Do You Realize Fanfiction is Illegal?

A criticism of copyright laws, by Leo Damascus

On July 17, 1790, the United States of America introduced its first copyright law. It was introduced in the Columbian Centennial by President George Washington. Its stated purpose was "the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned." Since then copyright laws have been introduced extending the ways in which copyrights are applied. For example, trademarks were introduced, and the United States opened a patent office. The law that has had the most impact on recent copyright lawsuits is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), introduced by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Now, this history lesson is all well and good, but the reason I include it is to highlight how far we've strayed from the original intent of copyrights. Copyrights were originally intended as to encourage learning. Today, they restrict the ability of America to do so unhindered. Do not get me wrong; I'm not one who believes that authors and inventors don't have a right to protect their intellectual property. People who plagiarize work or distribute things so they can be obtained without legal purchase are scum and criminals who hinder man's progress. But trademarks, patents, and the DMCA have been perverted so much in recent years that they've been allowed to prevent protection of property, prevent competition in the marketplace, and destroy an Internet medium upon which the creators of this website have invested heavily... fanfiction.

Yes, fanfiction. Fanfiction may be defined as a work of fiction written by fans using the same characters as the source of the fanfiction. That, by definition, is what's known to the legal world as "misappropriation." Misappropriation is when a person uses copyright protected materials (such as characters) from a source material without the author's permission. So by distributing a fanfiction, you have become an outlaw according to U.S. law.

To see an example of legal action that can , we need look no further than Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes. In 2004, a group represented by ZeaLitY, created a game called Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes. It was set in the same world with the same characters as the source game, Chrono Trigger, but bore an entirely original storyline otherwise, set between Chrono Trigger and its sequel. On May 8th, 2009, ZeaLitY received a letter from the Square Enix legal department informing him that they would sue if his team didn't destroy every copy of this game that they had. ZeaLitY and his team were compelled to comply.

Now, there is are a number of misconceptions regarding exceptions to these laws, stemming from misunderstanding of what a copyright is, or what is covered by the fair use law. A copyright is not just a claim of ownership over a material, but the legal rights to distribute any copies of that material. This means that by simply distributing something, you care claiming a copyright on it. If you do not own a copyright you are not allowed to distribute the material, even and especially if you declare that it does not belong to you. Fair use was an exception to copyright laws that allows you to reuse source material for educational or comedic purposes, and then only if you distribute the material in small parts so as not to make the source material obsolete. It's so that people like Wikimedia can't sue me for using source material from as a source for this essay earlier on. It doesn't matter if you're distributing it for non-profit purposes; if you don't own the material, you cannot distribute it for purposes other than comedy and education.

That said, I have an account registered on and several distributed fanfictions that make me an outlaw. I could be sued by Disney, Nintendo, Lucasarts, Scholastic, and the Brothers Chapps, and each of them would win $100,000 for my illegal distribution of their works. Even though it's unlikely I'll ever actually be sued by these companies, the fact that I legally could is ridiculous.

My fanfiction has not harmed the profit of the copyright holders at all. If anything, it has called attention to the source material, increasing their profit margin. My work has not diminished anything from the ability of mankind to learn, which was the original purpose of copyrights. My fanfiction hasn't hurt anybody, nor does it have the potential to hurt anybody, and yet it is illegal. Why? Why do ridiculous laws remain on the book, allowing companies to abuse copyright laws to bully those that appreciate their materials, all in the name of money?

It is the author's opinion that copyright laws have been perverted past their meaningful purpose, and need serious reformation. Without it, we will lose cultural, educational and otherwise beneficial activities that shape who we are as a collective people. The author fully supports copyright reform, and hopes you will as well.

And as a token of my sincerity, feel free to redistribute this essay wherever and to whomever you may desire. So long as you credit me for the material, I hereby revoke all claims I have to control the distribution of this essay. Please do spread it.