Home » Copyright, Legal Stuff » Fifty Shades – A Copy of Twilight or Not?

Fifty Shades – A Copy of Twilight or Not?

23 May 2012

Passive Guy posted a short item about the Fifty Shades books selling more than ten million copies earlier this morning. Brendan commented that he couldn’t understand why Stephenie Meyer hasn’t sued Fifty Shades author E.L James.

PG hasn’t researched this in depth, but Dear Author has:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a self published work by a British author using the pseudonym, E. L. James.  It was originally published along with the two sequels, Fifty Shades of Darker and Fifty Shades of Freed, in its entirety, as Master of the Universe on ff.net, a site that hosts what is known as fan fiction.  Master of the Universe reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.  This collection of submissions has since been deleted.

. . . .

[By March, 2012] [t]he book [had] become a sensation in New York City where Upper East Side women are  reading it in droves.  While some are comparing this to the Story of O, romance readers know this series falls within the erotic romance category, a category of books where the sexual relationship is the vehicle for the relationship arc.

On March 10, 2011, Vintage announced it had won a bidding war for the books, paying seven figures for the three Fifty books (and possibly others) for North American rights.  Vintage, a division of Knopf|Random House, released new ebook editions on March 12, 2011, and a 750,000 print run of trade paperbacks will follow.

Link to the rest at Dear Author

Dear Author explored similarities between Master of the Universe and Fifty Shades:

Vintage, a division of Random House, has come forward and asserted that the 50 Shades series is wholly original fiction and that the author has warranted it is original fiction, deviating substantially from the original fan fiction known as Master of the Universe.

As numerous reports have outlined, 50 SHADES OF GREY grew out of a multi-part series of fan fiction called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, based on Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT novels, that James (a pseudonym for London-based television executive Erika Leonard) published online between 2009 and 2011 in various venues, including fanfiction.net and her own website. When she contracted with Writers Coffee Shop in early 2011 to publish the works, lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations, James took the fan fiction versions offline.

Vintage issued a statement to the AP Saturday defending 50 SHADES as an original work, and said to us that James had warranted the books were, indeed original. Messitte added she was “aware of the narrative that [50 SHADES] started as differently titled piece of fiction, but that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” A request for comment from Meyer’s agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, was not responded to at press time.

. . . .

It is well known amongst the fan fiction and romance reading community that 50 Shades series was originally released as Master of the Universe. The names are changed from the original alternate universe fan fiction (AU) and a few details such as eye color and hair color, but the text of 50 Shades is largely that which was in the original fan fiction, Master of the Universe.

. . . .

We ran 50 Shades and the Master of the Universe fan fiction through three comparison engines.

. . . .

Vintage says of MOTU and 50 Shades, “they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” Turnitin says they are 89% the same.

With the success of Alternate Universe fan fiction and the successful leveraging of that fandom into seven figure economic rewards, the influx of fan fiction into professional publishing is likely to begin at greater levels than previous. Some publishers give public guides as to how to disguise one’s fan fiction.

Link to the rest at Dear Author

A derivative work is defined under United States copyright law (17 USC 101) as follows:

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

Copyright owners have the exclusive right to produce derivative works based on their original, copyrighted works. A derivative work can be independently copyrighted.

In response to Brendan’s comment, PG speculated that the Fifty Shades author and her publisher may have come to an agreement with Meyer, but the quote from Random House above would seem to indicate they have not.

The “James had warranted the books were, indeed original” statement by Random House references a part of a standard warranty an author gives a publisher in many publishing contracts. Theoretically, if the warranty is untrue and the publisher is sued, the author will pay the publisher’s damages.

However, Ms. Meyer is not bound by the publishing contract between James and Random House, so she can sue both if she believes they have violated any of her copyrights.

An analysis even more detailed than those performed by Dear Author would be necessary to determine the amount of copying Ms. James did of Ms. Meyer’s books. Copyright infringement short of simply making a copy of another work is not a simple thing to prove.

