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

Introduction

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 fanfiction.net 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.


Turnitin

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.

Conclusion

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 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

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