Sh!t Grey Says

9 years ago | G.S. Williams (Member)

So "Fifty Shades of Grey" started as fan fic on the internet, emulating S. Meyer's "Twilight" series. I'm surprised and mostly grateful no one here discusses it but in a weird way, "Fifty" was web fiction before it became a published (inexplicable) best-seller.

I for one don't understand why Meyer hasn't sued James, but that's just my opinion. However, I came across this today and find it a funny summation of why people shouldn't be fascinated with the character of Christian Grey, and a reminder that context is everything.

Read responses...


  1. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Call me ignorant, as I haven't read either series, but from the general buzz have an idea of what they are about. Twilight is a teen romance between a highschool girl and a vampire. Fifty Shades of Grey is S&M erotica concerning the relationship of a business tycoon and a journalism student(?) with as far as I know, no supernatural elements.

    So how is 50SoG fan fiction of Twilight? Does Chistian Grey sparkle when he takes off his shirt?

    Anyway, it's cool that it obtained fame as a web fiction.

  2. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    It started as a fan fic with Edward and Bella called "Master of the Universe" -- a fan (EL James) looked at the controlling / passionate / restrained elements in Edward's relationship with Bella and transformed it into Dominance/submission. Then she decided to change names and see if it could get published, because people seemed to like it. Edward's "bad" for Bella, he says, because he's a soul-less vampire. Christian tells Ana he's "bad" for her because he's a soul-less sexual sadist.

    The plotlines are incredibly similar, down to conflicts and conversations, and characters barely altered. Jacob the Native werewolf is transposed as Jose the Latino photographer, both of whom the protagonist/narrator sees as more like a brother than a lover despite their unrequited love for her,that's just one example.

    They're both "bad" series in the literary sense, but even Wikipedia notes the origin of Grey and "Master of the Universe" --- given that it's a known fact, I'm really unclear as to why it's not liable for legal action.

    But that site mocks the writing fairly well.

  3. Senna Black (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Ugh, yes, the 50 Shades of Grey thing irks me. More power to anyone who wants to write terrible fiction and make a mint off it Dan Brown, but people doing glorified rewrites of other authors' work should not be rewarded. Gregory Maguire and the "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" guy included.

    That said, I suppose the fact that it's at two removes from Twilight (fanfic with "original" plot -> "original" story) means it would be hard to prosecute as plagiarism. Any lawyers in the house might have a more informed view?

    The height of hypocrisy, though, is that EL James is going after people trying to make money from HER "creation" - .

  4. DaringNovelist (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Just remember folks that "plagiarism" -- that is, the stealing of ideas -- is not illegal. You can't copyright an idea. (And, as a matter of fact, as the social historians are fond of pointing out: plagiarism is basic to all culture.)

    Meyer might be able to sue James if she had actually published the original fanfic, which could at least have been accused of trading on the fame of the earlier book as well as the specific expression of name and world. But she didn't do that. The thing was a hit before anyone knew that it had started as fanfic or had a connection to Twilight.

    And ultimately that's probably why Meyer didn't sue; there was no guaranteed outcome that she'd win, and she didn't care as long as James was not trading on Meyer's name.

    It is the height of hypocrisy for James to go after others, but, imho, she didn't do anything wrong in creating her work. And the success isn't due to the connection to Twilight, it's her own. It's just a really super low-brow version of how West Side Story is inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

    That's just imho.


  5. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Also, Meyer is a Mormon and in her books there is no sex before marriage, from what I understand. She probably doesn't want her books associated with 50 Shades.

  6. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    I just wonder where the line is. People write fan fiction all the time, but it's not actionable because the fans don't try to profit from it. Companies don't want to be seen attacking their fan base, either. However, James went from a fan to someone profiting off fan fiction, even if she changed the names, so where does it become okay? In this case she's not taking a public domain story, like Shakespeare, but a very recent publishing and film success. When the creation process is widely known, and even Wikipedia is citing how it started out, does it become actionable? I'd be interested in a legal opinion on that because I think it affects what writers do.

    If I was Meyer with those religious beliefs I'd be a bit off-put that someone took my story in the exact opposite direction, too.

  7. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Well she doesn't have a lot of options with Gray. According to my wife, who has read both books, the characters in 50 Shades are too obviously different, regardless of how they started out. There are no sparkly vampires and the protagonist isn't a teenager.

    You're probably not going to get a legal opinion for free. :) But there are no laws that prohibit your writing process. Any law used against James would have to focus on the end result only, and the end result is demonstrably different from Twilight, regardless of its origin.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  8. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Copyright is complicated, and I'm always surprised how things work out.

    One of my college professors (a jazz musician) wrote a piece of music that he based off of another musician's composition. When he contacted the other composer to let him know (and presumably to work something out before publication), the other composer (in cooperation with a lawyer, I'm assuming) decided that my teacher's work was different enough that he had no claim on it.

    I'm not sure what the criteria for deciding that are or how they work, but I'm sure a similar situation could apply to a novel too.

  9. A. M. Harte (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Ideas are not protected by copyright, that's all.

    Copyright (in the most elementary of definitions) protects the *copy* or actual text.

    Meyer could have taken action against the original "Master of the Universe" fanfiction because it used Edward's and Bella's names, because it was clearly Edward from Twilight (he was a vampire and sparkled), etc.

    50 Shades, while derivative, does not copy character names, place names, plot, etc.

    If Meyer was able to take down EL James, then the entire publishing world would implode. Many authors steal ideas; it's nothing new.

    Speaking of which, I'm surprised no one has mentioned the whole Cassandra Clare fanfiction connection. I read both her Harry Potter fanfics way back in the day, and her more recent traditionally published novels, and the similarities between them are noticeable. Still, her books aren't about wizards and magic schools, so she's safe from JK Rowling. ;-)

    Qazyfiction: fantasy fiction with a sinister edge.
  10. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    I guess I mostly wondered because in this case the components of the "rip-off" were known and made public -- from a fanfic to its current published form. Avatar is derivative of Ferngully and Spiderman is pretty similar to Superman (originally a nerd with glasses, superpowers, red and blue costume, worked for a Daily newspaper) -- but they didn't say "I wrote a Ferngully/Superman story and then I decided to change the names." In this case it's a known fact -- and so knowing the component pieces, I wondered if that made the end result liable.

    It doesn't so I learned something :) thanks everyone.

    I do still wish people worked harder on originality.

  11. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    There are definitely benefits to writing work that can be more easily categorized. :)

  12. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.


    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  13. Senna Black (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    @A M Harte re: Cassandra Claire - I just read one of her short stories and can officially confirm that she STILL writes every anti/hero as Draco Malfoy (albeit of the ... in leather pants variety). And if we want to talk about actual shameless plagiarism, Cassie Claire is a good place to start.

    Anyway, I agree that it would be nice if authors at least PRETENDED they had come to their ideas by a process of creation and critical engagement with existing works, instead of just filing the serial numbers off other people's characters. :)


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