Libraries and fan-fiction

June 8, 2009 at 4:46 pm (1)

This is really just the beginning of a discussion.

What I know/suspect is that there are legal issues that could bog down any proposed program in this area in a mire so deep that it would never see the light of day.  However, I am fully open to the idea that many people follow that old adage “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” and so a program may simply arise, purely out of ignorance of the larger legal logisitics.

Also, people are writing large quantities of fan-fiction already, and it needs to be examined by an impartial third party for its historic, literary, and cultural merit – fan-fiction as a movement is as important to the history of literature and culture as the works that inspire it, simply because it exists and because it is massive.  That’s before any discussion of the merit of the content of any individual work.  As far as the merit of content goes, its not like libraries are critics who decide what should be read – our collections contain masses of books that I would never read because I think they’re garbage, but I’m not going to stop other people from reading them, and I’d be plenty ticked off if a library stopped collecting something the people like to read simply because the selectors don’t think it worthy.

Thoughts on history – A lot of legitimate fiction is ‘fan fiction’ in that fans of a work or genre write new works, and the inspiration is clear in the pages.  The Wheel Of Time draws deep from the well of The Lord Of The Rings and also I suspect, from Dune.  Rowling was hardly the first author to imagine a boy wizard going off to wizard school and fighting evil wizards.

I love the books on how to draw famous characters – how to draw Spiderman, how to draw Garfield, how to draw the Simpsons.  Here are books that encourage fans to mimic and recreate and make fan versions of their stories – and probably discourage them from letting those drawings and stories ever see the light of day, because the images are copyrighted and trademarked, etc.

Comics is a whole different area of fan fiction – i imagine, and i’d like to hear from comics artists, that most comics artists today started out drawing comics full of their favorite characters from their favorite comics.  Then they moved on to crafting stories inspired by their favorite stuff, and eventually came to “original” stories down the road a stretch.  The evolution might have taken one day, or ten years.

Lets not forget parody.

More than that, think about Star Wars and Star Trek – these have full-on publishing models dependant on fan fiction – dozens of books are published under these banners every year, written by different authors.  Did they write the books first and try to get them published afterwards?  If they wrote them first, would they be considered fan-fiction, and therefore in the grey area of the law, until the publisher and rights owner decided that it could be added to the canon?

An article that got me started thinking about this whole thing was written by Cory Doctorow about two years ago:

Also.  I was thinking about the espresso book machines, and the incredible possibility inherent in them. granted, the intent of this machine is to print on demand works from a subscribed database, but really its just a big, fancy printer, and it takes documents and prints them and binds them in a few minutes.  The intent is to provide a print version of a book the library does not have available in its collection, or of a book that is too rare or fragile to lend.  But what if it could print documents direct from the Net?  Fan-fic writers type up their stories and design a cool cover, convert it all to pdf, upload it to scribd or someplace, send it to the espresso book machine, and all of a sudden they’ve got a vanity press version of their book.  There have been vanity presses around for time immemorial, but the espresso book machine takes the cost way down, and reduces the minimum print run to 1.  Or even zero.  Because it draws from a digital database.  So a person could print out their own fan-fic, sure, and tell their friends where they can get their own copy.

This is all highly speculative.  I’ll let it go at that for now.  But trust me, it’s something I’m thinking about.


1 Comment

  1. Mark Leslie said,

    It’s not all that speculative as you might think, Matt. My bookstore (Titles McMaster University Bookstore — owns an Espresso Book Machine 1.5 (, and to be honest, setting up a system such as you suggest isn’t all that hard to do. The biggest trick is finding the time to set something like that up — because the minute you acquire an EBM, you spend half your days not just fielding requests for special orders, but also working with a ton of local authors who have been dying to publish their work and now have an affordable way of doing it, with, as you say, a minimum print quantity of 1 (or, 0 if they prefer).

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