Jan 9 2012 4:17pm

E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey Headed to Hollywood? Or Will the Law Intercede?

Hollywood sign image by David Jones via FlickrFollowing up on our coverage of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey yesterday, Publishers Weekly mentions that the author and her agent are shopping Hollywood for a potential movie deal.

Which begs the question, as author Jenn Bennett asked: Can fiction first written as fan fiction—no matter how far from the original source it diverges—ever be ethical? Will Stephenie Meyer and her publisher put the kibosh on James’s dreams of Hollywood? How different does an author have to make her inspired work to make it truly original? Do you think E. L. James’s Fifty series is far enough away from Twilight?

And, in lighter questions, who should play Ana and Christian (do not mention Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson, please!)?

Hollywood sign image by David Jones via Flickr

E.L. James's Fifty Shades Trilogy: ‹ previous | index | next ›
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Synde Korman
1. SyndeKorman
yeah... not cool....I think it should be stopped..
we already have 9 1/2 weeks..
2. SamiSunshine
This really irritates me as a writer of both original and fan work. I've seen this happen more and more in different fandoms like Buffy and Harry Potter. It feels like the authors use fanfiction to gain a fanbase before taking the fic off the net and cashing in. There was no reason for this to have been a fanfic since it was wildly different from Twilight anyway. All she did was use Twilight fans. Honestly, this site shouldn't enable this author or give her publicity.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
@SamiSunshine: That's such an interesting point! If I hadn't known--which I only knew midway through reading it--I wouldn't have known it was supposed to be based on Twilight. And you believe the author used the fanbase to get her book noticed? We are covering this, though, because it's book-related news, with no judgment or approval given. Apparently there are a lot of fanfic-based books that have made it into the mainstream, and it's not our place to act as the judge in any of the cases.
4. Fiftyfan
Got to say I love this series, I only just found out it was Twilight fanfiction, I see very few similarities. I don't really think that Twilight fans would automatically love these books, they are addictive on their own merits which is why they have gained a following through word of mouth. Surely if authors were using Twilight fans more of the fanfic would become published.
5. SamiSunshine
I get why you guys are covering this. In hindsight, I realize that I have taken this more personally than I should. I've been in the fanfiction world for over a decade so I've seen this happen before and its not always a great thing for the fandom.

I once befriended another fanfic writer who had done this. They had acted like they were just writing a fanfic so when they asked me for editing help, I helped them. I ended up (along with other people) helping this writer (that I thought was a friend) edit and promote a novel length fanfiction which was alternative universe but the characters were still recognizably from the show. Once the fic became a hit, she went pro, took her fic down, purged her old blog, and cut off from me and others without even a thank you. Last time I talked to her, she got all nasty and condescending when I asked about her fic and the sequel that she promised (which ended up the sequel to her fan-turned-pro fic). It really felt like the fandom had supported her and just got used so she could build up a reputation.
6. SamiSunshine
Fiftyfan, you're proving my point. It didn't need to be a fanfiction originally.

Besides, fanfic can't be published for profit. Its copyrighted so it can be done for fun. Its illegal to publish and for fanfiction writers, its also really distasteful because it only brings bad attention to the community.
7. Has
Well, I read the books and I didn't see any similarities with Twilight- there was some elements but I didn't recognise them until someone told me this was based on a Twilight fanfic and they were pretty minor. And there is no sparkly vampires and definitely no BDSM in Twilight!

I don't see any conflicts or legal issues, maybe an ethical one but if authors like Cassandra Clare who has a YA series which was partially based on her own Harry Potter fanfic and she was faced with plagiarism with that fanfic that caused a wankfest. Although her YA series doesn't show any signs of stolen passages but her series is being adapted too. I can see why fans are upset but as long as the authors aren't profiteering on the original fanfics or using their fans to profit for gain which Clare also did when she asked for laptops. I don't have a problem with authors basing ideas or plot points from their original fanfics.
When I first got back to reading after having my daughter, it was the Twilight books that got me started, then I moved to reading the associated fanfic. There was some fantastic writing, but most I read bore no resemblance to the Twi books apart from characters with the same name. I saw the fanfic world as a way for people to express themselves, good or bad. It may have been used as a gateway into the publishing world, but I say good for the people that were able to make successes of their work. Ultimately, at least in the fanfics I read, they were so far from the original that changing the names would do the trick to make them original works. If that's the case with Fifty Shades, then where's the harm? Then again, I might feel different if it was my work involved...

