Tiptree Longlist Controversy

Sorry for the radio silence lately.

The blogosphere was on fire yesterday with the news that apparently a piece of fanfiction (“Arcana” by Emily Brunson – the work has since been removed from the web) was on the long list for this year’s Tiptree Award (1). There are, of course, strong opinions on either side. Fanfic has been looked down upon for years – it’s a copyright violation (which is true), it’s not “real writing” (not quite so true), it takes no skill (untrue) and there’s a lot of crap out there (true of any art). The other side, well, they just argue the opposite. I (2) realized that there’s a fine line – if someone hires you to write, it’s no longer fanfic. But what’s the difference between a Star Wars fanfic and a Star Wars novel? Money, licensing, permission, and perhaps skill. I write professional fanfic when I write in established RPG worlds. I’ve written World of Warcraft fanfic and Exalted fanfic, technically.

However, the sticky situation comes up when you realize if the piece had won, then the author would have received things such as chocolate, a trip to the award ceremony at WisCon, and… money. That’s right. The author would have received money, making the “homage” copyright violation (something that’s usually accepted online) into a definite illegal commercial copyright violation.

People are questioning the credibility of the judges, as fanfic isn’t even considered “published”, was the piece good enough, should it be judged on writing or just gender exploration, etc. It’s an interesting situation. I have to admit that my opinion of fanfic has changed in the past years, but I’m still firmly in the camp that it should be seen as a hobby that hones writing skill and is fun to do, not something you can publish, no matter how good it is.

[EDIT- response from Debbie Notkin, chair of the Tiptree motherboard in the comments.]

(1) James Tiptree Jr. Award celebrates scifi that explores gender issues. The 2005 winner was “Air: Or, Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman

(2)This was written by Mur, not Steve.

Comments (4)

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  1. You’re making an awfully big jump here. As the chair of the Tiptree motherboard, I had nothing to do with the decisions about this year’s long list (or any year’s long list, short list, or winner, except for the year I was a judge, in 1991).

    I can assure you that my day job is as a publishing contracts manager, and as such I can be absolutely confident that the Tiptree Award is aware of issues such as what would happen if a writer received prize money for fanfic. The issue of fanfic winning has never arisen: longlisting a work is _not_ an indication that the work was considered to win; it is simply an indication that one or more jurors found the work worthy of attention (for a very broad definition of “worthy of attention”).

    You need not worry that either the Tiptree Award or the legal situation of fanfic has been tarnished by this longlist entry. We welcome the excited discussion around the blogosphere; and especially feel that the conversations which pertain more to gender than to genre are fulfilling our mandate.

  2. Mur says:

    Thanks for the information, it’s enlightening. The process of awards longlisting (and shortlisting, for that matter) is always interesting. Your point about keeping legality in mind during award decision is excellent, and I’m sorry I didn’t keep that in mind. I had assumed that “longlisted” meant “had a reasonable chance of winning”.

    Thanks again for the post, it’s great to get some official response.

  3. Capitano Keyark says:

    Fanfic authors should change the names of everything in the fanfic. Every character, every organization, every planet, every ship, every alien race, absolutely everything. Then if someone wants to read the fanfic as a fanfic, all that person has to do is pull it up in a word processor and run a find-and-replace on each name, which could be conveniently listed as a cast of characters at the beginning of the story. After all, Paramount might get bent about a fanfic about Commander Riker and Counselor Troi aboard the starship Enterprise, but what can they possibly say about Commandant Kirre and Counselor Roye about the spacecraft Doingstuff?

  4. One could argue that modern Wizard of Oz stories, like Son of a Witch, are fan fiction, paid, published, excellent or not. Oz is public now, so legality isn’t an issue. The only thing that matters to me is Is it any good? So far, the Star Wars books i’ve attempted haven’t been worth finishing, even when there’s nothing else to do on the airplane. No spark of an idea, shallower than a puddle in a Death Valley drought. Sales must be based on, Oh i saw episode 4, and it’s six hours to LA. Feh. I could not care less. If i’d written Harry Potter and someone wrote something interesting about Neville, i’d be flattered. Don’t wait until i’m dead.