I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment

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Open Letter
Title: I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment
From: Mercedes Lackey
Addressed To: her fans
Date(s): December 1992
Medium: print, now online
Fandom: Mercedes Lackey
Topic:
External Links: Queen's Own Newsletter--December 1992, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment is a December 1992 letter by Mercedes Lackey.

NOTE: the letter is untitled; the title here on Fanlore is the letter's first sentence.

It was printed in Queen's Own, the newsletter for Lackey's official fan club.

The letter was written in response to the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy, and the topic is fanworks, legalities, copyright, and permissions.

The Letter

"Hi folks. I'm about to bring the cold, cruel, mundane world into our fun for a moment, because several things have happened recently that make it very important that I do so.

"The subject here is 'rights,' by which I am referring specifically to my legal rights as a creator of the works and worlds you all are enjoying. Let me first explain copyright as it pertains to all of you and your written work and fanfiction.

"First of all, you may not be aware of it, but I am rare in permitting people to write fanfic based on my work. Many authors and agents feel it confuses copyrights enough that they do not permit it at all. For an example, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and her agent are so adamantly against it that they have SUED (yes, with lawyers and court costs and all the rest) both a publisher of fanfic [1] and a filk publisher for publishing works using her characters when permission had been explicitly denied. The writer and publisher have been REQUIRED by the result of the suit to place apologies in several major mundane publications such as Publisher's Weekly. I don't know if any of you are aware how much such an advertisement costs; suffice it to say it is somewhere in the area of a thousand dollars. And that is only one of the magazines where this publisher has been required to place such an ad.

"Having established that I am a Good Guy for letting you play in my sandbox, following in the footsteps of my mentor Marion Zimmer Bradley, let me continue. Some folks have been horribly incensed because I asked, politely, that you not post Valdemar fanfic over in Prodigy, because that service lists itself as a PUBLISHING SERVICE and not an information service, and it is a FOR PROFIT entity. This was to protect YOU. If my agent or publisher decided that this fanfic was in violation of my copyrights, they could very easily sue YOU, your parents if you are a minor, your school if you were using a school machine ...at the very least you would be required, after paying several thousand dollars in legal costs, to pay several more thousand dollars in apology-ads in major booksellers publications, just like that fanzine publisher. I doubt many of you have that kind of money to throw away; I certainly don't. And I am afraid that there would be nothing I could do to call off my agent; in areas where my rights---and HIS future income ---are concerned, HE has every right to vigorously protect those rights. Be warned; this Has already happened TO ONE FANWRITER AND PUBLISHER.

"It becomes more confused because Prodigy is an electronic service and this laps over into the area of 'electronic rights' about which there is a great deal of confusion. Because of the confusion, my agent prefers to err in the direction of being conservative and protectionist. This also goes for 'MUCKS' or 'MUSH's. He is flatly NOT PERMITTING any electronic role-playing of any kind, whether it is on a not-for-profit or for-profit service. So there it is--NO VALDEMAR MUCKS. No Earthset (the Bardic Voices world) MUCKs. If he finds out about it, and he will eventually, you will get first a 'cease and desist' letter from the agency's legal department--and so will the net you are on. The Sysops will not be happy with you about this. If you continue, you will probably be slapped with a lawsuit. If you are a minor, you will probably see your college fund go down the drain. If you are not, paying the out-of-court legal costs alone will set you back several thousand dollars. This is something I have no power over; we are not only talking about MY income, we are talking about my AGENT's income, and he is not going to tolerate anyone cutting into it. With the advent of the Electronic Arts books, we now have a real possibility of commercial computer games; start talking about a Nintendo version, and you really run into large money. My agent cannot afford to let one person get in the way of that.

"To add to the confusion, the 'Bookman' is looking more and more likely all the time. So books are no longer being thought of as published in the traditional format. Now here is when it cuts REAL near the bone for me. If one of you, in all innocence, messed up my electronic rights, I could be completely be shut out of the books-on-disk market for all current series. And, ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road, when all books are coming out on disk, you will have not only ruined my income, you will have prevented others from experiencing the same pleasure you had in discovering my work. Now, I can write anything; I could turn around and write romances if I had to. But it would put a lot of hardship on me---and it would mean NO MORE VALDEMAR BOOKS. Ever. And if you think I'm being crazy, ask yourself how many vinyl records you've seen for sale lately, aside from in thrift stores. The record industry was ready for the cassette and CD. We have to be ready for the digital book. Many companies are already writing electronic publication INTO THEIR CONTRACTS even though they aren't doing it yet. This represents MAJOR money to my agency, and they DO take it seriously and they WILL take legal action to protect it.

