I stumbled upon a big ole self righteous argument about fanfic on Lee Goldberg's blog. (note the self-righteous behavior wasn't his actual blogpost. While I disagree with a few of his views on it, he wasn't an arrogant jerk, so I'm not going to make an issue of it.) It was really other people who responded to his blog that were misbehaving.
So...my views on fanfic:
First the legality/morality issue of fanfic:
The words "copyright infringement" are bandied about by a lot of people who don't seem to understand why copyright law exists. Copyright protects the ACTUAL EXPRESSION OF AN IDEA, not the idea itself. There are no new ideas. TRADEMARK protects characters and worlds. It is my opinion that a fanfic author could not ever win a lawsuit to protect a fanfic from being "stolen" by the original author. Not because of "copyright" law, but because of trademark law. That story cannot BELONG to you because they aren't your freaking characters. And everyone knows who's characters they are.
(I thought of an exception to this, since authorized media tie ins I believe are copyrighted in the author's name. But I think the keyword here is "authorized." You can't just write a star trek novel and get it copyrighted if it isn't authorized.)
If you're a big enough author to have fanfic written about your stuff, trust me...we all know who your characters belong to. So far a "fanfic" case has never actually gone to court. (And don't bring up Marion Zimmer Bradley...that never went to court, there were just threats of lawsuits. Anyone can threaten. It doesn't mean they have a case.) Also, the vast majority of fanfics posted online have a copyright legal disclaimer making it clear that the intent is not to infringe on copyright, pretty much waiving the fanfic writer's "right" to sue anybody.
Until a case goes to court, I'm going to consider the "incredibly famous author could lose rights to stuff everyone in the known universe knows is his" concept as retardia and nothing more. When a fanfic case goes to court, then let's talk about this.
I don't personally agree with authors who complain about fanfic. I can maybe understand a little bit of the fear that drives it despite the reality of a fanfic case never having gone to court. (Take the infamous Marrion Zimmer Bradley cautionary tale. While I feel that this is a pretty insane reason to send cease and desist letters, the story is whispered almost reverently among published authors fearful of their fans revolting.)
HOWEVER, despite my diagreeing with authors who disallow fanfic, I would never write fanfic in a verse where the author had explicitly said "no, don't do this." Of course I won't buy their books either. That's just how I feel about it. And I have a right to those feelings. It's not a petulant "you won't let me write fanfic, I won't read your stuff" It's more a: "I feel like you're overreacting and showing lack of support for your fans and I'm not on board with that attitude." I'm a fan and customer, and like any customer, I'll vote with my wallet.
People who are against fanfic whether it's based on some kind of classist elitism or self righteous indignation, or they just plain don't like it, often paint all fanfic writers as amoral miscreants. The vast majority of those who write fanfic, write it and share it for fun and to be part of a larger fan community. The vast majority respect the wishes of the Author who says "don't do it" and just don't play in that sandbox. The vast majority would never try to sue or harm an author whose world they wrote in.
So really, if you're still on this: "OMG aren't you ashamed you're so evil and immoral" bandwagon, get over it. It's tired and makes you look like a ninny IMO.
The other issue of fanfic that seems to be argued ad nauseum:
You aren't a "real writer" if you write fanfic. I believe this is a strawman argument. For one thing I've yet to personally meet anyone who thought they were a "real writer" BECAUSE they wrote fanfic. I HAVE, however come across people who write original fic and ALSO happen to write fanfic for fun who call themselves real writers.
There is this elitist classism among the "holy and respectful and real" writers who don't write fanfic against the "evil, heathen, defacing, disrespectful, criminal fake" writers who make all their original writing null and void by participating in a hobby.
When framed that way it DOES look pretty stupid doesn't it?
So why do I like fanfic?
1. Well, it's fun for one thing. I think really that if you have a passion for something, say writing... It's emotionally healthy to participate in the act in ways that aren't for profit. i.e. fanfic. Paul Goyet referred to people who write fanfic as "soulless." However I think doing something for the sheer enjoyment of it without looking to fame or monetary gain is one of the least soulless things you can do.
2. It builds community for fannish geeks like myself. We like to speculate about other people's characters and what if they did this or that. (And despite people complaining about anal sex fanfic, I think even fanfic smut has it's place as a way of exploring situations that would never be appropriate for the 'mainstream' audience of the original story/show/whatever.) Although...I will say, Harry Potter porn? Nasty. Isn't that like vicarious pedophelia?
3. And finally, ANY writing you do improves your other writing. The act of writing teaches you to write. And while I agree that fanfic isn't "real writing" in the same sense that original fic is, and it's not a literary genre... I still think it has its uses, like any writing exercise in the grand scheme of things. I mean really...if given the option do you want to do a writing exercise describing the clear blue sky outside or something that happened to your cousin when he was three, or would you rather write about something that you're passionate about?
So...fanfic, yay or nay? Stupid? Pointless? Evil? Fun? Weigh in. I might be away for a bit...I have to write some of that evil fanfic anal sex that people get so worked up about. *Listens to the sound of a thousand fanfic haters screaming.*