Rethinking the MZB case

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Title: Rethinking the MZB case
Creator: opusculus
Date(s): May 12, 2010
Medium: online
Fandom: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Topic: fanfiction, copyright
External Links: Rethinking the MZB case; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Rethinking the MZB case is an article by opusculus that was posted on Dreamwidth.

Its focus was Marion Zimmer Bradley and Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy.

This author posted a similar article a few days later: The facts of the MZB case.


When I first got into fandom, fanfic was seen as illegal and scandalous and something a lot of authors really didn't care for. And that verdict was generally accepted in the circles I hung out in as fairly accurate. I got as big into anime fandom as I did at least in part because the copyright holders were much less likely than authors to start spamming fanfic archive owners with C&Ds, as I vaguely remember being around while either Anne Rice or LKH went off on fanfic and got a shitload taken off the internet. Any author who said anything about fic was a hell of a lot more likely to say "Take that crap off the internet" than "Awesome! The lawyers sadly tell me I can't read it, but have fun with that!" And that was accepted as the risks you run when you're doing something technically illegal and potentially infringing on someone else's rights.

And a lot of that acceptance of fanfic's moral dubiousness, I think, did come from the MZB case. Fanlore actually has a pretty good write-up of it... if you want to check it out. I was pretty big into MZB's anthologies at the time, and so I got my information pretty much straight from the author's notes in her S&S anthologies, and it sounded dreadful. An author had a similar idea as a fanfic author, and it stopped her from being able to write a plotted out book when the fan threatened to sue! And then it killed the Darkover fanfic anthologies and oh, it was all so very dreadful. And now every lawyer in publishing warns authors off fanfic and it badly hurt fanfic's chances for legitimacy.

Except when you read it more clearly, it's abundantly clear that the whole incident was started by MZB trying to buy some kinds of rights to the fanfic, and maybe it was just a CYA thing to cover the use of the idea but...maybe not. And when you put it into the context that she was making money off editing fanfic anthologies and all her books at the time were being ghostwritten due to her health failing... it starts looking really skeevy to me. At the time it happened, MZB's version was pretty much the only one that got heard since, you know, she was the pretty-well known author versus the tiny unknown, but only hearing one person's side in a complicated and contentious story is never going to get you the right answer. And the more I hear, the more skeptical I am that it was the fanfic author who was the more wrong one.