Riffing Off Someone Else

I have been taking a break from being active in fan fiction circles for the past few months, but something happened last week that dragged me right back. I write for a rather volatile fandom (which actually isn’t the problem for a change) and edit for a usually calm one.

Recently, that second fandom has made any fights in the first fandom look like the preschool sandbox. Essentially, one writer posts their new story, and another writer likes an element of it and builds their own story based around the element. Often, the second writer will admit they were inspired by the first writer, but sometimes that acknowledgment isn’t present. It doesn’t actually matter, though, because invariably the first writer will go to their off-site blog and scream, “Plagiarism!”

By the actual definition of plagiarism, that’s not what’s happened at all. Nothing has been technically plagiarized. A story element has appeared in another story that generally goes an entirely different direction. What’s even funnier is the writers who lift complete sentences and paragraphs from another’s story (these are the actual plagiarists); more often than not, they’re the ones who become enraged when they find a story element lifted from their story.

I guess what I find the most funny about the whole mess is that these same (usually) teenagers who whine when someone riffs on their work is that they even write fan fiction at all. By their own definition, the existence of fan fiction is plagiarism (It’s not, although there are several American authors who will persecute anyone who publicly writes fan fiction set in their worlds.) When we write fan fiction, we’re taking something about the world and putting it in a context it hasn’t been. We may be writing a “This is how that should have gone” piece, or a “What you didn’t see off camera” piece. I happen to have a great deal of fun using the last scene of every Yu-Gi-Oh GX episode as a writing prompt. I like to write the scene that would have come after the last one you see. It’s a great exercise. Some people like to take unusual groupings of characters, set them in a new situation, and write out how the scene would resolve. Others like to explore what would happen if a character was different.

For those of us in America wrestling with copyright fights and defining and defending intellectual property, there is at least the Creative Commons license (which I like to apply to as much of my writing as I can). Those of us willing to let others build off what we’ve done, to allow for artistic collaboration in a way, can give certain rights to our fellow creators. I guess we align ourselves with the writers and other creators in other countries who not only don’t pursue any sort of copyright infringement suit, but encourage people to create derivative works. They find it flattering that someone liked their work enough to create something based on their work. (This would be why things like doujinshi exist…)

As for me, if someone wants to riff on my work, I’d be flattered. They just need to make sure they observe my Creative Commons licenses and share their work with me! (Hey, if someone is going to go to the effort of writing their take on my work, I’d at least like to see it and appreciate it!)

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