Fan fiction

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Fan fiction is a general term used to describe a variety of written works about existing characters from fictional mediums such as movies, video games, books, and comics. Fan fiction is compromised of fictional plot lines about existing characters, personas, and themes. It is written by fans of the original works for the purpose of either adding to the original story, or creating a new story from themes of the original. These stories are consumed by other fans of the work, cultivating several online communities devoted to fan fiction. Modern fan fiction was popularized in the 1960s by ‘fanzines’ made by fans of the popular TV series Star Trek[1]. The work is rarely professionally published or monetized and is usually done as a hobby. As fan fiction gains popularity, several services have allowed fans to read, publish, and sell their works. Owners of the original works have varying attitudes about this practice, and in some cases, publication was met with public disapproval or legal action of the content.



In the early 1990s, fan fiction was a niche interest. There was no archived place to find fan fiction of different varieties; instead, fans created their own mechanism of sharing fan fiction stories. Fan fiction was also popular before the internet, fanzines were popular among Star Trek fans where fans published their own stories using Star Trek lingo and characters.[2]. With the rise of the Internet, fanfic became popular with the introduction of

Notable Examples (top left), Kindle Worlds (top middle), and Archive of Our Own (top right) are among the most popular websites for viewing and publishing fan fiction. (or FFN) is the world’s largest source for fan fiction on the web, and accounts for more than 33% of all content about books online[3]. Created by Xing Li in 1998, Fan Fiction has the most extensive collection of fan works as of 2010, based on both popular and obscure works. This includes books, comics, manga, webcomics, television, plays, etc. The site allows users to follow serialized stories, publish their own works, review other's works, and create their own communities and story collections. Notably, Fan Fiction does not let authors publish NC-17 rated content through user-moderation, and enforces restrictions on the genre of stories that can be submitted (i.e. songfic, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, self-insertion, and non-fiction are not allowed). Additionally, some authors request that fan fiction not be generated from their works, and as a result any content written about these works is actively removed from the site.

Archive of Our Own

Archive of Our Own (or AO3) is a project derived from the fan-run and fan-created non-profit organization Organization for Transformative Works. This organization creates projects that encourage defending and promoting a future in which all "fannish works are recognized as legal and transformative, and accepted as legitimate creative activity[4].' It differs from in that it allows any kind of fiction, excluding explicitly illegal content such as child pornography or trade secrets. It doesn't adhere to the legal pressures that other sites have, and advocates for fan fiction to be recognized under 'fair use'. Additionally, they believe that fan fiction in American law doesn't fall under copyright; therefore, fans should be free to create transformative works as they please.

Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is a fan fiction platform created by, Inc. A number of features differentiate Kindle Worlds from other fan fiction archives:

  • There is no legal grey area. All works on the site are derived from licensed media properties, and each media property has explicit rules from its creator that fan fiction writers adhere to when creating fan works.
  • Fan fiction authors can make money from what they write. Most fan fiction writers write as a hobby and do not expect any compensation aside from feedback on their writing quality. With Kindle Worlds, the works are published through Amazon Publishing like any other written work and are available for purchase and profit through the Amazon Kindle store.



In the United States, fan fiction is considered a ‘derivative work’, meaning it is a work based upon one or more creative works. This is the same category that encompasses written works such as translations, musical arrangements, art reproductions, etc. Derivative Works fall mostly under United States copyright law, which states that the owners of the original work have ownership and the exclusive right to “prepare derivative works based on a copyrighted work[5]". The author has these exclusive rights and can sue for copyright infringement at any moment they wish. Often authors have issues with the quality of the fan work (or don't want fan work based on their work at all), which may lead them to invoke their rights granted by copyright law[6].

