We all know that 50 Shades of Grey is a veritable book series sensation. Most people know that there is some controversy as to whether E.L. James crossed a line in publishing what began as Twilight fan fiction and, for many, bears striking similarities to the source material.
As I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, nor the Twilight series, beyond the first couple of pages, I can’t add to the argument of whether or not the publishing of the novel was intellectual property theft.
I also have no thoughts as to whether E.L. James best-seller is a work worth reading. Those readers who like it really seem to like it, and that’s all that writing can be. Though some series, like Harry Potter, may appeal to wider audiences than others, no series will ever be universally liked. If we pleased everyone, we probably wouldn’t be saying much. So, if people enjoy 50 Shades of Grey, we should let them enjoy it.
The question, of course, is whether they should be paying to do so. After all, the origins of the book – James’ Twilight fan fiction Master of the Universe – is widely known.
Personally, I am a proponent of fan fiction. I take no issue with writers playing in other writers’ worlds and works for fun, or with those writers sharing their derivative stories with other fans. Fan fiction explores a lot of areas of a work that the original author may not choose to explore, and offers alternative scenarios for readers who may prefer to see the author’s world in a different way. It also increases exposure of a book series, often introducing the books to an audience that may not have otherwise discovered them.
It’s a win-win for all parties, even if some famous authors refuse to see it.
It is when a writer attempts to profit off of someone else’s creations that fan fiction crosses the line from harmless fun into plagiarism. As I said, I haven’t read any of the involved works, but, from what I have ascertained about 50 Shades of Grey, it seems to me that E.L. James did use her own storyline and her own words. How much this storyline and these words overlap with those found in Twilight, I don’t know.
Does 50 Shades of Grey plagiarize Twilight? I don’t know.
Would 50 Shades of Grey be a bestseller without Twilight? It’s hard to imagine.
The reality, though, is that the books have been written, they are selling like crazy, and neither Stephenie Meyer nor publisher Little, Brown and Company have taken legal action against E.L. James. As far as the hazy line of legality goes, who better to make the determination of what does and doesn’t infringe than those who hold the copyright?