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Readers and writers

So I know that fanficrants can be a scary place, but this post is actually generating some interesting discussion, particularly in this thread.

Who owns a story? The writer? The reader? A writer of course can pull down any story at any time, but do they have the "right" to demand that every copy of the story be deleted? (From the Google cache, from the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine, from people's harddrives, etc.) Does a reader have the "right" to be able to find the story again? Do they have the "right" to download it, to pass it on to friends, to write their own fanfic based on it? Complex questions, I think.

I tend to think that, once a story is posted to the Internet, we lose control over what happens to it. It's out there, in the world, free to be read, reviewed, linked, copied, downloaded, fanficced. Why should we expect more control over our writings than traditionally published authors? A professional writer could never demand the return every publically available copy of a book. Once published, it's out there. Even if such a thing were possible, the story would live on, in the minds of the people who had read it.

Personally, I tend to think of a story as a collaboration between its writer and its readers. The writer creates the story, but it doesn't really come to life until someone else reads it. Perhaps this is a part of why we all adore reviews so much: a review is proof that someone read, that the story did indeed take on that life of its own. Maybe not the life we inteded for it, but a life all the same. (I think this is true for all stories, not just fanfic, although of course the feedback loop is more immediate in fandom.)

Anyway. Just my random thoughts on a Thursday evening. What do you all think?

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
rabbitprint
Oct. 27th, 2006 05:30 am (UTC)
Personally, I fall on the side that believes that there may be other reasons than 'sheer prissiness' that would cause an author to pull their work.

Honestly, I understand why someone would want their archives removed. Maybe they're wary of a job search turning up their records, or they have someone harassing them, or the original creator of the source material wants it gone, or any other number of reasons.

The bile that's directed towards people who do remove their work, or if authors would prefer you not using their characters -- and the automatic assumption that if anyone does that, they're total 'pompous jackasses' -- is a bit... well. I think getting that upset about it and shouting things about 'it's your right to be provided this stuff' is just as bad as saying, 'it's your right that only the people you want reading it read it.' God, if popular opinion really feels that way, I'd rather not post at all online, lest I trip over someone's sense of entitlement. Talk about accusations.

Is it really so hard to just get in touch with the author if you want a copy? Or to save a copy to your own computer? Or even -- gods forbid -- to not automatically jump to the conclusion that they're an asshole for 'denying' you your fix? Eesh. :/
owlmoose
Oct. 27th, 2006 06:54 am (UTC)
I certainly understand that there can be good reasons to take down an archive, and I don't particularly agree with the entitlement that comes through in some of the comments in that thread. I can see the frustration, though, if you didn't save a copy of a story you adored and then you go back and all the files are gone, and so is the author's site and all their contact information. And that can happen on the Internet, even sometimes when the author didn't intend it.

I don't know how much experience you have with ffrants, but I wouldn't take any opinions expressed there too seriously, or as particularly representative of fandom. I mostly found this post interesting as a jumping off point.
rabbitprint
Oct. 27th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
I think the word, 'right,' tends to cause definate problems in something like this. When you start bringing that sort of thing in, it always seems that people get really adamant of what they feel their 'natural rights' are (or aren't.) And then it goes downhill from there.

I guess what bothers me the most about that thread is how easily people jumped to scathing, negative conclusions about anyone who chose to remove themselves from archive. It's like.... give them the luxury of the doubt, mm?
owlmoose
Oct. 28th, 2006 04:41 am (UTC)
I think the word, 'right,' tends to cause definate problems in something like this.

I suspect you are correct about that.

I've found that the quickness with which we assume the absolute worst possible motivation for an action to be a problem in all Internet debate. We do tend to jump to the least flattering conclusions about the reasons for someone's actions. I don't know why that happens so often online, but it really seems to.
auronlu
Oct. 27th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
All I know is, I mourn when a good story goes down and have been known to plead with someone to leave their stuff up for people to enjoy or download one Just In Case it ever disappeared. I have been known to share a good piece of fanart or fanfic with friends, the way one might xerox a great cartoon and hang it up on the office bulletin board. However, I guess I draw the line at hosting something that a writer has taken down, unless I have permission. I have scoured the web looking for some great Aulu fanart that vanished when an Aulu fansite died, found alternate sites hosting SOME of the missing pieces and linked to those, but have never uploaded the ones I had saved to my own Aulu fansite, much as I wish I could showcase the great work of a few artists.

EVERYONE must also realize that when they post something on the internet, it's going to get archived, unless they put it under a private lock. Even then, it may be. That's the nature of the web. You can no sooner demand it be otherwise than you can demand that whatever trees got chopped down to make a published book spring back to life again after you throw the book away.

