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Master of the Universe versus Fifty Shades by E.L James Comparison


On Saturday, March 10, 2012, New York Times reported that Vintage, a literary imprint of Random House, had won the rights to republish on a large scale the ebook bestseller trilogy: 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Darker, and 50 Shades of Freed. The first in the series was number 1 on the combined ebook bestseller list with the second at No. 15 and the third at No. 21 according to the March 11, 2012, NY Times bestseller list. The series has sold over 250,000 copies according to its former publisher, Australian outfit The Writer’s Coffee Shop which specializes in selling fan fiction.

Vintage, a division of Random House, has come forward and asserted that the 50 Shades series is wholly original fiction and that the author has warranted it is original fiction, deviating substantially from the original fan fiction known as Master of the Universe.

As numerous reports have outlined, 50 SHADES OF GREY grew out of a multi-part series of fan fiction called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, based on Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT novels, that James (a pseudonym for London-based television executive Erika Leonard) published online between 2009 and 2011 in various venues, including and her own website. When she contracted with Writers Coffee Shop in early 2011 to publish the works, lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations, James took the fan fiction versions offline.

Vintage issued a statement to the AP Saturday defending 50 SHADES as an original work, and said to us that James had warranted the books were, indeed original. Messitte added she was “aware of the narrative that [50 SHADES] started as differently titled piece of fiction, but that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” A request for comment from Meyer’s agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, was not responded to at press time.

I clarified with the writer of this piece that Vintage was saying that Master of the Universe and Fifty Shades were two distinct pieces of fiction.  In the Washington Post, Vintage is quoted as reaffirming this position:

Vintage defended “50 Shades” as an original creation with a passionate following.

“It is widely known that E.L James began to capture a following as a writer shortly after she posted her second fan fiction story,” Vintage said in a statement. “She subsequently took that story and re-wrote the work, with new characters and situations. That was the beginning of the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy. The great majority of readers, including fan fiction aficionados, have found ‘Fifty Shades’ deeply immersive and incredibly satisfying.”

It is well known amongst the fan fiction and romance reading community that 50 Shades series was originally released as Master of the Universe. The names are changed from the original alternate universe fan fiction (AU) and a few details such as eye color and hair color, but the text of 50 Shades is largely that which was in the original fan fiction, Master of the Universe.  (See the primer)

Percentage Comparison

We ran 50 Shades and the Master of the Universe fan fiction through three comparison engines. This was the result:

Via Yoshikoder, we weighed word comparisons.

Word Appearance in MOTU Appearance in 50 %age in MOTU %age in 50
swan 113 0 0.001731482 0
steele 0 148 0 0.001692744
isabella 148 0 0.002267782 0
anastasia 0 217 0 0.002481929
rose 212 3 0.003248445 3.43124E-05
kate 1 272 1.53229E-05 0.003110989
cullen 211 0 0.003233122 0
grey 12 267 0.000183874 0.003053802
christian 0 405 0 0.004632171
edward 281 0 0.004305722 0
bella 109 0 0.001670191 0
ana 0 135 0 0.001544057
esme 4 0 6.12914E-05 0
grace 3 9 4.59686E-05 0.000102937

Using Diff Doc, we have this as an example. It is the beginning of Chapter Two:

  Double crap – me and my two left feet!  I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr Cullen’s Mr. Grey’s  office, and gentle hands are around me helping to pull me up. to stand.  I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy Crow, cow –  he’s so young… young.

“Miss Hale…” Kavanagh.”  he extends a long-fingered hand to me, me  once I’m stood. upright.  “I’m Edward Cullen. Christian Grey.  Are you all right? Would you like to sit?”

 He’s so young… young –  and attractive. attractive,  Very attractive. He’s  Tall, dressed in a fine grey gray  suit, white shirt shirt,  and black tie with unruly bronze dark copper colored  hair and intense, bright green gray  eyes that regard me shrewdly.

   “Err… actually,” It takes a moment for me to find my voice, and voice.

   “Um. Actually-”  I think my mouth has plopped open in astonishment. mutter.  If this guy is over thirty then I’m a monkey’s uncle… uncle. In a daze,  I extend place  my hand to him in a daze, his  and we shake. As our fingers touch touch,  I feel a strange current go an odd exhilarating shiver run  through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, and embarrassed. Must be static.  I can feel myself blinking… blink  rapidly, my eyelids  matching my heart rate.


We processed 50 Shades as a student paper against another student paper (MoTU).  According to Turnitin, the similarity index was 89%.  There are whole swaths of text wherein just the names were changed from MoTU to 50 Shades.  Click on the thumbnail for an example.  The red is the text that is the same in both pieces.

Turnitin comparison

Textual Comparison

Randomly I selected passages from the Fifty trilogy and searched MOTU for comparison. Here are some selected comparison.

Fifty Shades of Grey

MoTU I Fifty Shades of Grey
There‘s a knock at the door and Blond Number Two enters. “Mr Cullen, forgive me for interrupting but your next meeting is in two minutes. There’s a knock at the door, and Blonde Number Two enters. “Mr. Grey, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes.
As I leave the city limits behind me I begin to feel foolish and embarrassed. Surely I‘m over-reacting to something that I‘m imagining…. Okay, so he‘s very attractive, confident, commanding, so at ease with himself. But on the flip side he‘s also arrogant, and in spite of his impeccable manners, he‘s very autocratic, and cold… well on the surface, and an involuntary shiver runs down my spine. He may be arrogant but then he‘s accomplished so much at such a young age, and I can tell he doesn‘t suffer fools gladly, why should he? I am irritated again that Rose didn‘t give me a brief biography. As I leave the city limits behind, I begin to feel foolish and embarrassed as I replay the interview in my mind. Surely, I’m overreacting to something that’s imaginary. Okay, so he’s very attractive, confident, commanding, at ease with himself – but on the flip side, he’s arrogant, and for all his impeccable manners, he’s autocratic and cold. Well, on the surface. An involuntary shiver runs down my spine. He may be arrogant, but then he has a right to be – he’s accomplished so much at such a young age. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but why should he? Again, I’m irritated that Kate didn’t give me a brief biography.
“What about our arrangement?””We don’t have an arrangement yet.”He narrows his eyes at me, then seems to remember himself. Releasing my hand, he takes my elbow and leads me out of the room. “This conversation is not over,” he whispers threateningly as we enter the dining room. Oh crapola, don‘t get your panties in such a twist… and give me back mine. I glare at him.The dining room reminds me of our private dinner at the Heathman. A crystal chandelier hangs over the dark wood table and there‘s a massive, ornately carved mirror on the wall. The table is laid and covered with a large linen table cloth, a bowl of pale pink peonies as the centre piece. It‘s quite stunning, and then I remember Edward mentioning that Esme was an interior designer. “What about our arrangement””We don’t have an arrangement yet.” He narrows his eyes, and then seems to remember himself. Releasing my hand, he takes my elbow and leads me out of the room. “This conversation is not over,” he whispers threateningly as we enter the dining room. Oh, crapola. Don’t get your panties in such a twist… and give me back mine. I glare at him.The dining room reminds me of our private dinner at the Heathman. A crystal chandelier hangs over the dark wood table and there’s a massive, ornately carved mirror on the wall. The table is laid and covered with a crisp white linen tablecloth, a bowl of pale pink peonies as the centerpiece. It’s stunning.
Edward, embarrassed or frustrated by the lavish attention I‘m receiving from the remaining Cullens, grabs my hand and pulls me to his side.”Well let‘s not frighten her away or spoil her with too much affection,” he grumbles.”Oh Edward, stop teasing.” Esme scolds him indulgently, her eyes glowing with love and affection for him. Somehow I don‘t think he‘s teasing. I surreptitiously watch their interaction. It‘s obvious Esme adores him, with a mother’s unconditional love. He bends and kisses her stiffly. Christian, embarrassed or frustrated by the lavish attention I’m receiving from the remaining Greys, grabs my hand and pulls me to his side.”Let’s not frighten her away or spoil her with too much affection,” he grumbles.”Christian, stop teasing.” Grace scolds him indulgently, her eyes glowing with love and affection for him. Somehow, I don’t think he’s teasing. I surreptitiously watch their interaction. It’s obvious Grace adores him with a mother’s unconditional love. He bends and kisses her stiffly
The apartment is achingly empty and unfamiliar. I have not lived here long enough for it to feel like home. I head straight to my room and there, hanging limply at the end of my bed, is a very sad deflated helicopter balloon. Echo Charlie, looking and feeling exactly like me. I grab it angrily off my bedrail, snapping the tie, and hug it to me. Oh, what have I done? I fall onto my bed, shoes and all, and howl. The pain is indescribable… physical, mental, metaphysical… it is everywhere, seeping into the marrow of my bones. Grief, this is grief, and I‘ve brought it on myself. Deep down, a nasty unbidden thought comes from my inner goddess, her lip curled in a snarl. The physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation. I curl up, desperately clutching the flat foil balloon and Taylor‘s handkerchief, and surrender myself to my grief. The apartment is achingly empty and unfamiliar. I have not lived here long enough for it to feel like home. I head straight to my room, and there, hanging limply at the end of my bed, is a very sad, deflated helicopter balloon. Charlie Tango, looking and feeling exactly like me. I grab it angrily off my bedrail, snapping the tie, and hug it to me. Oh – what have I done? I fall onto my bed, shoes and all, and howl. The pain is indescribable… physical, mental… metaphysical… it is everywhere, seeping into the marrow of my bones. Grief. This is grief – and I’ve brought it on myself. Deep down, a nasty, unbidden thought comes from my inner goddess, her lip curled in a snarl… the physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation. I curl up, desperately clutching the flat foil balloon and Taylor’s handkerchief, and surrender myself to my grief

50 Shades of Darker

MOTU I 50 Shades of Darker
I have survived Day Two Post Edward, and my first day at work. It has been a welcome distraction. The time has flown by in a haze of new faces, work to do and Mr. James Smith. He smiles down at me, his dark blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk.”Excellent work, Bella. I think we‘re going to make a great team.” He beams at me, knowingly.Somehow, I manage to curl my lips upwards in a semblance of a smile. I have survived Day Three Post-Christian, and my first day at work. It has been a welcome distraction. The time has flown by in a haze of new faces, work to do, and Mr. Jack Hyde. Mr. Jack Hyde… he smiles down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk.”Excellent work, Ana. I think we’re going to make a great team.”Somehow, I manage to curl my lips upward in a semblance of a smile.
I awake with a jolt. My head is fuzzy and I am too warm. Edward is wrapped around me. He grumbles in his sleep as I slip out of his arms, but he doesn’t wake. I sit up and glance at the radio alarm… three in the morning. I need an Advil, and a drink. I swing my legs out of bed and make my way up the hallway towards the great room.In the fridge I find a carton of orange juice and pour myself a long glass. Hmm… it’s delicious, and my fuzzy head eases immediately. I awake with a jolt. My head is fuzzy and I’m too warm. Christian is wrapped around me like a vine. He grumbles in his sleep as I slip out of his arms, but he doesn’t wake. Sitting up I glance at the alarm clock. It’s three in the morning. I need an Advil and a drink. I swing my legs out of bed and make my way to the kitchen in the great room.In the fridge, I find a carton of orange juice and pour myself a glass. Hmm… it’s delicious, and my fuzzy head eases immediately. I hunt through the cupboards looking for some painkillers and eventually come across a plastic box full of meds. I sink two Advil and pour myself another orange juice.
He chuckles mirthlessly, then winces. Fuck, his ribs. Still sore from the swift kicking Cullen’s henchman delivered. He replays the scene in his mind.”You fucking touch Miss Swan again, I’ll fucking kill you.” That c___ will get it good, too. Yeah – get what’s coming to him.He settles back in the car seat. Looks like it’s going to be a long night. He’ll stay and watch and wait. He takes another toke of his Marlboro red. His chance will come. His chance will come soon. He chuckles mirthlessly, then winces. Fuck, his ribs. Still sore from the swift kicking Grey’s henchman delivered. He replays the scene in his mind.”You fucking touch Miss Steele again, I’ll fucking kill you.” That m__f__ will get it good, too. Yeah—get what’s coming to him.He settles back in his seat. Looks like it’s going to be a long night. He’ll stay, watch, and wait. He takes another toke of his Marlboro red. His chance will come. His chance will come soon.

50 Shades of Freed

MOTU II 50 Shades of Freed
I stare up through gaps in the seagrass parasol at the bluest of skies, Mediterranean blue… I can‘t help my contented sigh. Edward is beside me, stretched out on a sun lounger. My husband – my hot, beautiful husband, shirtless and in cut-off jeans – is reading a book predicting the collapse of the Western banking system. By all accounts it‘s a page-turner… I haven‘t seen him sit this still, ever. He looks more like a student than the hotshot CEO of one the US‘s top privately owned companies. I stare up through gaps in the sea grass parasol at the bluest of skies, summer blue, Mediterranean blue with a contented sigh. Christian is beside me, stretched out on a sun lounger. My husband—my hot, beautiful husband, shirtless, and in cut-off jeans—is reading a book predicting the collapse of the Western banking system. By all accounts it’s a page-turner; I haven’t seen him sit this still, ever. He looks more like a student than the hotshot CEO of one the top privately owned companies in the United States.
“You confound me, Mrs Cullen,” he murmurs.”Confound you?” He shifts so that we‘re face to face.”Yes. You. Calling the shots. It‘s… different.””Good different? Or bad different?” I reach up and trail a finger over his lips. His brow furrows, as if he doesn‘t quite understand the question. Absentmindedly he purses his lip to kiss my finger. “You confound me, Mrs. Grey.””Confound you?”He shifts so that we’re face to face. “Yes. You. Calling the shots. It’s… different.””Good different? Or bad different?” I reach up and trail a finger over his lips. His brow furrows, as if he doesn’t quite understand the question. Absentmindedly, he purses his lips to kiss my finger.
“Well, fact is I saw it when your BlackBerry fell out of your jacket. While I was undressing you because you were too drunk to undress yourself. Do you have any idea how much you‘ve hurt me, going to see that woman?”He pales momentarily but I‘m on a roll, my inner bitch unleashed. “Do you remember last night when you came home? Remember what you said?” He gazes at me, green eyes blazing hot, the rest of his face frozen.”Well, you were right. I do choose this defenseless baby over you. That‘s what any loving parent does. That‘s what your mother should have done for you. “Well, fact is I saw it when your BlackBerry fell out of your jacket while I was undressing you because you were too drunk to undress yourself. Do you have any idea how much you’ve hurt me by going to see that woman?”He pales momentarily, but I’m on a roll, my inner bitch unleashed. “Do you remember last night when you came home? Remember what you said?”He stares at me blankly, his face frozen. “Well, you were right. I do choose this defenseless baby over you. That’s what any loving parent does. That’s what your mother should have done for you.
“So you want to play?” he murmurs.”Yes.” He says nothing, and I risk a quick glance… up his jeans, his denim clad thighs, the soft bulge at his fly, the open button at the waist, his happy trail, his navel, his chiseled abdomen, his chest hair… his green eyes blazing, and his head cocked to one side. He‘s arching an eyebrow. Oh shit.”Yes what?” he whispers.Oh. “Yes, Sir.”His eyes darken and my breath hitches.  “Good girl,” he murmurs, and he caresses my head. “I think we‘d better get you upstairs, now,” he adds. My insides liquefy and my belly clenches in that delicious way.
Oh I love this man: my husband, my lover, father of my child, my sometimes Dominant… my Fifty Shades.
“So you want to play?” he murmurs. “Yes.”He says nothing, and I risk a quick glance . . . up his jeans, his denim clad thighs, the soft bulge at his fly, the open button at the waist, his happy trail, his navel, his chiseled abdomen, his chest hair, his gray eyes blazing, and his head cocked to one side. He’s arching an eyebrow. Oh shit.”Yes what?” he whispers.Oh. “Yes, Sir.”His eyes soften. “Good girl,” he murmurs, and he caresses my head.  “I think we’d better get you upstairs now,” he adds. My insides liquefy, and my belly clenches in that delicious way.  He takes my hand and I follow him through the apartment and up the stairs. Outside the playroom door, he halts and bends and kisses me gently before grasping my hair hard.“”You know, you’re topping from the bottom,” he murmurs against my lips.

“What?” I don’t understand what he’s talking about.

The epilogue appears to be completely new fiction not represented in the original fan fiction. The MOTU I & II contains several extra scenes.


Vintage says of MOTU and 50 Shades, “they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” Turnitin says they are 89% the same.

With the success of Alternate Universe fan fiction and the successful leveraging of that fandom into seven figure economic rewards, the influx of fan fiction into professional publishing is likely to begin at greater levels than previous. Some publishers give public guides as to how to disguise one’s fan fiction.  St. Martin’s Press is publishing books that are being marketed as an homage to the Brady Bunch. I think its important, if we go down this route, that provenance is stated. It’s no different than the “First Publication” markers on prolific authors like Nora Roberts. It’s an indicator to readers that they may have encountered this before and it gives the fandom that propelled the author to success a nod. At the very least its courteous. At the most, its truthful advertising.

