Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: Twilight Fan Fiction Controversy

  Recently, a simple question on a GoodReads review of Fifty Shades Freed lead to a multiple-comment controversy on fan fiction, copyright laws, and Twilight. The original question raised was simply if they had read the book, especially as it is not due for release until tomorrow. (I've been waiting for this newest book with baited breath for weeks!) The reviewer in question, it turns out, read the original conception of this book (Master of the Universe) while it was still free and available on a Twilight Fan Fiction site.

  Here is the "meat" of the issue. The reviewer's standpoint claimed that since it was originally written as Twilight Fan Fiction that Fifty Shades is a derivative work. Many of us ("us" being fans of Fifty Shades) attempted to change their mind, to no avail. Their standpoint, however, made me want to learn more about this controversy and see if I could find concrete arguments against their claims.  As EL James' Fifty Shades Trilogy has been published, it is a moot point.  As a fan of the series, I still would like to have an educated response to the "naysayers".

  In order to fully explore this, let me first define Fan Fiction:    

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Fan Fiction: stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet —called also fan fic,

Urban Dictionary:
 1. fanfiction 913 up, 97 down n.
A piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films, and comic strips.
Typically separated into het, slash, and general genres. Often used to play out "Alternative Universe" scenarios and/or various romantic pairings not found in the original work.
Distributed via mailing lists, blogs, and zines. Heavily archived online.

So, looking at these two definitions, it seems that some of the defining characteristics of Fan Fiction involve:
      ♦ a piece of fiction
      ♦ characters and/or situations from a pre-existing work, in this case, Twilight.
      ♦ "Alternative Universe" possibilities that did not exist in Twilight.

  Admittedly, I have not read the "original" Master of the Universe (MOTU) fan fiction.  I have read the first two books in the Fifty Shades series.  From multiple sources, without the ability to still read the original MOTU, I have gathered that essentially the main characters were originally named Bella and Edward and they each exhibited general characteristics similar to the Twilight characters.  However, "Edward" (now Christian in Fifty Shades) was not a vampire nor supernatural in any way.  In fact, other than a few physical characteristics and the name, the male lead did not seem to "be" the same Edward from Twilight.  The same is true of the heroine, with the exception of a few mannerisms and physical traits, there seemed to be little resemblance to the character Bella from Twilight.  So, one cannot deny that EL James did initially make her story available to the Twilight Fan Fiction community and use names and basic traits of the characters from Twilight.  But is it original or derivative work?

According to Legal
"A derivative work is a new, original product that includes aspects of a preexisting, already copyrighted work. Also known as a "new version," derivative works can include musical arrangements, motion pictures, art reproductions, sound recordings or translations. They can also include dramatizations and fictionalizations, such as a movie based on a play. ...
So you’ve been inspired by someone else’s work to make one of your own, and you’ve used some of that original. That means you’ve infringed the original author’s copyright, right? Well, not necessarily. There exists a carve-out to infringement that applies with particular force to the derivative works arena: the “fair use” doctrine."

According to the US Copyright office:
"§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

  So, according to Legal Zoom, and the US Copyright office, in order for there to be copyright infringement, EL James would have had to include "aspects" of copyrighted Twilight characters and/or situations in her work thereby preventing it from being an original work.  In the published works of Fifty Shades... there is little to no correlations between Twilight and the trilogy.  I personally had no clue of the fan fiction origins of Fifty Shades when I purchased the first book.  During my first reading, it was brought to my attention... and I tried, really tried, to find how Fifty Shades could be "tied" (pun intended) to Twilight.  EL James HAS (yes, shouty caps) created an original work.  There can be no other conclusion.   

  I'm sure the lovely people at The Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing House (thanks for publishing this trilogy, by the way!) have an entire legal department to advise them on possible copyright issues.  And I am equally sure if there was a legal leg to stand on, that lawyers would be pounding down Stephanie Meyer's door begging to sue.  So to those "naysayers"... I entreat you to find another issue to squabble over, and let myself, and other Fifty Shades fans bask in the glow of the final installment of this series.  My own "inner goddess" (to borrow EL James' words) will be fist pumping into the air, biting her lip, and rolling her eyes for some quality time with Christian tomorrow...


  1. Fair point, well made! (yep, Fifty-ism here). Thank you for doing all this research. And you are right, if it were actually a copyright infringement, I seriously doubt we'd have ever seen this final installment in print. Bravo...

  2. Until I heard that the concept story was originally a Twilight fanfic, I had never thought of Christian and Edward together as one. The characters are polar opposites of each other. I love Edward, but I also love Christian for different reasons. And while I love Twilight, I also love Fifty Shades of Grey for different reasons.

  3. I am right with you on this Alana. When I read Fifty Shades of Grey I had no idea that it had been published as a fan fiction for Twilight. I would never have associated the 2 stories as being related in the slightest and still don't even knowing that the story originated that way.

  4. Like others here,I too had no idea about the FanFic when I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I therefore made my conclusion about 'loving' the books purely on it's merits of this series, and without any comparisons to Twilight or it's characters. It was an AMAZING series and deserves credit for the fine piece of writing it is, (from the imagination of EL James). I really can't see what all the controversy is about...Excellent article Alana and some great research!

  5. Actually, although I'm a half year late to this post, I did find many of the storylines to be a bit too similar to the Twilight series, particularly the first and second books.
    It was the moment Ana was close to getting hit by the cyclist that bought this to light, so after finishing of Grey and Darker, I listed the similarities... which are surprisingly surplus. Of which:

    - The many physical similarities of Grey/Edward
    - The many physical similarities of Ana/Bella
    - The '20' questions game at the beginning in the coffee shop; mirroring Ed/Bella's in the car
    - Jose' and Jacob - hmmm...
    - Ana and Bella work in Hardware esqe stores.
    - The night Ana gets drunk and Jose' hits on her; sitting on the curb puking, reminds me of the scene after Bella becomes faint in science
    - Ana's 'parents' (although Ray isnt biological) are split, and her mother remarried.
    - Geography - Seattle is very close to Forks, and is relatively rainy. Whereas where her mother lives is somewhat warm.
    - Ana and Bella talk in their sleep; and BOTH say I love you for the first time this way.
    - Edward/Grey's adoption, and even their families to some degree (Mia reminds me of Alice...)
    - Edward/Grey's stalker habits.. enough said.
    - Piano!
    and I'm sure I could find a bunch more, but thats the crux.
    I love the Shades series because it is much more grown up, but still a little immature with all the ridiculous sex scenes, than Twilight.
    ALthough I do think that James could've put in a bit more imagination, it still works as a series.

    1. I appreciate your points. I do agree with the majority of your list. In my initial reading, I was not aware of the 'fanfic' origins (at least halfway through) so I hadn't read it looking for correlations.
      I also agree, more imagination could have been put into it- I still loved it- but yes, it would have been nice for it to be even more unique.
      Ultimately, I think that it is unique enough to not be copyright infringement, or I'm sure Random House would not have touched it with a ten foot pole.