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AUs with Names Changed

I've been wondering- what would be the legal situation if one were to write an AU fanfiction taking place either in the real world or a world of the fan's creation (or maybe an in-verse fic for a series that takes place in the real world), and then change the names?

Could they then claim it was original? Could they sell it as their own work? Would it change the situation if the original fanfic, with the names unchanged, was still available online?

I ask because I've read a lot of Twilight AUs with all werewolf or vampire characters as humans, and the characters are often so changed it seems they might as well be original.

EDIT: Also, what about real-person fiction (RPF) AUs, or fics that don't mention whatever real thing the people are a part of (their band, or the show/movie they acted in, etc)? If the names were changed, what would that mean? Could it be called original, and would having the fic with names unchanged online affect that?

Comments

fides
Mar. 19th, 2011 09:20 am (UTC)
yep - it is colloquially known as filing the serial numbers off. You have to do a little more than just changing the names but once you have removed the traces of the inspirational source material you are good to go.

I have heard of published books/stories that were inspired (to a greater of lesser extent) by The Professionals, Starsky and Hutch, Man from Uncle, X-Files, Xena (well known thing to do in the Xena fandom, apparently), Lord of the Rings MPreg or Highlander just off the top of my head. Most authors who plan of filing the serial numbers off will take the fanfic down before they start trying to sell/publish the story - but that is just good sense.

As for the RPF thing - have you seen Velvet Goldmine? I jest. Although if anyone has read Tanya Huff's Smoke and series and doesn't have a very strong mental image of the main love interest Lee Nicholas (canadian, actor, dark hair, green eyes) then they didn't watch X-Files back in the day ;-)
I'm pretty sure I read that one of the early band fandoms used well known and shared 'alternate names' for the main band members for exactly that reason. Can't remember which fandom it was - I would like to say Metallica. But that is even easier to do as you have less mythos to tweak into originality - just the 'characters'.

And of course if the person is dead then you can just go for it as per many, many books, movies, etc shows etc. The Tolkien estate are having a hissyfit at the moment about someone who has written Tolkien into a book but they are rather pissing into the wind.
cschick
Mar. 19th, 2011 01:37 pm (UTC)
And filing the serial numbers off is not uncommon in the sf/fantasy genre for debut novels.
stmarc
Mar. 21st, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
It may be a little more common in SF/Fantasy, but as has been observed there are only X* original stories, and all the rest are just variations. Filing off the serial numbers and slapping on a coat of paint is the only way any even slightly well-read person can "create" a new story. You'd have to be a feral child raised by wolves not to know the basic storylines of your culture - and for all I know wolves use the same ones we do. (They're smart, but they're not THAT smart.) The devil, obviously, is in the details.

Probably my favorite example of this is "West Side Story." It's obviously - and of course this is not my original deduction - a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet." But while lots of people like both, either could appeal to a huge audience which wouldn't care for the other despite their being basically the same story.

*"X" is usually quoted as anywhere from five to a hundred, but it's a very small number related even to the number of fictional books which are published in any given year.
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