However, in PG’s inescapably humble opinion, a court considering the infringement question would pay close attention to the fact that Master of the Universe was an unabashed fanfic work clearly based on Meyer’s work. If a judge starts down that path, the chances of the judge finding Fifty Shades is a derivative work increase.

Given the very public origin of Master of the Universe, if a judge found Fifty Shades to be a derivative work based on Meyers’ books, the possibilities of a judge also finding the copyright infringement to be willful are also greater. This raises the financial stakes.

PG mentions a judge-tried case here because most cases of this nature are tried to a judge. A jury trial would also be a possibility, but the judge would still make legal determinations that would have a substantial impact on the trial’s outcome.

Copyright, Legal Stuff

38 Comments to “Fifty Shades – A Copy of Twilight or Not?”

  1. I took a stab at analyzing this question in my blog not long ago, at http://looking-around.blogspot.com/2012/04/twilight-fifty-shades-and-copyright-law.html. I’m no expert on IP (I’m an appellate attorney handling all sorts of civil appeals in Indiana), but I’d guess the key would be the “transformative use” aspects of fair use. See the post for details (including spoilers). Spoiler-free summary of my position: the changes James has made to the essence of the story make me inclined to defend her right to publish.

  2. I have read neither Twilight nor Grey, but I would be surprised if Grey were all that derivative – unless there are sparkly vampires in it. I don’t read erotica, either, but my guess is the specific Twilight elements aren’t likely to matter much in the story and could be easily switched out. Ten per cent sounds about right. And I suspect there are vampire romance books out there that are much closer to Twilight that no one’s thinking twice about.

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s first book, Shards of Honor, was a re-written Star Trek fanfic. She changed everything – characters, universe – and no one would know from reading the book that this was its origin. Even when you know, what she came up with was quite unique. There are too many tropes in SF&F and Star Trek influenced a lot of writers.

    • Clarification: Shards of Honor was initially plotted, in Bujold’s early middle age, as a continuation of stories in a pre-existing universe, which was initially a universe of Star Trek fanfic but had morphed substantially over the years back when she was young. (Apparently she was one of those teenagers who wrote sagas fifty generations long.) By the time Bujold got around to writing down Shards of Honor, she had also devised a whole new universe to write it in, because by that time she had begun her professional writing career.

      So it’s a bit more complicated than any rewrite. And yeah, I’m sure that reading Bujold juvenilia would reveal some connections to her later work, but probably not to the point of rewrite. Which isn’t surprising; there’s a lot of separation between the worlds of a teenaged writer and a middle-aged one.

      • I stand corrected. ^_^

        But my point is, Bujold’s work was all hers, no matter what the original inspiration was.

        Or perhaps the Tolkien estate should go after all the Tolkien clone books, with Tolkien elves and dwarves and dark lords out there?

        • Sword of Shanarra and bazillion sequels, first on the block! Of course, eventually it’d get to the Belgariad, and while that’s full of holes and silliness, it’s unabashedly amusing at times and I would be sad to lose it.

  3. I will take no position on whether “50 Shades of Grey” infringes on “Twilight”. I’m not an attorney. Also, I haven’t read and never intend to read either book (commas omitted to annoy language peevers).

    I would suggest that Meyer would be extraordinarily foolish to sue over the issue. There is no evidence that “50 Shades of Grey” has had a negative impact on the sales of “Twilight”. There is every reason to believe that the impact is just the opposite. Besides, going after fan fic, even when it becomes commercially successful is a bad idea. Much like piracy, the publication of derivative works often is a net benefit to the IP holder. Please note that I used the word “often”, not the word “always” in the previous sentence. Winning the legal battle and losing the war of public opinion can ruin one’s career.

    [Unrelated Note: Doesn’t E. L. James prefer that we use her pseudonym in relation to her fiction? I know her true name has entered the public domain, but I would still recommend eliding the name in the quoted passage from Dear Author. As someone who uses a pseudonym, I like to respect other people’s right to do the same.]

