Fan Fiction on the Line

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News Media Commentary
Title: Fan Fiction on the Line
Commentator: Janelle Brown
Date(s): 08 August 1997
Venue:, online magazine
External Links: Fan Fiction on the Line via Wayback
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Fan Fiction on the Line is an online article that was published in Wired Magazine in 1997.[1]

The article describes fandom as Hollywood's dream come true - consumers so devoted to the characters "that they'll consume every Star Wars-branded product, watch every Xena episode, proudly display their Star Trek pins on dirty backpacks"[1] - and points out the conflict between the free publicity aspect of fan sites and the copyright owners having a hard time dealing with fans and their creativity:

"But there's a little catch - the online fans aren't just reverently idolizing those characters in hushed tones, they're co-opting them. In the true DIY spirit of the Web, these obsessed fans are creating and publishing their own imaginative plots and situations for their favorite characters in their spare time, and are publishing far more material - although often of dubious quality - than the media conglomerates. The Web makes everyone a potential creative publisher - instead of just consuming media, you can create it - and the fans are taking full advantage."[1]

Illustrating that legal confusion with regard to fan activity isn't new, previous intellectual-property scuffles are mentioned, "such as TSR Inc.'s 1994 effort to prevent fans from creating unauthorized Dungeons & Dragons worlds and online publications" or "Paramount's 1996 barrage of cease and desist letters, to Star Trek fan pages with unauthorized scripts, excerpts, photographs, images, sound bites, etc."[1] The article points out that "before the Internet was a media force, studios had a long-time habit of looking the other way when it came to fan fiction"[1] because paper fanzines didn't get much exposure, but the web has increased the visibility of fan fiction, especially slash, which might or might not change the attitude of TPTB.

Summarizing the dispute over whether fanfic is legal or not, the article shows that the uncertainty about how copyright owners are going to deal with fanfiction in the age of the internet is enough to have chilling effects:

"If the lawyers do come calling, it may not be the authors of the fan fiction that pay the ultimate price; network administrators certainly aren't taking any chances. There are only two things the administrators of the Big Eight Usenet hierarchies (comp, humanities, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk) don't allow: binaries and fan fiction. If the proverbial shit hits the fan, they don't want to be held liable for the content of the newsgroups they control. [...] Administrators aren't about to leave themselves open for future lawsuits. The amount of fan-fiction traffic on rec.arts.sf.starwars.misc recently encouraged a group of Star Wars fans to request permission to start a rec.arts.sf.starwars.fanfic newsgroup. Two months later, the debate is still raging on, with fan-fic writers arguing that the practice is legal and safe, and administrators arguing that it's not."[1]

Incidentally, Lucasfilm, the company that owns the rights to Star Wars, is given as an example of "one particularly reasonable outfit when it comes to fan fiction. The company simply put up their own official site to counter - and overshadow - the unofficial ones. As Lucasfilm spokesperson Jeanne Cole puts it, 'What can you do? How can you control it? As we look at it, we appreciate the fans, and what would we do without them? If we anger them, what's the point?'"[1]

For Lucasfilm's official stance regarding fanworks sixteen years earlier, see Open Letter to Star Wars Zine Publishers by Maureen Garrett.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Brown, Janelle. Fan Fiction on the Line. (original HotWired link is broken), 08 August 1997. (Accessed 05 December 2009)