Fan fiction is defined by Webster's Dictionary as stories involving popular fiction characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet. I first heard the term fan fiction when the Harry Potter series became popular. However, I'm embarrassed to admit I engaged in my own form of fan fiction in junior high school when I took the characters of the S.E. Hinton novel The Outsiders and drafted my own novel.
These days, there are so many variations of fan fiction that it's become quite common, and these stories aren't confined to literary characters. There are fan fiction stories for movies and television shows and even musical acts.
In the right forum, fan fiction can be wildly flattering for an author. Imagine your work and your characters having such an impact on someone that it compels them to create their own story. There is the opposite side though. Imagine your work not being good enough for the reader so as to compel him to create a better one. Then there's an entirely different down side to fan fiction that I've recently found myself the victim of. Yes, I said the victim.
Last year, I published a story online entitled Like You Mean It. This young adult novel, which was posted for fans to read free of charge, told the love story of seventeen year old recent amputee Darren Jacobs and unpopular teen Danni Singer. Much to my delight, the story was well received on the site it was posted and consistently ranked in the top ten of the romance and teen fiction categories. Many fans related to Danni Singer and her feelings of inadequacy as well as Darren's similar feelings resulting from the loss of his arm. I was touched by the number of people who contacted me to tell me how the story changed their perspective on the disabled or gave them someone they could relate to.
A few months after the completion of the story, one of my fans contacted me to tell me she believed my story was being plagiarized on another site. Even worse was that it was a Justin Bieber fan fiction site. Not being a Justin Bieber fan that felt like insult to injury. However, I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If you're a writer, you know how difficult it is to have a truly original idea. Readers can relate to this as well. How many times have you read a book and felt as though it reminded you of another? My fan was adamant my story was being plagiarized. She gave me the name of the author and the story and urged me to check it out.
To see the story in question, I was forced to join the Justin Bieber fan fiction site, something I'm still sore about. It's a good thing I did though. I was appalled by what I found. This story was a blatant rip off of my story, so blatant that the author seems to have lifted passages from work and placed them into her story. In her story, Justin Bieber isn't famous. Instead, he's a basketball player who loses the use of his arm when he and three of his friends are involved in an automobile accident. As Justin struggles with this loss, he develops a friendship with an unpopular girl in school and grows closer to his older brother. In my story, Darren Jacobs is the catcher on the baseball team who loses his arm when he's involved in a car accident with three of his friends. As Darren struggles with the loss of his arm, he befriends an unpopular girl in school and grows closer to his older brother.
I wish I could say the similarities end there, but as I said, the author has passages of dialogue in her novel that are identical to mine. After reading this story, I could see why my fan was so insistent I check it out.
Since discovering this travesty, I've been working with the administrators of the Justin Bieber fan fiction site to resolve this issue. To date, I've not received what I'd feel is complete vindication. Thus far, they've been slow to deal with my concerns despite their site being very clear that copyright infringement will not be tolerated. Given that it's a Justin Bieber fan fiction site, it could be that I'm at the mercy of a teenage girl who's in over her head when reading my repeated emails demanding something be done before I feel so motivated to pursue legal action.
Since dealing with this, I've also had time to think a lot about how I feel. I was and still am incensed. I shared my work with the public to entertain and impact not to see someone else take credit for it. To see another author receive glowing praise for a story I put my heart and soul into not only angers me but it hurts my feelings. It was suggested to me that I should be flattered. The author liked the story so much she wanted to be the one to get the rave reviews. That's an interesting idea.
I put it to you fans. Should I be flattered or furious? Right now, I'm more furious than flattered, and I suspect I will be for some time.