  4. My problem with 50 Shades v. Twilight isn’t so much that 50 Shades resembles Twilight because it doesn’t, but that Twilight now carries whatever taint comes from 50 Shades. I’m not usually for artists suing over fanfic stuff, but this has grown out of proportion to some other beast entirely.
    And I would think at least some percentage of the fan base for 50 Shades was from Twilight fans hearing about the connection. The two are linked and I never got the impression E.L. James felt this was a bad thing, but seemed to encourage it.
    I think for people to think Meyers should just shrug this off isn’t fully appreciating the whole scale of the problem.
    Meyers’s biggest problem as far as PR goes is she is seen as a bit of a bitch already and I imagine if she (justifiably) pursues this everyone will crucify her. But I think there is a bigger picture here.

    I should state I only read a sample from the first 50 Shades book (writing wasn’t my style) and I’m not a prude in my reading tastes. This argument isn’t about sex v. abstinence or being a good sport v. a possessive bitch. How far can you skim from the popularity of an original work and idea before you’ve crossed a line.

  5. If Stephanie Meyer sues EL James for copyright infringement, Joss Whedon should sue Stephanie Meyer for same. A little show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pre-Twilight, and used very similar tropes. (Buffy = Bella, Angel = Edward — it’s not even as thinly disguised as Fifty Shades and the resemblance is closer). My guess is that Stephanie Meyer will do no such thing.

    • Using the same tropes is not the same as taking someone else’s brand and splashing it all over your work. That’s the line I believe James crossed.

      • That line gets crossed in marketing all the time. I can’t remember the names off-hand, but I read an article where some self-published authors attributed their success to putting “(for fans of Dan Brown and some other author)” in their subtitle. Any time a marketing department puts a quote on a cover that says, “…as thrilling as James Patterson, as tense as Stephen King” (substitute anything!) that’s what they’re doing. Every time a publisher buys another derivative novel — like Twilight,only with mermaids; like Twilight, only with faeries; like Twilight, only with angels — that’s what they’re doing.

        I can’t speak for you but I think people get offended because James went so directly to the Twilight audience. But fan fiction audiences aren’t the property of the author that they’re fans of; they’re just readers who like a certain type of story. And fan fiction readers can be brutal (and probably some of them were). If they hadn’t liked the book, it wouldn’t be successful now.

        The question is, does Meyers have grounds to sue because James wrote to her audience? No. She’d have grounds to sue if James had violated her copyrights by copying her work, and James didn’t. Or at least not more than anyone who uses the trope of innocent virgin, experienced guy. And if Meyers could copyright that trope — well, she’d have to go back in time and put Harlequin of the 1970s out of business.

        • i agree that in marketing one book will link itself to the fans of other books. Even then I believe they go too far sometimes, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
          She (James) doesn’t own the fans, but she claims, by the fact that she wrote this as fanfic and the fact that she and her publisher promotes this as a Twilight derivative, the reputation that Twilight built on its own steam. She pulls from this as her platform.
          If this were just about Meyers and James I woldn’t really give a s***. The fact is this will be a continuig problem that will only grow over the years and needs, IMO, to be addressed.
          There are many fanfic authors out there who left their fanfic on the fanfic websites and when they went to become authors wrote their own world and from their own reputations. They may have brought some of their fanfic fans to their new works, but they didn’t continue to roll the reputation of another author’s work in front of them.

          • That’s my issue with this as well, Josephine. Derivative or not, the Twific readers helped boost the work *because* it was directly tapping into Meyers’ world. The original characters were named Bella and Edward – they WERE Bella and Edward to those readers. When the books were P2P (pulled to publish) then the names were changed – but very little else about the stories.

            The fact that James used Meyer’s audience to drive her own works into a huge $ contract… that’s what doesn’t sit well with me.

