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Fanfiction and the Nebula Awards

So there's been a bit of discussion about the fact that World Enough and Time made the final Nebula ballot. For those who don't know, WEaT is a Star Trek episode which was put together by fans instead of Paramount. I.e., fanfiction.

Only I guess it's not that simple. kradical posted late last night that he had received an e-mail stating that WEaT was indeed professionally produced: it was done with Paramount's permission, and the writers were paid. I've also heard the opposite assertion, so I'm still waiting to hear if any more facts surface before coming to any conclusions*. I know the SFWA awards committee is looking into it, but sadly, it takes more than a snap of the fingers to do proper research.

The Nebula Awards rules do require a script to be professional produced in order to be eligible. That's what's being researched, to see if WEaT qualifies. But here's an interesting tidbit. That "professional" rule doesn't appear for any other category. A self-published novel is every bit as eligible as the latest Tor or Baen bestseller. And as far as I can tell, so is fanfiction.

If anyone here can find a rule excluding fanfiction from Nebula consideration, please let me know, 'cause I'm not seeing it. ETA: I've just gotten confirmation that, according to the rules-as-written, fanfiction is eligible in the other categories. I honestly don't know how to feel about that. A good story is a good story, and if enough SFWAns feel a piece of fanfic is worthy of recognition, why is that a bad thing? Aside from the legal mess, of course. I definitely understand how professional authors could and do feel snubbed at seeing a fan-made work on the ballot. Media tie-in gets no love, but WEaT is in the finals?

But as insulting as that is (and I'm speaking as someone who writes silly sword and sorcery books, and thus will never have a novel on the ballot), it's the membership who chooses to ignore them, not the organization. Media tie-ins are clearly eligible for the ballot. But for whatever reason, individual members either aren't reading them, or aren't nominating them. Personally, I think that's a shame. From the organizational standpoint though, I think legalities are the biggest problem.

It's problematic at best that SFWA could be in a position of appearing to endorse fanfiction, given the not-entirely-legal status of most fanfic. There are lots of arguments over whether or not fanfic is legal, and I have to say that most of the people making those arguments don't know what they're talking about. They're not lawyers, and they're not familiar with just how ugly and messy copyright law can be. (I'm not claiming to know where the lines are either.)

I've already seen people going off about how the WEaT thing is one more reason to avoid SFWA**. On the other hand, there are some skilled fanfic authors out there, and I suspect places like the Organization for Transformative Works would be thrilled.

Personally, I think it's probably a bad idea. If SFWA is going to take an official position on fanfiction, it needs to be done with a great deal of care and research, not through loopholes in the Nebula rules.

But at least this is an interesting controversy, as opposed to "Andrew Burt's Revenge, Part XII".

---
*Yes, I know. Waiting for facts violates the first rule of the Internet.

**Which is annoying. How about you see how the organization deals with the issue before running around and going off about how awful they are?

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( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
secritcrush
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)
Capo posted that first in the Nebula group, after contact with one of the writers of the project

(Edit: actually, it might have been in the lounge)

Edited at 2008-02-23 02:12 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
I saw the discussion in the Lounge, but being the idiot that I am, it never occurred to me to go check the Nebula group for further info. D'oh!

Though it doesn't look like it's come up there, now that I check.

My sense of the Lounge discussion was that it was at the "This is what we think..." stage as opposed to an official ruling. (Based on the "more or less" part of his comment.)

Edited at 2008-02-23 02:20 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - secritcrush - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - secritcrush - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - delkytlar - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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ellameena
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
The only criteria for such awards should be quality, as judged by those eligible to vote. If the votership finds a work worthy enough, then it should get the award, end of story. The legal status of the work is not SFWA's problem, and it's not SFWA's job to enforce everyone else's copyrights by arbitrarily penalizing one work or another. That is a matter between the author and the owner of the intellectual property. As you said, determining whether or not something has violated copyright is complex, and I'd rather not see SFWA spending its resources to legally vette each and every work on the ballot.
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
Hm ... in principle, I agree with a lot of what you're saying. But if a fanfiction work like Lori Jareo's rewrite of Star Wars were to win a Nebula, which is a SFWA-sponsored award, that would be a pretty clear statement that SFWA endorses fanfiction. It might not be intended that way, but that's how it's going to be seen. I do think that's a problem for the organization.
(no subject) - ellameena - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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sartorias
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
Self-pubbed books have been accepted by the juries, at least for the Norton.

I think there would be one problem with fanfic (and there is some terrific stuff out there)--the matter of copyright. In self-pulled work, there's no question about who owns the rights to the work. Fanfic? Maybe a special category?
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
I have zero problem with self-published work being eligible and on the ballot. I'm happy to know some have actually made it.

Ownership ... I hadn't thought of it in quite that way, but you're right. That could be nasty to untangle.

How would that play out for work-for-hire fiction, though? As I understand it, if I write a licensed Dragonlance novel, that's work-for-hire and they own the copyright.
(no subject) - sartorias - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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shanrina
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
Disclaimer: I know very little about Star Trek (and nothing about the episode in question or media tie-ins in general), I'm not currently eligible to join SFWA, and I doubt I'll be joining even when I am. However, here are my thoughts anyway:

I read fanfiction sometimes. I don't write it, mainly because I have enough ideas for original stories that have the potential to make me money to last me a lifetime already. There is some great stuff out there in the fanfiction world. I think it's a wonderful expression of love for a story/movie/TV series/video game/other work of art. If I found out there was fanfiction of my work (when/if it ever gets published), I'd probably be flattered, and the chances of me ever taking legal action against fanfiction of my work would be slim to nil (basically, unless the author in question got it into their heads to try to make money off of it or do something else that I thought would hurt my career).