Fair Use

Fan fiction is not infringing on copyright if it falls under the guise of fair use. Many advocates of fan fiction believe that it should legally fall under this category, while several authors and legal entities contest that view. Certain authors (notably posthumously J.D. Salinger) do not allow fan fiction of their work and will sue for copyright infringement. As a result, there is a negligible risk, though there is no threat of legal transgression, given there is no monetary gain from the derivative work[7] or if a writer has been awarded permission from the original author to sell the derivative work. As an addendum, if a fan work falls under the category of parody, political satire, or criticism and is “transformative” in nature, it is more likely to be viewed as fair use, and will not encounter these legal stipulations.


To navigate around the wishes of original authors or inhabit the grey area within U.S. copyright law, writers occasionally alter their fan works in order to make them deemed as 'legal[8].'

  1. By removing original names or locations from the work, an author may be able to pass off a transformative work as either a derivative or original composition.
  2. A fan fiction author may consider writing a work as a parody, or as a work that either criticizes or makes fun of the original work, or is political satire. This kind of transformative work is legal as it directly falls under the guise of fair use.
  3. Alternatively, a writer could only write fan fiction for public domain works. This could include authors like Jane Austen or William Shakespeare whose works are in the public domain and no one would be able to claim copyright for them.
  4. In this same vein, there are authors that encourage fan works based off of their original works. If you write exclusively for these works, then there would be no legal issues.
  5. A fan fiction writer could additionally consider getting the author's explicit written permission and conditions for creating fan works.

Fifty Shades of Grey

The 50 Shades of Grey book series was originally a Twilight fan fiction.

The novel series Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was professionally published in 2013. However, the series arose from a long-form fan fiction based off of the popular novel and movie series Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. In 2009 Fifty Shades began as a public work written on By changing the names of the characters in the book, E.L. James was able to publish it as her own copyrighted work and facilitate the creation of a movie adaptation.

One Direction

One of the most popular Fan Fiction topics of today is that of British boy band One Direction. This fan fiction was born from fan obsession with the idea of a potential romantic relationship between band members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. The fictional couple sparked the composition of many fan fiction stories detailing "Larry Stylinson" (the name of their couple pairing, called a 'ship',) and became so intense that both Styles and Tomlinson have publicly addressed the negative impact on their real-life relationship that this rumor has had, due to the stress of continually emphasizing the platonic nature of their friendship.[9].

Notably, one fan fiction entitled After has become so popular that it is being adapted to a major motion picture. Paramount Pictures obtained the screen rights for the movie after After became popular on the reading, and fiction-writing site Wattpad. After details a BDSM relationship between a fan and the band member Harry Styles. The story has received one billion online reads and was then published by Simon & Schuster. [10].



Due to the state of United State law, certain fan fiction sites and writers have taken measures to protect themselves from the possibility of lawsuits from authors invoking the enforcement of copyright law. Some varieties of fan fiction have been banned from these platforms as a protective measure from legal and personal retribution. This act is viewed as a form of censorship by some, especially from the perspective of fair use.

"Real-person fiction"

Real-person fiction is fan fiction that isn't necessarily based on a published work, but rather a celebrity, or internet personality. This genre of fan fiction involves unique ethical issues regarding consent and ownership of public identity. Many view real-person fictions as a violation of both personal consent and privacy. However, the stories are entirely made up and fans don't personally know these public figures so it is difficult to label these works as invasions of privacy. Additionally, the ethical dilemmas surrounding consent are difficult to pinpoint because a celebrity's persona is rarely copyrighted and the real-person fiction is rarely formally published[11] [12].

However, other perspectives of this genre view film and literature about public figures to also fit the description of real person fiction; this would include contemporary works such as the film The Social Network as it is a fictional portrayal of a public figure.

Sexually Explicit Works

Sexually explicit fan works are extremely common on fan fiction sites and include detailed sexual encounters between characters. Often these stories explore dubious sexual situations, taboo or queer (called 'slash' or 'femslash') sexual expression. Much of the trouble with this genre of fan fiction is the discontent many authors express with their characters being put in these situations, especially if it was never intended. It may trigger authors to sue for copyright as well as for laws regarding obscenity in relation to their works. For example, the Harry Potter series is one of the most popular books on, but the characters are under the age of 18 for the majority of the series. On the other hand, writers often age-up characters before putting them in these situations, but many still express discontent with the practice. These kind of works are generally sexually-positive and provide safe outlets for young fans to explore their own sexuality and attraction. This is especially relevant for members of the LGBTQ+ community since these types of relationships are rarely represented within the realm of the original works.[13].


