The facts of the MZB case

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Title: The facts of the MZB case
Creator: opusculus
Date(s): May 16, 2010
Medium: online
Fandom: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darkover
Topic: fanfiction, copyright
External Links: The facts of the MZB case; WebCite
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The facts of 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.

A similar article by this author was posted a few days earlier: Rethinking the MZB case.


So, as the story goes, MZB was a kind and gentle soul, who was so generous that she even published professionally-paid anthologies of fanfic for her series Darkover. Until, in 1992, a fan sent MZB a free copy of the zine her fanfic had been published in. MZB saw the similarities to the story she was working on, and was kind and generous and naive enough to contact the fan and give her a dedication and a small amount of money for the idea. The fan was stupid and greedy and probably kicks puppies in her spare time and demanded full co-author credits for MZB's idea, and lawyered up. MZB, heartbroken at the loss of between a year to four years worth of work, regretfully laid aside her manuscript and forevermore banned fanfiction from her universe. Soon after, most the rest of the publishing universe followed suit, stunned and shocked that someone who had been so generous towards fanfic could have been so badly burned. A roundup of the hearsay can be found here [1].

Yeah no. There's a whole lot of problems with this tidy fable, even ignoring the gaping logic hole of why MZB would offer $500 [2] to someone else just for happening to share her idea. Hey every author I've ever read - I can probably make a sweeping guess as to what the next book you write in a series will be like and usually get some things right. Will you send me $500 and a dedication out of the generosity of your heart if I write fanfic about it? Please? Seriously, call me cynical, but is this plausible to ANYONE?

But easily the biggest problem, that starts to unravel the whole thing - MZB had a stroke on October 30, 1989, and continued to suffer from heart congestion and more strokes for the rest of her life. This and future strokes (and perhaps a previous stroke in 1987, but most sources peg the 1989 one as the significant one) left her with significant cognitive impairments. Every single book ostensibly written by her after that point was at most, co-written, and, judging by the words of at least one talked a lot about MZB's ideas and inspiration, but didn't say a word about the actual text itself. The last book that was probably mostly written by MZB was published in 1989, 3 years before all this happened. No matter what else happened, whoever's book might have been scuttled by the fan's lack of cooperation - it was almost certainly not hers.


...yes, this blithe assumption that of course a fanwriter would and should instantly agree to hand over her plot/text smacks nastily of unthinking exploitation. I find myself equally ticked off over the influence this has had on the commercial publishers' approach to fanfic, which has spread, and actively spread, an appalling amount of misinformation about copyright and a fear and contempt for fans. [3]
I'm not sure it would be an exaggeration to say that this killed off fandom's reputability for years in publishing circles, and so much of the wrongness is coming from the publishing side rather than the fanfic side. [4]
Yah, not a lot of forward thinking there. I suspect the collaborator involved probably wasn't Mercedes Lackey, though, because she's been (relatively) sane abt fanfic most of the time and I'd think that sort of thing might make someone really gunshy. [5]


  1. ^ Fan Fiction Policies >> Bradley, Marion Zimmer
  2. ^ Re: Contraband
  3. ^ opusculus, Archived version
  4. ^ opusculus, Archived version
  5. ^ opusculus, Archived version