If there's one thing that I can say got brought up over and over and over again during my writing seminars at Dragon*Con...it is, sadly, 50 Shades of Grey.
I think I probably should have expected this, but maybe a part of me - a very large part - hoped that we could, I don't know, rise above. I didn't like the Twilight series, and I know where 50 Shades came from, so I've always known that the chances of me reading it are, well, slim to nil. Especially as the more I hear about it, the more it seems to glorify abusive relationships even more than the Twilight series does.
But I digress - because while this post is in a way about 50 Shades of Grey, it's also...not. About it, I mean. Or at least, not about its content.
During one of those now-infamous (to my few regular blog readers, anyway...haha) Dragon*Con seminars/panels, it was mentioned that although 50 Shades of Grey was originally written as an alternate-universe fanfiction using Stephenie Meyer's characters, it is not and never was copyright infringement. Now, I'm not completely versed on the ins and outs of copyright infringement, so please don't ask me exactly why it isn't that. The point of this discussion wasn't to delve into how far fan fiction has to go to be copyright infringement, but rather the light that the publishing of 50 Shades has shone on fan fiction as a whole. On the very idea of it, and on the legal boundaries that it pushes (to say nothing of the boundaries it pushes with existing characters and story lines that other authors have created - I still can't help but cringe when I hear the term "Snarry", and if I were you I would not Google that, trust me).
You see, despite not being able to call 50 Shades copyright infringement, the fact of the matter is that it was written as fan fiction. The author took the story down from all of the free fan fiction websites, as well as from her own website, changed her characters' names from Edward and Bella and Jacob to Christian and Anastasia and Jose, and has since made oodles of money off 50 Shades and its two sequels. (Thankfully she didn't seem to have to make many changes to the stories themselves; as they are "AU's" there were apparently enough differences between the two series for 50 Shades' origins to be brushed aside.)
Now, in the vast world(s) of fandom(s) there is a sort of "unspoken rule" that fan fiction authors do not do what they do to make money. They do it for fun; they do it for their love of the characters and stories they emulate. And is the rule about not making money really, completely, unspoken? Because almost every fan fiction piece out there has a disclaimer on it; most of the time these disclaimers say things along the lines of "I don't own any of this, it all came from the great mind of [insert original author's name here]". And many, many times these disclaimers also say that the fan fiction writer is not doing this for any sort of compensation or personal gain.
As I mentioned above, 50 Shades of Grey shines a light on fan fiction as a whole - and that light is not good. There are already authors out there who speak out against fan fiction - Anne Rice is vehemently against it, for instance, and George R. R. Martin has made it clear that he thinks it's a waste of time and wishes people wouldn't write Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones-based fan fiction. I'm not going to give my opinion just now because honestly my opinion on fan fiction as a whole doesn't much matter; I'm not a published author [yet? ;)]. But is it possible that 50 Shades of Grey could cause just as many - if not more - problems for the publishing industry, should copyright laws be revisited in response to all of these new questions?
It's certainly something to think about - and to possibly be concerned about, whether you are a fan fiction writer who wants to keep doing what you do for fun, not profit, or whether you are an aspiring author who is worried about protecting your own original work.