Jim C. Hines (jimhines) wrote,
Jim C. Hines
jimhines

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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