More news on the only book in the world has come out this week with the LA Times‘ Carolyn Kellogg misreporting the disappearance of 50 Shades of Grey from fanfiction.net.
People who know about “50 Shades of Grey” have probably heard that author E.L. James began the story as post-“Twilight” fan fiction. But now the Internet evidence of its start has been deleted, so its origins have been erased.
That’s what the website Galleycat discovered when it went to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine allows anyone to look at websites as they appeared on days past, when the Internet Archive’s computer systems took a snapshot of the site.
But why? Could it be, as Kellogg suggests, that “fan fiction is in the crosshairs?” — even though that sentence doesn’t appear to mean anything?
Kellogg states that fanfiction has, for the most part, been allowed to “flourish unimpeded,” despite the fact that fanfiction is clearly a violation of copyright. This fact is not lost on fanfiction writers thesmelves, as it has always been customary to write a disclaimer at the top of each story stating that you are not attempting to pass the characters, or any other canon elements, off as your own. This doesn’t negate the illegality of fanfiction, but — much like internet petitions — it allows its participants to feel slightly more proactive in their futile activities.
Perhaps what Kellogg means to ask is whether fanfiction — even professionally-published fanfiction like 50 Shades of Grey — may finally be under fire. What Kellogg doesn’t say, or more likely doesn’t know, is that the fanfiction that currently exists unimpeded has essentially been permitted to exist by those responsible for the original work. If an author, a publisher, a show runner or a producer is adamantly against fanfiction or related copyright violations, the stories, art and related materials get removed pretty quickly. For instance, George R. R. Martin has made his distaste of fanfiction clear, and while scraps of it exist in the far reaches of the internet, you won’t find amateur Ice and Fire scribes hard at work on public forums and sites like fanfiction.net. James’s work, which has always been acknowledged to be inspired by Twilight may have started as fanfiction, but even though many of the plot elements and character descriptions are very similar to Stephanie Meyer’s exhaustingly popular quadrilogy, it’s clear to anyone who has read it that Grey is not Twilight. Horrifically, it’s much, much worse and much, much more graphic.
Regardless, James’s agent hit back:
James’ agent told Deadline, “This did start as ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s wonderful series of books. Originally it was written as fan fiction, then Erika [E.L. James] decided to take it down after there were some comments about the racy nature of the material. She took it down and thought, I’d always wanted to write. I’ve got a couple unpublished novels here. I will rewrite this thing, and create these iconic characters, Christian and Anna. If you read the books, they are nothing like ‘Twilight’ now.” Her American publisher told the Associated Press that James’ “Masters of the Universe” (which was fan fiction) and “50 Shades of Grey” are “two distinctly separate pieces of work.”
Kellogg then sort of washes her hands of the whole debate, causing this blogger to wonder why she bothered writing the story to begin with, reminding us that she’s not a lawyer, but it still seems fishy that the story has disappeared. Again, what Kellogg either doesn’t say or doesn’t know is that the work was actually taken down a while ago when James decided to publish, although many fans of the original still kept the early drafts on their hard drives and have shared these files with others.
It seems both obvious and logical to remove the free version of something that both James and her agent are trying to make money from. So where exactly is the controversy here?