How Authors Perceive Copyright
I know I’m not the only law professor who wants to be distracted from grading and from thinking about the Supreme Court. One way to waste time is to wait vainly for George Martin to finish the next novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin, who once let me interview him about the the role of law in fantasy books, runs a journal “Not a Blog,” in which he talks about football, politics, and occasionally writing. In a recent entry, he talked about why he hates – and fights – fan fiction that borrows his characters. Notably, his views are entirely grounded in law and legal norms.
Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (but perhaps not Diana Gabaldon, who comes from outside SF and thus may not be familiar with the case I am about to cite) had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it… even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit. She also stopped encouraging and reading fan fiction, and wrote an account of this incident for the SFWA FORUM to warn other writers of the potential pitfalls of same.
That was twenty years ago or thereabouts, but that episode had a profound effect on me and, I suspect, on many other SF and fantasy writers of my generation.
Second, Martin appears to believe that copyrights are like trademarks:
Furthermore, we HAVE to do it. That’s something no one addressed, in those thousand comments about Diana’s blog. There was a lot of talk about copyright, and whether or not fan fiction was illegal, whether it was fair use (it is NOT fair use, by the way, not as I understand the term, and I have a certain familiarity with what is and isn’t fair use thanks to my own experiences with THE ARMAGEDDON RAG), but no one mentioned one crucial aspect of copyright law — a copyright MUST BE DEFENDED. If someone infringes on your copyright, and you are aware of the infringement, and you do not defend your copyright, the law assumes that you have abandoned it. Once you have done that, anyone can do whatever the hell they want with your stuff . . .
By no means am I an IP expert, but I thought I’d just pass these anecdotes along just in case someone is writing about how lay beliefs about IP (including the views by one of the best-selling authors in the country) are created and shaped.