  6. Speaking as a reader and a writer, it seems like a flimsy argument to claim plagiarism. The story may have started as unabashed fanfic, but that’s not where it ended. How does the old adage go? “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” If it weren’t for creators taking tropes and inverting them, there wouldn’t BE (much) art today.

  7. I just googled Master of Universe and found the pdf file (it’s not that hard).

    Master of Universe’s first paragraphs:
    ‘I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair, it just won‘t behave, and damn Rose for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I have tried to brush my hair into submission but it‘s not toeing the line. I must learn not to sleep with it wet. I recite this five times as a mantra whilst I try, once more, with the brush. I give up. The only thing I can do is restrain it, tightly, in a pony tail and hope that I look reasonably presentable.
    Rose is my roommate and she has chosen, okay, that‘s a bit unfair, because choice has had nothing to do with it, but she has the flu and as such cannot do the interview she‘s arranged with some mega industrialist for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish and I am supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today – I have to head into downtown Seattle and meet the enigmatic CEO of Cullen Enterprise Holdings, Inc. Allegedly he‘s some exceptional tycoon who is a major benefactor of our University and his time is extraordinarily precious… much more precious than mine – and he‘s granted Rose an interview… a real coup she tells me… Damn her extra-curricular activities.
    ―Bella I‘m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview and it will take another six to reschedule, and you and I will both have graduated by then. As the editor I can‘t blow this out… Please.‖ Rose begs me in her rasping, really sore throat voice…’

    You can find first paragraphs of 50 Shades on Amazon and judge for yourself.

    You will notice that these two are not two different stories and if Mayer chooses to sue, she has IMO a solid case.

    • What is her case? She can’t sue because an author published a story that the author wrote; she can only sue if the author plagiarized her work. I admit, I haven’t memorized Twilight, but I don’t really recall any hairbrushing, roommates, or CEOs in it.

      • Quote from PG: However, in PG’s inescapably humble opinion, a court considering the infringement question would pay close attention to the fact that Master of the Universe was an unabashed fanfic work clearly based on Meyer’s work. If a judge starts down that path, the chances of the judge finding Fifty Shades is a derivative work increase.

        And to tell you the truth I don’t really care if Mayer has a case or not, but the“they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” it’s a lie. They should at least be truthful about it or at least change the 50 Shade enough that it isn’t identical to fanficton MOU.

      • I would imagine that initially posting it on a Twilight fan fiction site might make a judge believe that she has a case. Certainly if it was a jury trial I would imagine they would see it that way without a lot of smart lawyering to convince them otherwise.

        That said, I doubt that a court case would benefit either of them. Better for Meyer to say how thrilled she is that James was inspired by her work to become a best-seller herself and let it go.

        • I agree, ultimately with what you say, but I still think the way James and her publishers got the rep. that they did was wrong and I don’t think this problem is going to go away anytime soon.

  8. Hmmmmmm.

    It isn’t plagiarism because it’s not the same story, so the question is Derivative Work.

    Derivative means something different in legal-speak than it does in literary-speak.

    In literary-speak, derivative means unoriginal, trite, cliched. Somebody loves Star Wars and writes swashbuckling space operas with the same sensibility and same archetypes, that’s derivative.

    But it’s also normal, basic-to-all-culture stuff. If you actually dig into the process, you would find that nearly every work of art derives, in part, from things the author has read. Structure and archetypes.

    So in legal-speak, doesn’t there have to be some actual connection between the final work and the original? Something like same world, same names? An obvious connection, like it’s a sequel?

    I suppose a judge will find whatever a judge will find. And I understand how important process can be to proving that a person didn’t plagiarize. But if the work itself doesn’t seem to be plagiarized, it seems to me that the process isn’t relevant.

