Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fan Fiction and Copyrighted Characters

Photo by CanStockPhoto.com
I once had an interesting chat with a fellow author at a writer's convention who mentioned something about another writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some "fan fiction" he'd written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The writer in question had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

Back when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and I seem to recall that one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or "Trekkies," as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fan fiction authors wrote with pen and paper and kept their stories in notebooks. Traditional book or magazine publishing would have been the only means to distribute their work, which meant permission would have had to have been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it's very tempting for the fan writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I'm not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it's pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Those of us who write fiction may model our characters after people we know, or perhaps base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should have plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. So while Captain Kirk could be your inspiration, your character will need a different name and should come from a different background, have a different physical description, or even be the opposite gender. However, if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, it might not be a bad idea to do some research to find out what, if any, guidelines that copyright holders, such as Paramount, may have for writing fan fiction. Even if you're not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.


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