or missing segments of continued stories. I do not make money copying; I do not particularly enjoy doing it. It takes time, but we have many new fans in the fanzine world who would never have the chance to read the older material without copies, since chancing a rare zine to the mails would never be considered. I have spent the last months cataloguing my zines and starting to catalogue authors. It is a rough estimate that I have over 1300 SW stories. Almost 300 of these were made from copies sent out when the library was open, but without copies what chance do the new fans have at all these great or sometimes not so great stories? As a group, it might be time that we try to establish some type of standard for copies. Something that would be both fair to the editors, authors and artists, and yet something that would be standard and reasonable, given zine realities, to make copies. Any ideas that would be fair and reasonable would be appreciated. I do not like to feel like I have taken advantage of the great editors who have taken time and energy to put together these zines. On the other hand, I do not think fans should be deprived of these stories given the limited reality of the zine world. I am wearing my asbestos suit, so any comments? More to the point, any practical ideas? [6]

Out of print zines. The editor/publisher should be sought out first, but if all else fails, I see no real crime in xeroxing a friend's zine for personal use. As [Pat N] says, doing it by bulk for profit is a different matter--and entirely wrong. If reprints/xeroxes are offered by the editor, fans should use that route, rather than trying to get around the cost by having easy/free access to a xeroxer.[7]

And now, the Clone Wars... Our opinion, formulated after years of careful research in the Imperial Archives, is that the Clone Wars began during the summer of 1989 on a small planet called Earth, when one Mary Urhausen wrote an article concerning the illegal copying (i.e., cloning) of fanzines. This article began the escalating emotional debate between those who agreed with Dr. Urhausen that xeroxing out of print zines was not allowable without the express permission of zine eds, and those who felt that it could be done if there was no other way of acquiring a certain zine. These so-called "Clone Wars" quickly spread throughout the galaxy. Eventually, the public tired of these disputes and this paved the way for rise of the Emperor Palpatine, who forbade the publishing of zines altogether. Alright, that's enough of that! On to the more serious issue of zine cloning, for real. I'm a zine buyer, not a zine ed, so I tend to sympathize with the people who are looking for OOP zines and simply cannot find copies for sale. I suppose that one should try to borrow a copy, but even that may be difficult. Obviously, if the zine eds say "no, you can't copy the zine", then that's it. It's their zine, after all. But it seems to be that by dropping out of fandom or not responding to inquiries, a zine ed somehow gives up some part of their rights to the zine. It seems as though they don't really care what is done with their zines. But I don't think that anyone except the zine eds should be able to "sell" xeroxes. The person who receives the xerox should pay the costs of copying and shipping, and that's all. [8]

This is my first LoC and I usually wouldn't write but the zine copying ethics thing really was something I felt I must stick my PoV into. I have been a SW fan since 1977. I have been active in fan fiction since 1986. I am what most of you would call the "new guard." I have been told there are two types of fans, the "old guard" and the "new." I, in my humble POV, think there should only be one "guard". Those of us, who in whatever year--'77, '80 or '83--found a part of ourselves we never knew was missing in the STAR WARS trilogy. Now, Mary Urhausen has said those of us who copy, or receive copies of out of print zines, are THIEVES! I haven't heard such 8antha droppings since American soldiers in Vietnam were being called "baby killers." Last time I looked, SW fandom about trust, but more importantly, I thought the main idea behind it was sharing. If we who pay whatever amount, from $2.00 to $17.50, and up don't own our zines, what is the money for? Rental? I have copied individual stories for friends and, as long as I have money and access to Kinko's Copies stores, I will continue to. By Mary Urhausen's definition of ethics, this makes me a thief. What are your solutions for stopping this, Mary? Are you going to callout the CIA? The FBI? Or maybe even your own personal Gestapo, the Zine Police? Will there be a member of the Zine Police at my Kinko's? When I buy a zine, will I have to sign a statement saying, "I will never be unethical and make a copy"? B.S.!!! This is America, NOT Russia, and if I pay for a zine, then possession is still 9/10's of the law. If helping a SW fan in these dark times means copying a story here or there, then by Mary's standards, I am unethical. I go to cons, too. Who cares if I copy a zine? It is my business, not theirs. If you want to put me on a blacklist for simply helping out a fellow fan, SO BE IT! If copying an out of print zine is thievery, then I am guilty as charged! For everyone of us who admits to copying, there are probably 10 more of us in the Knowing this, Mary, will you still sell WOOKIEE COMMODES to new people, or will you be like so many others and place your hands around the throat of SW to help choke the life out of it? You're not ethical, Mary Urhausen. You're sad. Long live the Alliance.[9]