DA will be presenting a series of posts on fan fiction as a creative form, the fan fiction community, and the legal and ethical issues involved in reworking fan fiction. We will be posting those in the coming days, and we would love for our readers to join the discussion. We’ll be hosting interviews with a legal scholar who has also written fan fiction and is committed to supporting the creative endeavors of the community, as well as with authors and other participants in the community.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Karen Scott
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 04:20:42

    So basically it’s the same book with different character names. Have you written to Vintage with your findings?

  2. Cory
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 04:29:16

    I didn’t think they were that similar until I read this post. 89% for an essay against another would get you kicked out of class in college. But with a fan fic you retitled, the reward is a publishing contract. Wow. I guess I should dig up my old twifanfics and give them a polish through find and replace with a few new chapters.

    Why would people pay for this when they could just get it for free in fanfic form? Don’t publishers do any research when they pick up novels? Don’t they have a system of ethics? Or is it just about the money?

  3. 50 Days of 50 Shades | Books in the News
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 05:21:00

    […] a book that began as fanfic ever diverged from the original enough to qualify as original work. DearAuthor is running a comparison of both Master of the Universe and 50 Shades of Grey to test Vintage's assertion that 50 Shades […]

  4. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:05:26

    @Cory: Allow me to answer your questions with questions.
    Why do people pay to buy published, bound books by Cory Doctorow when they can download them for free from the internet with the author’s blessing?
    Why do you consider it unethical for a publisher to choose to publish books they think will sell? It is actually their job. Publishing sometimes (often) involves re-publishing, nothing new there.

    There’s no copyright or trademark infringement involved in a fanfic AU (well, probably depending on the AU, but in this case it seems pretty clear – no one owns vampires / in any case, illegality of these proceedings would have to be clearly asserted by a court, and it hasn’t) with the numbers filed off, and the author IS the owner of their text. Which gives them the right to sell the rights, and a publisher the right to buy them off and publish the thing, as has happened.

  5. Keziah Hill
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:13:11

    But @anatsuno this looks like straight out plagiarism.

  6. Meri
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:19:22

    One reaction that many fans seem to have is “I don’t see the similarities to Twilight, so clearly it’s an original work” (this seems to be a common sentiment on AAR, for instance). Because clearly if *you* can’t see the difference, there are no ethical concerns? Seriously? I’m not sure people really get what fan fiction is and what kinds of writing fanfic authors do.

    I don’t begrudge fanfic authors their success if they use fanfic to hone their craft and build connections before moving on to writing original works. But what E.L. James has done goes well beyond that, and it make me personally very uncomfortable. As you analysis shows, the similarities between the fanfic and the published version are such that it can’t be considered original work.

    I think a series on fan fiction is a very good idea, and I look forward to the non-50 Shades portions of it.

  7. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:20:02

    I find DA’s proposition about marking/signalling provenance interesting, but I’m not sure I’d even want to see that be mandatory (not that it would be logistically possible, etc, I know we’re discussing about changing/evolving social customs & industry mores here) – it hasn’t always been mndatory in the past for any other form of fiction, has it ?

    If/when a publisher is okay with making a book out of material that’s already been published elsewhere in another form, I don’t see why we should throw a wrench in the process by demanding to know the exact breeding pedigree of the text. I mean, we’re all welcome to do what has been done here (examining the two versions, etc) – and I do find it ridiculous that the author/publisher end up defensively lying about the similarity… But I mostly blame it on the fact that we operate in myopic waters where Asserting Originality is Necessary Or Else, as originality is elevated to The Ultimate Marker of Artistic Value. But there is a difference between the present situation, in which the public has the right and possibility to compare texts and report/criticize and a situation in which we’d find it normal to *demand* that provenance be established for everything all the time.

    Actually, thinking of it more, I think part of what rubs me the wrong way about this provenance-tracking idea is that it plays into the trope of Originality by elevating the concept of Origin even higher (as well as the idea of Transparency as a thing that authors owe us – I do think plagiarism is a big issue, but I’m not convinced I am Owed Transparency). And that’s not a notion I wish to reinforce.

    Anyway. I look forward to your series on fanfic and going pro. Sorry for abusing caps! Hope this isn’t too muddled.

  8. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:29:44

    @Keziah Hill: Excuse me? plagiarism of who and what? Someone wrote a story, then published it on the internet. Afterwards they took it off the internet, edited it, and found a publisher. Who plagiarized who? Are you arguing that because the story started its life as fanfic of Twilight, it somehow plagiarizes Twilight? I think you need to read up on plagiarism and on fanfic both, because that’s… very very wrong. If you were talking about copyright infringement I’d still disagree but the legal waters would be more murky, but plagiarism? No.

    Or, in short: [citation needed]

  9. NCKat
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:33:27

    Actually, I think she took any fan fiction she had posted down; I understand that’s a requirement if you get your work published. Another fan fiction writer who’s made it is Cassandra Clare, whose HP fan fiction was enormously popular in the HP fandom and writes the Clockwork fantasy series.

  10. SarahF
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:34:37

    @Keziah Hill: Just to be clear, Keziah, Masters of the Universe was written by E.L. James and published on fan fiction websites for free. She then took it off the net, changed the names from Twilight names, and republished it with Writers Coffee Shop for profit and has now sold it (them, really) to Vintage. So there’s no plagiarism of MotU here. The issue is — if there is an issue — is that MotU was Twilight FF, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish from plagiarism.

  11. Karen Scott
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:37:56

    @Anatsuno Don’t you think that fanfic should work in the same way as it does for music sampling? Every time an artist produces a song and uses a beat, a tune, lyrics etc, that came from somebody else’s endeavour, they have to give props and pay the original artist accordingly.

  12. Kaetrin
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:40:08

    Without buying into the rest of the debate (I haven’t read Twilight, MOTU or the 50 series and I’m not planning to do so), to be fair, I saw the recent update to the post regarding fan fiction by a DSP editor (as per link above) as Dreamspinner distancing themselves from her original post (I wouldn’t be surprised if in fact it came about as a result of a direction from DSP). I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to say that it was the publisher that was issuing instructions on how to file the numbers off fanfic. Just my two cents.

  13. Jia
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:45:21

    Let’s not forget that Dianne Sylvan’s Queen of Shadows began its life as Vampire Diaries fanfic. So it’s not like filing off the serial numbers from fanfic and then retooling it to original work hasn’t be done before. But I do think there’s a murky area when it comes to the “retooling” bit. How much is necessary? How much is enough?

  14. Keziah Hill
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:49:10

    You’re totally right @antsuno. I’m completely confused. Am taking my exploding head away now.

  15. Meri
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:52:21

    Claire’s not publishing her fanfic stuff, though, is she? I remember the Very Secret Diaries she wrote about the LotR films, that was funny – and much better written than 50 Shades.

    @Karen Scott:
    That strikes me as a good way of approaching it.

  16. KT Grant
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:53:45

    Vintage probably knows and doesn’t care. How can their legal department not investigate further? But again they don’t care because Fifty Shades has exploded and is making money like you wouldn’t believe. Traditional publishing is foaming at the mouth to publish 50 Shades because they need the revenue. And it’s not illegal right? Unethical yes, but unless the author gets sued by the author of the original work, more fan fiction is going to be published unless there is a massive law suit

    I can’t believe how much Twilight fan fiction has been published and everyone seems proud of the fact! One of my favorite books from last year by Alice Clayton was once Twilight fan fiction and I had no idea. And The Forbidden Room by JP Barnaby!

    I can’t believe S. Meyer isn’t aware of this. She has to and if not she’s going to know soon because people close to her, her agent, Little Brown and Company and her fans are going to tell her. I wonder if she’s even meeting with her legal team at this moment?

  17. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:54:56

    I’m a bit confused by the statement from Vintage. They say that the work was ‘lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations’ but also ‘that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work’. Which of those do they actually think is correct? Or do they believe that merely changing names and places constitutes creation of a separate piece of work? In which case I’ll be submitting to them my ‘lightly rewritten’ book, ‘Garry Plotter and the Sorceress’s Stone’. I’m sure it will be a huge success.

  18. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:57:14

    @Meri: Cassandra Claire’s fanfic may have been well-written, but not actually by her:

  19. Meri
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 06:59:08

    I didn’t know that – definitely not cool.

  20. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:10:39

    @Karen Scott: A beat, a tune, lyrics etc. are all “expression of ideas”. Expression of ideas is what’s covered by copyright, not ideas themselves (because that is unworkable). So no, I don’t think people should be paying for having been inspired by Twilight, if all that remains of Twilight in their inspired story is ‘a vampire and a teenager fall in love’ or ‘there are vampires in the world’ or whatever. Who would SMeyer be paying for inspiring her? Anne Rice? And who would Anne Rice be paying? And when / where / how would the chain stop? Should everyone who writes about vampires end up paying money to Bram Stoker’s descendants? Culture cannot operate like this. There is, imo, such a thing as creating too many roadblocks to the normal replication and circulation of ideas.

    Now, I also happen to have opinions about the type of automatic licensing you mention in music applying to fanfic-that-remains-fanfic, but I don’t think this discussion would be appropriate here and now, when we’re talking about what’s basically now original pro-fic (since the numbers *were* filed off).

  21. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:14:48

    Forgive me for being thick, but even if work was practically the same, what is the issue? I do not understand from the article.

    If it´s about somebody removing something and then put it up for sale, well, no I do not think it wrong, just like when somebody puts an ebook free for a day or a promo and then puts the price up again.

    If it´s about plagiarism, a person can not plagiarize themselves.

    If it´s about a published work having started as fanfic, I think it being alternate universe fanfic makes a huge difference. Alternate universe fanfic with character names filed off, what where is the evil in that? I am do not read fanfic, btw, not sure I get why people write alternate universe fanfiction, are the original characters meant to be inspiration? or does AU fanfic gets you more readers, more critique, more support than writing original fiction? I am honestly curious.

    I Will put up another disclaimer, I have not read these books either. Just not sure what is the big scoop that this article is about.

  22. Merrian
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:15:37

    In my understanding (which means I don’t really know much) isn’t one of the key fan fiction issues not only the copyright/fair use question that lies between an original work and a fan fiction creation but that the ‘pulled for publication’ piece is taking with it and is often based on the conventions that have arisen in the fandom such as mannerisms of characters, styles of writing, etc. along with the engaged critical response of fans to works that have often been published serially?

    In the case of MOTU/Fifty Shades it is this that is clearly in question as much as the ties to Twilight. So for me it is actually risking spinning off at a tangent to focus on what is similar or not (except in that Vintage and the author of Fifty Shades has made claims about original work). That feels like a separate discussion to me.

    What we risk missing is considering and building some consensus about what is fair use and what is the ethical way of going about using fan fiction outside the realms of creating and making it because work that arises in fandom’s often has a collaborative and shared conception.

    I am wondering if a fair comparison for the purpose of discussion is between Georgette Heyer’s seminal stories and the Regency Paradigm inhabited by romance novels set in the period from the 1811 to 1820. The key differences are that the debt to Heyer is generally acknowledged as is hers to Jane Austen and the novels are not crowd sourced in the same way.

  23. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:16:27

    @KT Grant: Again, I have to ask, can you please substantiate your claim that it is unethical? It’s difficult to have a discussion when people assume that we all already agree on every point… I suggest a look-see here if you want an idea why *I* do not assume fanfiction is unethical, both when reworked in such a way that makes it legal to publish (so that money-making becomes possible) and when published for free with attached “provenance” on the internet.

  24. SG1Padawan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:18:35

    @KTGrant: Why would S Meyer be meeting with her legal team? The thing with so much of the recent Twilight fanfiction (including MOTU) is that it’s commonly called “AUAH” – Alternate Universe All Human. Add to that, MANY of the stories (and I’m assuming MOTU is one of them) is also ridiculously OOC from what S Meyer’s characters were in the Twilight books.

    TBH, the only similarities between S Meyer’s creations and the characters in Twific is this:
    * The character names
    * The physical descriptions (although, even that can get changed up!)

    It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a while that people can actually pass off what is essentially their original fiction as Twilight fanfiction simply because they use the names Edward, Bella, Cullen, etc!

  25. Vic
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:35:10

    When Masters was uploaded to fanfic there was a clear disclaimer that it was ‘not for profit Twilight fanfiction’ fanfiction is derivative/transformative work, some authors allow it others don’t. The irritant here is that Masters was pulled to publish on the back of vast amounts of reviews and has now been published as original for profit fanfiction. From what I can gather the Twi fandom is up in arms about this and if Meyer gets wind there could be legal ramifications not to mention that fanfic will pull Twi fic.

  26. KT Grant
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:42:45

    SG1: it seems to be a hot button issue for some that James has taken her former Twilight fan fic and published it. I thought it was an unspoken rule that a writer shouldn’t profit from fan fic they’ve written? Maybe it isn’t unethical but if not then why are some upset James has published MOTU in 50 Shades?

  27. Anna Bowling
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:45:11

    While I have read neither the Fifty Shades books nor Masters of the Universe, I’m very interested in following this series on fanfiction. I teach an online workshop titled From Fanfiction to Fantastic Fiction, which is about using one’s favored fandoms as inspiration, not imitation. While fanfiction is a fun hobby for many, original fiction is a different pursuit, and has different concerns.

  28. Las
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:47:40

    I haven’t and won’t read 50 Shades… and based on the one paragraph I read I think Twilight is awful. And I’ve never had any interest in fanfic. That said, I really have no idea what the issue is here. Is it the fact that 50 was originally free and now you have to pay to read it? Is it that it was originally fanfic and therefore it automatically must be bad even though it’s a completely different story than Twilight? How is that different from assuming anything in the romance genre must suck? Hell, one can argue that the historical romance subgenre started out as fanfic of Pride and Prejudice. And that every Regency romance written today is fanfic of Georgette Heyer.

    Honestly, I think you’re grasping at straws here.

  29. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:54:08

    @Karen Scott: I did email them yesterday, but not with my findings. They weren’t done until last night, but my email questioned the difference between the two. I’ve not heard back.

    @anatsuno: The legalities of AU isn’t entirely clear. Disney was successful in preventing the publication of AU fiction when its characters were placed in adult situations. The case did involve graphical depictions of the Disney characters and graphical depictions have historically had more protections than straight up literary fiction characters. I don’t think 50 Shades is infringement of Twilight but there are similarities beyond the names and physical descriptions (which could, in some courts, be sufficient).

    @anatsuno: I’m not sure how acknowledging provenance elevates the original and even if it does, what’s wrong with that? Why not give acknowledgment to the original piece?

    @Karen Scott: I don’t know if you recall but I wrote about licensing and fan fiction back in 2009.

    @Ros: The only statement that Vintage made were that the works were two distinct ones. The “lightly reworked” sentence came from the publishers’ marketplace reporting.

    @T: The issue is a) testing the accuracy of Vintage’s statement; b) debating whether 50 Shades needs to be original fan fiction and c) discussing the metes and bounds of legal and ethical nature of fan fiction.

  30. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:58:02

    Plagiarism is copying significant passages with enough significant similarities from somebody else. I don’t think you can be sued for copying from yourself. At least I hope so, because I’ve heavily rewritten two earlier books to be published by a new publisher (“Rubies of Fire” and “Diamonds of Ice”).
    My only problem would be if the writer had copied significant chunks of the Twilight books, and as far as I know, she hasn’t.
    Using the same tropes over and over again is one way of getting into character, rather than plot. That’s one reason Harlequin category lines use the same tropes over and over. The Big Misunderstanding, the Secret Baby, all those things.
    What does concern me a bit is when a plot is repeated point for point. Wasn’t there a case a few years ago concerning Linda Howard’s “White Lies,” where another author seemed to take the plot, and didn’t just riff with it, but followed it, detail for detail?
    It concerns me as a reader. I just don’t want to read the same book twice, or pay good money for it. If there’s something new, a new take on an old theme, bring it on, but otherwise, come clean and tell me so I can make my own mind up.
    Most authors have more ideas than they will ever write, so as a writer, I find it hard to understand. And none of this is to do with EL James or Stephanie Meyer. I’ve never read either, and I don’t really want to, but good luck to them both, if they’ve done something different with similar themes.

  31. Laura
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 07:58:04

    Seems as though there are a few different issues here:
    1) Would it make more sense to compare “50 Shades of Grey” to “Twilight” not just in terms of characters but plotline, etc.? How much of that is okay?
    2) Is it really unethical? Totally agree with @Merrian here: “What we risk missing is considering and building some consensus about what is fair use and what is the ethical way of going about using fan fiction outside the realms of creating and making it because work that arises in fandom’s often has a collaborative and shared conception.”
    3) Is it unethical of a publisher to turn a work that was previously free online into a paid book? I don’t think so, not if people will pay for it (and a lot of the people reading this book in print/e-book weren’t reading it when it was fan fiction) (but maybe I’m missing something?

  32. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:01:33

    @Las: The issue is to what degree publishers should be transparent about the provenance of the works they are publishing. For instance, in this example, Vintage is claiming that 50 Shades is completely new and original fiction which it is not.

    Further, 50 Shades represents a big departure in what has been previously been verboten particularly within the fan fiction community and that is profiting off fan fiction. The ethical issues surrounding profiting off of fan fiction includes, but is not limited to, the expectations of the community and to what extent the community of fan ficcers would be involved in the shaping of the fiction. Fan fiction pieces like MoTU generate quite a bit of feedback and response. How much of that is represented in the final piece. Would those individuals be involved if they knew that their efforts were going to be the basis of someone else’s profit.