I will be checking it out, after reading all the hype, just to see for myself though.
9. JennaB
I think the issue is the use of the popularity to generate sales.

1- The story became popular on the idea of Edward in the role as Dom.
2 -Readers of Twi-fic love envision Robert Pattinson in this role as Edward so...
3 - If she had written the story, but never posted it, would a publisher/agent have purchased the work on its own merits and not its popularity as an Edward/Bella story.

She went through none of the traditional publishing gateways and not really any of the self-publishing ones either, but her book sold huge based on the push of her Twi-fic fans. I even saw it reviewed on a HUGELY popular book site because so many of her fans had written in. In the same way, people who didn't know it was a fic wouldn't have been exposed to it if it weren't for the push from her fic fans. I don't think those fans would exist if it weren't for Stephenie Meyer's original work.
10. Fiftyfan
Samisunshine I do see where you are coming from when you point out that this didn't need to be fanfic. But I don't see how the author is cashing in on it either. Maybe that's just my naive pov as I've never read fanfic and its not something I'm particularly interested in, whereas you obviously have some personal experiences.
11. ZenJenBee
Come on..... lets embrace this erotica REVOLUTION..... yes, there are elements of Pretty Woman... 9 1/2 Weeks .... Twilight.... and a few other books I have read too..... I saw it right away - and SO don't care..... and I am sure there are another 100 bits and pieces of novels that inspired E L James... personally I think she is brilliant....hit on a genre that needed a resurrgence .... everyone I know is totally obsessed with this series..... hearing Mr. Grey talk to them in their sleeep.... ;)........Twlight is a tween base initially - FIFTY can never be that.... nor does it pretend to be..... Fifty Shades as a movie.... that should be HOT - well maybe warm, considering I think it'll be very hard to actually portray what went on in the novel word for word.... just read... enjoy.... be happy... and let the movie hit the market.... actually explode the market....
Pamela Webb-Elliott
12. Spaz
No no no no!! Not every damn book series needs to be turned in to a damn movie! I am a fan of the books. I didn't have any clue they were Twilight FF prior to reading and now that I do it doesn't change anything for me, still a fan, but NO on the movie deal.
13. Ehl
I did not know Fifty was based on Twilight until after reading the first two books. Yes, there are shades of other books that resonate in this series, but if the original fanfic wasn't with Edward and Bella's names, would anyone have found that much of a resemblance?

I'm new to reading fanfic's so maybe i don't see it as such a big deal. It would be a different story when you're the author of the original the fanfic is based on.

