Does fanfiction violate ip law in the united states


Fanfiction, a form of storytelling that involves fans writing stories about characters or settings of original work, is famous for its ability to foster creativity amongst a community of fans. However, it also raises an intriguing question about its legality: Does fanfiction violate intellectual property (IP) law in the United States? Depending upon the way it is used, different aspects of IP law, such as copyright infringement, may indeed come into play. This article will dissect whether fanfiction infringes the IP laws in the U.S. from various aspects.

Understanding Copyright Law

Before discussing fanfiction, it's crucial to understand copyright law. As defined by the United States Copyright Office, copyright provides legal rights to original authors or creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and certain other intellectual works to control recopying, adapting, and distribution of their creations. However, it doesn't protect ideas, only an author's expression of those ideas.

Does fanfiction violate ip law in the united states

Fanfiction can potentially infringe on an author's copyright, as it often utilizes established characters, settings, and plots, which equate to an author's expressions of ideas. However, this is highly dependent upon the nature of the fanfiction itself. If a work falls under 'fair use' as outlined by U.S. law, it may not be considered an infringement.

Understanding Fair Use

'Fair use' is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. This is a crucial area for fanfiction, as it could potentially protect fanfiction writers from copyright infringement claims. Factors considered under 'fair use' include the purpose and character of the use, nature of the copyrighted work, amount used in comparison to the larger work, and impact of use on the market for the original.

However, determining if a work falls under 'fair use' isn't always straightforward. The courts employ a case-by-case basis when assessing 'fair use', and fanfiction straddles a fine line. If fanfiction can establish itself as transformative, used for non-profit purposes, uses a small amount of original work, and does not affect the market, it may come under 'fair use' and be protected from copyright infringement.

FanFiction and Websites

Websites like FanFiction.Net, Archive of Our Own (AO3), and Wattpad are the online grounds where writers publish their fanfiction. These platforms have their policies to deal with potential intellectual property issues. For instance, FanFiction.Net states in their guidelines that while they host fan-created stories, they don't allow stories based on the works of authors who have expressed discomfort or disapproval of fanfiction.

AO3, on the other hand, is notable for their non-commercial stance and their practice of not hosting advertisements, which can potentially help authors argue for the 'fair use' of their fanfiction. In addition, these websites usually have mechanisms for handling copyright infringement complaints, facilitating a process for removal of infringing content.

Trademark Infringement and Fanfiction

Another area of intellectual property law relevant to fanfiction is trademark law. Trademark law primarily aims to prevent confusion about the source of products or services. If a fanfiction story uses a trademarked name or image in a way that might confuse readers about its source or endorsement, it could potentially infringe on a trademark.

However, similar to copyright law, exceptions exist. Trademark law's 'nominative fair use' exception can protect fanfiction that uses a trademark to identify the original work or characters, but doesn't suggest endorsement or association with the trademark owner. The nature of this exception allows most fanfiction to use trademarked material without issue.


Whether fanfiction violates IP law is a complex question that doesn't have a cut-and-dry answer. While fanfiction could potentially infringe on copyright and trademark laws, often, 'fair use' doctrines and exceptions in law come to its rescue. Moreover, fanfiction platforms are evolving their policies towards handling potential infringements, further blurring the lines.


Do all fanfictions violate copyright law?

No, not all fanfictions violate copyright law. Many fanfictions fall under the 'fair use' provisions of copyright law, especially those that are transformative and don't affect the market value of the original work. However, each case is unique and has to be evaluated individually.

What is the role of websites like FanFiction.Net and AO3?

Websites like FanFiction.Net and AO3 serve as platforms where fanfictions can be published. They also handle any potential copyright infringement complaints and facilitate content removal if necessary.

Can you use trademarked characters in fanfictions?

Yes, you can use trademarked characters in fanfiction under the 'nominative fair use' exception in trademark law, as long as it does not suggest endorsement or association with the trademark owner.

How does IP law impact fanart?

Fanart, similar to fanfiction, straddles the line between IP infringement and 'fair use'. This area remains controversial and is subject to individual assessment by courts.


[1] United States Copyright Office. "Copyright Basics." US Copyright Office, Last Modified 2012, PDF.

[2] Legal Information Institute. "17 U.S. Code ยง 107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use." Cornell Law School, Accessed 2017.

[3] FanFiction.Net. "Guidelines." FanFiction.Net, Accessed 2020.

Explore your companion in WeMate