So, I started this post a few months ago when Amazon announced their Kindle Worlds experiment and never finished it. But I was reading yesterday's crowdfund post and people were disparaging fanfic writers in the comments and that just ticks me off to no end (for most of the same reasons FF Friday did). All of it is based on misconceptions, so this post is meant to address some of that. Fans certainly don't deserve any hate for fanfiction, it's hobby like any other. Actually, they deserve acknowledgement because they're doing something I could not do, and certainly not well.
Amazon's big announcement from yesterday has lead to many discussions about fanfic, fandom, and how Kindle Worlds would fit into the current fandom culture. But mostly I've read a whole lot of comments and articles from people who don't quite seem to grasp what fanfic is all about, and who definitely hold more than a few misconceptions about it. So this post will try and clear up a few misconceptions.
Now, you can't talk about fanfic without talking about fandom, and for the purposes of this post I'll define fandom as that group of people who spend their free time interacting with the canon source in ways that aren't standard, i.e. more than just watching, reading or playing something deciding "hey, I kinda like that". It's fanfic writers, fanartists, cosplayers, readers of fanfiction, people who hang around the forums discussing all the details and so on.
What is fanfic? Like the concept of fandom it can mean a lot of different things, but at the basis it's a story written someone else's characters playing in someone else's universe, and written by someone who is interested in that universe and those characters. You can restrict this version to fans who write and publish it for free, or you can expand it to officially licensed novels. Hell, you can even call the BBC's Sherlock fanfic. It's that thing that happens when fans wonder "what if...?" or "what was going on in that character's head in those few seconds of silence?" You can read a much better explanation of it here.
Now, onto the misconceptions:
1. Fanfiction is not illegal.
While no one's taken it to court exactly, fanfics would most likely qualify under fair use for transformative works. The Organisation for Transformative Works (an organisation made by the fans in order to address such legal issues) has an informative FAQ. [ETA: Christopher Hapka makes an excellent point about why this isn't necessarily true in the comments]