That said, I don't think professional organizations (or organizations made up of professionals...I'm not sure if there's a difference, but in case there is I'm saying both) should be endorsing it. Fanfiction isn't illegal, but it's not completely legal either. I know fandom-author problems are relatively rare, but at the same time I would want any professional organization I did join to side with me if I ever did have a problem with the fandom associated with my works. I would want any relevant organization I was a part of to side with me.

As for the OTW, I do not support their mission. Many of the people I know in various fandoms disagree with their mission. I don't understand why an author would choose to side with them if there ever were any legal disputes because I think it would set a very bad precedent.
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
This:

"I know fandom-author problems are relatively rare, but at the same time I would want any professional organization I did join to side with me if I ever did have a problem with the fandom associated with my works."

Is a very good point, in my opinion. SFWA is an organization founded for the support of its members. I agree that, personally, it would take very extreme circumstances for me to ever consider going after a fan. But in those circumstances, I wouldn't want SFWA to face a conflict of interest when it came to guarding my back.

FWIW, I thought the episode was quite good. Nebula-worthy? I don't know ... but in terms of quality, I thought it at least deserved some consideration. (Quality being a separate issue from whether it meets the rules or is legal.)
jtglover
Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am not an SFWA member. I am not a walrus.

A good story is a good story, and if enough SFWAns feel a piece of fanfic is worthy of recognition, why is that a bad thing?

Two reasons.

First and quite apart from copyright or trademark issues, fanfic should inherently be beneath the notice of an organization by and for SF professionals. If you want to honor it, fine, create a "best fan fiction" category that's akin to the fan awards at cons, but don't rank it with the pros.

Second, a good story is inherently not a good story if it's the byblow of a cylon and an ent.
Fanfic is not the kind of original, creative work that deserves to be ranked with the best new work in the genre. If fan wank about Buffy or Spock -- however well written, acted, etc. -- can be up for consideration as the best of the genre, that says something horrible about the state of the genre. And if SF awards are going to High Quality Iteration 7,823 of Star Trek, SF is in sad, sad shape.
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
There's an awful lot of fanfic out there that goes beyond slash pairings or crossovers. Some of it can be very creative indeed, though a lot of it is crap. (For that matter, 90% of everything is crap.)

Would you say that tie-in novels (Trek, Star Wars, Halo, Forgotten Realms, etc) can be award-worthy, even though they're based in a pre-created world with a core of pre-created characters?

Please note that I'm not saying authorized tie-ins and fanfiction are the same thing. I'm mostly just trying to nail down your criteria for disqualifying all fanfiction.
OK, this is too long. Please forgive. - jtglover - Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OK, this is too long. Please forgive. - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OK, this is too long. Please forgive. - jtglover - Feb. 24th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
mela_lyn
Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
This is a completely uneducated position, but I don't think fanfic should be considered for anything or ever published without the express permission of the original writer. It's like stealing someone else's ideas and work. And the only person who should be rewarded for their work is the original. It's just like in the music industry if someone blatantly steals someone's music, like that whole argument between Weird Al and some of the people he's parodied. Why shouldn't writers have the same rights? /endrant
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
Actually, as I understand it, Weird Al seeks permission from the artists he parodies, even though he doesn't have to. (Parody gets some special protection under the law.)*

Now let me be a punk and throw a different question at you :-) I'm currently writing a book about Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Should I be eligible for a Nebula?

---
*I am not a lawyer, so take all of this with a chunk of salt.
(no subject) - mela_lyn - Feb. 23rd, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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swan_tower
Feb. 24th, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
Having just driven for much of today, I so don't have the brain to read through the comments in here, but I will say: Michael Burstein and I talked about a facet of this at Vericon, anent the issues surrounding the category of "fan writer." Nobody seems to agree on what that is, but me? I could be just fine with seeing that become a fanfic prize, by fiat or default.

Then again, you'd hear heads exploding all over the globe. And many more people cackling in glee.
jadesfire55
Feb. 25th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
OT
Hi Jim! We met at ConFusion over pizza dinner with Dean and M'jit. *waves*
jimhines
Feb. 25th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
Re: OT
Hi! Hm ... jadesfire55 isn't all that helpful of a user name, you know. Is this Nicole?

(And if I'm having a total brain fart on names, please forgive me. It's been a busy weekend.)

Anyway, nice to see you!
Re: OT - jadesfire55 - Feb. 25th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: OT - jimhines - Feb. 25th, 2008 12:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OT - jadesfire55 - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OT - jimhines - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OT - jadesfire55 - Feb. 25th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
klangley56
Feb. 27th, 2008 12:53 am (UTC)
On a related note . . .
Back in The Day (1974) two ST zine authors, Jackie Lichtenberg and Laura Basta, were nominated in the zine category of the prestigious Hugo Awards. A furor arose in the ranks of SF fandom (part of the ongoing disgruntlement SF fandom felt towards ST fandom at the time).

This was one of the factors that led to the creation (by Paula Smith and Sharon Ferraro) of the FanQ Awards, first awarded in 1977 and still awarded each year during MediaWest*Con.
( 54 comments — Leave a comment )

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