    It’s not easy to compare something like this with Pride and Prejudice because P&P is in the public domain and thus has no copyright protection. Twilight and the series is clearly protected. The use of the characters’ names could invoke, as Courtney Milan pointed out, a right of publicity suit by the actors of the characters. This was done by the actors who played Norm and Cliff. There is the issue of whether characters themselves can be copyrighted (much harder case) and how far from the original canon does a fan fic have to be in order to not be infringement. If AU fan fiction is perfectly legal and ethical, then why even “file off the serial numbers.”

    In sum, I think that there are a number of very interesting legal and ethical questions that the publication of 50 Shades presents not withstanding Vintage’s claim that it is completely original and new fiction from the fan fiction that was previously posted.

  33. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:13:40

    Here is another Vintage statement reported in the Washington Post:

    Vintage defended “50 Shades” as an original creation with a passionate following.

    “It is widely known that E.L James began to capture a following as a writer shortly after she posted her second fan fiction story,” Vintage said in a statement. “She subsequently took that story and re-wrote the work, with new characters and situations. That was the beginning of the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy. The great majority of readers, including fan fiction aficionados, have found ‘Fifty Shades’ deeply immersive and incredibly satisfying.”

  34. Mireya
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:13:58

    Given the fact that it seems like the names would have been pretty much the only thing that would have clued in those readers not familiar with the background of 50 Shades, I would dare say it is original work. The inspiration may have been “Twilight” but from what I have been reading, it does look like the names are pretty much the extent of the “homage” to the “Twilight” series. Personally, I don’t find issue with this for that reason.

    My main issue in this particular case is the persistence on lying about the origin/background of 50 Shades. Why the lies? I do think that in this day and age of internet and the media sticking their noses everywhere, it was bound to come out. Of course, all this being said, I know the reason: $$$$$. Being marketed as original work never published before elsewhere, they definitely were counting on the fact that a good percentage of their target market didn’t even know what fanfic is, and probably still don’t as not everyone that reads (and specially casual readers) goes online.

    Personally, I was not interested on 50 Shades before I found out about its origins. Now, if I decided to check it out, I would be seeking the FREE version, especially since after I read the above it has become rather obvious that the changes between the original fanfic version and the print version are minimal, not to say non-existent. A name change here and there and VOILA! it’s done.

    Either way, as I said before, I do think 50 Shades is original enough. I do believe it’s stupid that the publisher keeps insisting on hiding the origins of the books, but of course, they are (as well as the author) laughing all the way to the bank (or however the saying goes). Obviously they didn’t want people to start seeking the original, FREE version, of course, so they kept the pretense for as long as they could.

  35. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:17:51

    What is so wrong about profiting from things originally started or done as fanfic but which evolved from there? Surely profiting from fan fiction is not OK iff the tie to the original media is included and necessary for that profit? It would be WRONG to profit from fanfic if that profit is dependent on the work of somebody else. But if somebody writes a scene, a chapter, a work for a fanfic which they later file the numbers off so that nobody unaware of the connection detects it, why would it be wrong to profit from it? Just because the original inspiration came from somebody else? The writing, the work is still done by the person profiting. If names and details and universe are all different there is no case of riding off somebody else´s trademark or work. So what is so wrong about profiting from fanfic when you can not tell it started as fanfic? WHY?

    SG1Padawan, that is a very interesting comment! People passing their OF as fanfic. why do you think they do it, to get some attention to their writing? I do not read fanfic, but was so surprised about the concept of AU fanfic (and yeah, seems like a good padding pool for a writer)

  36. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:22:54

    @T I think your comment illustrates some of the conundrum of P2P (pull 2 publish). If there is enough value in the fan fiction community to pass one’s original work off as fiction, then the ethics of that community are implicated. In other words, would the community be willing to support, edit, market a work that they knew would be sold for profit? Because the fan fiction community is predicated on writing not for profit and thus the community assists, supports, beta reads, etc., on a not for profit basis.

  37. Has
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:27:22


    E.L James has used and taken advantage of Twilight fandom, yes she’s got her fans and supporters but overall she’s left a huge wankfest on her road to publication. See here –

    Her AU fic may not share major similarities with Twilight because its not featuring sparkly vampires, but she has used major tropes and elements from the series as well as HQN Presents and 9 and a half weeks. But when you are writing a FF, you are writing for that fandom and the universe which you love, no profit should be made from it because isn’t that is taking advantage and using a fanbase to get a step up. And I do find it interesting that despite Vintage and James downplaying the Twilight FF element – this book is hailed as Twilight for Mommys- why hasn’t James or Vintage or her old publisher The Writers Coffee Shop (well known for epubbing Twilight FF). I think this is going to be a bad thing to the fandom. If she believed in her work and writing why go for that route or play down its a fanfic. And unlike an original fiction writer who has posted their story for free and then removing it for publication, James is unable to do that because that fanfic featured characters from Twilight and old copies are floating online and still being shared out. She should have least did a real rehaul on that fanfic because I think this was pretty short-sighted and lazy and its going to be interesting to see how this pans out.

    I have no issues with an author doing a parody or even using elements from a fanfic but I am not liking the growing trend to turn full fanfic into repackaged books because it feels like those writers are riding the coat-tails of others and it is basically a lazy and easy way to cash in.

  38. Gianisa
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:34:28

    “If it´s about plagiarism, a person can not plagiarize themselves.”

    Just FYI, you can plagiarize from yourself. It’s a problem that I’ve run into in academic papers, simply because most people don’t realize that you should treat your published works the same way you treat other people’s published works.

    For this discussion, technically this fanfiction wasn’t “published” in the conventional sense of the word. People’s opinions on whether repackaging and selling fanfiction as a new novel counts as plagiarising yourself seem to be all over the place. There are a lot of well-known authors who got their start as fanfiction writers, but since it was before the fanfiction communities on the internet work the way they do now, most people don’t know about them (e.g. Lois McMaster Bujold – Shard of Honor started out as Star Trek fanfiction).

    Personally, I think that if the transformation away from the source material is substantial (and I’m not defining what “substantial” means) then the author can claim that it’s a new work (and that seems like what’s going on with 50 Shade of Whatever). But Jane has a point – it’s a bit sketchy that the publisher is claiming that this is a new work when the novels are so similar to the already-out-there fanfiction.

  39. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:34:28

    @T: T, I honestly don’t know whether I can explain why this feels wrong to me, but I’ll try. My first attempts at fiction were fanfic. I wrote it for years before I knew what it was called and before the internet made it popular. Then came Harry Potter. I started posting fanfic excerpts on an HP site and there I made friends and found fellow aspiring writers. Over the years I’ve written in numerous fandoms and now I only write original fiction. All that is to say that I understand fanfic from the inside, as both a writer and a reader of it.

    I cannot imagine ever taking one of my fanfics and rewriting it as original fiction. Not even the ones where I invented my own characters and plots, let alone the ones where I used characters from the source material and imagined them in new situations. Not because I am afraid that I would be breaking copyright – I’m pretty confident I could do a good enough job of the rewriting to avoid that – but because I would be breaking the trust of my fannish readers. Those were the people for whom I wrote, the people who loved the same fandoms I did and wanted more from them. They were the people who encouraged me and gave me feedback and let me do my learning and making mistakes without giving up on me. Those stories were freely offered and I was grateful for every single person who read them, commented on them or recommended them to others. In some way, those stories belong to my early readers as much as they belong to me. I do think that this is a huge difference between the way that fanfic works and the way that published fic works. Readers are much more involved in the process. Feedback comes with every chapter. Writing prompts are set and challenges posed by readers. And so on. It is an interactive process in a way that published writing is not. So if I were a Twilight fan who had read MOTU, I would be feeling seriously betrayed by the author.

    Second, if I had paid money for 50 Shades, and later discovered its origins, I would feel duped. This was a free story, written and developed in an online fan community. Why should I be paying for what so many others read for free?

    So, yeah, I don’t suppose that James or Vintage are doing anything illegal. I do feel quite strongly that James has treated her fans very badly, and that Vintage are being disingenuous to the point of deception in the way that they have claimed this as an original work with no mention of its fandom origins.

  40. Jia
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:40:10

    @T: In some of the larger fandoms, of which Twilight is obviously one, fans are constantly searching for new fics to read. Constantly. The beauty of fic is instant gratification in terms of feedback and comments — especially if you write for a big fandom. That can be really addicting and some writers need those reviews to keep going. It encourages them.

    So that’s one reason why some writers will pass off their original stories as AU fanfic. I guess it’s sort of like pasting the serial numbers on?

  41. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 08:49:00

    @Jane: re: “elevating the original”, we’re having a misunderstanding I think. I didn’t mean that providing clear provenance would ‘elevate the status of the original piece’ the new story is based on (this wouldn’t be a particular issue for me, at all). I meant that provenance-tracking reinforces the idea that Originality is what we place value on, a framework which I find problematic in itself (I think I explained this but I might not have gone into enough detail – the link I provided in another of my comments might help elucidate my position on this). I meant ‘elevating’ the concept, not the actual primary work. But! I am conflicted on this, like I said; it is very possible that on the contrary, if we could make it a customary thing for publishers to track and disclose provenance clearly, it would over time contribute to reduce the value we place on originality by showing how nothing is truly original. Who knows.

    As for “If AU fan fiction is perfectly legal and ethical, then why even “file off the serial numbers.”” one of the answers is: We file the serial numbers off (if and when we think it fair to try to profit from the work of our minds, because that is what writing is) because no ff writer I know is sitting on a pile of gold big enough to guarantee they can see through the legal test case that might help establish if ff is indeed perfectly legal or not. What’s obvious is that it’s no more “perfeclty illegal” than it is “perfectly legal”. It’s perfectly murky.

    As for ethics, clearly my personal ides of ethics differs from many of my contemporaries, both fanfic writers and not, so… It’s not that I think the discussion is uninteresting (at all, or I wouldn’t be here), but I’m not sure we should approach it as if it was obvious we’ll find a common ethical ground, either.

  42. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:13:58

    Jane, Ros, thank you for the replies, that is indeed very interesting! As I said before, I do not read fanfic and am looking at this pretty differently. So this is sort of a fanfic infidelity, breaking some fanfic code of conduct? OK, in the spirit of maybe too much disclosure, while I respect the right of fanfic communities to feel used or mad, I do not *care*nor see the problem. I don´t read fanfic, if somebody is writing something awesome that I might love if it had the numbers filed off, I am all to please, put it in a way I am likely to chance upon it and love it. Even if I have to pay for it (not a huge deal. Like i said, it is a bit like paying for a book or app which was free sometime in the past. I want it now, now is not free, I can decide to not buy or wait for a promo or something).

    Jia, it is very interesting to me. Fanfic as a writing community, a school. I keep saying this every paragraph to the point of nausea, but from my point of view that is *good*. Writers learning, experimenting on the fanfic paddling pool, maybe leading to their OF works being much smoother, more professional than otherwise. (that is good for me).

    This sort of relates to another fanfic perennial discussion, about its legality and raison d´être. strictly speaking fanfic is basically ilegal, right? Yeah, with many many technicalities. But whenever people argue pro the right to write fanfic, they often cite fanfic has being a chance to hone writing skills. So now, it seems like somebody did it for profit on a grand scale. Besides fanfic community etiquette feeling hurt (dunno, I will take your word), where is the harm for anybody? And is this not like going to be one of the great examples that writing fanfic can be for developping writers?

    I am seeing things very differently from some of you, got no interest in this war, I am just pretty curious. I have been interested in the legalities and role of fanfic for as long as I have been aware of the concept and this is just fascinating.

  43. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:16:43

    Just to add, that from my understanding (pls correct me if wrong) putting a disclaimer on fanfic that it is not for profit, does not in anyway make it more *legal* . It is still derivative even if not for profit and presumably all rights, including rights over derivative work, are still reserved.

  44. Deb
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:19:54

    I think the issue is around “originality”. She takes the characters and some set ups from a very popular work of fiction and writes a very popular piece of fan fiction. She then changes the names and repackages it. Legal, possibly, but not original.

    I also don’t think that changing a name is the same thing as changing a character, and the character originated from another author.

  45. Isobel Carr
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:25:15

    Many authors already take a very hard line with ff, sending cease and desist notices to any forums on which ff of their work is found. How many more will now feel motivated to enforce a hard wall between their work and publically distributed fan fiction? The people who stand to lose here aren’t limited to Meyers and James, but include the entire ff community. And that is why I feel that filing off the serial numbers and publishing known ff for profit is an ethical issue.

  46. A
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:25:34

    The similarities between Twilight and FSoG go beyond well-known tropes, in my opinion. Characters are about far more than their names, and the characters in this series share so many similarities to the Twilight characters that it’s clear they are not “original” to E.L. James.

    – both Edward and Christian were adopted.
    – both Edward and Christian have a deep, dark, dangerous secret that no one is privy to, except for the heroine and by extension us
    – both Edward and Christian are rich and more sophisticated than the heroine
    – Although their personalities do have differences, both Christian and Edward have stalker tendencies and are domineering
    – Both Edward and Christian have reddish/bronze tinted hair
    – Both Edward and Christian give the heroine a car
    – Both Edward and Christian are piano-players
    – Both Edward and Christian have a loving supportive adoptive family comprised of Carrick/Carlisle (the father), Grace/Esme (the mother), Elliot/Emmet (the brother), Mia/Alice (the sister).
    -Jasper and Rosalie/ Ethan and Kate in FSoG. Rosalie and Kate are both blonde, beautiful and a high contrast to Bella/Ana. Kate and Elliot end up together as a couple which is reminiscent of them also being a couple in Twilight (Rose and Emmet).
    – Jasper and Alice are a couple in Twilight, Ethan from FSoG ends up setting his sights on the proto-Alice character in FSoG, Mia. BOOM! there you go, your whole Twilight Cullen cast/ensemble, reloaded.
    – Both Twilight and FSoG have the couple following the arc of initial attraction, hero attempting to separate himself from heroine by stating he’s not right for her, heroine pursuing relationship, heroine finding out dark secret, heroine still pursuing relationship, couple briefly parts/breaks up and then reunites, couple marries, goes off to exotic/romantic honeymoon, heroine gets preggers prematurely, hero reacts extremely negatively, heroine still has kid. Hero eventually comes around about kid.
    – Both stories are set in Washington state.
    – Jacob/José (Twilight/FSoG) both dislike the hero because they want to be with the heroine. The heroine is not interested in Jacob/José but Jacob/José continues to pursue her until he gives up and realizes that the heroine chose the “bad guy” over them.
    – Anastasia is essentially, Bella (more so than Christian being Edward, where there are more differences). She has pretty much all of Bella’s mannerisms. She talks like Bella, she acts like Bella, she says the same things Bella would. She is highly clumsy and uncoordinated, she is quiet, reserved, not popular, odd one out, like Bella. She bites her bottom lip like Bella. She feels a bit like a fish out of water in the presence of the Greys just like Bella feels in the presence of the Cullens. At most she is a proto-Bella but essentially the same character at the core.
    – Both Bella and Ana have a bit of an eccentric mother that lives somewhere else and has remarried several times (at least twice from what I remember).
    – Both Bella and Ana have a father that they love, that lives by himself (is a bit of a loner), that has a great relationship with them, even if slightly distanced. The main difference is that Ray (FSoG) is a stepfather to Ana, while Charlie (Twilight) is blood father to Bella.
    – Both Charlie and Ray have a love of fishing.
    – Both stories feature a stalker (Victoria/Leila) who stalks Bella/Ana and wants to hurt/kill her.
    – Jasper and Rose pretend to be twins in Twilight. Ethan and Kate (their parallels) are twins in FSoG.

    The above bullet points are courtesy of commenter Camaro on this blog post:

    Why is FS set in Washington State? Why is “Ana” clumsy? Why does she like classic novels? Why does she blush and bite her lip? Why is “Christian” adopted? Why does he have “dark, copper-colored hair”? Why does he play the piano? Basically, how do these character traits and the setting serve *this* story? The only answer I can see is that it’s because that’s how they were in Twilight.

    If it were truly original, why did E.L. James not write it as an original work, with characters she truly developed on her own? It sort of begs the question of whether FS would have had the kind of success it has without its connection to Twilight. For me, that’s only the beginning question in an ethical debate about this.

  47. Susanna Kearsley
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:27:57

    On the subject of ethics, this is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces I’ve seen yet, dealing with 50 Shades and its use of the Twilight fandom:

    Bottom line: If MOTU had not begun life as Twilight fanfic, with the fandom discovering and supporting it, would it have had the same success? I, for one, don’t believe it would have. Which is why I agree with Jane, that the courteous, ethical thing to do would be to acknowledge the source of the story.

    Not doing so, of course, wouldn’t be illegal. But as Jennifer Weiner said on Twitter when she posted the above link, ‘Just because something’s not illegal doesn’t make it right.’

  48. Jane Davitt
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:37:35

    I’m reading about this book and the fuss around it with a dismayed feeling. I’m a published author with over a dozen novels to my name, but I started out writing fanfic and still do.

    Fanfic’s all about the what ifs and the maybes. Transformative works.

