Yesterday, we reblogged someone’s post where she was responding to a personal Ask regarding her selling ebooks of her Les Miserables -inspired fanfic, and we learned overnight that the OP (not the anon who asked a horrible question) was upset that people were reblogging her response, so as of this morning, we’re taking down our reblog, because she’s asked for people to stop reblogging it.
However, we feel that the Anon’s question and various responses to it cover important legal topics relating to public domain works and fanfic, so we’re reposting those below, along with an update inspired by the image above.
"The writer as a writer has but one heir - the public domain." - Victor Hugo
If you honestly think that Hugo, who wrote about Fantine with so much compassion, would object to a woman living in poverty doing whatever she damn well has to do to support herself, I happen to have this convenient Brick to bash you over the head with.
Er. Wait. What? I read this whole thing sighing, and then got to the end. Is this fucking anon SERIOUSLY writing about LES MIS fanfic? The Les Miserables that was written in 1862 and has been out of copyright for a million years? The Les Miserables that THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE THE MUSICAL used and took LOADS of people’s money for? That Les Miserables?
You can self-publish your Les Mis fanfic ON AMAZON (or the less problematic ebook retailer of your choice) at a 70% royalty and for that matter sell the movie rights if you want to, it is 100000% yours and that is neither immoral nor unethical.
In fact, you can take the ENTIRE TEXT of Les Mis, format it, slap a cover of your own design on it, turn it into an ebook, and publish it on Amazon. FOR PEOPLE TO PAY YOU CASH MONEY. YES THAT IS LEGAL AND TOTALLY OKAY.
Writing stories with someone else’s characters IS NOT IMMORAL. Writing stories with someone else’s characters that are out of copyright IS NOT EVEN A COPYRIGHT VIOLATION, that is WHAT PUBLIC DOMAIN MEANS. It means after the copyright period is over, FAIR GAME FOR ANYBODY.
HOLY FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER what the hell *weeping in corner*
Not illegal, not immoral, and not even out of character. :D
Reblogging because astolat, cassandrexx@ and cesperanza speak the truth.
As attorneys with a focus on intellectual property, we think it’s very problematic that anyone would say that it’s “disgusting and unfair” to take public domain characters and make money off of them.
It’s ethical - and has been since before the time of Shakespeare, who wrote of real people (yes, Shakespeare wrote RPF and arguably RPS) as well as others’ fictional characters. It was part of the culture of Greek playwrights, it’s why the story of Mulan spread far and wide, and it’s why the stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales and 1001 Nights are still told today. It’s why we, as a culture, have most everything Disney, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked (the book and the play), Shakespeare In Love (the movie and the play) and yes, every version of Les Miserables that was not the billion-word novel by Victor Hugo - including some sequels in 1995 and 2001.
It’s the 2001 sequel we’re thinking about today, because the case that was filed by a descendent of Victor Hugo’s explains exactly why anyone can use the characters and/or story from Les Miserables in any way they want. Sociétié Plon et autres v. Pierre Hugo et autres, 04-15.543 Arrêt n° 125 (Jan. 30, 2007). While there is obviously no copyright left in any descendent of Hugo’s, his great-great-grandson claimed that said descendants still had moral rights (droit moral) in the characters Hugo created.
Pierre Hugo said much what the Anon said:
"I don’t mind adaptations and many are very good but this book is not an adaptation. I have read it and it is not badly written but the publishers used Victor Hugo’s name and the title Les Miserables as a commercial operation … It was nothing to do with literature, they were just trying to make money."
The French court said that since the copyright in the work had long ago expired, while an adaptation or sequel might impact Hugo’s moral rights, because the term of copyright had expired, that was immaterial. It didn’t matter.
And the court also noted as cassandrexx did that Hugo was not opposed to adaptations of his work.
In other words, if something is in the public domain, the original creator’s moral rights have expired too, and anyone can adapt it, transform it, film it, rewrite it, make an Emmy-winning YouTube video series based on it, translate it, abridge it, slap a shiny cover on it, and after doing any or all of the above and more, one can sell it.
ETA: The image above is the cover of A Little In Love, a book that will be published in October, 2014 in the UK by Chicken House books, written by Whitbread prize-winning author Susan Fletcher. The info page says the obvious - it’s “Inspired by the Victor Hugo literary classic” and also says that it’s inspired by “the bestselling musical and multi award-winning movie,Les Miserables.” The title comes from Eponine’s dying words in the book, “And then, do you know, Monsieur Marius, I believe I was a little in love with you.”
It’s a published novel, by an award-winning author - and it’s a coincidence that it was tweeted today, because it illustrates how wrong and malicious the Anon was to a fandom writer yesterday. Fletcher is taking money for writing fanfiction using characters that are not hers. And that’s completely okay, because the characters and story are in the public domain. Nobody owns the copyright in them. There should be no ethical issue for an author to get paid for writing a story that is based on public domain characters. As the 8th Circuit in the US said earlier this year:
When a story falls into the public domain, story elements—including characters covered by the expired copyright—become fair game for follow-on authors.
Follow-on authors - aka fanfic writers - are allowed to do anything they wish with a story that has fallen into the public domain, They can use story elements including characters. Storytelling just works that way.
We are sure anons who want to bitch about something and be cruel for no reason will not take this as a reason to stop attacking people for doing something legal and ethical under all modern entertainment/publishing industry standards, but we really hope they do.