As for fanfic of our fanfic, sure. If we write fanfic at all, we really MUST allow that and be flattered by it. (I say this with full humility, remembering all too well the horror I felt the one time someone ffed an original story of mine and totally perverted the meaning of it. I'm sure Tolkien would not approve of that Elrond/Gilraen smutlet lying around on my hard drive somewhere.)
owlmoose
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:01 am (UTC)
EVERYONE must also realize that when they post something on the internet, it's going to get archived

I agree with this in principle, but I wonder how many people realize it in practice.

And yeah, I think it's pretty disingenuous for someone in a *fanfic* community to make an "I am the author and so whatever I say goes" pronouncement. We may not always like the results, but it's definitely a pot calling the kettle black situation.

So here is a question (straight out of Professor Krausz's Aesthetics class): can a work have a meaning the original creator didn't intend? You say that the fanfic of your story perverted its meaning. Would you say that the ficcer misunderstood your story or just that they found a meaning that you didn't originally put there (but that stands up to an analysis of the text)?
auronlu
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
Since I'm reading Nietzsche for a "myths, their uses and misuses" class... short answer: Yes indeed, people can find meanings in a work that the author didn't intend. All texts are subject to multiple interpretations, many of which the author never thought of-- that is indeed the joy of readers and reviews -- but I think there comes a point when you have, indeed, missed the point of a text and distorted it.

I had written a story about a person in a wheelchair who found true liberation and freedom building and flying kites (somewhat exaggerated autobiographical, due to my rheumatoid A.) A youngster of about 15 wrote and turned in a story to his English class, from the point of view of a witness watching my character in the story I'd written. The thrust of his story was that the handicapped girl was an antisocial bitch who went off to play her own game instead of playing with the other kids, and thus she was depriving herself of friendship. Which I suppose was one way of looking at it, but it didn't honor the "I can't run... but I can fly!" theme of the story I'd written.

It also bugged me that he rewrote my story for an English assignment, but that's another issue. :/
owlmoose
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:25 am (UTC)
All texts are subject to multiple interpretations, many of which the author never thought of-- that is indeed the joy of readers and reviews -- but I think there comes a point when you have, indeed, missed the point of a text and distorted it.

I pretty much agree with this view. And it does sound like your "fan" missed the point your work completely. I hope it didn't come off like I was asking you to defend your position. I was just curious.

I love that you are able to find many applications of Nietzsche to fic and to fandom! :)
xerne
Oct. 27th, 2006 08:58 am (UTC)
I have fic saved on my harddrive that will probably never see the shining lights of the internet again. It's stuff I enjoy re-reading in particular moods, much the same reason I keep books. I don't think an author has the right to tell people not to keep copies of something, and though I can think of a situation where I might think an author's request were reasonable ("I wrote that horribly racist/sexist/homophobic story before I understood that it hurts people" maybe? I've never liked a story like that, but I suppose it's possible someone might) I don't think people are obligated to delete something that's privately saved.

On the other hand, the author has every right to pull something down from public display IMO -- deleting their ff.net account, telling the Internet Wayback Machine to stop archiving their old web page, or even complaining to a webhost about a site that's archiving their work against their will. The difference to me is that fic on a website can still be found, while what I have on my harddrive can't.
owlmoose
Oct. 28th, 2006 07:22 am (UTC)
This is all very reasonable. It seems to me to be the most analagous to what happens when a book goes out of print: you can't go out and find a new copy any more, or not without a lot of difficulty anyway, but anyone who snagged a copy while it was still available will have their version to keep.

Now I am starting to wonder if I ought to be downloading my favorites....
xerne
Oct. 28th, 2006 08:24 am (UTC)
I'd say you should.

But then again, I am an internet packrat.

(And as someone who's been obsessively photocopying from certain out-of-print books at the library lately, I think anyone who goes to that much trouble is entitled to the words, copyright violation or no. =P)
colichemarde
Oct. 27th, 2006 03:11 pm (UTC)
I think it's all like a book. Once it's been printed, it's been printed. They can have everything burnt to all hell, but there's ways of hiding things, even the digital kinds of things.

It's like the book, "Anarchist's Cookbook". The author shuns his creation and has even asked everyone who has it to burn it. Do they? Of course not! They like it, and it's not really fair. It may be the "right" of the author to request things be removed, but they can't completely stop anyone. If I save a story to my harddrive and the author has removed it, I still have it, and could even go against their wishes and put it up again somewhere on the internet. Fair? Nice? Of course not. But the "rights" are along thin lines that the author has thus erased when they put it on the internet to begin with.

