For instance, I was thinking of all the times when I was younger and would read Star Wars fanfic online. Did George ever give his consent to all that fanfic? Makes me wonder. Are there some books, movies, etc where fanfic is okay or even encouraged?
Japan has doujinshi, which is published and sold fan-made comics/manga. The industry sees this as a way to promote Japanese art and even the original manga. Most writers, producers, etc. don't really care about fanfic. They understand that it's the fans' way of expressing their feelings, ideas, and opinions about their fave shows, films, or books. The bigger the fanfiction fanbase, the more popular the show/book. I think in Fanfiction.net, the biggest ever is still Star Trek.
Star Trek would probably rank as the most influential, certainly. James Kirk's middle name (Tiberius) and Leonard McCoy's divorce were both inventions of early fanfic, never mentioned in any of the shows or movies until JJ Abrams put them in his first Star Trek movie. I think that as a whole, it was tolerated by Paramount until TNG, when they started cracking down. Lucasfilm has always been more anal about fanfic. To be fair, it's a copyright issue and the creators and copyright holders apparently face some kind of issue about loss of copyright if there's too much of this stuff, but nevertheless I think it could be done in a successful manner if fostered correctly.
In most countries, fan fiction in never legal if you try to publish it for money without the written consent of the copyright owners. Fan fiction writers get away with it because the copyright owners don't want to alienate their fan base by suing people who love the work so much that they want to create a pastiche of it.
However, if you want to publish it, you had better change the characters enough for the law to say it is a new work (like they did with 50 Shades of Gray which was, as I recall, originally an erotic fanfic of the Twilight Saga.)
If you go too far with your fanfic publication (ebooks, hard copies, etc) you will sooner or later be meeting the lawyers of the owners of the copyrights. (Sam Waterson of Calvin and Hobbs fame is one of the ONLY CR holders who doesn't sue violators. It is because he would constantly be in court, and he doesn't want to waste the time and money.)
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