According to Wikipedia:
In fan fiction writing circles, many fandoms have a drabble community which sets a weekly prompt for authors to use in a drabble. A prompt can be a specific situation such as ‘someone is bleeding,’ an instruction such as ‘only dialogue,’ or ‘from the point of view of a minor character,’ etc. The resulting stories are more and more often referred to as drabbles, and the meaning has extended in some places to include anything that is less than 500 words.
So McGrath incited a small war over at his place with some Fickle Fanfickers, and even though I think he covered all the bases really well, he still lobbed me a prompt: you want to take a shot at explaining the concept of "the execution of similar ideas" being the operative thing -- like the basis for copyright law and the like?
Here goes nothing (and I'll try to keep it under 500 words)...
Copyright is a set of exclusive rights regulating the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. Copyright may subsist in a wide range of creative, intellectual, or artistic forms or "works" (like movies or TV series). Copyright is one of the laws covered by the umbrella term 'intellectual property'.
The law considers a trademark to be a form of property. A registered trademark confers a bundle of exclusive rights upon the registered owner, including the right to exclusive use of the mark in relation to the products or services for which it is registered. The law in most jurisdictions also allows the owner of a registered trademark to prevent unauthorised use of the mark in relation to products or services which are similar to the "registered" products or services, and in certain cases, prevent use in relation to entirely dissimilar products or services.
So copyright law covers or protects the creative or artistic expression of an idea. Trademark law covers distinctive signs which are used in relation to products or services as indicators of origin.
And fan fiction would seem to be in breach of all these laws...yet it thrives, oh how it thrives.
I've never been accused of 'stealing' any fan fiction writing, but I've certainly been witness to many forum threads by viewers of 'Psi Factor' discussing the similarities of unfolding storylines we were writing on the series to the speculative fiction they'd been writing.
Thankfully, that's as far as it went, and that's as far it should ever go.
Because I don't think there really is anything wrong with fan fic, much like there wasn't really anything wrong with making mix cassette tapes of songs from your fav record albums or cd's (but here's the caveat) as long as it remains in your own home for your own personal use or enjoyment.
You see, it's the internets that are causing the grief....the ability to put it 'out there' for 'anyone to see'. But that said, it's the way it is, and like for those who take existing material and create mashups on Youtube...the concept of copyright infringement doesn't really seem to exist. It's become too ingrained in society's 'fun to do' consciousness to be able to stamp it out with an angry 'yer breaking the law'! rant. And 'busting' some fan fic sites or writers would probably accomplish about as little as all the Napster busts did...
So how to work with it as opposed to fighting it. I'll attempt a plea for reason and compromise...
The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type or create a particular chosen text, like one of Shakespeare's plays. Robert Wilensky once joked, "We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
I get what Wilensky is saying, and I know he's referring primarily to quality, but in terms of similarity, I think it is quite possible. When you establish an arena (a hospital that admits patients with the most obscure ailments in the world) with a cranky yet brilliant physician (House) and his faithful sidekicks (Cameron, Foreman, etc.) and then set up all the interpersonal relationship possibilities, it's very easy for one of those million monkeys, er...I mean, fan fic writers, to 'unfold' the series in a very similar way.
It's another law...the law of probability.
If you're writing fan fiction and putting it out on the net, then copyright and trademark infringement is taking place and by all accounts, you're breaking the law. These are laws, however, that are next to impossible to enforce. So let's at least all agree that the legal law should only land on one side of these two teams, and that's the side of the original writer/creators.
And to all the fan fic writers out there - we appreciate your enthusiasm, but please consider it an honour and privilege to be able to play with someone else's toys.....and just leave it at that.