I love fanfiction. I do some myself and I enjoy reading others’ fanfiction work. But we need to remember, fanfiction is still under copyright laws. I came across a person who decided to self-publish his own fanfiction novel based on an established character. Ouch!!! Writing fanfiction and copying the work to a fanfiction website is still pretty iffy. Self-publishing it is a definite no-no!!
Self-publishing an established franchise character is against copyright laws and the owner whomever they are has the right to sue that writer for infringement. So what are the copyright laws?
The Character Copyright laws state
For a work to qualify for copyright protection under current US copyright law, it must be an original work of authorship, fixed in a tangible medium of expression. “Original work of authorship” means it must be independently created by the author and possess some minimal degree of creativity. The creativity bar is pretty low, and most things will pass as being creative.
“Fixed in a tangible medium of expression” means that it has to exist somewhere somehow, i.e. writing something down, recording a song, or drawing a picture. Consequently, copyright law does not protect ideas; only the original, fixed expression of that idea by the author is protected.
The distinction here is expression of the idea. Actual copying of the expression of the idea is likely copyright infringement, especially in the commercial context, however copying only the basic idea behind the work is copying unprotected ideas and isn’t copyright infringement. http://www.aspectlg.com/copyright-in-characters-what-can-i-use/
I’ll use Marvel comics as an example. You CANNOT use the character Loki from the Marvel Comic Franchise if the character looks like Loki, acts like Loki, uses the same Loki terminology and has the same Loki background. You CAN use the Norse mythical character Loki if he has blond, red, brown, purple, green hair, if his ancestry is different from Marvel’s world, i.e.: Frigga had an affair and gave birth to Loki, Odin had an affair and adopted Loki as his child, or use the original Loki mythology, etc., but you CANNOT use Marvel’s creation of Odin adopting Loki as his child, being rejected and traumatized by his family, running away to conquer earth, etc. You’ll have to create your own world and you won’t be able to use Marvel’s adaptation of Loki being a misunderstood lonely person. Again, you’ll need to create your own adaptation in order to not fall under copyright laws if you wish to publish your Loki based novel.
You can’t use Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars if the Warrior monk looks like Jinn, talks like Jinn and uses the same Jedi/Star Wars lingo. You can create Space Warrior Monks who have an established religion that they follow and is broken into sects. But sorry, The Force is off limits. Now you can use super powers, but no Force.
Now Amazon.com does have a list of approved franchise worlds that you can use for publication. BUT make sure you read the guidelines carefully and follow completely!! If a franchise is not on that list, then you cannot use that created world.
So be careful, folks. Don’t be foolish in thinking because it’s in the public eye, it’s fair game. It’s not. The franchise has every right to sue you, although most will only tell you to pull your product from the public forum. All that work is now for nothing and your reputation as a writer is pretty much destroyed. So it’s best to just keep the work on free fanfiction websites or keep it on your website for others to enjoy.