Either way, i'm not sure i want to see a movie based on Fifty Shades. We can do without the wooden acting like in Twilight :)
14. SamiSunshine
In the end, fifty fans, I hope it works out great for the author and the fans of it and Twilight. From a fanfic writer POV, this is just the biggest faux pas that one could do but if SM is cool with it then that is the person who's opinion counts the most in this case. I just hope that SM doesn't pull a Anne Rice and ban fanfiction.
Megan Frampton
15. MFrampton
@SamiSunshine: Thanks for coming back and weighing in, and an extra-special thanks for remaining so cordial, despite your own personal experiences! That takes a special person.
Cindi M
16. cinful1121
I'm embarassingly uninformed as I have no idea what everyone is referring to?? I received books 2 & 3 for free in giveaways and upon reading purchased book 1 with great enthusiasm. I love this series and have read book 3 twice already with all intentions of doing the same with books 1 and 2. As for Twilight what the heck they are nothing alike and I would have never connected them in any way. I guess I should inform myself as to what's going on although I find it hard to believe it will affect my opinion of this series. She wrote them, they are doing amazing and there is potential for Hollywood recognition who are we to judge. I cannot even process thoughts at this moment as to who would be good leads in a movie be considered I'll need time to ponder this ;)
17. Aestas
i think its ridiculous that there are comparisons made between Fifty Shades and Twilight. I have read both full series and loved them both but still, when I first read Fifty, I didn't know it was based on Twilight at all and I never made the connection. And even after, when I found out, it still took me a while to figure out similarities. Cuz honestly, other than the fact that Bella and Ana are both a little ackward and the face that Edward and Christian both have copper hair and are ridiculously good looking from their ladylove's eyes, the stories have almost nothing in common. Period. At least, no more in common that any other two romances. At the end of the day, with romances the story is ALWAYS the same: boy/girl meets girl/boy. fall in love. have issues. figure them out. HEA.
I can see how some fanfic is strongly based off of the original text, but honestly, the original fanfic pretty much only had the names in common. Once those were changed, the rest is completely original.
The only issues I think should be there are more in terms of rating. Fifty Shades has a lot more kink than your average romantic story, and while I am definitely one of those who think that the emotional journey of the characters is at the heart of the story, the kink is a huge part... I wonder how they are going to deal with that...?
18. Sharks with Lasers
I'm curious to see whether or not this becomes considered a fair use issue. Because I love fanfic, but at the beginning of every fanfic is a notation advising that the author is not intending to profit from it. If you're basically shopping your pro fic idea to a ready-made fanbase so you can receive free editing assistance and free market research before shopping it to a publishing house, aren't you intending to profit from it? Eventually, even if not immediately?
19. SamiSunshine
@Mframpton and Fifty fans, I apologize if I dimmed anyone's enthusiasm. I'm pretty close to the issue.

I'd just hate it if Twilight fandom would have to go through what happened with Mercedes Lackey fans when a fanficcer tried to publish a fan novel (and got into a legal battle with Lackey). That event sent shockwaves through the fantasy fandom and so many authors ended up banning fanfic after that.
20. Eridani99
I just read the first two books yesterday without realizing this was fan fic based. On Twitter, I was like, "Man, this girl is like Bella, only slightly less of a doormat." There were places where James took Meyer's exact wording - several times, in fact. But honestly, I thought this work was just painfully derivative in the female protagonist area - I mean, I thought this was just another proto-Bella like you see all the time. One of my friends thought I was being ironic when I said Ana was just like Bella, except no. I had no idea.

I can't decide how I feel about this. Ana is clearly Bella, but then so have a lot of other female YA/PN romance characters been similarly Bella-esque. Christian seems nothing like Edward to me. I'm neither a Twilight fan nor a fan fic reader/writer so I have no bias in that area. I feel like this is so far from the source material other than the few times James ripped off Meyer's wording that it'd be weird to have Meyer put the kibosh on it. On the other hand, if it's admittedly fan fic... I dunno.

21. jsmom2
I have not read any of these, primarily because I am still a gotta have it in my hand and turn the pages kind of girl, and I refuse to pay 30 bucks for a paperback... can anyone shed some light on what's up with that?
22. CMm
I think there are a lot of good points here. Fifty Shades is a great series, but as someone who read it as, Master of the Universe 1 & 2, it's hard for me to see it as anything other than a Twilight fic. Changing the names does not change the characters in my mind. When I read about Christian and Ana, I see Edward and Bella. Not because they're anything like the original characters, but because it was presented that way. I would’ve never read or bought the book if it wasn’t for Twilight, but I do support James as an author. She’s great, and never once gave me the impression that she was using FF to build a fan base. She wrote the entire first story, took a break, and then posted most of the second before she ever mentioned having it published. Even then, she posted the completed story online for everyone to finish reading before taking it down, and repeatedly thanked everyone involved.

