A few months ago, the Collectiva Diva and I sat down and had a long discussion on what it means to be in a fandom. For us and others like us, a fandom is a safe place–a space where interests, theories, and ideas are expressed, validated, and transformed. For others, “fandom” is the margin into which society pushes those of us who take books/films/television/video games/comics “too seriously.” If you are in a fandom (and let’s face it, if you’ve been reading our blog, you are), you’ve inevitably faced fandom shaming at some point or other.

But why should we be ashamed? Fandoms are another means by which we express our identities, a line on our personality resume. Throughout the next seven weeks, the Collectiva Diva and I will be discussing a variety of fandoms and key issues surrounding them.  You may know us as fangirls afficionados, but the Diva and I will be putting on our academic caps and using our graduate degrees for good in this series of posts as we discuss what it means to be a fan, the power of fandom, and why we should never be ashamed of any of it.

The FF Word: Blurred Lines in Criticism and Copyright of Fan Fiction

Source: The New Yorker
Source: The New Yorker

Fan fiction holds a tenuous (and sometimes volatile) relationship with the canon on which it is written. Pieces written by fans have occasionally been dismissed by society at large as “copyright infringement” or “unoriginal” or, as it pertains to certain types of fan fiction, “vulgar.” The truth is that fan fiction can be all of these things or none of them. A loose definition of fan fiction is any fictional piece written by a fan using setting/plot/characters/etc. from a text authored by someone else. This definition, although workable in a day-to-day context, is unsuitable for a comprehensive guide to the history and legal issues surrounding fan works for the following reasons: 1) many well-known  texts have sources in older works, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s incorporation of elements commonly seen in Norse mythology and legends in his Middle-earth histories; 2) the very act of reading is an implied collaboration between reader and writer to tell a story–the writer provides a description of the protagonist, but the reader interprets that description and creates his or her own mental image for it. This brings us to two questions: Who defines the text? And who owns it?

In short: is it the author who gives the story its meaning, or is it the reader?