The past two weeks have seen the resolution of two contentious interactions between writers and readers (a/k/a "fans"). Stephenie Meyer, author of the hugely successful teen vampire TWILIGHT series, announced that early drafts of her fifth novel (MIDNIGHT SUN) had been leaked on the Internet and that she no longer intended to complete the novel. In an unrelated court proceeding, J.K. Rowling, author of the, er, hugely successful HARRY POTTER series, won a court case and enjoined the publication of the HARRY POTTER LEXICON.
In both cases, the authors stated that their fans had gone too far. Meyer contended that her work-in-progress was never meant for public distribution; her writing inspiration evaporated as a result of critical scrutiny of her draft. Rowling claimed that the LEXICON borrowed so heavily from her published novels that it infringed her copyright; she maintained that her own planned lexicon could not be published successfully.
Both Meyer and Rowling have long histories supporting their fans. Meyer regularly corresponds with readers on her MySpace page; she reaches out to readers on a regular and time-consuming basis. Her book promotion has included such fan-friendly activities as staging a "prom", similar to the one that concludes the first volume of her wildly successful first novel. Rowling has tolerated G-rated fan fiction across the Internet. She ignored the LEXICON during its web-based incarnation; she only took action when the LEXICON author decided to publish his work in print.
Unfortunately, both Meyer and Rowling have now taken substantial hits in various online communities. They are castigated as copyright tyrants and viewed as "prima donnas". They are scorned for ignoring the "rights" of their readers. They are derided for biting the hands of the readers who regularly and extravagantly feed them.
My sympathies (not surprisingly) are with the authors.
Yes, it is legitimate for fans to create not-for-profit, non-competing works based on authors' novels. It is legitimate for readers to discuss the characters that they love, to debate the merits of plots, of execution. It is legitimate for critics to question the literary merit of novels, particularly novels which have attracted such extensive glorification by such a broad audience.
Sure, courts can discuss at length authors' legal rights. Meyer can (and still might) sue someone under some theory of theft or unjust enrichment or libel or right of privacy or right of publicity or whatever for the unauthorized publication of her work. Rowling can (and did) sue under copyright law.
But these matters never should reach a court of law. Readers should listen to and respect the opinions of the authors they love. If an author says he doesn't want fanfiction written in his world, true fans should respect that. If an author says that she doesn't want to compete against her own work in the marketplace, true fans should accept that decision. If an author says that she wants drafts left private, true fans should embrace that desire.
Authors get a lot from readers. Most immediately, they get money - but they also get emotional support, validation, even (sometimes) adulation. Authors should never go out of their way to alienate readers, especially the most avid fans.
But fans get a lot from authors, too. They get the books, the wild excitement of discovering new characters, new plots, new worlds. They get the thrill of truly great reads.
Can't we all be friends? Can't authors and fans work together? Can't these matters be referred to the court of normal civility, rather than a court of law? Can't we rely on reasonable people to take reasonable actions to preserve a peaceful coexistence?
Hey, I'm a fantasy writer. I can dream, can't I?
Causes Mindy Klasky Supports
FirstBook, a non-profit organization with the mission of giving underprivileged children their first books to own.