Broadcasted in 170 countries, and with a record number of viewers worldwide, Game of Thrones is HBO’s most successful TV series of all time. Fan-written stories inspired by the programme are also very popular and proliferating online regardless of opposition by the author of the books the screen adaptation is based upon. Claiming fanfic poses a threat to his intellectual property, and dismissing it as a mere imitative work, George R.R. Martin casts serious doubt over the legitimacy of the whole genre. But is fanfiction just a rehash of the original source? And how do fanfic authors respond to these allegations? An original piece of research by Routledge, Taylor & Francis puts the relationship between fan culture and copyright holders under its lens, and reveals fanfiction is staking out its own space against repressive owners.
Published in Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, the study looks at notes and disclaimers posted online, illuminating the way fanfic authors negotiate the validity of their work against Martin’s ‘dislike of fanfiction with his characters’. Although fanfic popularity is huge, the genre suffers from an authenticity complex which is exacerbated by the hostility of some authors, explains the academic leading the study. Convinced that paratexts can be used to reorganise the concepts of authorship and ownership between fanfic writers and copyright holders, the academic pored over ‘100 examples of paratextual notes and disclaimers posted to three of the largest fanfic repositories on the internet – Fanfiction.net, Archive of Our Own (A03) and LiveJournal. Following a great deal of coding, as well as a critical discourse analysis of the added material, she identified four main overlapping categories in which statements by fanfic authors fell: ‘Communal Authorship’, ‘Sole Author’, ‘Unconscious Authorship’ and ‘Challenging Authorship’. While communal authorship conferred validity to the genre by viewing it as the result of the fanfic community’s creative effort, sole author did so by declaring the style was the exclusive product of the fanfic writer’s genius. Conversely, unconscious authorship placed the canonical text at the heart of the creative process, proclaiming it the sole source of inspiration and authority for derivative wok. Yet, it was in the challenging authorship category that things started to take an interesting turn; not only explicit negotiations between fan-writers and Martin were observed in here but also the ‘absence of paratext’ was first detected. Silence, or the refusal to engage in a discussion with Martin, can be read – in Foucauldian terms – as a rather radical gesture: a way for fic writers to stake out their own space in defiance of the copyright holder.
While many of the statements analysed in this study refer to ‘what is already established as culturally legitimate’ – hence fail to assert the authority of the gene – the absence of paratexts may be the element to ring the changes, says the academic. Whether this will grant fanfiction the legitimacy it craves for, it is for future research to assess.
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