Fan fiction is a genre that is extremely prone to plagiarism and is one of the hardest cases of it to confront. Plagiarism implies that "a duplicate work was created, thus creating a violation of copyright law"; the problem therein lies in that the fan fiction author doesn't hold the copyright for their work because that work is technically a violation of copyright law itself[14]. Only the copyright owner has rights under the law to enforce punishment of plagiarism. Therefore, a fan fiction author has no claim or recourse to stop a plagiarizer. Furthermore, it is possible for a plagiarizer to avoid detection by posting on a fanfiction site that doesn't allow its works to appear in search engine results.

"Slash" genre

A genre of fan fiction known as "slash" involves romantic and sexual pairings of two same-sex characters, most commonly males. Slash fan fiction permeates throughout all fan communities, but is especially common in popular ones such as Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Supernatural. Often the writers and consumers of slash fan fiction are heterosexual women, which has often raised concern for many people who identify as non-heterosexual. This debate revolves around whether this practice is a case of fetishization of homosexual relationships and sex acts. Heterosexual writers of slash fan fiction can be interpreted as using characters in same-sex relationships to fulfill their own fantasies of what they believe those relationships are like.[15] This can be exclusionary to the perspectives and experiences of people for who are actually members of the LGBT community. Though, others believe the slash genre as a whole to be radical and affirming, and a step in the right direction towards greater acceptance of the LGBT community in popular culture. The idea is that if these examples of relationships aren't upheld in the media because of homophobia, then at least fan fiction writers can fill in the gaps with their creative works and provide sexual inclusion for their fans.


  1. Ball, Caroline. (2007). "Who Owns What in Fanfiction: Perceptions of Ownership and Problems of Law."
  2. Hill, Mark. “The Forgotten Early History of Fanfiction.” Motherboard, 3 July 2016,
  3. Kowalczyk, Piotr. “15 Most Popular Fanfiction Websites to Explore.” Ebook Friendly, Ebook Friendly, 18 Mar. 2018,
  4. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Organization for Transformative Works,
  5. “Understanding the Importance of Derivative Works.” Finnegan | Leading Intellectual Property (IP) Law Firm,
  6. Liebler, Raizel. (2014). Copyright and Owners of Fan Created Works: Fanfiction and Beyond. The Sage Handbook of Intellectual Property. pp.391 - 403
  7. Carson, Caitlyn. (2017). Fanfiction and Copyright. Beyond the Book: Fanfiction. pp. 32 - 35.
  8. Goodman, Jessica Dickinson. “Could It Really Be That Easy? 5 Ways (Some) Fanfiction Could Be(Come) Legal.” FeelingElephants, 6 Feb. 2012,
  9. “Louis Tomlinson Addresses Larry Stylinson Rumours Head On: ‘It Felt A Little Disrespectful.’” MTV UK, 24 July 2017,
  10. Falcone, Dana Rose. “Movie Based on One Direction Fan Fiction Acquires Screenwriter.”, 5 June 2015,
  11. Riley, Tonya. “The Dubious Ethics of ‘Real-Person Fiction’ – Dark(Ish) Web .” Medium, 23 Mar. 2018,
  12. Beazley, Malory. (2006). "The Ethics of Real Person Fiction." Fanfic Magazine.
  13. Mazar, Rochelle. (2006). Slash Fiction/Fanfiction. The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments. pp. 1141-1150.
  14. Bailey, Jonathon. “Fan Fiction Plagiarism.” Plagiarism Today, 18 Jan. 2006,
  15. Van Santen, Kiri. “On The Fetishization Of Gay Men By Women In The Slash Community.” The Mary Sue, The Mary Sue, 26 Jan. 2015,