    But one of the first, unbreakable rules back when I were a lass, was that you didn’t profit from fanfic, ever. I’ve seen people try and they were castigated and shunned to such an extent that they left fandom. We self-policed.

    Fanfic was a secret. One shared by hundreds of thousands of people, sure, but there are billions in the world.

    Now people are writing about us in articles with this air of having uncovered something new and shiny (ha) and books like this are not only breaking that rule but shining an unwanted light on us.

    I’ve written several novel-length fanfics, AU enough that I could easily have tweaked them and sold them. Years back, I co-wrote a whopper, 800,000 words long of spanking, shopping, romance and angst, with three other writers, that was posted a chapter a day for eight months and had its own community with hundreds of people waiting for their daily fix. Would that have sold? Hell, yes! Would we have ever tried?

    Hell, no.

    At some point, the Twilight fandom should have sat this author down and said firmly, “Sweetie? Hell, no.”

  49. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:37:52

    @Isobel Carr: Agreed.

  50. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:41:46

    @Jane Davitt: I agree. I think what’s interesting about the link above to gentleblaze’s livejournal is that it shows that James never self-identified with the fanfic community. She wasn’t part of fandom in the way that I was, and so she didn’t feel herself bound by the ethical standards of that community.

  51. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:41:57

    Writing original fiction, regardless of from whence came one’s inspiration, requires world building (yes, even if it’s our world, you have to define which part), creation of characters complete with the histories that define who they are and how they became that person (even if the reader never sees 90% of this history), their relationship to minor characters or their jobs/school choices/church/coven, etc. (whatever the story requires to make this person feel real to the reader). It almost always involves a lot of research, especially if you don’t live or work in the area, or if the character does something significantly different from you. Those characters have to be real to the writer if they are to be believed by the reader, and that takes a great deal of work. The setting is also important and must be described from the ground up – at least as much of it as is needed to give the reader an idea of where the characters are at any given moment.

    Now, any of those things can come into play when writing fan fiction, but they aren’t all required. You start out with at least one character that your target audience knows, so you don’t have to do the work to define that character, merely make them react in the new situation you’ve created. You may be using the original author’s setting, or pieces of it, or not, but some of the boundaries of the original work that made you want to write fan fiction set in that universe still exist, and your audience fills in the blanks from their own reading experience. Also, if it’s an established fandom, they may be filling in details based on other fan fiction, as well as the original source material.

    There are some amazingly well written fan fics out there. Some gorgeous writing, heartbreaking tales, moments of beauty and grace. But they are not original works of fiction, because someone else laid that ground work. That, to me, is the crux of the biscuit.

  52. Duffy
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:06:16

    @KT Grant:
    Sorry, to say but “The Unidentified Redhead” by Alice Clayton was a whole different kind of FanFic. It’s what we call an “RPF” – Robert Pattinson Fiction. The story was written with Rob as the main character and the heroine meeting him and starting a relationship with him.

    (EDIT) Sorry! Should have explained correctly as per Christine’s comment. RPF means “real person fic” in Fan Fiction. In the Twilight community, because it fits the acronym, it’s considered a Robert Pattinson Fic.

  53. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:07:23

    Somewhere out there Lee Goldberg is singing a Hallelujah Chorus of “I told you so’s”. I mean, seriously, wasn’t this inevitable? You have all these people riffing off reams of fan fic ti thousands of adoring fans, and no one thought eventually it would come to this? The only ethical rules fan ficcers are bound by are those they choos to adhere to. Hell, I wouldn’t have known it existed except that a couple of them chose to send their version of one of my books to me. This too, as I understand it, is a violation of the rules. The bottom line is these rules obviously don’t apply if you choose not to adhere to them. And obviously the publisher isn’t bound by them at all. I suspect this will push more authors into the Goldberg mindset, and really, who can blame them?

  54. Bethaboo
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:12:47

    I guess my issue isn’t only that it started life as a twilight fanfiction, and there ARE a number of similarities between the main characters in 50 and in Twilight, but that Vintage has decided that there isn’t? To deny it when it is SO blatant is ridiculous. 89% is about what I thought it would be, though I would be interested to see what the similarities are when you take the actual names out–much higher, I would imagine.

    I wonder if James will rework the pieces for Vintage? Or she will leave them as-is? Because there are still a huge number of grammatical issues in the stories.

  55. Christine M.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:19:28


    Actually RPF stands for Real Person Fiction (and RPS for Real Person Slash). It involves anyone real (insert your favorite actor/actress/author/singer/etc.). Not necessarily Robert Pattison.

  56. Duffy
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:20:24

    In reference to your comment about why people write their Original Fiction to pass it off as Twilight Fiction:

    It’s well known in the Twilight Community that EL James had hidden motives for writing her story. There was a conversation she had with another very well-known writer in the community how she intended to “cash-in” on the fandom. She knew exactly what would sell and wanted her “dues.” EL James admitted she wasn’t even a fan of Twilight. This is why the majority of people in the Twilight Fan Fiction community are upset.

    She went into this venture knowing exactly what she intended to do. She wanted to use the Fan Fic community to launch her career. It’s also true that many of the people who read MotU had never even read the Twilight books! She used a nurturing and supportive community for personal gain.

    You can see much of EL James’ history here:

    Also…Everyone seems to forget that this author rallied her “bunker-babes” to threaten the life of someone and bully them into submission on the internet all because someone wanted to translate her story into another language.

    EL James is the worst representative we, as dedicated Fan-Fiction Writers, could ever have. She goes against everything this long-standing community (and I’m not talking about Twilight FF) have built over the years. She’s a disgrace.

  57. Las
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:23:28

    @Jane: So the issue is that it’s considered unethical among fanfic writers? Is there a specific, logical reason for that or is it that they just don’t like it and it feels wrong? I’m not trying to be obtuse, I just really don’t see what’s so unethical about this specific situation.

    Yes, lying about 50’s origins is unethical, and stupid to boot, since I find it hard to believe that there’s a significant number of people outside of fandom who would care one way or the other. But the fact that 50 started out as free fanfic and was then published…good for the author.

  58. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:27:59

    @Las: For me there are two issues here. One is the philosophical discussion regarding the ethical bounds of repurposing fan fiction. Second (and this is the one that is more important to me) is the issue of transparency by publishers. I would like to know the provenance of works and that Vintage is willing to … obfuscate the origins really disturbs me.

    I think that Vintage and SMP’s actions have long ranging effects for the future of publishing and that’s why I’m interested in discussing it. SMP is using the Brady Bunch to promote a historical series yet asserting that they aren’t using any of the shows or the characters in the shows beyond the name. This then begs the question of whether I could ethically and legally take Ranger, Joe, and Stephanie and place them in Victorian England in a steamy menage (the one that they clearly all want LOL). Vintage’s adoption of the 50 Shades suggests that AU fan fiction will be published and the origins obscured. Do we as a reading community want that or do we want more transparency about the origins.

  59. Mireya
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:34:25

    @Isobel Carr: I do think more authors are going to take this stance. I never read fanfic, but I found out what it was when Anne Rice and Anne McCaffrey, both favorite authors of mine, very vocally an specifically indicated they were against it. This was back in 1998. Anne McCaffrey went as far as indicating that she did not approve of text based RPGs taking place in her Pern universe, though she approved a few of those (I met my husband in one of those. Text based RPGs are the great-grandparents of current MMOs).

  60. Vixb
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:38:19

    Other ff authors have P2P their fics with varying degrees of success. What it comes down to for me is that EL James has made it clear how she feels about theTwi Fandom
    with personal emails posted by supposed friends. She thinks very little of her “fans” or the fandom. She is a complete bitch without morals and if we are being completely honest, no real writing skills.

  61. Anne Jamison
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:50:03

    Hi all, this is a great conversation. I taught a unit on fanfiction in a 2010 pop culture theory course at the University of Utah that included Master of the Universe and many other fics. We specifically focused on all human/out-of-character fics, because this seemed such a departure from what I’d understood as fanfiction in other fandoms.

    The issue of pulling to publish was already sensitive then, and several fics were pulled (two to be published). The course followed such debates intensely and created some of their own–I’ll be posting samples of student work shortly as I get permission. I’ve created a blog to contextualize “50” in the community it grew out of, document this chapter of fandom history, discuss my reasons for teaching this material, and serve as a scholarly and teaching reference. Recently I’ve posted some much-publicized debates between Snowqueens Icedragon/E. L. James on the issue of publishing, including “Icy’s” side of things (War Archive), some other very thoughtful fic-writer commentary, and other course-related thoughts.

    Many writers I’ve interviewed stress the interactive nature of fan-writing. I’ve done both. Writing a book is a lonely business. No one cheers you on, except maybe your friends. No one comments. Reviews are like candy. The interaction is inspiring, and sometimes affects the plotline and characterization. It’s a different animal.

    I’m not a Twilight fan. But I did become kind of a Twilight fanfiction fan–and I feel for the women (mostly) who fear that the actions of one of their own may spoil something they’ve worked very hard at and gotten a great deal of non-monetary value for. I do see both sides of the issue–and intellectually, from a women’s history/women’s writing and also intellectual property perspective, I find this *fascinating.* Apologies if link doesn’t come through–I don’t really know what I’m doing:

    (edited by jane to fix the links)

  62. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 10:51:23

    “Now, any of those things can come into play when writing fan fiction, but they aren’t all required.”

    RPKovar, i would say that if a work has got numbers filed off, so that it is published as OF and a random reader does not need or even realize the media it ties in to, then the writer did the job completely. Whatever stage it did it in, first thing or last, but if somebody can read it without names or references to other universes, then it is complete enough, no?

    Duffy, thank you for the explanation. I think i see this pretty differently, let me try to explain my position as a reader and just a reader (it is pretty funny to me that I am arguing this position about a book I have not read nor particularly want to read. But it is about the issue).

    I have not gone check about the particular behaviour of this author to promote this book( and those apply to everybody!) because that is not my point. And btw if the author does not even particularly like the Twilight books, and voluntarily used it and “numbers filed in” for auto promotion that even makes printing this less wrong, the issue of copyright infringement or plagiarism more distant ( coincidences in plot and tropes, oh well, I really wish those were wrong, I am so fed up of completely legal OF which totally rips off twilight as well).

    The twilight fanfic community having got willfully used (presumably, according to reports) by this author to promote her wor is IMO not my problem or the problem of readers in general, or inherently wrong (not I think it is what caused this article). That is a problem for the fanfic community.

    My issue is, is this republication of something which was once fanfiction WRONG? From my point of view, it seems less wrong than fanfic in general. Apart from fanfic etiquette, AU fanfic with numbers filed off, who gets harmed?

    Another question, somebody pulls to publish something he or she originally wrote as fanfic (AU, pretty different, no copyright or plagiarism issues. Just inspired). But (and not trying to be willfully obtuse here), assuming it gets sold the other point of view is that fanfic community got to read it first and for free. Something people like me will read later and have to pay for the privilege. I would not particularly care, assuming the stuff is good enough – I would pay my 2.99 or 5.99 and compare it with other books and if I liked it better. But where would be the *loss* to the fanfic community of that happened?

  63. Roger Leatherwood
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:02:03

    Thanks for a great and lively discussion of fanfic (its morality, uses and motivations) and also of publishers’ duties to report (or obfuscate) the inspirations of their editions. Fanfic is a vibrant engagement with culture and texts, texturally and generally far enough outside the mainstream (or within fair use restrictions) to co-exist peacefully and beneficially with the originals. The fact that those regular boundaries have been stretched here seem to be making people more anxious than they need be.

    Stripping the Twi-centric references may render 50 Shades less potent. Those in the know will enjoy it just as much. Cheers, R

  64. Liza
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:03:32

    I’ll admit I wasn’t going to even give any of the 50 Shades books a try until one of my author friends read the whole series in one weekend. I’ve only bought the first book and haven’t read it yet.

    I’ve never read fanfic, so don’t really understand how it works. Everyone’s post have been very helpful to me.

  65. Anne Jamison
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:04:05

    The loss is that fanfiction, too, operates under a certain kind of implied contract–this is not a legal issue, but unwritten, voluntary contracts do regulate people’s behavior. A lot of this unwritten agreement involves give and take, donation of labor (reviewing, reccing, writing, reading) with the understanding that it is a non-profit enterprise: readers and writers coming together in a common enterprise, bound by a common interest. Part of the concern is that pulling to publish–not a story inspired by a fanfiction, even, but really for all intents and purposes the same–not only violates this implied contract, but also profits from the labor of others when that labor was given freely in exchange for something that was given freely. E. L. James’s arguement is that, well, those readers already got their free thing, and now it’s moved on. Some readers, reviewers, site builders agree with her, some feel used.

  66. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:06:04

    The books are complete, certainly. They are not original works of fiction. I would argue that there is an ethical issue with making money off of the work the original writer did in creating the characters. It’s lazy and dishonest of James to pass off the creation of these characters as her own. That may not impact the reader, but that doesn’t change whether or not it’s wrong. I’m not a fan of the Twilight series at all, and there are a lot of books that are clearly derivative of other published works, but it’s not as though we don’t know what the source material was for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  67. Mrs W
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:06:18

    This has a lot more to do with factions inside the twilight fanfic community than anything else.
    When it was motu other “big name authors” and their fans spent a stupid amount of time putting down EL James (or Icy as she was then).
    One in particular (I am too mature to name names but people know who she is) took it upon herself to besmurch Icy at all times; saying her fans paid for her to visit the USA for a “con” which is a downright lie; inviting her to appear at Comic Con then not giving her an itinerary or telling her where to meet.
    Someone complained to and had motu pulled off it for graphic content, leading to icy putting the whole of motu 2 on her own site, at her own expense (the traffic was so high she had to pay for premium services).
    Icy felt pushed into writing outtakes she did not want to for charity – she always said she didn’t enjoy writing Edward/Christian points of view at all – and this was twisted into statements that she hated her readers!
    I don’t think half of the complaining going on about this has to do with it being fanfic – it’s to do with it being popular and successful outside of fanfic and its rarified atmosphere.
    All this is sound and fury, and no matter how many people come online with the same old arguments, offer up pdf copies of motu (if lawyers are watching that’s what I’d watch for) and linking to semi-literate rants by people who should embrace success not cut down the tall poppy. In this online world, people won’t sweat in garrets any more to craft the next big thing; they’ll type, click and post. If you don’t like it, log off.

  68. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:11:15

    @T: I think the implication of what you are saying that if something doesn’t affect you personally in a negative way, then it is not capital-letters-WRONG. If so, that’s an odd definition of wrong. There are lots of things which are wrong but don’t affect me personally (using sweatshop labour to produce clothing, for instance). There are lots of things which are wrong but not illegal (adultery, for instance). What James has done is, in my view, wrong, because it is both exploitative and deceptive. It hasn’t affected me personally, and it’s not illegal, but I still think it is wrong.

    I think it may be possible for fanfics to be professionally published without the same wrongs being done, but it would require a different sort of relationship with the community within, and for and by which the fanfic was created.

    There is a different question about whether it is wrong for Vintage, as the publisher, to publish this book and claim that it is wholly distinct from the fanfic version. That strikes me as deceitful, given the evidence in this post. Deceiving your customers is not only wrong, it’s also incredibly stupid business policy. I don’t know how I would feel about publishers openly and honestly presenting fanfic for sale, but in this case, openness and honesty are conspicuous by their absence.

  69. Christine M.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:14:42


    The basis of fanfiction is that it’s based on fiction and intended for fans. If you’re that good that you don’t need FF to write and you can actually write Original Fiction (AKA a novel ina genre of your choice) good for publication (which I’m not saying Shades is… it was purchased because it already had a huge following IMO) then you don’t need to use another author’s settings and characters (see comment 46 to see that Shades definitely is NOT that different from Twilight). If you’Re that good, or if your intent is actually to get published, then don’t write your stories as fanfic, no matter how AU or AR or different from the source material you make it. Write the story with its own merit as intent.

  70. Lynn S.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:25:11

    “Vintage Books is the website of Vintage Publishing, a division of Random House which focuses on publishing quality literary fiction and non-fiction.”

    This quote brought to you straight from the company’s own website. So now No Name is quality literary fiction. The scent of hypocrisy has a coppery overtone today and I’m beginning to think my ultimate irony theory is going to prove true. My new pet irony involves James suing any work with a tinge of grey to it.

  71. Scout
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:28:11

    MotU/Fifty Shades of Grey is by far not the first fanfiction to be published. For a (mind blowing) list of famous (and award winning) works that are in fact fanfiction read this:

    Can’t publish fanfiction or work inspired by copyrighted characters? Think again.

    I think the bigger comparison is how closely FSoG and Twilight are related. I’d guess the % would be very low.

    I hope your series on fanfiction includes multiple voices and perspectives from the fanfiction communities and does not turn into soap boxing against this particular author or her fans. Readers and writers of fanfiction fall on both sides of the fence about publishing. Some voices are simply louder than others.

  72. T
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:29:28

    “I think the implication of what you are saying that if something doesn’t affect you personally in a negative way, then it is not capital-letters-WRONG. ”

    Ros, no. My point is that something being against fanfic community etiquette (or some interpretations of it) is not necessarily enough, from my PoV, to make it WRONG. And to put that argument on its head, some would argue that fanfic is on its own WRONG (legally, maybe morally) – you (and me) do not have to agree with it.

