Recently I came across a social media post that had a screenshot of a conversation about the history of disclaimers. It made me want to revisit the topic, which I wrote about during my Fanfic Primer series. A Disclaimer, traditionally, has been a notice on any piece of fan-made media that explains that the content is based on someone else’s creative property and the creator of this media is not out to make money on it. When I first started writing in middle school, everything had a disclaimer. It was common practice particularly on fanfic. Culturally, fanfic had not quite made it as a true expression. People still saw it as plagiarism, and an attempt to use someone else’s creativity instead of your own.
The amount of conversations I had with people who asked me when I was going to start to write something real was high.
There was also a fear of getting punished for your fanish endeavours in your public life. Fanfic archives were password protected at times, and disclaimers could be lengthy. Some creators of the original content *would* at that time pursue fan-content makers. Anne Rice in particular had a history with prosecuting fanfiction writers. Fanfiction.net won’t allow fanfiction based on her works, and authors of content from that time have found themselves sent cease-and-desist letters, or further. Anne McCaffrey, an author I love had the opinon that having others play with her characters would be hard to keep seperate, so she made a forum for the fanfic and allowed it no where else. Whether or not that kept her from actually seeing it, I’m not sure. I haven’t participated on that forum in many years, so I also don’t know if they have loosened up on that since her death.
I feel disclaimers are important for a multitude of reasons. Historically they protected people (or at least attempted to) from being accused of trying to make money off of someone else’s intellectual property. But it was also a place to show that you acknowledge you are taking some leads from other sources. This is where I think it is still important. While places like Archive of Our Own, and general culture have given fanfic more respect as a medium, an author should still acknowledge the author of source material. Any source material. This is why I am glad that AO3 has allowed author notes sections where I can credit any other sources outside the main one I tagged as well as thank any betas/helpers that helped out.
Fanfic itself is not only for free anymore as well. If you go on Amazon and type in Pride and Prejudice you can find hundreds of variations and adaptations to the classic novel. Some are free on Kindle Unlimited, others are not. Other older books are simular. However, the balk of fanfiction is made by people who either want to play in universe that they love, or want to see where the story go go.
So while a debate can exsit on whether disclaimers are necessarily needed when its clear contextually that its a fanfic, I think they are important to keep at least in theory. It can be used in a author’s note, or a full traditional disclaimer.
What do you think about disclaimers?