Thursday, June 06, 2002

Today has been a Very Good Day.

I got back my aggravating paper on Wessex Tales, and lo and behold, not only did I get an A, but the professor noted that this was the best paper on the topic for the class she'd read... ever. And she is not a young teacher. :)

Then I declared myself a Women's Studies Minor, and discovered that I only need six more credits in order to get it. Yay! At this point, I need two women's studies classes, three English classes, and a non-lab science. Then I'm just short some generic credits, that I can take anything to fill. (happy dance)

Nick just figured out that, if I put my back into it, I can graduate magna cum laude. Me. Considering what a complete slacker I was my first year or so at ASU (where I left on academic probation)... this is absolutely mind-boggling.

At this point, grad school is looking more and more real and attainable.

Today, I am not king.

Legolas is my fancy!
What's your fancy? Click here and tell the world!

Not king yet.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Plagiarism, Theft, and Other Violations: The Ethics of Fanfiction

Wow – looks like this should have been a panel at LepreCon, because suddenly everybody’s talking about it. Several lists, all at once, and then Felicity on her blog, brought up the idea of “plagiarism” associated with fanfiction.

Felicity, in particular, questioned the “honor among thieves” mentality of fanfic writers, who “steal” other people’s characters and then get upset when someone takes their own.

Let’s take a step back and look at what’s actually going on.

Theft, according to Merriam Webster’s web site, is defined as: 1 a : the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it b : an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property. Stealing has a longer definition, but here’s some relevant bits of it: 1 : to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as an habitual or regular practice […] 1 a : to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully (stole a car) b : to take away by force or unjust means (they've stolen our liberty) c : to take surreptitiously or without permission (steal a kiss)[…] SYNONYMS STEAL, PILFER, FILCH, PURLOIN mean to take from another without right or without detection. STEAL may apply to any surreptitious taking of something and differs from the other terms by commonly applying to intangibles as well as material things (steal jewels) (stole a look at the gifts) […] PURLOIN stresses removing or carrying off for one's own use or purposes
Is fanfic stealing? I would say not. Let’s take a fanfic I wrote in the Buffy universe, “Ingredients, Carpet Fibers, and Warning Labels.” It uses the characters of Spike, Anya, and Xander, and the settings of Xander’s apartment and the Bronze. It references, in particular, the events of the episode “Gone.”

Okay… let’s see… I didn’t take and remove anybody’s personal property, and I certainly didn’t deprive the rightful owners of it – Joss and Co. kept writing episodes while I was writing the story. Can you say I’ve taken something if they still have use of it? The closest thing to what I’ve done is definition c, to take surreptitiously or without permission… but, again, if they still have possession of it, have I done any harm?

But, you could argue, it’s the theft of an idea, not physical property… I haven’t made off with the only copies of Spike, Xander, and Anya in existence (that would be kidnapping). So that would make it plagiarism… wouldn’t it?

Well, maybe not. In one of those brilliant dictionary moves, “plagiarism” is defined simply as “an act or instance of plagiarizing.” “Plagiarizing” apparently originated in 1716, and is defined as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source […] to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

So what I do isn’t plagiarism, either. At the top of every piece of fic I write, there's a disclaimer, explaining how the characters aren't mine, and crediting my source. At no time do I ever pretend that I created the characters I'm using. You do the same thing when you're borrowing original characters or situations from another fic writer – and common courtesy would have you ask the original creator for permission. I do NOT, as Felicity suggests, use someone else’s universe as if it were my own, either... writing good fanfic offers the particular challenge of using a character as the creator would have, had he put them in my situation.

Fanfic isn’t theft or even plagiarism – what it is, is copyright violation. The laws of copyright are confusing, complicated, and in many places, objectionable. If I wrote the laws, I’d go back in and specify that as long as someone isn’t profiting from the use of your ideas, and isn’t actively plagiarism, is fine. If nothing else, think of all the money it would save in lawyer’s fees….

Because the copyright laws are so screwed up, original characters in fic provide their own problems. I have an original character, in the Joeverse, that I would be very upset if someone took. He’s Lady Jaye’s brother – but if I changed that single detail, I could use him in an original fic. If someone else took him without crediting me, that could cause a huge legal mess. But that notwithstanding, if someone takes my character and doesn’t credit me for it, that is plagiarism – see the dictionary definition above. Taking my character is no different than taking chunks of my prose, copying my paper, or cribbing from my test.

The original writer profits from his or her work. The fanfic writer profits only by the satisfaction of writing and the applause of others. Lois McMaster Bujold enjoys and approves of fanfic – she has said that it’s a sign of a good work that the characters don’t go away when you close the book/turn off the TV/etc. Henry Jenkins, the director of media studies at MIT said, “Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations, instead of owned by the folk.” Megacorps and their lawyers own the products I write about, generally. They’re not damaged by my little homages.

If I were king, I would make fanworks legal. But I’m still not.

Monday, June 03, 2002

For those of you who wondered about my comment about "hypothetically destroying the country," it's something that happens on a semi-regular basis here. When you take two guys who are intelligent and have a fairly good grounding in applied and theoretical political science, and add an often irritatingly stupid country... well, hypothetically destroying the government becomes a hobby, I guess. Last night they discussed what would happen if all nine justices of the Supreme Court were to drop dead at once - presumably through foul play, but it could be exposure to a bad piece of blowfish just as easily, I guess. The chaos would, in part, be because one president would have to appoint them all... unless they figured out another way to do it. Dave suggested just "promoting" all the chief justices of the nine district courts.

I wasn't really paying attention, though, so I could be wrong.

Not king, after all.
Dave and Nick are hypothetically destroying the country again.

At this rate, I'll be king any day now.