    Christine, I do not write. As well as not reading ff, I have no wish to write any fiction ever. I am probably in a minority in these blog comments, though I am probably not in a minority when considering people who read and buy books. I have often seen put up (not here, but been following discussions about fanfiction for many years) as a good reason for fanfic to be tolerated and respected that it honed skills, that it was a great pool for writers to start dipping their toes. Assuming that people need to develop writing skills with practice (as with almost any skill), that made sense to me. It does not bother me that writers started out writing fanfiction. Or even if work is sufficiently different and original, that they rework it. But I guess I posted so much that is obvious by now.

    An argument I think some of you are presenting is that this is bad for fanfiction as well because it might make authors more willing to repress fanfic. Maybe. But consider about this, for people like me who do not read fanfic, something was *fanfic* to get republished, and this level of sucess, it might make us take fanfic a bit more seriously now.

  73. Courtney
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:39:25

    I have to say, as a reader and author, I’m dismayed to see that fan fiction is being published in this way and I’m very surprised that Random House is publishing it.

  74. Sunshineyness
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:44:49

    Harlan Ellison attempted to sue Orion Films back in the 80’s b/c Cameron was inspired by his works and homages/builds off his established and very broad sci-fi concepts (in my opinion at least) and was paid off substantially by Orion Films out of court. Hence why when you pop in your copy of Terminator it says “based on the ideas of Harlan Ellison.” But then, Ellison is one of the most litigious authors ever (the man practically sues anyone who claims he was one of their ideals/influences).

    I think fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off is an even murkier copy write quagmire than that and if Ellison had a case than so does Meyers.

  75. Liz Mc2
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:47:44

    @Scout: I think that list is a good reminder that derivative works can be great art, and that no literature is really “original” in the sense of “not in any way indebted to anything written before.” But from skimming the list I’d say those works are not fan fiction in the sense that 50 Shades is: they do not come out of a fan community and the copyright issues are also different (most of the works they derive from were in the public domain). So I find such comparisons of limited use in considering the ethical (or legal) implications of publishing fan fiction. The artistic implications, sure.

    I am looking forward to the fan fiction posts because I’m intrigued by the murky philosophical/ethical questions raised by things like The House of Brady series and 50 Shades. One thing seems clear, though: there’s a shift going on in publishing, and big NY publishers, at least, don’t want to admit it. Their claims are disingenuous. Vintage spent a lot for the right to republish a largely unedited fan fiction. I wish they had the guts to admit and defend this game-changing act, instead of obscuring it.

  76. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:47:54


    Do we as a reading community want that or do we want more transparency about the origins.

    What the reading community wants is irrelevant. People who only buy three books a year–and those are the ones their friends and/or Oprah are talking about–and jump on [insert title here] bandwagon are the ones who drive these sales. They don’t give a rip. As long as they outnumber any given reading community (which are too splintered to be of any import), it won’t matter.

  77. Robin/Janet
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:53:57

    I have to say I’m kind of baffled by claims that 50 Shades bears no resemblance to Twilight. I saw it within the first couple of pages, although I liked Twilight better and — I cannot believe I’m going to say this — found it less problematic in its treatment of sex and sexuality (e.g. the faux BDSM that’s an insult to BDSM, IMO). Also, I wonder how much of an overlap there is between readers who love Twilight and 50 Shades. I’m guessing it’s pretty substantial.

    @anatsuno: I meant that provenance-tracking reinforces the idea that Originality is what we place value on, a framework which I find problematic in itself (I think I explained this but I might not have gone into enough detail – the link I provided in another of my comments might help elucidate my position on this). I meant ‘elevating’ the concept, not the actual primary work. But! I am conflicted on this, like I said; it is very possible that on the contrary, if we could make it a customary thing for publishers to track and disclose provenance clearly, it would over time contribute to reduce the value we place on originality by showing how nothing is truly original. Who knows.

    For me it’s not originality v. unoriginality; it’s a question of what is truly original in each creative work. I tend to locate originality in voice, which I think is (largely) unique to each person, although people don’t always have good command or recognition of their voice, and some intentionally try to disguise it to mimic someone else’s voice. Still, I think we do a disservice to creativity, copyright, and art itself when we try to locate originality in story and characters, per se (and both the definition of plagiarism and copyright infringement kind of track that by focusing on expression). I also tend to fall on the side of wanting more freedom for creative expression and narrower copyright laws, so I would like to see more positive treatment of works that can be deemed transformative (and perhaps a more generous definition of what constitutes transformative than some others).

    What frustrates me is the reluctance to talk about provenance, especially in genre fiction communities. Intellectually I understand some of the reticence, but I think it contributes to the mystique of originality as a concept related to story and character types, rather than other things. And I think Vintage’s statement is reinforcing that. So I’m hoping that if we can be open and honest about provenance — about inspiration and homage and mimesis and the rest — we can shift the focus of the originality conversation away from elements that so obviously do not constitute originality in many fictional narratives. And even when you do get a truly original idea, it’s got some kind of provenance, perhaps from another genre or media type, and once it’s expressed, and if it’s successful, it’s going to be copied a gazillion times. I think the thing that bothers me most about the Vintage claim is that it seems to imply that readers are stupid, that we do not see what is so clear to see, and that we can so easily be led to see something different, based on their little originality edict.

  78. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:54:43

    @Liz Mc2:

    But from skimming the list I’d say those works are not fan fiction in the sense that 50 Shades is: they do not come out of a fan community and the copyright issues are also different (most of the works they derive from were in the public domain). So I find such comparisons of limited use in considering the ethical (or legal) implications of publishing fan fiction.

    Thank you. That list also struck me as highly problematic because a retelling is not fanfic. I recently did a review of “Hamlet’s Father” by Orson Scott Card, which he claims is a retelling, and I found that problematic because it read like AU fanfic to me, it hewed so closely to the original, with a little extra narrative and dialogue to try to explain WHY Hamlet was a crazy mofo. (It failed in that, too, FWIW.) When one starts saying a work is “a collection of myths and fables, and therefore fanfic,” the argument is lost.

    To me, an original work, no matter how it comes about, derives its originality from a) the characterization of the individuals and b) the details of the world they inhabit and c) the words and methods the author chooses to string all those things together.

  79. Las
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:55:12

    @Jane: I’m not that interested in a book’s origins outside of a, “Hey, isn’t that interesting” bit of trivia, but I see your point. As far as the Brady Bunch thing, it sounds a bit corny for my tastes but I don’t see anything wrong with it from an ethical standpoint. It sounds a bit like like historical re-imaginings, which I often enjoy. It’s not okay for a publisher to flat out lie about it, of course, but that doesn’t seem to be the main source of all the outrage.

    @Scout: Thanks for that link. There really is no such thing as original fiction, is there? It seems the main issue with published fanfic now is that it’s become a community, whereas in the past fanfic was something people wrote on there own, because they were inspired by the work of others . And once you’re part of a group, you can’t break free and stand out without pissing off the other members.

  80. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 11:58:31


    I think the thing that bothers me most about the Vintage claim is that it seems to imply that readers are stupid, that we do not see what is so clear to see, and that we can so easily be led to see something different, based on their little originality edict.

    Not that readers are stupid, but that there is an order of magnitude MORE casual readers who don’t care.

    I don’t see that situation with the SMP Brady Bunch ripoff. There are far too many people who will know that immediately and, like me, have some sort of visceral reaction to it, whether they’re part of the reading community or say anything or not.

    Eloisa James’s HOUSE ripoff–I couldn’t stomach it beyond three paragraphs into Dr. Regency House’s POV. How many other people were like me who read to that point and simply refused to read any further (or buy)? Then again, how many HOUSE fans loved it for that very reason?

  81. Las
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:02:47

    @Moriah Jovan: What the reading community wants is irrelevant. People who only buy three books a year–and those are the ones their friends and/or Oprah are talking about–and jump on [insert title here] bandwagon are the ones who drive these sales. They don’t give a rip. As long as they outnumber any given reading community (which are too splintered to be of any import), it won’t matter.

    This is it, exactly. It’s why I think it’s stupid for publishers to lie about this…the people who care don’t make up a significant percentage of those that are buying the books.

  82. Robin/Janet
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:04:35

    @Moriah Jovan: Okay, but if so many readers don’t care, why issue that statement in the first place? Why “warrant” the originality of the work? Why not just publish the damn things, rake in the cash, and say nothing?

    Also agree that — at least for US folks — the SMP House of Brady book is recognizable — which makes SMP’s statement about the series even weirder to me.

  83. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:09:42

    @Robin/Janet: I assumed it was standard legal mumbo jumbo for any work. I mean, who’s really going to act on it? Is the fanfic community going to get together a class action lawsuit to challenge it? (That’d be hilarious. I’d buy tickets to that show.)

    I don’t know if Vintage highlighted that aspect with regard to 50 Shades, but SMP sure as hell went out of its way to say their Brady Bunch ripoff wasn’t a Brady Bunch ripoff (hello, Jane, you ignorant slut, 1814 is not 1970 and England is not California).

  84. Casi
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:10:17

    Jane – what are you trying to prove? Why do you constantly stir the pot? Ms. James made no money off of the fan fiction, as it is loosely described since the STORIES have absolutely nothing in common AT ALL with Twilight. So she used the names Edward and Bella and then republished them without. So what? Are you jealous? She’s reached an audience way beyond you now. YOU CAN’T TOUCH HER with your nonsense. Get a life.

  85. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:11:56

    And once you’re part of a group, you can’t break free and stand out without pissing off the other members.

    I don’t think that’s true of all fan fic communities. There is a lot of support out there for people who want to publish, but in general, it is expected you will publish original fiction (or o-fic), not a fan fic that you’ve repurposed. And I think part of the problem is that many moderated fic communities provide beta services, host you at the cost of whomever owns the site, give criticism (constructive or squeeing, depending on community), and in general support the endeavor to become a better writer. So, if you take a fan fiction that other people have edited, beta read, helped you shape and hone, and then make money off of it, well, they might be irked. When you flat out deny that anyone but you had a hand in its success, they’re going to be righteously pissed off. I’m not sure that’s relevant to the discussion here, but it certainly explains why some people in fic communities are irritated. If I edited three volumes for someone, and then they got paid for them and I didn’t even get an acknowledgment, I’d be upset, too.

  86. anatsuno
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:13:06

    @Moriah Jovan: Many pieces of fanfiction are retellings, though. Do they suddenly not count as fanfic because in your opinion, retellings are not fanfic? Or do they still count as fanfic because of the community of origin? Who decides that?

  87. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:16:04

    Ah, it didn’t take long for the rabid fanbase to show up, all sound and fury, signifying nothing* and contributing nothing, as well. Gotta love blind allegiance – or not.

    *attribution: MacBeth, by that Shakespeare guy. Totally public domain (thank goodness!).

  88. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:16:43

    @anatsuno: I didn’t say they weren’t. I am saying that many of the works on that particular list that was linked were retellings, and to call them fanfic is a misnomer.

    I don’t inhabit fanficdom. I don’t know what’s there. I do know that taking the bones of a story that’s been told a gazillion times since the beginning of recorded history and shaping it into something new is not fanfic. I wrote retellings of, in order, Hamlet, “The Gift of the Magi,” and the Gospels of the New Testament. The bones are there. They’re recognizable to anyone who knows the original work. I make no secret of it. But to say it’s fanfic is wrong.

    Oh, and I also didn’t enlist the help of a hundred fans of the works to write it or shape it or influence it in anyway. I did it all on my ownself.

  89. Lady Jaye
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:19:27


    Is that you, E.L. James? Or Vintage Publishing?

  90. LG
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:20:12

    @Casi: Jane’s post shows that 50 Shades of Grey is 89% similar to Master of the Universe. A large part of the differences between the two is due to names being changed. Master of the Universe was posted as Twilight fanfic. As fanfic, it has similarities with Twilight – if it had no similarities at all with Twilight, why was it published as fanfic rather than original fic? How is it possible to say that Fifty Shades of Grey, which is so similar to MotU, has “nothing in common at all with Twilight”?

  91. Jia
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:28:20

    @Robin/Janet: I would think they issued that statement not because they were worried about readers’ reactions but because of Stephenie Meyer’s and her agent’s potential reactions. I saw it as a CYA statement.

  92. Robin/Janet
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:29:11

    @Moriah Jovan: I’m putting my money on Stephenie Meyer potentially acting on it. ;D

  93. KMont
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:29:31

    I’m looking forward to the series of posts on fan fiction, in hopes, mainly, that I’ll be able to finally understand what it is. Since coming online with my book blog a few years ago, I seem to hear more and more about it every year, but I’ve yet to find a good, educational resource on what it is. Not that I’ve looked too terribly hard, it’s just that when it comes up, it’s usually controversial and the ensuing convos seem to assume that folks, in general, understand what FF is.

    Hell, I used to think FF was referring to lesbian fiction, the female/female dynamic, when usually it was actually referring to fanfiction. Talk about confused.

    I’m getting the impression that fan fiction as a whole is deeply layered enough that some education is definitely needed, especially when it comes to folks like me that don’t participate in any of it.

  94. Robin/Janet
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:34:29

    @Jia: I certainly wouldn’t gainsay your speculation, but I still don’t think it was a wise move on their part.

  95. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:41:26

    @Robin/Janet: I really do think that the fanfic community that helped create 50 Shades coming together for a class action suit would be downright groundbreaking.

    Let me make myself clear:

    1. I haven’t read 50 Shades et al. I made it through Twilight with utter crackalicious glee, but wasn’t interested enough to continue with the series. I can only take so much cotton candy and a little goes a long way.

    2. Twilight and 50 Shades have hit some sort of nerve that I’m glad it hit. Keep hitting it. As someone in another thread said, the reference to the “narcissism” of romance novels is yet another attempt to pathologize women’s sexuality. As long as books like this exist, some woman somewhere won’t feel quite so alone in her sexuality.

    3. That said, there are much better books than Twilight (can’t speak for 50 Shades) that will hit the same nerve and I’m sorry that inferior work is being so lauded.

    4. I also think that whatever nerve these books are hitting got hit in the 70s and 80s with the rape-a-licious bodice rippers that are the target of so much hate, even sometimes in the romance community. Only those books did it better.

    5. Thus I conclude that romance publishing is dull, staid, boring, repetitive, watered-down, milquetoast, and totally missing the boat on what women really want to read. And that’s my only real problem in this entire imbroglio.

  96. Jody W.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:44:02

    Oooooh, I want to get on that list!! If those books are the definition of fanfic, I wrote Brothers Grimm fanfic and published it! Now I need to mobilize the huge and generous Brothers Grimm fanbase to catapault me to a high income while secretly thinking they are idiots. I realize that is out of order, but I don’t mind doing things differently.

  97. Cavalier Queen
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:45:52

    @Ros: Thank you so much for putting into words what I have struggled with re:this whole issue. I too write fanfic off and on, as well as original fiction. I have a following in different fandoms as well as across. These fans may turn out to be a base for original work as well. But to re-publish a work of fanfic as a profit making venture, with an 89% similarity, is a violation of the code of fan fiction, a betrayal of the craft and of the readership of ff across the board. If one doesn’t publish or follow ff, it is hard to appreciate the spoken/unspoken mores that accompany that well-defined culture. I know there is nothing illegal about that, but it is unethical and unsettling.

    Fact: MoTU and 50 *are* the same story. Jane’s analysis proves this beyond a doubt what most of us already knew (except me, since I don’t follow the Twihard fandom didn’t realize it was a word-for-word rip off from the ff). Plagiarism?… a legal argument I’m not qualified to make. Theft of creative property… it feels that way, but again a legal argument. Unethical, absolutely when lying about the provenance and stating it as original work.

  98. LG
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:46:02

    re: The Brady Bunch historical series – This one has me confused. So, SMP claims it’s not fanfic and just uses the names and blended family aspect. But the Brady Bunch aspect will probably attract some people hoping for a Brady Bunch feel, or Brady Bunch situations, or just the characters they loved in a historical setting…which sounds like fanfic. If none of that is what readers are going to be getting, then isn’t SMP setting things up so that people who do get attracted by the Brady Bunch aspect might end up hating the series because it didn’t deliver what they expected? The other possibility, which I think is more likely, is that the similarities to the Brady Bunch do go beyond the names and blended family, and SMP wants to claim that this doesn’t mean they’re publishing fanfic but still wants the benefits of attracting a ready-made fanbase (although I’m still wondering if there really are that many Brady Bunch fans who’d love to see the characters in a historical setting).

    Are SMP and Vintage maybe worried about the potential for lawsuits, but not so worried that they’re unwilling to take advantage of potential fanbase goldmines? I just wonder about all these “we’re not publishing fanfic” claims when that’s exactly what they’re doing.

  99. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:49:11

    @Jody W.: And I want a Hamlet fanbase just like it! Maybe we can pool resources and buy one.

