A Deep Dive Into the Anne Rice Fanfiction Debacle
The more I dig, the worse it gets.
I finally picked up The Vampire Chronicles after putting it off for a few years, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I finished Interview With the Vampire recently and I’m excited to move onto The Vampire Lestat. It’s safe to say that these works of fiction are highly regarded in the gothic literature spheres for their openly queer characters and strong, dark imagery. But everyone seems reluctant to personally praise Anne Rice for her works. Why is that?
The answer is simple: Fanfiction.
Fanfiction, for those who don’t know, is works of fiction that feature previously established characters from other pieces of media. To say that fanfiction is the backbone of fandom wouldn’t be an exaggeration — its it’s lifeblood. The legality of it is in sort of a grey area, but generally, it’s legal as long as you don’t try to make money from it.
SO, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES AND FANFICTION?
Picture this: The year is 2001, and you’re a fan of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. It’s summer, and you’re using your dial-up internet to load up a few sites and maybe print out a fanfiction or two to read while you try to kill time during the few months between your junior and senior year of high school- but there’s an issue. There is none. No fanfiction is where you can find it. What is still there is locked behind password protected forums and hidden Angelfire sites, sites that you could only get to if you knew the right people. Fanfiction.net is wiped clean.
Anne Rice posted a damning message to her site on April 7th, 2001. (The linked page was the only one I could find the quote on directly on Anne’s page- the original page containing this message has been removed.)
I do not allow fan fiction.
The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters.
It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.
Immediately following this, several lawyers were sent out to purge the internet of any fanfiction of her works. Most notably, an email was sent to Fanfiction.net on May 18th, 2001.
The excerpt of the following email from Rice’s lawyers was edited for clarity but the wording remains unchanged:
It has come to our attention that your website fanfiction.net makes available over the Internet numerous stories and other literary material which contain the above-listed characters and other material from the Property. Even when done on a nonprofit and/or amateur basis, such use of such characters and material without Ms. Rice’s permission constitutes copyright infringement. While Ms. Rice greatly appreciates the interest of her fans in her characters and material, it is her and our responsibility to make sure that her rights are not infringed.
Accordingly, we must insist that fanfiction.net immediately refrain from making available over the Internet or otherwise any work based on any element of the Property, including, without limitation, the above-listed characters. It is essential that you confirm immediately by e-mail that fanfiction.net has complied with the foregoing. If we do not receive the foregoing reassurance from you by the close of business on Monday, May 21, 2001, we will have no choice but to advise fanfiction.net’s Internet server of this matter, and to ask such server to take appropriate action. The foregoing is stated without prejudice to the rights and remedies of Ms. Rice and her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., all of which are hereby expressly reserved.
The TDLR is “Remove Anne Rice fanfiction from your site before we proceed with legal action.” Fanfiction.net was still a relatively young site at the time, no doubt lacking the legal power to even attempt to fight against any potential lawsuits in court, so they had no choice to comply
Two days after receiving the email, a single sentence was posted on Fanfiction.net’s news post simply reading: “Anne Rice: Vampire Chronicles, the category, has been removed at Anne Rice’s request.”
What followed after was an immediate shitstorm in the fandom. People were panicking. While I cannot find any solid proof of this, it’s been rumored in fandom circles for years that Anne Rice would (allegedly) send lawyers out against singular fanfiction writers, send fanfiction writers threatening emails and letters relentlessly, and even go as far as to dox some fans.
THE FANDOM FALLOUT.
A fan in the early 2002 gave this momentous moment in fanfiction the name “SpecWriter Massacre.” (Spec being shorthand for “speculative fiction”, the name authors had given fanfiction at the time.)
Back in 2000, Anne decided that she did not allow fanfiction. What her
concern with it up to that point was, we don’t know. She posted her
message on her website and then performed a witchunt on any and all
websites that dared post any form of fanfiction and had her lawyers
send nasty-grams to all the site owners to cease and desist under
threat of financial disembowelment. Thus the the SpecWriter Massacre
of 2000 took place. If there are any fanfiction sites still on the
‘net, they are so well hidden that unless you have the addy you won’t
find them. Good luck to you.
And, this was true. With the fear of lawsuits and harassment, most fanfiction writers either purged their works from the internet or hid them in obscure sites you could only find if you knew the right group of people. Even now, I’m struggling to find many quotes from fans in the early 2000’s concerning this, as most fan sites for The Vampire Chronicles seem to have been removed by their owners out of fear of litigation.
