Property Rights: Who Owns a Work of Fiction When it Goes Global?

Property Rights: Who Owns a Work of Fiction When it Goes Global?


As I anxiously await the next installment of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I've read the endless complaints from fans (both of the books and the TV show) as they voice their worries that the rather jolly writer might die before he finishes the proposed next two books in his groundbreaking series. Although at age 66, I think he’s got more than a few good years left in him! I've also read his retorts on the subject. As I have published two books since the last book in my Hollywood Cowboys series, I've had many people asking me when the hell am I going to finish the final book of the Hollywood Cowboys trilogy, Season of the Dead?

In some respects that means I’m guilty of the same literary crimes as Martin: I’m keeping my readers waiting while I play around in other worlds I create. But as a fan of the Fire and Ice books, I'm also guilty of the same worries about Martin as any other reader, which got me thinking—who does a work of fiction belong to once it has become part of the collective conscious of its fans?

The simple answer? Of course it belongs to its creator! Without the mind behind the imaginings that have attracted such huge crowds, there would be no zeitgeist to rally around. But am I applying Occam’s Razor to something that can’t be so simply quantified? Perhaps.

Take two of our much beloved national treasures, Star Wars and Star Trek, as examples: these are both franchises that have spawned works of fiction and fevered fans well beyond the original context of their creative vehicles.


Star Trek has had an amazing impact on the lives of fans and to the contributions of science and social equality in our nation. Gene Roddenberry and his wife, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, are no longer with us to give their thoughts on the subject of how Star Trek has taken on a life of its own. But I think even Gene would be surprised if he saw the numerous fan made movies based on the iconic TV series proliferating the Internet.

The Star Trek movies and Internet TV shows expounding on familiar characters and expanding the Star Trek universe, are made with love. But are they taking the Trek Universe in a direction that Gene would support? Nobody but the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself could answer that question. For the time being, fans and actors from the original show get to create in the playground owned by Paramount. Much like fan fiction, it seems that no force can stop the creative energies of fans when they truly love a good story.

But on the flip side, we have George Lucas who is still with us, and he has thoughts and actions of his own on the subject.

How many times have fans railed endlessly about the butchering of Star Wars through the numerous versions George Lucas has released? I’ve seen ordinarily rational adults slavering at the mouth like audiences at a Roman arena calling out for more blood while discussing the fact that “Han shot first” and that the digital renderings look silly when beside the original optical effects.

Lucas himself has told the Associated Press, “It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry if you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.” 

And to ensure he gets the last say in this argument, Lucas kept the rights to the original cut of Star Wars when he sold the franchise to Disney. Yep, that right, fans: there will be no original cut Blu-ray release of the Holy Trilogy anytime soon. And to drive home his point that his creation is his movie—and his alone—he even put the Star Wars Holiday Special in the vaults, never to be seen again. Of course I don’t think that one would hold up to my childhood sentiments as much as the trilogy does!

Is this selfish on Lucas’s part? Yes, in some respects. But creative people (including myself) can be very protective of their creations. They are our darlings—we’ve put our blood, sweat, tears and souls into their making. At the same time we need to realize that for those of us who tell stories for a living, we don’t create these things in a vacuum. For many of us, more than just financial reward compels us to share these stories. It’s an innate need to get our stories to as many eyes and ears as we possibly can.

And when we do this, in many ways our works of creation then become an interactive event. Sure we still hold the legal copyright to our works—nobody can take that away from us. But once our creation hits the minds of others, they use their own imaginations to interpret these creations, often in ways the creators never thought of. And in the case of larger-than-life successes, these stories form an emotional bond with those fans. And we all know once emotions are involved, somebody’s going to get hurt! And maybe as creators, we have a moral responsibility to avoid hurting our fans.

I’m not saying that those who create should heed every gripe and bitch from every fan, everywhere around the world. But we should try to look at all sides of the argument with open and rational minds. I know Lucas loves his movies. I know Martin can only write so fast. But they do owe something to those who turned their works into huge successes.

I think this is a debate that will go on for as long as works of fiction have avid fans supporting them. There is really no simple answer to the question. And so like everybody else, I’ll wait impatiently for my favorite books, movies and music to be released from my favorite writers, directors and musicians.

I promise to try to cut them a little slack. As a writer, I know what they’re going through.

But in the meantime, I’ll go on shouting for more blood in the arena, just like all of the other zealous fans.

#asongoficeandfire #georgerrmartin #StarWars #StarTrek