  100. Cavalier Queen
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:52:24

    @KMont: I too will look forward to the discussion about ff. I’ve been writing and participating in the community since 1995. To truly understand the world of ff, it’s culture and mores, you’d have to find the time to wade through both the great, the good, and the truly awful; to develop ‘friendships’ and participate actively in the smaller ‘neighborhoods’ of the fandoms…each one have a personality of its own. It is not something easily understood to people who are not involved, and to understand that it is more than writing stories about one’s favorite shows/characters, would take a major undertaking or a lot of interviewing.

  101. Jody W.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:53:43

    I mean, there has to be a HUGE Brothers Grimm fanbase. Look at all the published fanfic! They probably all, except me because I didn’t think of it, took advantage of the thousands of Grimm Beta readers at and then P2Pd it. Hell, Robin McKinley fanficced Grimm and then fanficced herself FANFICCING GRIMM. My head asplodes. As for Hamlet, I just played a fanfic casual game based on Hamlet on my iFonz that should be on that list too. What do you think the secret society of Shakespear fanficcers are called? Is there a secret handshake or are they just all pretending to be someone else?

  102. Cavalier Queen
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 12:56:09

    @LG: AU or not, it was posted in the fandom; the characters were from the fandom; there were no OC’s, nor did the main characters evolve into OC’s; it was accepted by the fandom base as fan fic… I cannot see a way that a publisher (or writer for that matter) can define it as an original work.

  103. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:00:07

    @Jody W.: We are called Rosencrantz Versus Guildenstern. You must have spoken with Shakespeare’s ghost to be admitted, and be able to prove it.

  104. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:05:56

    @Moriah Jovan: But Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

  105. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:07:13

    @KMont: The fanlore wiki is a fair place to start understanding what fanfic is:

  106. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:09:01

    @Ros: Clearly Stoppard was writing AU Hamlet fanfic.

  107. Las
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:15:21

    @RR Kovar: Thanks so much for that explanation. I had no idea that fanfic communities were that involved in individual writers’ fics. I can see why they would be irked by the denial of a book’s origins, though I think I’d stop short of calling it unethical.

  108. Dago
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:17:09

    I think there is one big distinction to make.

    AU fanfiction, where there’s an entirely new setting, plot, character attributes, and the only thing remaining of the original material are the names of the characters – and the fandom attached! – can hardly be considered fanfiction.

    I wrote a decade ago a fanfic about two actors. Except that it was set in Elizabethan London, and they were a nobleman and a servant, and there was a convoluted betrayal plot, and I took nothing from their lives, and even they hair was different. So… is that *really* fanfiction? Even if I presented it as such, in reality, it was a completely original story casting those two actors as main characters.

    So the question is, is Shades of Grey that kind of fanfiction? If the main characters are, say, an accountant and a nurse (I haven’t read it so I’m saying random stuff), and they have a plot that has nothing to do with vampires, and have their own dynamics between them, and there’s no similarity to Twilight whatsoever except the names… even if at the beginning they had Bella and Edward as names, does it REALLY count as fanfiction? I don’t think so.

    Has anyone read it? Is this the case?

  109. Christine M.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:32:43

    @RR Kovar:

    Actually I’m suprised we managed to last 80-some messages.

  110. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:33:30

    @Dago Many people have referenced reading both including myself and in the comments there is an extensive list of similarities and a link to more.

  111. Christine M.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:38:55

    @Dago: See comment 46 for a list of similarities between Twilight and Shades.

  112. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:39:01

    @Scout: If you have read any of our past posts on fan fiction, you would know that we have generally been very supportive of it.

    We will do our best to present a well rounded series. We have posts from readers and writers in fandom and will be presenting a Q&A with a legal scholar as well.

  113. Dago
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:41:09

    @Christine M.: Thanks! Sorry, I must have missed it scrolling through all the comments.

  114. Christine M.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:45:56


    I wrote a decade ago a fanfic about two actors. Except that it was set in Elizabethan London, and they were a nobleman and a servant, and there was a convoluted betrayal plot, and I took nothing from their lives, and even they hair was different. So… is that *really* fanfiction? Even if I presented it as such, in reality, it was a completely original story casting those two actors as main characters.

    Why did you publish it under the guise of fanfiction, then, if it wasn’t? (I’m genuinely curious.)

  115. Tamara Hogan
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:52:09


    But Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

    Well played. ;-)

  116. Dago
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 13:54:37

    @Christine M.:

    Because I was in that fandom at the time, and having the actors as main characters would mean that the other fans of those actors (within the fanfic community) would be interested. In my head, I could totally envision them playing the roles of the characters I was writing :)! As I said, I think it was fanfiction more in the sense of – what if those two actors were interpreting this story in one of their movies?

    AU fanfic is a really interesting area to explore, I think. I read some of it where the personality traits and family/friends of the characters are maintained, even if everything else is shifted (e.g. making everybody college students) but others that really have nothing in common with the original material beside the names – and of course the faces you have in your head when you imagine the stories.

  117. Linda Hilton
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 14:21:01

    @Moriah Jovan: Re #4 — yes. you are soooo right.

  118. Vanessa
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 14:33:04

    (I dnf’d it, full disclosure, about a handful of sentences in. I really dislike first person narratives unless they are off the wall special).

    Discovering an intersting (to me) phenomenon when discussing with other readers the reasons I dnf’d it, as well as the reasons I won’t give it another try. The fanfic thing is one of them. I didn’t care for twilight, and the similarities are reason enough to not.go.there.

    These other readers got very up in arms about how this was absolutely, positively NOT fanfic and had nothing to do with fanfic ever, and has nothing to do with twilight, nothing to do with MOTU, etc. etc. etc.

    If you like the book, that’s fine. But it is what it is, and denying that is just weird. It hints at the idea that someone should be ashamed of themselves for enjoying a book.

    I would gladly flash a bodice-ripper cover on a train if I lived some place that had trains and places to take them ;) so I just don’t get this.

    If you are reading something, and you enjoy it, there are better ways to defend it than to act ashamed of it’s origins. Instead, tell me why you like it. Saying “It’s not what you think, just shut up and read it” ain’t gonna make it fly to the top of my TBR list.

  119. KZoeT
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 15:25:13

    I have to ask: Is there any 50 Shades fanfic cropping up yet? Has James weighed in on fanfic of her work?

  120. Jami Gold
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 15:47:42


    Thank you for taking on this issue. I wrote the “When Does Fan Fiction Cross an Ethical Line” post linked to above, which includes the comments by Camaro and Jess comparing the similarities between Twilight and MotU/FSoG.

    One thing I noticed during the huge conversation growing out of that post is that many people (particularly non-writers) don’t understand what goes into the creation of a character, so they look at the fact that FSoG has different names and superficial details and think the characters aren’t the same. However, if the MotU version of the characters was intended to evoke the Twilight characters–which they were (especially the actors Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson, with oodles of references to her constant lip-biting and hiding behind her hair)–and if all that was changed were the names, which your analysis confirms, then these FSoG characters are *still* evoking the Twilight characters in many respects. (I went into this in my post last Thursday: ) They’re still the same Twilight-through-a-fun-house-mirror characters on the inside. And that means James “stole” the essence of the characters. Enough for a lawsuit? I don’t know. But enough to be unethical in my book.

    Some readers coming into this without knowing the Twilight background aren’t picking up on those similarities, but I’ve heard from many who are. In other words, just because some don’t see the similarities doesn’t mean they’re not there.

    All authors gain inspiration from others, but fanfic authors take their inspiration from a single source. That’s not mixing a little from here and a little from there to create something new and unique.

    So I don’t know whether this legally gets into a plagiarism issue or not, but if changing character names didn’t work for Ms. Manning, why would it be enough here? Also, fanfic is not copyright-able. The terms of service on the fanfic sites state that. So if MotU wasn’t copyright-able, and if FSoG plagiarizes from MotU, then isn’t FSoG also non-copyright-able?

    In addition to all those issues, we have the fact that James purposely appealed to the Twilight fandom by using Stephenie Meyer’s characters, and then used that fandom for her own gain. Add all those together (stolen characters, non-copyright-able, using the fandom), and I feel this definitely falls on the stinky side of the ethical line.

    Good luck with your series. I look forward to it. As an author, I’m very worried about the slippery slope issues exposed through the FSoG example. Copyright law seems to grant me sole permission to create any derivative works (including the use of my characters), and I’d hate to see that right lost. I’m not anti-fanfic at all (my first completed novel was Harry Potter fanfic), but never in a million years would I ever try to make money off it.

  121. BrookeLockart
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 15:50:15

    The running joke has been: Can’t wait to see the AU fan fic of 50 Shades where Christian’s a vampire. :-)

  122. Edward
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 15:55:42

    You know, I’m surprised. Why has Miss Stephanie Meyer not say anything about this yet?

  123. Ros
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 16:06:07

    @BrookeLockart: Hahaha!

  124. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 16:44:18

    @Edward: My guess would be her lawyers are discussing what, if anything, should be done. Not weighing in until that has been thoroughly examined is the wise thing to do.

    Like I said, I’m not a huge fan of Meyer’s writing, but I still don’t think someone else should be able to profit by hijacking the work she put into creating characters and a fan base. I know it can be hard to understand, but just changing the names/hair color/eye color does not make the characters, their history, their family dynamic, their tics etc. the property of the person who changed the names, especially when they started out using the EXACT characters created by the original author. Or it shouldn’t, in my opinion.

    If you want to try to pull that off, don’t post it as fan fiction first, and don’t use the fandom of that author as your springboard, unless you’ve earned their fan loyalty in your own right (which some fan fic writers have, and they’ve gone on to publish o-fic and do quite well).

  125. KZoeT
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:10:18

    @BrookeLockart: LOL!

  126. KZoeT
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:11:45

    @Edward: I think it’s wise of SM not to say anything for as long as possible. The more money 50 makes, the better her chance of being awarded a cash settlement, right?

  127. Jody W.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:13:38

    >>>All authors gain inspiration from others, but fanfic authors take their inspiration from a single source. That’s not mixing a little from here and a little from there to create something new and unique.

    Except for crossovers! Fhitty Shades of Grhey, for example. Ghrey. Grhey. I don’t know which is bhetter. Should I call dibs now or…? I mean, I changed the spelling, right?

  128. Has
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:19:22


    I totally agree about that! And it would be very smart to do so – there’s even rumblings of a movie deal for this series and I wonder if Summit/Lionsgate will join in too.

  129. DS
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:21:06

    @KZoeT: The usual damages in this type of case is to make the defendant(s) disgorge all the money they were unjustly enriched with. Most law suits require proving loss by the plaintiff but in this case it isn’t the loss but the gain by the wrong doer that is important.

    I did wonder if the author being British and the first publisher Australian might have caused some problems.

  130. Jackie Barbosa
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:21:27

    Honestly, the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think we were on the slope to more and more fan fiction-type books when NY publishers started demanding authors reduce their story ideas to a “high concept hook” such as “Regency Bachelor” or “Hunger Games Meets The Bachelor” or “BDB with Shapeshifters.” Given this desire to hang every book’s marketing around some predecessor’s success, is it any wonder that we wind up with “BDSM Twilight” and “Regency Brady Bunch?”

    I think not.

  131. DS
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:25:47

    @DS: Crap, editing not showing. I don’t mean there that I am certain that Meyer would win a case if she brought it and that whatshername is a wrong doer. I was trying to point out the usual way damages are determined in similar cases.

  132. Shiv
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:28:28

    I think it’s the wrong comparison to look at the fanfic compared to the filed off version.

    The question is whether that filed off version infringes on Twilight, and you need to show more than the names for that. If I write fanfic – and I do – those elements that I create are original, and those elements that I borrow are not.

    In the case of Twilight, which is set in contemporary America with only the faintest fantasy veil of vampire and werewolf, and you take out the vampires and change the names, what elements can be found to be Meyer’s exclusive work?

    Not a lot.

  133. jennifer armintrout
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:29:43

    Why is it always the badly behaving fanficcers who get book deals?

  134. RR Kovar
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:36:49

    Actually, Shiv, comment #46 looks at the ways the characters are similar. Are you saying that it’s okay to take someone else’s characters in a novel, change very little about them, and profit from it solely because they have a contemporary setting? Because I think that opens up a huge can of worms. I don’t think the question is merely legal. Obviously, the publisher thinks they can get away with this on legal grounds.

    For me, the problem is that the writer of 50 Shades did not create original characters with original histories, back stories, motivations, etc. She poached someone else’s characters for fan fiction, which is okay by me, but then she changed the names and little else, called it original, and profited from it. These aren’t original characters she inserted into the Twilight universe; they are direct ripoffs of Meyer’s characters. I find that extremely unethical.

  135. Cara
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:55:16

    Honestly, while the whole fanfic self-plagiarism debate is interesting, I’m more annoyed at the hype being given to such a poorly-written piece of dreck. Not to mention, it kind of sickens me to know that this is going to be the “face” of erotic romance and bdsm erotica to the mainstream. How disappointing and potentially damaging. :(

  136. Cara
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 17:57:21

    @jennifer armintrout:

    Because the rest of them are too busy properly honing their craft and trying to give a damn about decent storytelling and ethics? I honestly don’t know. :/

  137. Jia
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:12:25

    @Robin/Janet: Well, no. It’s definitely silly to make a statement that’s so easily proven false.

  138. Evangeline Holland
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:19:22

    @Moriah Jovan: Ditto to all.

    As someone who was heavily into Fan-fiction and RPG as a teenager, I have to admit my bemusement at the confusion over the existence of fan-fiction. I haven’t been involved in the FF world for a long while, but the legal and ethical ramifications of writing fan-fiction were always very clear–every FF had to include a disclaimer (basically “I don’t own these characters/Buffy, Giles, et al belong to Fox/Mutant Enemy), and there were a few instances where Fox took a hard line against any derivatives of BtVS, whose characters they owned.

    Moreover, no matter if I wrote AU fic, the backbone of my characters–their appearance, their mannerisms, their dialogue, their reaction to situations, and so on, derived only from what was seen on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can write Buffy slaying vampires in 2023 or 1873, but every piece of characterization–the heart of any piece of fiction–is not of my own imagining, and that is where I feel the slippery slope of ethics and legality regarding the transition of Twilight–>MoTU–>Fifty Shades comes into play.

  139. Diane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:21:27

    It’s discouraging to think that all that really matters in securing a publishing contract is a fan base, and it can even begin by being someone else’s.

  140. Deb
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:25:12

    @Diane, I’m pretty irked by the author, but “discouraged” is a good word to describe my feelings about the publishers.

  141. Evangeline Holland
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:33:33


    It’s always been that way. Sure, you can secure a contract based on great writing (and timing), but a built-in fanbase makes the deal sweeter, since the risk of failure decreases.

  142. Diane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 19:47:27

    @Evangeline: I get it but its still depressing. The almighty dollar always rules. Also, not to be catty but the great writing was missing here. I had a bunch of friends who loved these books but the allure was lost on me.

  143. Melissa Blue
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 20:19:06

    @BrookeLockart: I think you should win funniest comment of the day. HA!

    No pun intended, but this whole thing is gray area to me. Doesn’t help there are a million distinctions. What’s fan fic? What’s original fiction? When is it homage, inspiration or copyright infringement? There’s no clear line. Copying and pasting is clear and that’s about it.

    Now what I’m curious about is the idea of beta reads, crits, reviews and community having such a sway on an authors work. Or some sort of claim on it. Deceptive intent or not on E.L’s part, any authors part, how much contribution from a community is necessary to say we had a hand in making this?

  144. Diana
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 20:32:03

    I find your article so interesting and am not surprised at all by your findings . A good friend recommended 50 Shades to me, telling me she couldn’t put it down, so I bought the first book and read it. About 50 pages in, I emailed her, telling her I couldn’t believe how much the book reminded me of Twilight; the descriptions of ALL of the characters, their mannerisms, their speech – it all screamed Twilight to me. I forged ahead in my reading, hoping I was wrong, and finally finished the book. Immediately, I did a search of 50 Shades and Twilight. To borrow Bella’s favorite saying when I saw the search results, I thought, “Holy crow!” I had absolutely no idea about MoTU but I wasn’t surprised where 50 Shades originated. And I think for the author and her publishers to say these are original works is insane! Women have flocked to 50 Shades purely because it’s written exactly like Twilight was. The only “original” part to 50 Shades was the email conversations. I’ll give the author that. It’s really disheartening to see the author get away with something like this. ((shakes head)) Color me 50 Shades of Disappointed. How do people get away with things like this??

  145. Jami Gold
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 20:59:29


    “The only “original” part to 50 Shades was the email conversations. I’ll give the author that.”

    I love that you pointed this out. On the huge comment conversation on my blog, we started digging into this yesterday(? I think?). Anyway, I’ve seen *so* many reviewers talk about those sections being their favorites, how the characters really come alive, and how the characters seem like completely different people in those sections.

    I have a theory… *waits for Buffy song* I think because those email exchanges were original to MotU/FSoG, James had the opportunity to step outside the Edward/Bella characters she was trying to evoke and instead follow her own authorial voice there. We see in those exchanges the potential of what the characterization could have been if she hadn’t constrained herself to copying Stephenie’s characters.

    That sounds great for James–the favorite parts of many reviewers were her most original and non-derivative–but that also points out just how much the characters *aren’t* hers the rest of the time.