One fan gives this dire warning when presented with the notion of another fan still wanting to pursue The Vampire Chronicles fanfiction:
Are you sure? Know what you’re getting into. The threat of personal harassment is very real. Anne Rice does not want you writing fanfiction and she has the money to make you stop. Do you really want to try this?
They go on to give a list of potential ways you could share your fanfiction on the down-low, and it gives us a portal back into internet fandom culture of the time, when works of fanfiction and fanart were passed around like local zines.
Do not put the story up on a webpage. Share the story with others in e-mail, such as on a private mailing list.
Do not attach your real name to the story. Use a pen name instead.
Do not use the e-mail address provided by your ISP when sending out the story. Instead create an anonymous account for yourself with Hotmail, Yahoo or any other web-based provider and do not include your actual name and address when filling out the forms for that account.
If you have to put the story up on a web page do not use the webpage that came with your ISP account. Get a webpage from a free server such as Geocities, NBCI or Angelfire.
If you have put the story on a webpage do not link to the story from elsewhere on your website.
If you have put the story on a webpage do not submit that webpage to any search engines, webrings, link exchanges or other public forum.
Do not attach any personal information to the story, your email or your website in any way. This includes your real name, the name of your ISP, your home address, where you go to school/work or anything else that could be used to trace the story back to you. Likewise do not include any information about whether or not you are or were in the ARVLFC, as it is possible for them to trace your personal information through there as well.
Obviously at no time should you show or send the story to Anne herself or anyone who works for her.
A quote at the bottom of the now-defunct Geocities site The Lestathenaeum gives an interesting insight towards the fandom’s feelings towards Rice’s new mandate that I couldn’t find echoed amongst any other fans.
Due to the request Anne has made concerning fics/specs, I will no longer be accepting dramatic pieces (involving the VC. General fiction of any type is fine). I’m going to limit submissions to the comical stuff I have listed on the site (read it if you need an idea of what I’m talking about) because I see these pieces as being tantamount to Saturday Night Live skits, which in my opinion do not violate copyright laws in any way. I do not want to get in any sort of legal trouble, and seeing as how dramatic/serious sort of stories are the closest thing I can see to “ripping off Anne’s idea” I just won’t be accepting them anymore. Sorry for the inconvenience.
And considering I can still find several of the works that were submitted to this site today, their new rule on accepting fanfiction must’ve worked.
HOW ANNE RICE REACTS TO FANFICTION NOW.
As of 2021, Anne Rice has stopped targeting fans for their fanworks. In a 2012 interview with Metro, Anne states:
“I got upset about 20 years ago because I thought it would block me. However, it’s been very easy to avoid reading any, so live and let live. If I were a young writer, I’d want to own my own ideas. But maybe fan fiction is a transitional phase: whatever gets you there, gets you there.”
Despite this, she still hasn’t changed her general view of fanfiction concerning her works specifically.
Image transcription: [A comment from Anne Rice on Facebook stating: “I do not think I do have the right to authorize it or officially permit it. But even if I did, I would not. I’m just too uncomfortable with it. What I do is ignore it.”]
Despite popular belief, Anne Rice does not condemn every piece of fanfiction ever in existence for every fandom, she has been clear on Facebook and other sites that her discomfort comes only from fanfiction of her own works.
TIME FOR A BIT OF CONTROVERSY.
While I do think that Rice went about removing fanfiction of her works the wrong way, I don’t think she was wrong for forbidding fanfiction of her works. She is clearly very protective of her characters and has every right as a creator to be that way. Not to mention the legal issues that can come from fanfiction…
Youtuber Maven of the Eventide gives a bit more insight into the fanfiction controversy in her video “Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles RANKED”.
…Now, I don’t have specific sources for this anymore. I used to, but I can’t find them now. But, the story goes that when this book, Merrick, was coming out, her publisher decided that with ebooks on rise, print publishing was dying. … And her publisher had to get ahead of the industry. So, they thought it would be a great idea Merrick as an ebook exclusive. So, they told Anne Rice that all of the fanfiction out there would cannibalize her shiny new ebook sales and mess with her copyright, and they advised her to put the cease and desist on the fanfic in order to protect her brand. And, she believed them.
Despite Anne Rice redacting her ban on fanfiction and has implying that she regrets the decisions she made twenty years ago concerning it, her actions in 2000 have left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths to this day.