  9. I’ve read both Twilight and 50 Shades and I don’t see that much resemblance. In fact, I was surprised when I found out that 50 Shades started as Twilight fanfic. Maybe that means I’m just dense (grin) but other than the virgin/playboy trope mentioned above, I don’t really see it. Yeah, there’s stuff about Christian being wounded/not good enough for the heroine, as in Twilight, but so what? That’s a classic romance theme. It’s all over the genre. And writers copy each other all the time. Last week I read a werewolf book that had a character that was so close to one of J.R.Ward’s vampires I had to laugh (the name even started with the same letter of the alphabet), and no-one’s yelling plagiarism about that.

    OTOH, if 50 Shades were my book, I wouldn’t have wanted to ride Twilight’s coattails. But frankly I doubt such a fuss would have been thrown over this except for the fact that 50 Shades has become so popular and such a media phenomenon. If it were just another romance series, no-one would know or care where James got her inspiration.

    • One thing that most people don’t realize is that an awful lot of fanfic has very little to do with the original story.

      Very often, the only thing that the fanfic and the original have in common are the names, and if it’s a media tie-in, same faces on the cast. Maybe same costumes, but not always the same world.

      It’s just a jumping off point for fantasies, and the tie-in to the original work is purely something to bring the group together.

      I remember when there were a number of fanfic writers in our critique group. Nearly every story was urban relationship stuff, and you’d never ever guess what series was the source material if you didn’t recognize the names. “Man From U.N.C.L.E.”? no spies, no adventure, just sitting around in an apartment breaking up a relationship. Exact same story for Star Trek. The apartment might not even be on another planet.

      Ironically, the stories resembled what was being written in my graduate school classes. All of it very “Mary Sue” all about the writers and his or her experiences (or wished for experiences).

      Which may be the explanation: fanfic is not about the series it’s based on, it’s about the writer.

      • I was just thinking this.

        Other than the character names and clunky writing, the two stories are not alike at all.

        But the whole idea of writing fan fic is that you are not supposed to make money from it. Which is where my annoyance comes from, as someone who enjoys fan fic and I’ve found fan fic where author’s are so brilliant I wish they could be making money from it.

        • (EDIT: I realize I misread you. I thought you were annoyed that writers were making money off it. So take the post below as further agreement!)

          Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just older than you. (Don’t know your age.)

          Back in the days of mimeograph machines, fanfic publishers made quite a lot of money. It could hardly be called profit, because it was mainly a way to earn back con-going expenses. And to this day an awful lot of fan artists make their money that way, and costumers and replica makers — all illegal, but all tolerated.

          The only reason not to make money off of fanfic is licensing — the legal issues we’re talking about here.

          But the kind of writing of 50 Shades of Gray came from, well, as long as it has a superficial tie-in to an existing property, it must be free. But since it actually doesn’t borrow anything except a mask, then when the mask is dropped, the work belongs entirely to the author, and imho, if I liked it, I’d WANT to pay for it.

          It excites me that amateurs can write for the love and actually make a living at it now. They can write this crap that they love and that their audience loves and don’t ahve to modify it to fit any marketing slot. It’s direct and it’s what self-publishing is all about. The writer and her audience.

          The writer doesn’t owe the audience anything but a great story, though. IMHO, it’s always wrong to expect people to work for your pleasure for free.

      • “Ironically, the stories resembled what was being written in my graduate school classes. All of it very “Mary Sue” all about the writers and his or her experiences (or wished for experiences).”

        “Which may be the explanation: fanfic is not about the series it’s based on, it’s about the writer.”

        OH GOOD POINT!

        The case can be made that Bella is a ‘Mary Sue’ and if THAT is true then how far do you have to trace ‘Mary Sue’ to find the original work?

        Back to Star Trek fan fiction? (From Fan Fiction Mary Sue came and from Fan Fiction, does she now return?)

        Couldn’t help it…I can’t resist a trope or a cliche.

  10. I just have to add that I find the attitude about 50 Shades quite bizarre. All the fuss. ZOMG, it’s mom pr0n!! It’s debasing to women! Blah, blah, blah. For crying out loud, grow up, America. It’s a book about sex. So what? If people would actually read the freakin thing instead of yelling (I mean read the whole thing) they’d know that a whole lot of what they’re saying about it is just nonsense. Of course, they’d have to put aside their prejudices while they read, or they’d miss half the meaning in it, and for some people that’s apparently not possible.