My two cents for your piggy bank. ^_~ Praise ff_press for showing me to your awesome discussion.
owlmoose
Oct. 28th, 2006 07:13 am (UTC)
Interesting, I didn't know that the author of "The Anarchist's Cookbook" had disowned his work. But yes, I think especially for a traditionally published author it's nearly impossible to destroy your work. It seems easier on the Internet, but I think that's mostly an illusion. So many places a copy can be lurking...

I do tend to think that someone should consider their long-term plans before they post stories, rather than after. If privacy is the issue, that's what pseudonyms are for.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)
mneme_forgets
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
What I don't like about that discussion is that, as some one else has mentioned it takes part in the huge esense of entitlement that I am beginning to think is the main characteristic of the times. If the author wants to remove their work from the internet it is neither childish nor selfish and it is their right. But no, they can't ask other people to delete it from their harddrives.

On the other hand I feel that once someone has written something and it's been read by anyone at all, the writer can't control the meaning of that writing, not at all. The story isn't even completed anyway until it has an audience, as far as I am concerned. And I don't think it's possible for a reader to interpret a piece of writing in an invalid way. Sure there may be better and worse readings of a piece of writing, but in the end, I think the author is possibly the *worst* judge of whose interpretation is best.

The power of writing is that it's open to interpretation. So hile the author might not like what someone saw in his/her work and might find it completely contrary to his/her intentions, I don't think the writer should even try to hunt people down and change what they think about something. I find that doing so only makes the other person's interpretation seem all the more valid.
owlmoose
Oct. 28th, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)
I really agree with you regarding the need for an audience. I don't think I could ever consider a piece of writing that never made it off my harddrive to be truly "finished".

I find that doing so only makes the other person's interpretation seem all the more valid.

Interesting thought. Sort of a "the lady doth protest too much" kind of thing? Regardless, stories will mean different things to different people, and I don't think we can ever say that any one reading is the "true" one, although I do think it's fair to say one reading can be *better* than another. But then I am a known relativist. ;)
kunstarniki
Oct. 27th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
I
A highly publicized incident taking place in Virginia lends some credence to the idea that an amateur writer might wish to remove his work from the public view because of its effect on his professional life. Jim Webb, who is running for senator in that state has been asked to withdraw because of his 'XXXXX-rated' fiction. This demand was issued by the oddly named Traditional Values Coalition. The incident in one of Webb's novels they cite as the reason for this demand is the usual taken from context and exaggerated in position passage as is most of this sort of nonsense. However, it is easy to see how a person who has written a few less than chaste lines might decide that such footsteps were better erased before they can rouse the easily roused sheep against him should he ever harbour thoughts of public service.

There are many reasons why one would prefer that certain writings be expunged from the record. I have done that myself from time to time. As to 'rights', I am not so presumptuous as to think I can declaim ex cathedra on that topic. If there is something I read which I truly value, I make a print-out of it so that I may indulge in the archaic habit of curling up with a cat and a good read. And I cannot possibly fault those original creators who prefer that their carefully crafted characters not be pulled this way and that by those who had no hand in the genesis. They have every reason to expect their preferences, however irritating, be respected.
owlmoose
Oct. 28th, 2006 06:51 am (UTC)
Re: I
Fair enough, but I would tend to say that the time to worry about that is *before* you post a story publicly, not after. There are so many ways a webpage can be archived, up to and including printouts by others, which can make their way into other hands. Once you've released your writings into the wild, it's dangerous to assume that you can ever call them all back. You can wipe away some of the footprints, but they'll probably never be all gone.

And I cannot possibly fault those original creators who prefer that their carefully crafted characters not be pulled this way and that by those who had no hand in the genesis.

To be honest I am a bit surprised to hear you express this opinion, given how vigerously you usually defend fanfic as a literary tradition. The idea that a writer "owns" their characters, even those that they've invented, is a fairly new one, and I'm not sure it's a particularly useful way of looking at a creation. Do you see a difference here?
kunstarniki
Oct. 28th, 2006 11:28 am (UTC)
I
In the case to which I assume you are alluding, Conan Doyle did not forbid the use of his invented world by those who wished to 'meta-fic'. I believe the real flood of such came after his death, however, even when he was alive, he indulged those who invested Sherlock with all the attributes of a living man. It may have annoyed him but he did not try to cut it off altogether.

Most writers seems to be charmed that their creations inspire the level of affection and interest which manifests itself as fanfiction. Those few who are offended and forbid such use of their creations should be heard - this is my opinion. My defense of fanfiction as a legitimate genre yields to my greater defense of an individual's privacy. If Anne Rice thinks she has sole title to her characters, I gladly grant her that. She has so befouled the vampire tradition, I loathe her anyway. ;) Vampires as rock stars! Hmph!
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