  146. Wahoo Suze
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 21:25:37

    Re the publisher’s claim of the work being original: I can remember buying a stand-alone novel by an author who had hit the bestseller list, but had started in categories (I think it was Elizabeth Lowell, but my brain is swiss cheese). I read the book, the whole time thinking I had read it before (this was back before my brain was swiss cheese). It turned out to be one of her categories, enlarged and expanded and republished.

    Which is cool. I don’t remember it being substantially different, but it was substantially *longer*, so she must have added stuff.

    The thing is, it wasn’t original work. It was HER original work, but I’d already paid for that story. If I’d known I’d already bought and read it, I would probably have chosen to buy a different book.

    I pay for books (instead of pirating them) in large part because I want to support the author’s work. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time to create people, their settings, and their interactions. If an author goes to all that work once, sells the story, and then decides to just copy her book over and over again, doing a find & replace on the names and settings, I’m going to be feeling very ripped off and pissed off a couple of books in. (Jayne Anne Krentz went through a phase like this for a while, and I almost gave up on her.)

    At the VERY, VERY LEAST, if the publisher is making official statements that the book is original work, it should be nothing published before, anywhere.

  147. carly m.
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 21:57:26

    As someone who got their introduction to romance novels through Jane Austen fanfiction, I don’t really have a problem with publishers discovering new voices through fanfiction authors. What better way to learn your craft then sitting down and doing it. But what I do find frustrating is having a publisher state that a former fanfiction work is an absolute original. The example that comes to mind is Sourcebooks and Abigail Reynolds (excellent, high quality) Austen fiction. Fanfiction A became book 1 with a new title and cover, and then got another new title and cover as book 2 a few years later, and then got another new title and cover as book 3 a few years after that. Meanwhile, without no knowledge that A=1=2=3, I walk away as an annoyed customer that I’ve bought the same piece 3 times. This is a weak example because Reynolds warns her readers on her blog about the new titles being reprints, but still. If the publisher is making the decisions, they should let us know what is and is not an original work.

  148. Mara
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 22:01:30

    I can’t believe I just sat here and read through each of these comments. Normally, I get too annoyed by all the off topic or just vile ones present every where else on the web. I just wanted to say that either DA is doing an awesome job of editing the nasty, low quality comments out, or the community on this site is just as awesome as I always thought (or a little of both). Just such a great discussion and adds so much to Jane’s article. Thank you all!

  149. Jane
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 22:04:33

    @Mara: Just a great community here. I haven’t edited any comments or even felt the need to step in. That isn’t always the case but yeah for great discussion.

  150. Janine
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 00:01:15

    I’m really enjoying this conversation too. Never having participated in a fanfic community, I don’t have much to contribute, but the discussion has been fascinating, so my thanks goes to all who have posted.

  151. Sunshineyness
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 00:54:14

    I used to be an active fanfic person but maybe I’ve been too long from that world (in my day fanfic was about “Oh my god Buffy and Angel TOTALLY never should have broken up” and “Spock and Kirk should totally do it”) but all of this has done nothing but leave a sour taste in my mouth regarding fanfiction. I certainly no longer begrudge Robin Mickinley, Anne Rice, and Diana Gabaldon for their stern anti-fanfic stances and now totally get it.

    Fanfic is a fun and innocent way to celebrate your fandom, make friends, and be creative when you don’t take yourself seriously. It’s when you go around getting all “I write better than the original author does” (heard that a few times in my fanfic years) or “I understand her characters better than SHE does” (heard that one more times I’m afraid) or “I want to write my original fic but throw these characters names on it because I’m too scared of being properly judged by publishing standards” (A new one that 50 now occupies) I jump back and go “woah boy now. That is not was fanfic is about.”

  152. Mireya
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 07:24:16

    @Wahoo Suze: That’s something that I encountered a few times when I was still reviewing on a regular basis. In erotic romance, it happened quite a bit when a number of the authors whose work had originally been published digitally by small, independent epublishers, ended up being contracted by some of the large print publishers back when erotic romance became the flavor of the year. The big print publishers never mentioned that the work had been previously published somewhere else, the author would be the one usually giving this information via their blog/website/promo interviews, etc. By contrast several of the small epublishers, make a point of giving this information if they knew a story they are publishing had been previously published. Then again, small epublishers consider readers their actual customers and they try to pay attention (or at least, the long standing ones do). We all know that is not the case with the big print publishers, and of course, that makes them them entirely out of touch with the readership itself. They don’t cater to avid readers either. Basically they want authors that already have a fan base or casual readers, as the casual readers are the ones that will not mind raking upward of $20 for an overly hyped hardcover or $12 for a trade paperback.

  153. KMont
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 08:06:05


    Ros, I appreciate the link! I looked up the regular Wikipedia page on ff and just got more confused due to its lack of any real in-depth exploration. Lots of terminology with little to no explanation. I’ll check out your link soon.

    @Cavalier Queen:

    Thank you for confirming what I suspected! I definitely get the impression that it’s something that is hard to understand unless one participates in it. I do still hope to learn something here at DA, though. We shall see! I think I could use a dictionary for all the acronyms lol.

  154. jayhjay
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 08:10:51

    I have never read any of these books (nor do I have any interest in them) but I find it shocking that they can claim substantial differences when they are 89% the same. It is just outrageous to me. But i guess anything for money.

  155. Las
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 08:16:03

    @Diane: It’s discouraging to think that all that really matters in securing a publishing contract is a fan base, and it can even begin by being someone else’s.

    I fail to see how that’s much different from popular bloggers who get book deals.

  156. DS
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 09:02:26

    @Wahoo Suze: Elizabeth Lowell and Catherine Coulter both rewrote their shorter books to republish. I just checked and Coulter’s books copyright page acknowledges that the book was previously published in shorter form under another title– the correct way I think to handle the problem. Lowell’s publisher, Avon, does not.

  157. Sheryl Nantus
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 10:11:34

    To me, the important question is what does the author do NEXT?

    I wrote over 200 fanfics in the XF universe under Sheryl Martin many, many years ago and I can tell you that while it honed my writing skills I have no wish to go back and try to rewrite them. They’re just not that good.

    The author’s managed to maneuver her fanbase over to purchase this book and make it fly up the charts – more power to her. My fanbase never crossed over to my original works and many fanfic authors who go “pro” don’t have that sort of luck.

    BUT where does she go from here? As any author can tell you publishers want authors to produce MORE works, not just a one-shot series or book. After this trilogy is published and out there where and what does she write next? And will the fanbase continue to follow her if she produces an original work, not based on her fanfiction or a revamping of already-published work?

    I’m not envious of her position. After all’s been said and done she might be a flash in the pan, a one-trick pony who hit the right note at the right time for the right audience. Or she might be able to continue writing – who knows?

    That, to me, is the real issue. Where does she go from here?

  158. Liviania
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 12:04:26

    @jennifer armintrout

    Several well-behaving fanficcers have gotten book deals. Sarah Rees Brennan, Jaida Jones, and Naomi Novik for example.

  159. Lauren
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 16:31:10

    Love this thread, love the thoughts going on and the give-and-take! Isn’t the online community beautiful? Well, in this case, lol.

    I’d like to present a different situation and see what bounces back from your perspectives. I have a dear friend who writes a very, very long and popular fan-fiction. In this case, though, it’s based on a video game cross-over (Zelda: Ocarina of Time and several Fire Emblem games). Interestingly enough, she’s gotten a lot of flak for the characters being TOO original/departing from canon, though that’s not what I want to ask about.

    In this case – like many other cases, outside of the Twilight or book-based fandoms – the base that is the inspiration is simple, and she built complex characters and cultures and world details and systems around the simple bases

  160. Lauren
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 16:47:14

    Oops, hit post on accident. Anyway, she’s not seeking publication, because for her it’s about love for the original Zelda game and love for the story and the characters she developed. But over a hundred readers have requested she “change the names” and get it published so they can own a hard copy at home. The only two “beta readers” she’s had were me and another friend, and we’d be fully supportive. Her readers would be (and are) supportive of that. The fiction itself is highly original. But the story is still based in a simple, copyrighted – but distinct – world. Fish people called Zoras, Rock people called Gorons, desert thieves called Gerudos, eternal children called Kokiri, etc, and of course the plot element of the TRIFORCE (which is a major thing in all Zelda games and comics and stories. I’m assuming no one’s familiar with Zelda here).

    So, my question is, if she changed the names, would it be “okay,” in your personal opinions? I know some of you would say flat out no and some yes, but I’m interested. Because not all fan-fiction is like the case listed here. A lot of it doesn’t come from books, where descriptions and characterizations are already established and world details are supplied. On the other hand, tooooons of books have been published that are (we’ll use the established case here) complete rip-offs of Twilight. Down to silly things like the biting lip and blushing, him having “copper” or “bronze” hair, that are clearly drawn from Twilight. Is the difference establishing where’s fan-fiction and where’s “copycats who make it” is whether it was posted online first and garnered reviews and a following? What if something is put up but never receives either, but the author acknowledges its basis as a fanfiction? What if, despite having a following, a fan fic writer received no outside help except encouragement, and thus there isn’t “unpaid labor” involved (as in the case of my friend)?

    I don’t have answers, more just questions. But I think the point I’m trying to illustrate is that there are so many shades of grey in this arena (oh, self…did I just say that? haha). No matter what legal rules are set up now or will be in the future, some people will use it rightfully and some will abuse it, just as is the case now. But I’m fascinated to know where publishing will go with this in the future.

  161. Lauren
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 16:55:41

    Oh right, I forgot to include the other “what if” – what if a person began writing something as a “fan-fiction” in every sense except that it wasn’t shared on the internet, and then changed the names and sought publication? Original story, but using characterizations based on one specific book, the writer just never acknowledged it to anyone else. Then again of course, there’s the whole question of “stock characters.” Edward being the hyperbole of a Byronic hero, and Bella being what some fan-ficcers call a classic “Mary Sue” – but I have to answer myself there, that the stock has always been there, but Stephenie Meyer conceptualized her specific incarnations of those stock characters.

    IMO, “rip-offs” in general aren’t in good taste. Sometimes they make me mad, but sometimes they make me laugh, and I’m not angry at all. I just think of those little fish that always hang around sharks. I don’t know if there IS a distinction between when it’s “okay” and when it’s “not okay,” or when it’s “not okay but aw shucks, isn’t it cute and a little sad how they’re trying?”

  162. Jami Gold
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 17:42:04

    @Lauren: Great question!

    Personally, I see a difference between fanfic that changes mediums (TV to book, video game to book, etc.) than those that stay in the same medium. With changes to the names, some personality traits, and worldbuilding, a new medium seems more like a truly new and original interpretation–reaching that level of transformative work. I still would want more reworking than *just* changing names, but the fanfic author would be inventing more of the character details, background, mannerisms and whatnot than with a book-to-book derivative work. Just IMHO. :)

  163. Hybrid Theory » Blog Archive » The Ethical Dilemma of Publishing Fan-Fiction.
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 19:16:14

    […] Recently, I came across an article that could put the entire Twilight fandom in jeopardy. A Russian girl had a copy of the original PDF of the Master of the Universe fanfic and wrote an article comparing the similarities between MotU and  the Fifty Shades trilogy. Many people were outraged by it and I was not surprised when some contacted Stephenie Meyer and her agent about that book series. You can read that article at…. […]

  164. LowellReader
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 21:55:04

    @DS: Actually DS, yes, in the front of Elizabeth Lowell’s books that have been re-written (Beautiful Dreamer/Valley of the Sun to name one) it does state that it is a re-write of Valley of the Sun. It states something along the lines of…originally published as Valley of the Sun…at least in my copy it does. And its an Avon print so…haven’t checked the other re-writes though.

  165. Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 04:01:25

    […] points to Master of the Universe versus Fifty Shades by E.L James Comparison by Jane Litte at Dear Author in which there’s an assertion that “Fifty Shades” is […]

  166. DS
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 04:15:24

    @LowellReader: I looked at the Amazon samples currently up on the rewrites. It could be different for different printings. Yonks ago if some thing had previously been printed under another title the info appeared n small print on the cover page.

    The ones I checked were the Donovan books BTW.

    ETA My brain is either turning to mush or this tablet is doing some sort of auto word choice. Please forgive any weird word choices.

  167. links 3/15 | blair thornburgh
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 08:03:45

    […] Masters of the Universe vs. 50 Shades of Gray–Did you know that hot new erotica book everyone’s reading started out as Twilight fanfic? Intriguing stuff. […]

  168. anonm
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 10:03:42

    >James took the fan fiction versions offline.

    Really? You can still read the fan fiction version and download it in PDF format via a Twilight fan fiction directory. I’ve compared and contrasted both versions and they’re pretty much the same except for name changes, Grey resembles Edward Cullen in every way right down to personality… because he IS Edward Cullen under an assumed name. Let’s just say the published version of 50 Shades of Grey is the Twilight characters signing into a hotel under pseudonyms for the weekend.

  169. Karen Scott
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 10:05:30

    Grey resembles Edward Cullen in every way right down to personality… because he IS Edward Cullen under an assumed name. Let’s just say the published version of 50 Shades of Grey is the Twilight characters signing into a hotel under pseudonyms for the weekend.


  170. Athena Grayson
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 11:25:33

    The First Rule of Fanfic Club is You Don’t Talk About Fanfic Club.
    I’ve read much better (and much better-researched) BDSM original fics. The question comes down to–how much attention would this get from either a publishing house or the world in general if the characters hadn’t started their lives being named Edward and Bella.

    EL James is either seriously lucky, or seriously legaled-up. If I tried to create a story named “Space Wars” with characters named Luck Starwalker, Ham Salo, and Princess Luau, I’d be Force-choked by Yoda’s lawyers quicker than you can say, “May the Force be with you.”

    I find her lack of discretion disturbing…

  171. Athena Grayson
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 11:53:10

    Lauren, I would encourage your friend not to “publish” her Zelda fanfic and especially not to sell it for money. If her ficfans want to have printed copies, she could make available a PDF they can print out on their own. Back in the days when dirt was young, fanzines existed as badly-mimeographed, typewritten pages stapled together and sent out or passed around at conventions, but it really disrespects the original work to sell the derivative for profit. And when you bring money into it, there’s no telling what the lawyers will do.

  172. greenjasminetea
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 15:45:22

    Jami Gold (who posted up thread) has a great discussion on the ethics of this situation but there is also a great comment by Camaro that has a list of similarities between FSoG and Twilight.

    And as others have stated, the real issue isn’t that FSoG is practically the same as MotU but rather MotU is a derivation of the Twilight Saga/universe.

    What bothers me about much of this debate is the breezy defense that since the character names are changed and that this is an AU fanfic that it is okay and doesn’t constitute copyright infringement. All fanfic is AU because it is not canon, even when the story follows a canon route. If it is not sanctioned by the original creator, it is AU. Fanfic operates using the characters and motifs derived from the original source material and putting them in new situations whether it is a continuation of the canon storyline or putting them in a BDSM/highly sexual situation.

    That’s the joy and conceit of fanfiction. That you get to play in someone else’s playground.

    But that breezy defense of “it is different names and situation” bothers me because it totally disregards the creative process and work that a writer goes through to create an original piece of work. Like her or hate her, Stephenie Meyer is the one who sat staring at a blank screen and created the characters of Bella and Edward and the traits they have and the other characters in their world that shape who they are. Yes, Meyer may have used archetypes of Byronic hero and shy heroine but she also created relationships within Edward & BellaThat laundry list of similarities that Camaro notes shows just how deeply James mined Meyer’s work to create her story. As I’ve seen others say, “It is Twilight for grown ups because it is still Twilight.”

    And it isn’t jealousy of James that makes me feel this way as I’ve seen defenders of James accuse anyone who feels discomfort about this be accused of. I already know that I am not fiction writer. I know that because I have learned through trial and error that I don’t have that capability of bringing a character and his/her world to life. That’s a skill that I don’t possess but I understand that it is a skill that is honed and worked on.

    What James (and apparently other fanfic writers as well) and the publishers who publish have done is disregard that skill.

    Funny thing about all of this is that I once regarded George RR Martin’s take on fanfiction and why he doesn’t allow it as being overly curmudgeon but now, I totally understand why he doesn’t allow it.

  173. ephemeral
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 19:57:06

    Wow! I just read the link which is meant to recount the history of EL James within the Twilight Fanfiction community, and I have to say I am shocked at the level of bitterness and vitriol of the author “gentleblaze”. That is one serious chip!

    I remember when this storm in a teacup happened—when this person published private (and casually worded) correspondence between friends/associates. It was published in an attempt to stir up bad feelings as she disagreed with EL James in her decision to publish. I remember that in response EL James posted the entire conversations (not just the bits which had been taken out of context to be inflammatory) but then took the post down after a few hours as she felt it was the wrong way to handle the situation. I read that post and for the life of me I could not see anything wrong with what EL James had written, but I developed a very negative opinion of the other party—a person of whom I had until then been unaware—who seemed incapable accepting they had a difference of opinion and soon adopted a belligerent and bullying tone.

    I guess that sort of sets the scene for some of the comments I have read on this site. In a way, I think the general issues of publishing fanfiction have in this case been overlaid by this schism in the Twilight fanfiction community and emotionally loaded in a way which is disproportionate.

