[Opinion] Why I Won’t Pay To Read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
As a young Harry Potter fan I wrote and read fanfiction to feed my Potter hunger between book releases. This was back in 2004. A few years later Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight became a huge success. I read them and again I found myself on the fanfiction sites to get more on Edward and Bella. I can’t tell you how many fanfics I’ve read; it became a huge addiction. It’s now been about three years since I’ve read a fanfiction. But I definitely don’t hold it against anybody who still reads and writes them. They are a great outlet and I love published writers who support fans writing fanfiction based on their stories. I never understood why a writer wouldn’t ‘give their permission’ because it wasn’t as though these fans could publish their stories. In fact most, if not all, fanfiction writers put a disclaimer on their stories that states that they do not own the characters, themes, settings and give appropriate credit to the real authors whose content they are using to create their own versions of stories. But has that changed? I feel like it has.
Fifty Shades of Grey, originally written and published online by E.L. James as a Twilight fanfiction called Master of the Universe has changed the rules. If a fanfiction writer can publish a story based on another author’s characters, do a search and replace of the names and publish it as her own then what’s stopping the millions of other fanfiction writers from publishing their own fanfic? Sure, James’ story really invested in the universe that Meyer had created for Edward and Bella. You could argue that she didn’t use anything except the characters names. But there is something not right about this whole situation. When I heard that Fifty Shades of Grey had been a Twilight fanfiction I didn’t really think about whether I had actually read it or not because honestly 80% of Twilight fanfiction IS smutty erotica. I thought how could she have shared her story for free, taken it off the internet, published it as an eBook and asked people to pay for something that had been previously been for free? It just seemed wrong. Especially when the story probably had the same disclaimer that I mentioned previously.
Today I finally decided to read a review about this hugely successful book. I got to the part where the reviewer was summarising the book and to my shock I realised yes, I’ve read this story! It annoyed me even more, that this book has people are rushing to bookstores to buy it when I read it late at night on fanfiction.net. This bothered me more when I did some more research. According to Vintage, a literary imprint of Random House, who had won the rights to republish on a large scale the ebook bestseller trilogy: 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades of Darker, and 50 Shades of Freed, the story was always an ‘original fiction’:
“As numerous reports have outlined, 50 SHADES OF GREY grew out of a multi-part series of fan fiction called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, based on Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT novels, that James (a pseudonym for London-based television executive Erika Leonard) published online between 2009 and 2011 in various venues, including fanfiction.net and her own website. When she contracted with Writers Coffee Shop in early 2011 to publish the works, lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations, James took the fan fiction versions offline.
Vintage issued a statement to the AP Saturday defending 50 SHADES as an original work, and said to us that James had warranted the books were, indeed original. Messitte added she was “aware of the narrative that [50 SHADES] started as differently titled piece of fiction, but that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” A request for comment from Meyer’s agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, was not responded to at press time.” (Publishers Marketplace)
The characters were named Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. There’s nothing original about that. It was published and categorized on fanfiction.net as a Twilight fanfiction. What’s original about that? She isn’t doing anything illegal because she didn’t publish anything that was owned by Stephenie Meyer. I have a large collection of my own Harry Potter fanfiction. If I changed changed the character names could I publish them too? But is it ethically right? I don’t think it is and that’s why I won’t pay to read Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s a contentious issue. I’d love to hear what others think about this. Leave your comments below!