  11. Based on the very well done analysis at “Dear Author” 50 is a derivative of Motu, but it’s the same author so not a problem.

    The Twilight link? The stories are not at all alike. Sure the Motu work used the same names for similar characters but who would want to spend their time in courts over that?

    What I think -really- happened .. E L James wrote ’50’ and then broke up the chapters with a little name-change magic and fed them into the Twilight Fanfic site. Clever clever marketing. A questionable tactic but clever and so far successful.

    The success continues as long as the controversy continues.

    .

  12. Passive Guy, can you elucidate for us the distinction between plagiarism and copyright violation? The latter is easy enough to determine: either James lifted Meyer’s work word-for-word or she did not. But how does one “protect” a theme or an idea or a style? Can Meyer really copyright the *idea* of a sparkly vampire? Does “plagiarism” have any legal definition?

    As for James writing her novel first as fanfic, I hope the judge sitting on this case would remember how many drafts of a brief she went through before settling on the final version.

    • (I’m obviously not PassiveGuy)

      But this article does a really good job explaining the way plagiarism and copyright infringement may (and even may not) overlap:

      http://inkthinkerblog.com/2007/05/08/plagiarism-vs-copyright-infringement-do-you-know-the-difference/

      Plagiarism itself doesn’t have to be word-for-word to still be considered plagiarism. Witness “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed…” or the more recent Q.R. Markham “Assassin of Secrets” (a narrative woven from passages lifted from perhaps dozens of different novels).

      Copyright infringement is its own beast. Since you can’t copyright an idea – but you certainly can copyright the “expression of an idea” what tends to come into play is “substantial similarity” when comparing works. This article has a pretty basic rundown:

      http://www.theiplawblog.com/archives/-copyright-law-the-complexity-of-proving-copyright-infringement.html

      Wikipedia’s entry is similar:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substantial_similarity

      There is nothing completely cut-and-dry (absent clear-cut instances of extensive and provable plagiarism, which can obviously assist a claim of infringement) with many copyright cases. As examples, the suit against J.K. Rowling, the one against Dan Brown, or the one against Stephen King for “Duma Key.” Also several more successful and high-profile cases involving Harlan Ellison who is a fierce defender of his works.

    • Plagiarism is a broader term generally encompassing taking the language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions of another and representing them as your own.

      Material that cannot be copyrighted, e.g. an idea, can be plagiarized.

      I am not aware of any US law against plagiarism, although it is certainly against the rules of many organizations. If plagiarism is not against the law, I doubt there is a legal definition for it although it’s possible some court somewhere has made a definition in connection with something like a wrongful termination action based upon plagiarism.

      Copyright infringement occurs when you copy a copyrighted work without permission of the owner of the copyright. Copy is the vague term here.

      It is possible to plagiarize someone’s work without infringing upon the copyright to that work. Using portions of a copyrighted work that are protected by fair use but representing the work as your own is an example.

      It is possible to infringe someone’s copyright without plagiarizing it by, for example, copying most or all of a copyrighted work while giving the author credit for it.

      There’s a lot more to say about the topic, but I think this is an accurate overview.

  13. It’s very straightforward. Master of the Universe was Twilight fan fiction using Meyer’s characters by name but set in a different story world. MOTU was therefore, by definition, non-copyrightable because E L James (real name Erika Leonard) used Meyer’s characters. Changing the character names and a few details and then the title, or as it’s know in the trade ‘filing off the serial numbers’, doesn’t change that. It’s a literary heist. Mommy porn is a clever piece of PR designed to obfuscate the real issue.

    • I don’t know. Did she actually use those characters? Or did she just use the names as is required by the fanfic world, and put them on archetypes who are NOT the same characters?

