SO AN AUTHOR WRITING FOR a Marxist rag in the UK doesn’t want to acknowledge the legitimacy of fan fiction. He wants to claim that, no matter how well the writer has filed off the serial numbers (Heinlein), an artist who has “stolen” (Picasso) the notion of a work from some other artist is somehow delegitimized if self-appointed critical experts can claim to detect the line of derivation.
That amounts to a re-statement of Obambi’s “You didn’t build that”
Ideas are not copyrightable. Period. End of discussion. What is copyrightable is the particular expression of an idea. Persiflagists may try to claim it’s a gray area, where it’s hard to discern the line between originality and plagiarism (and thus, I suppose, requires their special expertise to detect), but it’s not. Plagiarism begins when you put two words in a row in the same manner and circumstances as someone else has done it before you. What may be a gray area is when it becomes reprehensible — where that dividing line may be found. There you may make a distinction between the perfectly normal — even praiseworthy — “theft” alluded to by Picasso, with the proper amount of serial-number-filing having been done, and outright malappropriation of another’s work.
But, for the most part, fan fiction isn’t in it. In fact, I would argue that a great deal of what is discouraged by copyright holders as infringement is not. But they generally have the deep pockets and big guns and can, to a certain extent, muscle the smaller fish out of commercial exploitation of “their” ideas. But, by all reports, 50 Shades is “thinly-veiled. If so, the veil covers a multitude of sins, and the weight of the fabric is of no moment — it is a new work and, morally at least, must be judged as wholly original.
And, I suspect, that Stephanie Meyer knows that it hasn’t really done Twilight any harm, and, indeed, may enhance the brand.
Me, I’m thinking about writing my own NC-17 versions of the Dolly stories. That is, if I can keep the “real” stories PG, a problematic proposition at best.