Some extra coverage of all the fan fiction brouhaha.
Leaving aside the “issue” of fan fiction in general, Martin’s most egregious errors deal with Lovecraft. I’m sure other people will flense Martin about the tangled mess of his various claims, but I’ll step up for the old man. Martin’s tubthumping is bad enough without grabbing Lovecraft’s corpse by the ankles, giving it a shake and going, “Boogah boogah! Every time you write a Harry Potter fan fiction, God starves a racist to death!” (If only!) Martin’s errors are three:
a. Lovecraft did not “lose control” of his copyrights because he allowed other writers to make reference to characters in his stories.
b. Lovecraft did not die in poverty because of this loss of copyrights.
c. If anything, the unclear provenance of Lovecraft’s copyrights after his death (when they would have done him little good anyway) is what kept Lovecraft’s work in print and vital to this day.
A number of commenters suggested that I was wrong in my assertion that copyrights need to be defended, and suggested that I was confusing copyrights with trademarks. Perhaps so. This was raised often enough that it is obviously something I need to look into further. There were also posters who agreed with what I wrote, however, including some who identified themselves as lawyers or law students, so I don’t think the issue is as clear cut as the “trademark” folks are claiming. I’ll investigate this, and if I was wrong about this, I will come back here and say so (eventually, this is not my top priority in life). If I was right, I’ll come back and mention that as well.
ERB v HPL. I never said that allowing others to play with the Cthulhu mythos was the ONLY reason Lovecraft died in poverty. Actually, I am a huge Lovecraft fan, and not much of a Burroughs fan at all (though Melinda Snodgrass and I did once work on the screenplay for A PRINCESS OF MARS). I know a lot about HPL. His work has been hugely influential on modern horror. But my point stands. I could write a Cthulhu Mythos novel tomorrow, and I would not have to pay a dime to any Lovecraft estate (if such exists) or get their permission. I would never dare write a Barsoom novel, though surely PRINCESS is in the public domain by now. (The later John Carter and Tarzan novels may still be under copyright).
If you want to be a writer, write your own material. A lot of people have argued they write fanfic to develop their writing ability, but I think you’ll improve much more quickly and to a greater extent if you’re creating your own characters. After all, characters are the heart of every story, and pissing about with characters that someone else has devised and developed isn’t going to help you develop a strong grasp of characterization. And yeah, perhaps by writing fanfic you can develop your skills in other aspects of writing – but you can do so equally well by writing your own original material.
As for the reading side of things, I just don’t get it. I don’t have enough time to read all the ‘proper’ books I’ve got sitting on my living room table, let alone time to trawl through countless poorly-written, ill-conceived fanfic. Furthermore, fanfic isn’t canon – so what’s the point? You’re reading stories about events that – as far as the original creator of the world/characters is concerned – never happened. So why bother? I just can’t see the sense of it.
No matter what angle I look at it, ‘serious’ fanfic just appears to me to be masturbation in prose form.
To be honest, the more I think about it, the less I care about the whole subject. It’s nothing I’m interested in doing myself, and people can do what the hell they want, even with homebrew RPGs perhaps. If it remains harmless, then that’s cool, it’s all part of continuing stories in people’s heads.
EDIT: Book Smugglers point to Cory Doctorow’s old article in praise of fan fiction.