Okay, some fandom history, why show writers and authors say "for legal reasons" they can't read fan fic.

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Title: Okay, some fandom history, why show writers and authors say "for legal reasons" they can't read fan fic (actual first sentence of post is: "Okay. some fandom history, why show writers and authors say "for legal reasons" the can't read fan fic")
Date(s): September 6, 2016
External Links: Okay, some fandom history, why show writers and authors say "for legal reasons" they can't read fan fic.
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Okay, some fandom history, why show writers and authors say "for legal reasons" they can't read fan fic is a Tumblr post by freifraufischer.

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The Post

Okay, some fandom history, why show writers and authors say “for legal reasons” the can’t read fan fic.

Back in ancient times in the 1970s there was a show called Star Trek the Animated Series. It was on the air as fandom culture around Star Trek was really taking route and there were many fanzines (things on actual paper that people bought) being published and the first conventions to attend.

David Gerrold was a writer for Star Trek the Animated Series who had also written one of the most famous episodes of the original series The Trouble with Tribbles. While he was around the production office for STtAS he was introduced to a couple of fans who proceeded to tell him all about their ideas for an episode–essentially a sequel to his famous episode–which it so happens he had already written a script for. When that episode aired he received a letter from one of those fans lawyers demanding “credit”. It so happened that he could prove that the episode existed before the meeting but the involvement of lawyers and a threat to sue became widely known.

Marion Zimmer Bradly [sic] was, before recent horrifying revelations decades after her death, a titan of fantasy writing. She also welcome fan fiction and published it in anthologies and in a magazine she published. [1] One day she opened a story sent to her and the plot of the story was essentially the plot of a a novel she had nearly finished writing. [2] More than a years worth of her work was now unpublishable because it was provable that she had read this story with this similar plot and she couldn’t prove the work on the novel existed before she saw the story. She stopped publishing anthologies and fan fiction and in particular the MZB story is the one a lot of professional writers know as representative of the dangers of fan fiction. [3]

So when a writer says they can’t read fan fiction for legal reasons it’s that their own lawyers are protecting them from outside lawsuits.

And this is why knowing your fandom history matters.

Topics Discussed

Some Sample Comments



And writers don’t want to be influenced by your fan-fic either. We don’t want to end up inadvertently stealing your ideas because we read them three years ago and forgot we did.

So, just don’t show fan fiction or sequential fan art to writers. Actors also often have contracts that prevent them from reading it so they aren’t influenced. [4]

If some people are wondering why I rarely read extended/worldbuilding fanfic set in the Ash universe, even if you send them to me (i.e., I usually say sorry but I can’t read this), this is why :)

Even if it won’t come down to legalities I don’t want to accidentally use someone else’s idea and create conflict over it. [5]

Boy howdy, does knowing your history matter. And the reason is that THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED WITH MZB!

It’s certainly what plenty of authors thought happened or claimed happened for years and years, but it has been debunked. Authors who hate fic still regularly trot it out though.

We may never know exactly what really happened, but we have accounts both from the fan in question and from very pro-MZB people that agree: the fan never tried to sue.

MZB had a massive stroke and thereafter “wrote” a number of books with “cowriters”. This was some V.C. Andrews level “Totes wrote it! Plz give $$$” nonsense. From much later accounts, MZB was in no state to write, and some of those books were later quietly changed to give complete credit to the “cowriter”.

MZB had possibly planned to eventually expand on some bit of her canon. She liked a particular fanfic that expanded on the same bit of canon. She tried to buy the rights to this fan’s writing, but the fan didn’t like the deal she was offered, fearing that it was a payoff in exchange for using her work wholesale and giving her zero credit. (Seems like a reasonable fear to me, given what was going on with MZB’s writing at that point!) They had a falling out over money and contract negotiations, just like eleventy-billion other creative professionals have.

However, to keep the MZB brand and money machine going, it was important to shit all over everyone in the vicinity. All that “A yeeeeear of my woooorrrrk!” bullshit was to explain why MZB wasn’t writing much, since the real reason–that she couldn’t write–was something they were keen to keep under wraps. In fact, according to the fan involved, the only time anyone actually threatened to sue was when MZB’s lawyers threatened her should she reveal MZB’s situation.


MZB’s cronies fucked us fanfic writers for decades over a total urban legend.

(And, yes, I’m sure this got debunked five trillion times already, but it’s Tumblr, so I can’t expand all the notes and see.) [6]


  1. ^ Actually, many fanzines. See Starstone, Tales of the Free Amazons, others.
  2. ^ So many false statements, see The Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy.
  3. ^ This case is a oft-repeated strawman. See The Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy.
  4. ^ jenniferrpovey.tumblr
  5. ^ surfacage.tumblr
  6. ^ olderthannetfic.tumblr