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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?



( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
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)
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)
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
this is the post I was talking about - while it's not an official ruling by the committee, I think it's a bit more official[1] in nature than just "this is what we think."

[1] As in the president of SFWA requested info on the professional credentials of the work and someone associated with the work has confirmed that it was professionally produced. To me it's pretty much case closed right now, barring a complete reversal on the part of the writers or a contradiction from Paramount.
(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
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - delkytlar - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
How is it a problem for the organization? Unless you can show me a legal opinion stating that SFWA would actually incur some liability by awarding a nebula to the script, I don't see how it's a "problem." In what way? Who cares?

Now if it's not eligible under existing Nebula rules, then that's another story, and does not have much to do with it being fanfiction.
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Feb. 23rd, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)
The problem would arise in the following scenario:

1) Wonderful Fanfic Novel makes the final Neb ballot.

2) Before the award ceremony, but after the votes are in, the Author of the authorized work on which WFN was based contacts SFWA, and requests their help in fighting the infringement that WFN represents.


2a) Before the award ceremony, but while voting is going on, SFWA discovers that the Author of the work on which WFN was based had already authorized SFWA to take action against infringements on his/her behalf.

SFWA is SOL in such a case. They've got a finalist, with votes already cast, or being cast, which they are now obliged to treat as infringing material. What takes precedence? The Author's rights? Or the highly public Nebula process?

I don't know what the immediate solution is, but I believe clearly identifiable fanfic should not be eligible for the Nebula Award. Authorized media-tie-in should remain eligible. The problem with WEaT is that it's status remains uncertain, though it seems to be veering toward professional and eligible.
Feb. 25th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
Personally, I do not think it's the end of the world if the fanfic won a nebula under those circumstances. Life is messy. SFWA has two options in that case. 1) they can initiate sanctions against the fanfic author, including possibly retroactively revoking the Nebula (and this can even be done after ballots are cast by revoking eligibility and going with the second-place winner) or 2) they can shrug and go on with their normal copyright enforcement activities.

The thing is, if a piece of fanfic is awesome enough to win a Nebula, it's probably in the copyright-owner's best interests to grant permission for the use of the work. An excellent piece of fanfiction is going to boost sales of the original book. The kind of fanfic that authors don't like is crap fanfic--stuff that perverts the story and misuses the characters, and that's pretty unlikely to win a Nebula. As well, SFWA members are bound to be prejudiced against fanfic in their voting, and would tend to take that into consideration in casting their vote. So I am not worried about that myself.
(no subject) - delkytlar - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - delkytlar - Feb. 25th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Feb. 25th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - delkytlar - Feb. 25th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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?
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
I went to the Board to ask that self-pubbed things be considered for the Norton, as small press is, but so far, I haven't seen anything worthy of putting on the nominees' list. The problem overall has been not a dearth of good ideas, but a desperate need for a second draft--real critique--an editor. Few of us can see our own problems, and need good feedback before something is ready for print. Alas, this has been true in all the self-pubbed stuff I've seen so far, including in process (published on the net first).
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)

"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.)
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.
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
OK, this is too long. Please forgive.
I don't read much fic at all, but I've heard that much of it is very good, and that plenty of new SF authors these days got their jones on for writing by writing fanfic. I don't think it's inherently unworthy of being enjoyed -- I enjoy all sorts of semi-fiction, sorta-fiction, and para-fiction that I don't think is due the same level of regard as original, creative fiction.

In my personal opinion, I don't think media tie-ins are likely to survive in any meaningful sense as literature, nor should they, except perhaps in a few representative cases. The same goes in spades for fanfic.

That said, I've enjoyed reading plenty of media tie-ins in my time. But I've never yet read one that I thought was worthy of a best-in-the-genre award. I'm not speaking from snobbish disdain here -- I've simply never found myself moved by one to the extent that I've been moved by original work. Generally I've found these works to be at best competently written and tiresome in their tendency to explore every last empty spot in the story left by Lovecraft, Lucas, Roddenberry, etc. I don't blame their creators for writing them, as everyone's gotta eat, and some readers love the stuff.

(The sole exception to this for me would be the Dragonlance Chronicles, which I read in grade school and genuinely moved me. Does this mean they should have won an award? I dunno. I can't think of a response to that question that doesn't involve (a) inherent condemnation of children as lacking in discrimination or (b) dissing Weis & Hickman by suggesting their work is only fit for children.)

I think SFWA is an organization by and for writers, and the Nebulas are (or ought to be) awarded to works acknowledged by writers at large as being of high quality. If SF writers as a group say that they believe fan-created riffs on their own work are equal in quality to their own work, I think they're both ennobling the peasants shooting themselves in the foot in terms of likely revenue streams and opening the door to a definition of "good writing" that would inherently validate explicitly derivative works as a good thing.

Creators rights-wise... George Lucas, Lucasfilm, or whoever the hell authorizes SW tie-ins does not, in theory, choose bad writers to write the tie-ins. They choose skilled professionals whom they wish to expand the world that they own. If fanfic is legitimized via the Nebulas, the SFWA is implicitly stating that creators don't have the right -- moral, legal, or otherwise -- to control the development of their own work. Star Wars is not finished -- it's a story that's still continuing, owned by George Lucas, and he's due the respect of the SFWA
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
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
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
There is a difference between folk lore and fanfic. Folk lore, I think, is dealt with like basic concepts that 'everyone' knows. If you quote the 'I have a dream' speech, I don't think you have to cite it or get permission b/c it's public knowledge. Folk lore has no definite owner or background as such. Despite Grimm writing alot of fairy tales, most were based on folk lore from different countries. Also, the different versions are mostly public knowledge. But if you steal someone's characters, premise, storyline, etc... well, that's going a bit far.

Of course, this would all make sense to me and laws alot of times have no sense at all in them... just justification for greed. Sadness.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
I think "public domain" is the phrase you're looking for.

The debate on copyright laws is another fun one to get into. What's the purpose of copyright? To protect the creator's ability to make money? To encourage creativity? What about the public's right to build on the work's of others?

Maybe I'll make that a separate blog entry one of these days, and see just how many people I can piss off :-)
(no subject) - mela_lyn - Feb. 23rd, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.
Feb. 25th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
Hi Jim! We met at ConFusion over pizza dinner with Dean and M'jit. *waves*
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!
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)
Re: OT
It's a completely helpful username...if all you need to know is my fandom of choice. :)

I'm Nancy...whom you may have remembered as Nicole, but that's ok.
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
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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