Fans are the lifeblood of any television show, movie, author, or… just about anything in the entertainment world. This letter is to every fan, no matter how you rate your obsession, love, or interest in the thing you like, appreciate, or utterly obsess over.
We have a problem.
You might be puzzled over why I think ‘we' have a problem–or who ‘we' actually is. We is you, the fans, and us–or me–the creator. Together, just by being what we are–fans and creators–have a problem just from existing. That sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it? I, like every other author, actor, director, publisher, or other creative type, rely on you to survive.
Without you, we're nothing.
This is where our problem begins.
I have been watching the current meltdown between Paramount and the fans of Star Trek with a mix of dread and resignation. Before you go get your pitchforks and gather your lynch mob, give me a few minutes to explain.
Creators need you, the fans. We need your love, your enthusiasm, and yes, your dollars. We need your energy, your dedication, and your interest. No one is denying that.
However, we have a problem, and this issue with the Star Trek fan films has merely brought it to the lime light and gave an opportunity for discussion.
Fans, we love you, but there is a point where your love and obsession turns into something invasive and downright terrifying. You take our creations, and you make them your own. I appreciate a diehard fan, but sometimes, you get scary–really scary. You get ‘give an author a dead bird after dressing it up to match a scene in a novel' scary–and yes, that has happened. (Not to me, though. And no, I never want this to ever happen to me.)
Let's face facts: you didn't create Star Trek or any other franchise you so love. You want more of it–that's amazing. It really is. But it's not yours.
It's not yours to do what you want with.
It's not yours to change.
It's not yours to sell.
It's not yours.
So many of us love Harry Potter, and we want to go to Hogwarts. We want to experience the magic for ourselves. We want to explore, and we want to capture that sense of wonder Rowling gave us all when she wrote those books.
So many of us love Star Trek, Firefly, and Star Wars, shows and movies that broke through the barriers separating us, bringing us together under the banner of shared, obsessive interest.
So many of us love Game of Thrones, cringing at each episode to see who is going to die next. I'm not a fan of Game of Thrones, but I understand the sense of community that comes along with being a fan.
I love Pokemon. I love Jurassic Park, it's runty sequels, and the glory that was Jurassic World. I love Guardians of the Galaxy. I really love Indiana Jones. For a long time, I wore a felt fedora just like his, because the entire franchise caught my imagination and made me want to grab a whip and explore the world.
I wore that hat out, and I longed to have a whip of my own, because I wanted to be someone just like Indy, who would go temple diving, artifact chasing, and hell, yes, tomb robbing–to put it in a museum, of course.
I understand you, but we have a problem.
There is a line between the fans and the creator. It's invisible, but trust me, it's there. It's a line that shouldn't be crossed, but it is all the time.
It is the line between fans and fans running off with someone's creation, taking it for their own, and feeling entitled to do whatever they want with it.
The Star Trek fan film is a symptom of this problem.
It's okay to love something. It's okay to love something so much you want to dress up as them, be like them, and want to be assimilated. It's okay to thrive within the community of other fans.
It's not okay to steal.
Intellectual Property is a big deal to creators like me. I work really hard to bring something to life for you to enjoy. Copyright theft and intellectual property theft is a sword to the heart. Our creations are how we, as creators, thrive.
Scale doesn't matter.
Yes, Star Trek is a huge, profitable fandom, but let me take you aside. Let's remove the scale.
Let's assume Star Trek isn't a huge, profitable fandom. Let's assume that it's a Mom-and-Pop franchise,s something made out of someone's home, in their garage, with the help of friends.
You might say a fan film should only bring more attention to the real franchise–to that couple who created Star Trek. You might argue a fan film is the highest form of flattery.
There were so many people who loved Star Trek they wanted to get together and show that love for the show/movie.
Brand integrity is a big deal. If a creator sanctions something like a fan film, without setting guidelines, without granting permission for their work to be taken and used, they're setting a standard–one that takes away their legal right to own their own property.
Now, I'm not saying the Star Trek thing hasn't gotten out of hand. It has. It's gotten a bit ridiculous on all sides. However, there is a point when we have a problem.
We want you to love our stuff so much you want to be a part of our community. We want you to love our work so much it ignites something in you and makes you want to dress up like our characters. We want your love, fans.
But we want your respect, too. We want you to respect what we've worked so hard to create. We want you to understand that there is a line between you, our beloved fans, and what we've created.
You don't own our work. You aren't entitled to it. You can't take what is ours and pretend it is yours to do whatever you want with.
It's not yours. You aren't entitled to it. It isn't yours to do what you please with.
Some fandom activities are commonly ignored, because so many creators love the fact we inspire you. Fanfiction is one of these activities. However, there comes a point when fanfiction goes too far–when fans go too far.
Enter Fifty Shades of Gray.
Once upon a time, Fifty Shades of Gray was a fanfiction piece based on Stephanie Meyers' Twilight. I've read the original fanfiction. There is zero doubt it was a fanfiction piece based on Twilight.
EL James crossed the invisible line. She took something that didn't belong to her and made it her own.
She then went on to sell it. There is a lot of controversy regarding Fifty Shades of Gray, but I think one thing stands out to me: lines were crossed, and fans never really even realized it.
We have a problem, fans, and only you can fix it.
We creators love you, but you need to respect us and our work–without acting like you're entitled to do whatever you want with what we've created. There needs to be limits on just how far things go.
We need you to survive, but without us, you wouldn't be fans.
Think about it for a little while. Think about it before you steal from creators. Think about it before you try to take ownership of something that doesn't belong to you–our creations.
It is one thing to discuss a work, dress up in costumes, and learn to speak an imaginary language.
It is another to take creating derivative works and taking them to the extreme. We want you to love what we've made.
We want to share our worlds with you, but we want to be respected. We want our livelihoods protected. We want to put food on our tables, take care of our family, homes, and pets, and we want to be able to keep creating.
That means you, the fans, need to wake up and take a long look around.
There is an invisible line, and we, as creators and fans, need to make it visible, make everyone aware it exists, and respect it.
It is the line between a creator's intellectual property and a fan's desire to be a part of a community. Think of it as skin. When we shake hands, our skin touches, but your blood doesn't touch mine. Your muscles don't touch mine. That's the way it should be.
We warm each other through the contact, but the boundary between fan and creator remains intact. We, as creators, want to touch you and feel your warmth, but we want that boundary to remain intact.
When fans take our work and run away with it, stepping over that line, you're invading the skin of the fandom's creator, mixing your blood with theirs, and going beyond the reasonable limitations of touch.
We want to touch, but we want to do so in a way that protects us both. Skin to skin, but no deeper.
Derivative works will always be contested.
I want people to draw pictures of how they envision my worlds or characters. I want people to feel a part of the community, such as it is. I want people to play pretend and imagine what it might be like to live in my world. I don't even mind fanfiction all that much, as long as the boundary between my ownership of my creation is respected.
It's not a matter of judging you for your love. We want you to love us. We just want you to respect us while you do it.
Without creators, there are no fans–without fans, writers, actors, movie producers, and all other entertainers are basically weirdos with overactive imaginations. Hell, most of us weirdos are fans, too.
We need you. You need us, too.
Let's try to get along, eh?