    By a random set of circumstances, I happened to read the MoTU fanfic while it was being written. I rarely read fanfic as I don’t enjoy the experience of serial writing, but this fiction was for me a pleasurable exception. I found EL James to be very considerate to her readers; she updated weekly, if not more frequently, and when she decided to publish her fic, she still continued to update until she completed the fic so that her regular readers could read the story in its entirety. Pretty generous in my mind.

    I am not really involved in the fanfiction community and I’m not an author, but I am a published illustrator so I understand the genesis of inspiration. I have seen examples where my work has been the jumping off point for other work, and I think it’s a great thing.

    I agree that art isn’t always created in isolation anymore. In this particular case, I think you had a mom who read some fanfic which gave her the itch to try writing herself. She was inspired at a particular moment of time and so her work appeared on a fanfic site—it could have easily found another outlet. Is that so much different from Stephenie Meyer, a stay at home mum with young kids, secretly writing to keep her sanity, and presenting the first draft to her sister as a birthday present? I find it difficult to believe that in either case the authors intended or expected their work to blow up in the way that it did. Does anybody really think that either of them masterminded things? That EL James was always planning to develop a fanbase so she could “take advantage of them”? That Stephenie Meyer was always planning a movie deal? Why must this be given such sinister connotations?

    For myself, I did not feel the work was a reinterpretation or infringement Twilight. I felt that EL James was more than generous with her fanfic readers, and had every right to eventually pull her story and publish it. Consequently, I was more than happy to purchase the books…even though I still had copies of the original fanfic.

  174. greenjasminetea
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 20:33:14

    “and when she decided to publish her fic, she still continued to update until she completed the fic so that her regular readers could read the story in its entirety.”

    Fact that she knew she would be publishing the story as an original work while writing it as an fanfiction and continuing to use Meyer’s template of characters and motifs doesn’t make her considerate. It actually makes the whole thing seem worse.

  175. ephemeral
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 21:15:55

    @greenjasminetea—I’m not entirely sure I see your point, but I guess it would come down to a fundamental difference in the interpretation of “continuing to use Meyer’s template of characters”.

    The characters of MoTU were essentially a quiet bookish girl and a dangerous but protective hero—a combination you could see in hundreds of published books—and not at all unique to Stephenie Meyer. What made the difference with these character was the unique way they express themselves and the overall character development, and the growth organically achieved by the plot. In my opinion, this was all original work created by EL James and at the fanfiction stage, the only resemblance was the shared names.

    As far as the “motifs”, I think that is going to be entirely subjective. Of course I knew it was a fanfiction, but I have read posts where people were entirely surprised and would never have guessed as things were so different. I guess if you go looking for similarities, you’ll find them, but I think it would be easy to say that of many books published since Twilight came out. And let’s not forget that Stephenie has said that Pride & Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, Wuthering Heights, and Merchant of Venice were the inspiration for her books.

    I felt EL James was considerate because she completed the last couple of chapters of her story and kept it up on the website for several weeks to allow those interested to finish it. She could have left it at as cliffhanger and said if you want to know what happens buy the book. She could have disappeared. Instead, she let everyone know what was happening, completed the story, and allowed everyone to finish it for free. I’m really not certain what more I personally could have expected of her, and it certainly gave me the option to buy the books or not.

  176. Rose
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 22:36:19

    I don’t understand why there is a debate about whether this story is a Twilight rip off or not. Besides the similarities pointed out in this article and the comments, the authors actions and choices make it clear. Did the author post it in a Twi FF forum? Did she name her characters Edward and Bella? Did she rely on the fact that the world and his wife know how Edward and Bella look/speak/act/think? Did the characters being already ‘fleshed out’ through the hard work of others (original author/screenwriters/actors) help her? The answer to all of the previous questions is yes.

    When you read the FF story, did you imagine the characters looked like RPatzz and KStew (as Edward and Bella)? If so, they are Stephanie Meyer’s characters and only together on the page and on screen because she created them and their relationship.

    As others have said, if it isn’t a big deal, why has the publisher been at pains to tell everyone that this is a different story to MOTU?

  177. greenjasminetea
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 23:47:24

    @ephemeral Inspiration is not the same as fanfiction. Meyer disclosing her inspirations helps inform the reader but it is not a wholesale rip of the stories.

    And from what I have read, there are more similarities in Christian and Ana in Edward and Bella than what you are saying. James took the Twilight cast and renamed but essentially used them for similar plot devices. Repackaged, but still the Twilight cast of characters. That is what fanfiction does. It essentially takes the known characters and dresses them up for a new play. The story may progress differently but the trips and triggers of the source material remained.

    If James’s work was so very original than why didn’t she go the tough route and go original from the beginning? Why use the Twilight fan arena? Why use Meyer’s work as the launching pad?

    James didn’t do that. She didn’t change physical descriptions. She didn’t even change the location of Washington state to some where closer to where she is from to write a more accurate setting. Last I heard there are billionaires in the UK and university students. Insteads, she kept the Meyers character traits and important Twilight universe trigger of Washington state for her work.

    Perhaps you don’t have a problem with this, but I’d think that authors on a go-forward basis should take this into consideration that if he/she allows fanfiction that the fanfic writer may not care about that disclaimer and may very well be planning to take the characters that he or she crafted and use them for profit.

  178. Sel
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 00:51:34

    Honestly, as an author, I agree with those of you who have stated that the ethics in this come into play considering the work she had to put in creating her own characters, building a world, and plots – which in this case was none. She rehashed a novel that already existed (though I won’t call out the scene similarities between The Vampire Diaries and Twilight’s big reveal) and that is the true problem. There is nothing wrong with fanfiction. There IS something wrong with ripping off other people’s worlds and claiming them as your own. I don’t like to see this done, and sadly, this happens in film and television ALL of the time, as well as in the writing world.

  179. Gail Kavanagh
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 01:05:38

    I wrote fanfic back in the day and it was always a balancing act, constantly disclaiming any infringement of creative copyright even though we knew that was exactly what we were doing. I gave it up and started writing my own stuff for mainstream fanzines. But I still know what’s what in fanfic – FSoG is bottom of the pile Mary Sue, spawned out of the fan’s fervent (and ultimately pathetic) lust for a particular male character. Vintage and Random House may think it’s all terribly cutting edge and new, but they are of the generation ‘so five minutes ago’ and make everything up as they go along. The fanzine editors I knew and loved would have trashed this garbage as it deserves. And Stephanie Meyer can sue them for plagiarism and for spelling her name wrong!

  180. Sara
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 04:35:02

    It’s funny to see the people here try and deny the similarities to Twilight, as they defend this opportunistic repackaging of Twilight fanfic. Maybe you need to be reminded of the similarities to Twilight?

    MOTU’s/FSoG’s Edward/Christian:
    Very handsome and wealthy, mesmerises people
    Has bronze unruly hair
    Is harbouring a secret (he’s a Domme)
    Plays the piano proficiently, with eclectic tastes
    Was adopted by his parents
    Self-loathing is a massive character trait
    Rebelled against his parents in his teenage years
    Claims he is tired of trying to stay away from Ana/Bella, to which she responds “Then don’t”
    Worries about touching Bella
    Saves her from an accident
    Is aghast at the idea of having a unexpected baby, which Ana/Bella refers to as “Blip”

    Twilight’s Edward:
    Very handsome and wealthy, mesmerises people
    Has copper coloured unruly hair
    Is harbouring a secret (he’s a Vampire)
    Plays the piano proficiently, with eclectic tastes
    Was adopted by Carlisle as a companion
    Self-loathing is a massive character trait
    Rebelled against his family in his early vampire years
    Claims he is tired of staying away from Bella, to which she responds “Then don’t”
    Worries about Bella/Ana touching him
    Saves her from being attacked
    Is aghast at the idea of having a unexpected baby, which Bella refers to as “Nudger”

    Let’s look at Bella now, shall we?

    MOTU’s/FSoG’s Ana/Bella:
    Shy and inexperienced, with low self esteem
    Brunette, blushes and bites her lip constantly
    She’s clumsy
    When Edward/Christian touches her “as our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static”.
    Is enamoured by the enigmatic Christian/Edward
    Has a love for the Classics
    Has a cop for a father
    Has an absent, wandering mother
    Her Hispanic best friend wants more from her
    Is fiercely protective of her little Blip

    Twilight’s Bella:
    Shy and inexperienced, with low self esteem
    Brunette, blushes and bites her lip constantly
    She’s clumsy
    When Edward touches her, it “stung my hand as if an electric current had passed through us”.
    Is enamoured by the enigmatic Edward
    Has a love for the Classics
    Has a cop for a father
    Has an absent, wandering mother
    Her Native American best friend wants more from her
    Is fiercely protective of her little Nudger

    Blind Freddy could see that this story, is just Twilight minus vampires, replaced with sex.

  181. ephemeral
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 06:53:35

    I think there is a difference between being “Blind Freddy” and having a different point of view. You see similarities—I see differences. Glass half full—Glass half empty. I happily agree to disagree.

  182. Sara
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 07:01:29

    Are you one of the Bunker Babes, by any chance? Serious question.

  183. DS
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 07:22:55

    What is a Bunker Babe? I googled and got a goat farm, a golf group and a gaming group as my top choices.

  184. Sara
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 07:32:15


    A Bunker Babe was the title that fans of MOTU gave themselves in the forums of Twilighted. They are the ones that threw that ridiculous convention, purchased the book, and rabidly defend the author whenever anyone criticises her.

  185. Friday Favorites – Playing Catch Up « Shannyn Schroeder's Blog
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 11:02:23

    […] up, Jane over at Dear Author did a comparison of the current book with the original. The reason she did this was because the author claimed that although the book started as fan […]

  186. ephemeral
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 11:39:16

    Actually, No. Serious answer. I do not participate in the fanfiction community other than to leave the occasional review and I haven’t read a fanfiction since MoTU. It’s just not my cup of tea.

    I don’t have a horse in this race—I simply have a different point of view. I posted originally because I was shocked by that website which was so “rabid” in it’s attack of EL James; it seemed unfair and certainly in my opinion a misrepresentation of things I happened to have witnessed.

    Having read all the source material, I have formed my own opinion which I have expressed here in a manner I feel has been far from “rabid”.

    Maybe your world is a bit more Black and White and my world is a bit more Grey?

  187. Around the Bookish News: Week-in-Review | Book Lovers Inc.
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 12:07:09

    […] original work and is different from its fanfiction origins, called Master of the Universe. However, Jane from Dear Author has challenged this by posting a comparison of the two texts which belies this. 50 Shades is 89 percent the same as original fanfiction shows its not a different […]

  188. L
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 13:16:10

    I think you missed something in your comparison.

    There was an epilogue for MOTU and it was the same as in Fifty Shades Freed. The bonus chapter “Fifty’s First Christmas” was an outtake of MOTU before. The beginning of the second bonus chapter “Meet Fifty Shades” was also available as an outtake for MOTU. Just the second part of the “Meet Fifty Shades” chapter was new (at least for me).

    I think MOTU and the Fifty trilogy are more than 90 % the same. EL James really just changed the names of the characters, a few attributes (in MOTU Bella has brown eyes; Ana has blue eyes) and a few other things (in MOTU Bella works at Newton’s camping warehouse; Ana works at Clayton’s hardware store).
    I AM a huge fan of MOTU, but since she published the trilogy I feel like I (as a MOTU reader and reviewer) was some kind of guinea pig for her work. She posted this story and when she had enough attention she simple pulled and published it to make money. She even used some of the reviews from MOTU to improve her work.
    For instance: I remember when she posted the chapter of MOTU where Edward walks off to meet Mrs. Robinson after Bella tells him that she is pregnant. After that, Bella and Edward have a discussion and he justifies his meeting with Mrs. R with “I had a drink with an old friend.”. Many readers where shocked that Fifty still sees Mrs. R as an friend and that there was no progress in his character at all. However, in Fifty Shades Freed she used this reaction from her readers. Now Christian (or Edward) justifies is action with “I had a drink with someone I used to be close to.”
    It may be a simple sentence, but sometimes that can change so much.

    Like I said before, I still am a fan of MOTU and I think EL James is very talented. Should she ever write a new book I will probably buy it. But by publishing MOTU she kind of cheated on her former readers.

  189. BookTrib | ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Publishing’s Sexiest Trend »
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 13:25:14

    […] mainstream press dropped the issue, but book blogger Jane Litte continued to compare the two books on her site. She plugged the book into Turnitin, the academic plagiarism detection […]

  190. Jami Gold
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 16:23:18


    “You see similarities—I see differences.”

    Yes, but the question is, do the differences mean that James created something new and unique that’s not a rip-off? Or do the similarities that James put there ON PURPOSE to appeal to the Twilight fandom mean that she stole Stephenie Meyer’s characters?

    Any story could find similarities with any other story in a literary version of Six Degrees of Separation. But there’s a difference between similarities that are coincidences and those that are on purpose. Every similarity in this case is a conscious choice James made to make this story like Twilight. There are no coincidences here.

    James can not, in any way shape or form, claim that she created new, non-Twilight-related characters here. By starting this as a Twilight fanfic, she purposely chose to use Twilight-related characters–characters that belong to Stephenie Meyer. Every similarity that still exists emphasizes how deep the stealing goes.

  191. Lauren
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 17:00:07

    @Athena: Oh, my friend isn’t seeking publication, I just wanted to use that example to contrast with the generalisations being made about why it’s not okay to publish fan-fiction. My friend is a perfect example of someone who did not obtain free labor from her fans, has very distinctively created unique interpretations of the characters from her source material, and created unique and intricate cultures to fill up her source’s worlds. But it.still wouldn’t be okay to publish it (which is ok cuz she wouldn’t change the names and try to publish it anyway).

    So, in essence, I was asking about the issues of originality in a fan-fiction setting

  192. Lauren
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 17:07:14

    And where the lines are. Because obviously there’s more to it than whether the characters are derived from existing descriptions/characteristics and whether ore not a fanbase was ill-used. Those are both imporrant factors, but in a situation where they’re not problems, there’s something else that makes it “not okay” to many people. I’m just interested in identifying and discussing what that factor is, where the line is, and why – as a general principle in publishing, even beyond this MotU/FSoG case.

  193. Erotic Novel '50 Shades Of Grey,' Fan Fiction And Copyright … | Novel Junkie
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 18:26:24

    […] Jane Litte, who runs the popular romance blog “Dear Author,” compares 50 Shades of Grey to Master of the Universe using a variety of Internet tools, and finds that the […]

  194. RR Kovar
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 21:34:23

    For me, the line is simple: if you start your story using someone else’s characters, including their names and descriptions, and that story is posted as a fan fic on several sites, then you are asking the readers to bring to your story their knowledge of the source material, including their emotional attachment to those characters, ostensibly because you are writing this for the fans of that work to enjoy, but also because you like the attention that fandom will bring to your work. This is the basis of fan fiction, regardless of what media spawned it (TV shows, video games, novels, etc.). You cannot then take that exact same work, change very few details, pretend that you never intended it to be a work of fan fiction, and profit from it. Well, you CAN, apparently, but I think it’s lazy and unethical.

    I have written fan fiction. It’s fun, and I learned to respect the comma. I mostly write original fiction now, which is also fun, but much harder. Writing original fiction means building a world from the ground up, even if it’s our world. It means creating characters with their own histories, quirks, proclivities, fears, hopes, etc. It means working out how those characters respond to each other and the people around them.

    When you borrow other people’s characters and world, you are riding in on their hard work, and you cannot call it original. Even if all the words in your story came from you, the source material did not.

  195. Jami Gold
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 22:33:42

    @RR Kovar: *looks around for the LIKE button* :)

  196. B
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 03:46:46

    […] Author hat die Fanfic-Version von »Fifty Shades« mit der aktuellen Version […]

  197. ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Publishing’s Sexiest Trend » » Controversial ShitControversial Shit
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 05:03:50

    […] mainstream press dropped the issue, but book blogger Jane Litte continued to compare the two books on her site. She plugged the book into Turnitin, the academic plagiarism detection […]

  198. Co-creation of a modern bodice-ripper | M E D I A C L A R I T Y
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 17:14:01

    […] of the Universe and published for free on a fan fiction site.  Another impressive blog called Dear Author carried out numerous comparison tests. They found the book,  according to the plagiarism detection […]

  199. Derivative/Transformative Work(s) | Something More
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 17:36:29

    […] this discussion is the popularity of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray (which according to an analysis by Dear Author is very similar to her Twilight fan fiction Master of the Universe) and the news that Vintage won a […]

  200. Nathalie
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 20:20:33

    More of a concern than pull-to-publish (the ramifications of which are unclear…Stephanie Meyer always comes across as someone very protective of her texts) is the idea… Is this really want women want? Really?! A poor imitation of Twilight? Bella and Edward having (kinky) sex is enough to overlook the fact that it’s not well written, the characters show no growth, it wafgles on and on, the sexin’ attempts to disguise holes in narrative and plot development, and a plot that centres on a controlling relationship which is detrimental to the health of the heroine? Ana, incidentally is no heroine.

    Is this really the best that popular culture has to offer for women right now?

    I admire James for using social media to her advantage to build on a pre-existing audience – there is clearly a lesson to be learnt for traditional publishers about modern marketing – but to deny her success had anything to do with that pre-existing audience comes across as somewhat arrogant.

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