Taken from your perspective, I can find very little flaw in your stand against the photocopying of zines. But I can't help but think: why are we producing zines in the first place? I had always assumed that they were a means of communication and response , and the "business" of zine production was a means to an end. If you could produce a zine at zero cost, would you give your zine away for free? If not, how would you justify making money off of Lucas' creations? If a zine is out of print, then what is to be gained by preventing not-for-profit photocopying? [10]

Sure, go ahead. Do not xerox whole issues, do not xerox presently selling zines, but please do xerox OOP's, and do xerox for those who cannot afford 20 pezetas for a zine. Fandom is sharing, period. [11]

As to the photocopying issue, it is a touchy one. Indeed, I agree that copies of zines currently being sold should not be made. There is the question of copyright law when it comes to the out-of-print issues, but as long as the copying is not done in any type of massive scale, nor is there any type of profit whatsoever made in the transaction, I am rather ambivalent about it. I can see both sides of the coin. In the case of a zine that has only had a few hundred copies made, there are times when the only way you can have the opportunity to read them is to have a copy made for you. However, at the very least you should try to contact the editor to obtain permission or see if they can photocopy the material for you. If you are not able to reach the editor or the editor does not respond, does this mean that the material is then lost to fandom forever? We are not talking about authors losing royalties because of the copying. I think the situation is a bit different than "regular" books and magazines because of the way the material is produced in the first place. You are taking copyrighted characters and universes and using them as the basis for the zine. A limited run is made of the zine and, if any money shows up on the plus side, it is a miracle of the first magnitude. Therefore, it seems that in these situations, copying a zine or a story for a friend -- with no profit being made and not being done on a mass scale -- is not any greater of a "crime" than is producing the zine in the first place. I would think in this case you could use the accounting principal of materiality. Does the copying make any material difference? You are not obtaining money, nor are you in the business of doing the copying on a large scale. Technically, it may not be legal, but technically zines using copyrighted characters are also in a grey area. If you say that copying is completely wrong, are you also saying that the production of the zine in the first place is also wrong? It seems to me that these two areas go together... If we say (and I DO say) that zine production on a limited not-for-profit basis is fine and dandy, then could it not be deemed hypocritical to say that it is a complete no-no to copy material from a zine, as long as it is done within limits. What are the differences involved? The same arguments of time and money put into a creation could be said of those who originally created STAR WARS and STAR TREK for not allowing the existence of fanzines as are being given as to why individual items may not be copied from those self-same zines. If we say that we are saying one cannot be done, are we not saying that the other cannot be done as well? [12]

Indeed, the "Emperor" exists! He has the power to end the the "ownership" question once and for all, by exercising the Legal Copyright. Just because he hasn't moved legally against a low-profile fanzinedom doesn't mean he won't if the questicn of $$ rears its head. Some people seem to have gotten so complacent re fanzines' technically illegal status that they're going to start debating "ownership" of something we are merely allowed to play with! So far, fandom hasn't invoked the wrath of our particular playground's owner and whatever may irk him occasionally isn't enough to make legal action worthwhile. However... if certain very findable people start talking about money being made, we can all be sure that Emperor George will take notice, and take a very close look at fanzines. We'd best play quietly if we wish to continue playing at all... [13]

