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Fanfiction binding trend puts fanwork creators in danger

Fanfiction writers are finding themselves in a bind

Screenshot of homepage for Ao3
Image credit: Archive of Our Own

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Those familiar with the central tenets of fanfiction and fan art know that at the heart of all of this fan creation lies one central rule: You cannot make money from fanworks. Doing so leaves you open to lawsuits for copyright and trademark infringement, but not only that - it leaves the platform where you're publishing open to lawsuits too. And if you're familiar with the history of fanfiction, there have been legal issues directed towards fanworks before, which is why this central rule exists.

But what happens when people break that rule, and what happens when they do so without the original fanwork creators' consent? This is an issue is coming to light with a recent trend that seems to have started in the Harry Potter fandom, as fans have begun to download popular fanfiction, print and bind them into book form, and sell them online through platforms such as Etsy and Mercari with prices ranging from $40 to over $200.

Now binding fanfiction in itself is not illegal, especially when it comes to personal use - for example, making a book for your own reading enjoyment. But binding fanfiction and then selling it definitely crosses that "do not make money from fanworks" line. The extra troubling part of this situation is that not only are the sellers taking the fanwork without the creators' permission to do so, but they also are putting those creators in legal danger.

Screenshot of Mercari sales page featuring bound fanfiction
Image credit: Mercari

This trend has led to several creators, including prominent fanfiction writer Onyx_and_elm (who's most popular fanfiction has over 1.5 million hits), pulling their works from the internet out of fear of the legal repercussions from the sale of their fanworks. About pulling their work, Onyx_and_elm wrote in a statement on Tumblr, "due to the seemingly unstoppable monetization of fandom and the sheer volume of illegal an binding being sold, I will be pulling all my works within the next few days. thank you to those of you who worked so hard trying to keep fandom free and to all of you who supported my writing. it was fun while it lasted."

Likewise, Ao3 wrier gillianeliza announced on Instagram that she was puling her fanfiction Mon Couteau Aiguśe from the site "due to the increase of MCA apeparing on various Etsy storefronts and websites being sold for hundreds of dollars."

Other still-active fanfiction writers have also made statements about the issue. SenLinYu, whose popular fanfiction Manacled (which has over 7.5 million hits on Archive of Our Own and is one bound and listed for sale on Etsy right now), included in the FAQ section on their Tumblr the statement, "Personal bookbinding of my stories is permitted, but not their sale or distribution, or the use of commercial companies (such as on-demand bookbinders or print houses). Distribution includes but is not limited to giveaways, prizes, and subscription tier awards. Only personal gifting is allowed. As of April 2023, I do not permit bookbinding commissions of any kind."

As of this writing, according to a fan-sourced spreadsheet shared on Reddit, it looks like over fifty fanfiction have been recently deleted due to this new concern. Since the book binding issue seems to show no signs of stopping, it's a good guess to expect that more creators with similar concerns will follow, closing off access to what should (and legally must) be free fanfiction.


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About the Author
Tiffany Babb avatar

Tiffany Babb

Deputy Editor

Tiffany Babb is Popverse's deputy editor and resident Sondheim enthusiast. Tiffany likes stories that understand genre conventions (whether they play into them or against them), and she cries very easily at the movies— but rarely at the moments that are meant to be tearjerkers.
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