Recently, I was on a board, and someone posted the question: "What do you think about fanfiction?" The questions angered up my blood, so I have to pull out my soapbox for a minute:
Fanfiction is a story that uses the characters and/or setting of an another writer to tell an original story. So we must accept that...
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Fanfiction. Virgil's Aeneid, Fanfiction. Ovid's Metamorphosis, Fanfiction. Euripides, Sophocles, All of the Greek and Roman Classics, Fanfiction! Shakespeare almost exclusively used the settings and characters of others!
Most of what we consider classics today were written by people who wrote in a setting they did not create with characters created by others, in other words, FANFICTION! All primal storytelling is fanfiction, telling retelling, embellishing and adding to that characters and setting that the storyteller enjoyed. This is the art of a story teller. Virtually every folktale and myth falls into this category.
Before the modern tyranny of the copyright holders, this was a natural function of culture. Now it is a hobby of a few select subcultures. Stories give our lives and our world meaning. For the stories to remain relevant, they have to be retold and expanded in ways that are true to the original. This is how a healthy culture grows and evolves over time. The numerous copyright extension acts have crippled our culture. Stories, characters, and whole worlds have been lost to the commons. The culture is weakened.
For example: There is no legitimate reason that Star Trek: The Original Series, should still be under copyright today, 40 years after it originally aired. If the copyright expired on the original series, then we could still have The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the others. But who knows how many great series we lost because they did not win the lottery to be Voyager or Enterprise. Just because the copyright on the first one expired would have no effect on the copyright status of the later ones. In fact, the iron grip of Paramount may have destroyed more great series that it could ever produce. Read the The Voyage of the Star Wolf series by David Gerrold.
It is a sad comment on our society that fanfiction is so rare. That our culture has been destined to atrophy under these conditions. With the advent of Creative Commons and other ways around the tyranny of copyright, there is hope.