This zine pirating business, I think the main thing is common sense. Copying an ilIo or a cover, or a particularly good story isn't what anyone is worried about. In an era where copying is so cheap and accessible there simply isn't any way to prevent this. What zine editors do worry about are people that buy or borrow their zine--either new or out of print- make unlimited copies and sell them via mail order or even wholesale to unsuspecting dealers. That's piracy, and it goes on all the time. Zine editors are doing us a service; these pirates are out to rip us off by printing poor quality zines and insuring that zine eds never recoup their original investments so they are less likely to publish more issues. [14]

... throwing another 2 cents in, where I feel an editor would be hurt by unauthorized copying is if the editor planned to do a reprint, ran off a few hundred extras, and then had them sit in the garage because fans were copying first run issues, not buying reprints. That's why we should first try the editors. If they don't plan a reprint or can't be reached, I feel we should proceed on the assumption that we are all friends with a common bond--love of fandom.[15]

As for xerox oopies... Well, personally, I won't buy them. I much prefer the originals but I think that if a zine is OOP, anyone should be able to xerox it. Only once in my life did I ever copy a zine story (not having a xerox machine handy, I laboriously typed it out). The zine was at the tine OOP and I sent the story to a friend who subsequently bought a reprint of the zine.[16]

You should be aware that there are true zine pirates out there that, with malice aforethought, suck the blood right rut of fandom. Not just old zines, but the very latest seem to fall into their clutches.[17]

I have never imagined people xeroxing whole zines and SELLING them. This is low, my God, this is the dirtiest. I am all for friends xeroxing for each other, for free, but SELLING pirate copies? Just for this, let's make a Zine Police. (Although I'm a little short for a Stormtrooper, I will keep my eyes open at cons for anyone selling pirate issues.)[18]

I wanted to hasten to react to Mary's article ...I am in absolute agreement with what she proposes. My only disagreement previously (and I hope I stated it politely) dealt with OOP zines, where a fan could not get a hold of the editor or buy a copy on the used zine market. Copying zines under any other circumstances is piracy of the worst sort... A lot of that sort of thing happened in Blake's 7 fandom, threatening the system that allows editors to recoup their initial investment. Indeed, a number of fans in B7 seemed to have a quaint idea that editors make money. I found this quite humorous, seeing that my last SWars zine cost me about $500.00 that I could ill afford to use. Aside from personal experience, it would be nearly impossible for a zine ed to make money, for the simple reason that zines are such limited-circulation enterprises. Look at the amount professional publishers charge and they're dealing with hundreds of thousands of copies! Again, for the record, I officially give permission for fans to copy any of my OOP SWars zines (frankly, it's easier on me than doing the photocopying myself): JUNDLAND WASTES (all issues), ALDERAANI IMPERATIVE, COMPLETE CIRCLE OF FIRE 1 and COMPLEAT ZEEK 1. For the record, the last two never had second volumes because of various fiscal problems... SWars has become a fairly small market and the price of printing is way up.[19]

Mary Urhausen's leading article was very well done and extremely diplomatic. I hope now we can dispense with the saber rattling - pun intended. [20]

A Few Months Later

After writing her essay about copying out of print fanzines, Mary submitted the following LOC to Southern Enclave #24:

Wookie Commode "Issues #3, #4, #5 are now officially out of print (OOP). In accordance with the terms of the Clone Wars Treaty, Double D Press hereby gives all fans permission to make themselves single, not for resale, xerox copies of these three issues for their own personal use. Double D Press will not be printing any of them."


  1. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  2. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  3. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  4. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  5. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  6. ^ from Ming Wathne in from Southern Enclave #23
  7. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  8. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  9. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  10. ^ from Southern Enclave #23
  11. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  12. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  13. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  14. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  15. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  16. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  17. ^ from Southern Enclave #24
  18. ^ from Southern Enclave #25
  19. ^ from Southern Enclave #25
  20. ^ from Southern Enclave #25