As far as a movie goes, I’d love to see it, but doubt it’ll ever see daylight. There is no way R.P. or K.S. would touch these parts, and honestly, I don’t see how this could even get an R rating and stay true to the story. Have you ever seen a mainstream BDSM movie? Plus, there is no way the Twilight aspect will ever be forgotten. Downloaded copies MotU are still floating around online, and Meyer doesn’t strike me as the look the other way type. Look at her reaction to the Midnight Sun leak, and that was her own work.
Nikki Weiss
23. NikkiWeiss
I read all three books in 4 days! I loved them all. I did not love all 4 Twilight books. I did read the 50 Shades Triliogy knowing the Twilight connection. Did not think about Twilight once! I read many reviews and listened to many people go off about how Ana was shallow and you couldn't like her, blah, blah, blah. We are not talking about high literary fiction. I would love it if she wrote more about Christian and Ana. And as far as if they do make it into a movie, they better think real hard who they cast as Christian. He better not be older than 30 and he better be way hotter than Robert Pattinson!
Cheryl King
24. leeking
I've never heard of fan fic before-what is it? I read the 50 Shades Trilogy and it's my current favorite of all time! I read all the Twilight books and I've watched all the movies and I don't get it. I don't see any similarities at all. How are they be connected?
Heather Waters
25. HeatherWaters
@leeking -- Fan fiction is a term describing stories written by fans for fans based on someone else's work, like a movie, TV show, or book. Sometimes only the characters are used or only the kinda depends. Here's a more comprehensive definition from Wikipedia:

In the case of 50 Shades, I believe the characters were inserted into a new setting/universe. From what I've heard, when the story was originally published as fan fiction online (under the title "Master of the Universe"), the characters were still called Edward (Christian), Bella (Ana), etc. The names were changed when the author decided to publish the story.
26. Debbie in S. Florida
Interestingly, it was pointed out on another forum about this topic that while it's possible, maybe even probable, that E.L. James used Twilight as her inspiration (even though there's really little more in common than the use of the characters' names and physical descriptions), it's also fairly obvious that SM took more than a little inspiration from books such as Jane Eyre, among others. I think it's only natural that authors are influenced by other books when they write. We all read, and everything we read becomes part of our consciousness, so it's kind of impossible to write something that isn't in some way influenced by another story. Like they say, there are no original ideas anymore! And I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that E.L. James wrote the 50 Shades story as an original fiction and then changed it into a Twilight fanfic, though I may be wrong. A lot of fanfiction authors do that as a way to take advantage of not only the built-in audience, but for the instant response via the review function. It's a great way to learn and grow as a writer. Either way, though, the work is hers, and she has a right to publish it if she wants to, imo, and more power to her if she's making a success of it. I kind of feel like it's no different than if a friend was a singer and posted songs on Youtube and then was able to make a career out of it. I'd sure be out there buying their music, even if they started out doing covers of others' songs. Besides, I'm pretty sure that if SM had a problem with fanfiction being written based on her story, she wouldn't have links to it on her website. It'll be interesting to see how the whole movie thing plays out, though, as that may be an entirely different apple, with a far greater potential profit. It would be awful if it caused trouble in the Twilight fanfiction world, because I read a lot of it, and there are quite a lot of talented authors there who are as good or better than many published authors I've read, and boy, I'd hate to lose that.
27. Ashlynne Laynne
I'm an author. I've never read fan fic and never even knew what it was until I was on Amazon checking out the comments on Fitfty Shades before I purchased it. I'm halfwalf through the book and I do see certain passages and phrases that reminded me of Twilight. There are smiliarites about the two stories (the location, the woman's virginity, his bronze colored hair, etc) but is it enough for her to be sued...I don't know. My first novel has a copyright and I'm told that they put the books through pretty stringent tests to be sure that they are orginal and not works that have been copied. I too write about the paranormal and vampires and never, in a hundred years, would I believe that anyone can capture what Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight. I think the author of Fifty Shades was clever in the way that she went about things but I don't believe anything can be done legally to stop her from shopping her trilogy. On the other hand, as an author, it scares me to death the thought that someone might attempt to scoop the original premise of my story from under me and copy it to make a profit. I think this might present a slippery slope for the author, the literary world in general and lovers of fan fic. We'll have to wait and see what happens.
28. Addison
It's always nice to see someone profiting off Stephenie Meyer fans. The 'borrowed' elements are far from subtle and I'm completely dumbfounded that she is getting away with this. How pathetic. She didn't even bother to change the location.

