Fanfiction – Who Owns the Copyright?


  1. Fanfiction authors don’t own anything about their stories. Fanfiction cannot be copyrighted.” – Sorry, guys, it’s not that simple.
  2. Derivative or Transformative – The distinction that makes all the difference
    a. Derivative
    b. Transformative
    c. The Case of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey – Derivative or Transformative?
  3. Is all source material copyrighted?
    a. Test: Sufficiently Delineated characters
    b. Test: The “Story being told”
    c. The Problem with Character Copyright
  4. So what if the source material/character is copyright protected?
  5. What does fair use mean?
  6. Can authors such as Anne Rice or Marion Zimmer Bradley forbid fanfiction?
  7. What about another fan stealing my story or republishing it without my consent?
    a. Why do people still claim they have the right to take a fanfic because the author doesn’t have any rights to the story?
  8. So what can I do to protect myself and my stories?


If you are a writer or reader of fanfiction, or are simply active in online fandoms or online communities, you have surely come across the debate concerning fanfiction and its supposed missing copyright protection. These online debates are scarcely filled with actual information, but rather an abundance of opinions disguised as facts. Many involved debaters seem to draw their info from their own set of morals, and argue on the basis of what SHOULD be law in their opinion instead of looking at what we are actually dealing with.

Since I myself became victim of not only plagiarism, but also copyright infringement several times last year, I decided to tackle the issue the way it makes most sense to me: by getting information. Not from the internet—instead I did a quick research for actual published works in the field of legal and cultural studies by professionals.

From my own master’s degree in cultural and literary studies, I know that fanfiction has been heatedly debated in several academic fields for almost a decade now: usually in the realms of cultural and literary studies. So, I figured, if cultural scientists write papers—and whole books—analyzing fanfiction and its cultural impact and significance, there have to be works that analyze the legal standing of fanfiction from a copyright perspective.

And I was right. I stumbled across Aaron Schwabach’s book “Fanfiction and Copyright – Outsider Works and Intellectual Copyright Protection”. Schwabach is a professor of law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California. One of his focus points is intellectual property. So his work provided an excellent starting point, for I knew I was dealing with a law professional who knows what he’s talking about. Which, in my world, is leaps better than dealing with opinionated people online who base their arguments on wishful thinking or obscure sources (“a friend of a friend” and so on).

Luckily, my university library was able to order his book from another library, since purchasing it from amazon (even the Kindle edition!) would have cost over US$100. So shout out and major credit to Free University of Berlin here, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to get my hands on the book.

Read more about whether you own the copyright for your fanfiction here.


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