      I haven’t read it, but if it is like most fanfic, there are no serial numbers. The names are merely masks.

      It sounds as if she has taken less form Twilight than Twilight did from vampire romance stories that went before it.

  14. Yeah, “filing off the serial numbers” is an entirely subjective judgement, and I’d like to see a side-by-side comparison before I call James a thief.

    Remember that series of fantasy novels a while back, about a young boy who survived a terrific magical attack, grew up ignorant that he was a wizard, and then got packed off to wizard school? And wound up facing down the evil wizard at the end in a collossal duel? Yeah, that was Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Earthsea” trilogy, but it sure sounds a lot like the Harry Potter books. Just because two things bear a superficial resemblance does not mean there is theft at work. Human beings learn to do every thing — talk, walk, eat — by observing and copying others. It’s natural to do it in the arts as well.

  15. The main problem with 50 Shades of Grey is not that it is fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off, since that is common enough and usually passes without comment. “Zero at the Bone”, a critically acclaimed m/m romance by Jane Savile, is another example, since it began its life as a Brokeback Mountain fanfic.

    Nor is the question whether a random reader can detect the similarities to Twilight or not really relevant, since as Camille has said a lot of fanfic is so far removed from whatever inspired it that the names of the characters are often the only giveaway.

    However, the problem with Fifty Shades of Grey is that E.L. James first posted it as the Twilight fanfiction Master of the Universe at a fanfiction site and then changed the names and republished it as Fifty Shades of Grey, while the original fanfiction story was still available at the fanfiction site. I think it was finally pulled sometime in March, well after Fifty Shades had already become a media phenomenon. This could be seen as selling fanfiction for profit, which is legally problematic and also a huge no-no in the fanfiction community. And the fanfiction community is pretty tight knit and clamps down hard on any perceived violation of their code. They also have very long memories. Ask a veteran fanfiction writer about about Cassandra Clare someday and watch her (it’s usually women) rant.

    My personal opinion is that Stephenie Meyer could sue E.L. James, because the link between the Twilight fanfiction Master of the Universe and Fifty Shades of Grey is well documented and therefore it’s case of selling fanfiction for profit. Though the case would probably end with a settlement and profit the respective lawyers more than the two writers. Of course, it’s also possible that E.L. James or her publisher have some kind of monetary agreement with Stephenie Meyer.

  16. I downloaded “Fifty Shades …” out of sheer curiosity to see what all of the hoopla was about — this was long before I knew that it had been first published as TwiFic. While reading “50 Shades …” the first thing that came to mind was that Anastasia was supposed to be Bella and Edward was Christian. The way the characters were described, the dialogue and the dynamic between the H/h read uncannily familiar. Then I found out about MOTU. So. Just one reader’s perception.

  17. I’d have to think Fifty Shades offends Meyer, given her religious beliefs. I can’t see, if she’s as devout as they claim, why she’d want the book to be associated with hers on even moral grounds. One would think, if that was the case, and there might indeed be grounds to sue James, that she would. The fact that she’s had no response, though, is interesting, and very curious, to me.

    • She may feel it’s just too far divorced from what she wrote. For example, I know of someone who has taken a couple characters from the Bleach manga and anime, and writes them as… A pair of modern day humans, who work in/own a coffee shop or something.

      With a bit of name-changing, who would know if they weren’t told?

      It’s a fair fanfic, because it’s “what would these personalities (as I see them) do in an entirely different setting?” But it’s also got that entirely different setting aspect, y’know? Makes it easy to rip the serial numbers (names and descriptions) off.

      And Meyer is fanfic-friendly: http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/ts_fansites.html includes a link entitled: “FanFiction Net Twilight Page.”

      So unless she is really, really, really POed, she may figure squabbling would basically wind up a mud-fight. What could she say that would be fanfic friendly, acknowledge the serial-number situation, and not turn into a screaming fangirl catfight as the currently-semi-shared fandom started taking sides around them?

      Saying nothing is… pretty classy, from that angle.

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