Not to mention that it is a completely unrealistic, poor, and all around disgusting depiction of true BDSM relationships and scenarios. It's insulting to people that actually participate in the lifestyle. I've been a submissive for many years, and I've spent time in a contracted relationship and it is not something to be treated as a disease, or practiced only by those with a dark past, as the author makes it out to be. She portrays it as something shameful, and that is ridiculous.

This story was a joke as fanfiction, and even more so now that people are supporting her blatant plagiarism. His name may be Christian Grey here, but really he's just Edward Cullen with a riding crop, because that's exactly what this started out as.

And do I even need to mention that it is an insult to authors that actually write original tales, and have to start from scratch in terms of fanbase?
29. Jairo04
I am absolutely in love with this trilogy and God knows I don't like romantic books but this is amazing. As for potential actors I would suggest either Henry Cavill or Ian Harding for Christian and for Ana i don't know....maybe Miranda Kerr...what do you think?
Alana Rock
30. loonyalana
@ SamiSunshine
"Besides, fanfic can't be published for profit. Its copyrighted so it can be done for fun. Its illegal to publish and for fanfiction writers, its also really distasteful because it only brings bad attention to the community."

Actually- I wrote an article on my blog where I researched this specific 'controversy'... what EL did is not illegal. Feel welcome to check out my article:

Ultimately, I am sure that if there were truly a case against EL- laywers would be knocking down S.M.'s door trying to get her to sue.
31. Jen33
The problem everyone is forgetting is that James began FSoG as Master of the Universe, a fanfiction where she borrowed characters from Stephenie Meyer. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look like Twilight (she just replaced all the Bella's with Ana, etc.). She is now making money on something that began as fanfic, inspired by a copyrighted work. There is an ethical, blurry line here. It doesn't matter how great the story is or how she changed the names, so it doesn't resemble Twilight anymore. The Twilight series is copyrighted and isn't Public Domain. You can spin it anyway you want, but James used Twilight as her inspiration, and now gives it no credit to her success. She built up her "fans" in the Twifandom and must have decided her work was too big for just the fandom that made her popular. These characters were based on Edward and Bella. I don't care if it is BSDM or All- Human. You can't change its origins. I can only imagine the implications of this story's success. Will Meyer sue James, or will she shut down Twi fanfiction completely? I'm curious to see. James knows her beginnings, and denies it. Changing names and hair color can't change that. 
Catwoman Felisamorata
32. Catwoman
I've read MofU, 50 Shades and Twilight. Absolutely no question where EL James got her inspiration. I can also understand the "controversy"; however, has anyone noticed in other romance series (werewolf, vampire, DNA-altered, etc.) that there are striking similarities. Midnight Breeds and the Black Dagger Brotherhood come to mind right off the top. Plagarized? Not even close. Inspired by? Clearly. And both authors have done an outstanding job with their characters and storylines. (Yes, I'm a devoted fan of both.) The fanfic issue...I can think of one absolutely outstanding novel that started out as fanfic and is now a full length novel. It gained popularity when it was published on a fan site and those reading it encouraged the author to make it into a full-length novel. Cloudy ethics? Nope not in this case and not in the 50 Shades case, either. Movie? H'wood will probably do just that - unfortunately - and I say unfortunately because H'wood is never able to do a book justice.
33. PS1121
I purchased the fifty shades trilogy based on all the hype and banning it from libraries etc. I am not a fanfic person never heard of it actually till I purchased the books and the clerk was bashing the author REALLY!!!!! I never would have thought about these books having similarities to Twilight...It seems to me to be the usual love story formula with some BDSM added in. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these books. Making this trilogy a movie....will not hold true to the books simply due to the subject matter, would be difficult to maintain a R rating. But i think Ian Sommerhalder would be a perfect choice for the part of Christian. KS or RP not for this trilogy. I hope the author writes more to this trilogy, I would love for this story to continue.
34. Carli3388
Ian Harding as Christian Grey please!!!
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