"The likelihood that this would happen over my work was less in the past. Now, because of something that has happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley, it is MUCH more likely to happen now. Those of you who have access to the Darkover Newsletter can see her latest letter, "Holes in my Yard." The short form is that a person wrote a fanfic novel about the period Marion planned to use for her next novel. Marion liked some of the Person's IDEAS (Not the writing, which was not professional quality) and offered the Person a sum of money and an acknowledgement for the use of the ideas. An interchange ensued, in which the Person was extremely unreasonable. The result? Betsy Wollheim of DAW has said that under the circumstances she cannot publish the book Marion had already begun. Marion has begun requiring release forms for all Friends of Darkover anthologies, and is returning unread all fanfiction. She may even end the Darkover anthologies altogether. My agent is also Marion's agent, and he is now (justifiably) far more paranoid about fanfic. Electronic fanfic is only worse.

"So I am going to require a release from those of you who wish to participate in the electronic fiction CATs, and I am not sure yet what to do about paper fanfic. MUCKs, MUSHs and other electronic games are not being allowed. Paper gaming is fine as long as you do not try to sell it. If you have some product based on my work that you think you can sell commercially, it must be licensed through the agency. Before you attempt to sell it, you MUST obtain a licensing agreement. The Agency is Scott Meredith Inc, in New York City. (Attn: Mr. Russell Galen - Scott Meredith Literary Agency - 845 Third Avenue - New York, NY 10022) Limited sale, such as for works of art, will continue to be permitted without a license. Mass Market, such as large print-runs or T-shirts, decks of Tarot cards, or an Atlas, must be licensed.

"Sorry to bring the cold, cruel world in here, but let me put it to you this way before any of you decide that I am being unreasonable, paranoid, or a control-freak. Would you walk into my house and take one of my pieces of jewelry? Would you help yourself to my bank account? Would you sit down to dinner with me at my invitation, engage me in pleasant conversation, then as soon as the meal arrived, take my plate away from me? That is precisely what you would be doing by deliberately messing things up for me. STEALING from me, after I have let you into my world. There is no graceful way to put it.

"I don't know if you folks have any real notion of how relatively little a full-time writer makes. I am not Stephen King; I don't even have a tenth of his money. I could make EXACTLY the same by going back to the airlines as a programmer. I would rather not; I like writing, and I disliked programming.

"I don't have to let you in my world. I could be like Yarbro, and forbid it entirely. I don't want to deprive you of the kind of pleasure I got from writing Darkover and other fanfic. I like having you in my sandbox. All I am asking for is a little courtesy and consideration.

"This piece may by downloaded (or photocopied) and posted to any other systems you choose, with my permission."--Mercedes Lackey.

[A further note from Misty and Larry]: " . . . Well, rather than chuck out 20-page Author's Notes full of claims of how much we like fans & like to do right by 'em, we practice it and don't crow about it much. The whole fanfic situation is an example of that; we know how much happiness it brings fans, and we like to nurture that joy.

"The legalities of it all are just business---and I would VERY much like to thank you ALL for being so kind and understanding about it.

"It speaks well of you, and reassures us that we're doing the right thing by devoting some of our (arrgh! too little!) time to pursuing a few good solutions. Thank you!

"Just bear with us until we get an Official Policy thingie nailed down on it. Hugs!" -- Misty & Larry

Reaction from Lackey's Newsletter Editor

The decision has been made that you MUST sign a release form for any work created in Misty's worlds that you intend to share with others. Since many QO members are not interested in writing fanfic I am not including the release form in the newsletter. For a copy, send a SASE to the QO address. You need a release form for EVERY story set in Misty's universe that you write, even those you send me as part of your Herald requirements. Just send me a SASE, sign the release as soon as you get it, and mail it to Highflight.

You can't hide from Mundania, folks, and Misty and Larry MUST be business-wise in order to make a living. Protecting their rights is merely the sensible thing to do. If you feel they've rained on your parade don't let that ruin your fun. You can still play but now you need an umbrella and boots. It's Misty's universe, she makes the rules.

References

  1. Actually, very untrue. There was no lawsuit, or "court costs and all the rest." See A Matter Of Willful Copyright Infringement.