Cussedness Corner

"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane

Walking the Edges

Let’s take a look at some near misses to plagiarism that are enshrined in the First Amendment and a few that are tolerated.

Parody (protected)

Satire (protected)

Research and Criticism (Protected)

Fan Fiction (tolerated)

Pastiche (protected)

Let’s start with definitions of parody and satire.

From Webster’s New World College Dictionary (third edition)

“1 a) a literary or musical work imitating the characteristic style of some other work or of a writer or composer in a satirical or humorous way, usually by applying it to an inappropriate subject. B) the art of writing such works. 2 a poor or weak imitation. –SYN caricature.”

“Satire 1 a) a literary work in which vices, follies, stupidities, abuses, etc. are held up to ridicule and contempt; b) such literary works collectively, or the art of writing them 1 the use of ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc. to expose, attack, or deride vices, follies, etc – SYN caricature.”

As you can see both parody and satire are related. One of the most popular forms of it is political cartoons that hold our various government officials up to ridicule for their actions.

One of the most famous in the fantasy genre is Harvard Lampoon’s classic Bored of the Rings which skewered Tolkien. My favorite parody in the horror genre is the underground classic A Day in the Life of a Dick Passion which put a literary blade through the bellies of countless talentless wannabee hacks in the industry.

Guliver’s Travels is a political and social satire.

Parody and satire are ways in which writers lodge their protests against various and sundry, an elegant and sometimes down and dirty tool of raising public consciousness, and therefore it is enshrined and protected by the First Amendment.

Having been the victim of a few, I must admit that it is an uncomfortable experience at times; however, I am capable of laughing at myself. Which Peaches is not. He sees in parody and satire an attack upon his dignity that is nothing short of libel. He has written his fair share of them. So have I. Parody is an attack upon people’s dignity … assuming they have any. But that is the nature of both free speech and it’s purist form: the parody and satire.

Research and Criticism

I’m dealing with these together (just as I did parody and satire) because the two of them share many things in common.

Both of them require providing proof of their views and statements through the use of quotations with attribution. Quotations used in both reviews/critical articles and theses are allowed under the Fair Use Provision of US Copyright Law. Furthermore those quotations are not only expected, they are required. Those quotations with attribution are what prevent an article from being empty opinion. Everyone has opinions – words are cheap. However, when supported by examples in the form of properly attributed quotations they take on the power of proof to persuade people that their opinion is honest and accurate.

Another reason for using attributed quotations is that without them the author would have not only no proof, but could easily lapse over into true plagiarism by allowing it to seem like the opinion presented is entirely their own and owes nothing to their sources.

Fan Fiction is a gray area because it could easily become copyright infringement as well as plagiarism. Fan Fic is tolerated, but not protected. There is an exception to that, but I’ll go into it later.

With fanfiction, (yes I have spelled it several different ways because there is still no consensus on how to represent it) a person is writing in someone else’s world, using copyrighted characters that do not belong to them. This is done out of love for the original work and a desire to live for a time in that world. In the best cases, this serves as a PR vehicle for the author holding the copyright and feeds the need of the fanfic writer to experience more personally the world they love so much.

I have never written fanfiction. Point of fact, I did not know about the existence of fanfiction and fandom until after I made my first professional sales.

Fanfiction is not copyrightable and cannot be sold.

There are two key cases in which that rule has been broken. The Lovecraft Estate, which is governed by the Derleth family, has placed the Cthulu Mythos in public domain with only a few restrictions: the characters depicted by Lovecraft cannot be used in the stories published in the Mythos. For decent information on this see the Temple of Dagon website.

The other involved Marion Zimmer Bradley. In her last years, as old age was overcoming her and her memory was failing, she received a submission to her Friends of Darkover anthologies (correct me here someone, as it might have been a submission to her magazine) from a fan who had written a good piece of fiction. Marion sent her a kind personal rejection. Later, with her memory slipping, Marion recreated that novel she had read. The fan sued and MZB’s book was cancelled. This was an unusual case.

And this leads us to Shared World novels. There have been a number of anthologies, which started in the 1980s, in which one author created a world and then allowed others to write in it. The original author owned the world, but the writer owned the story. It’s far more technical than that, but I want to go into it more deeply later. Suffice to say that I have several collaborations in the works and one is already published: Mother Damnation.

Peaches has written both Crow fanfiction and in the Cthulu Mythos, also technically fanfiction.


Let us return to Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Pastiche 1 a) a literary, artistic, or musical composition made up of bits from various sources; potpourri b) a literary, artistic or musical composition intended to imitate or caricature another artist’s style 2) jumbled mixture; hodgepodge.

The Conan novels of Robert E. Howard have been followed up by pastiches of his work by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and several others. The majority of them were written with the permission of the Howard Estate. In some cases, they finished partials of novels and stories that were left by Howard’s sad demise at the age of 30.

Pastiches continue to be written in the Oz books.

In both cases, as of this writing, Howard and Baum are in the public domain. When Samuel Johnson wrote his revised versions of Shakespeare and gave all the Bard’s tragedies happy endings back during the Reformation, he might have been writing pastiches.

With the exception of fanfiction, all of the above are not plagiarism or violations of copyright.


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This entry was posted on March 1, 2007 by in Janrae Frank.

Janrae Frank

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