Still deep in the busy stretch for work, and that looks like it will last well into June. Which means that my blog updated here will probably be pretty light, barring some kind of wonderful agent news or something like that.
George R. R. Martin just invited a pretty hearty debate about fanfiction over on his blog (link here), and I think we got down to the heart of the matter on his third post. I haven't read all the replies, but judging from how his tone has changed, enough people must've told him that he was overestimating the issue about legal fears. Many authors have made a peaceful relationship with the fanfic community. Indeed, if you read Free by Chris Anderson, you can easily see how a robust fanfiction community can ultimately help the profits of the creator by creating free publicity and interest. It certainly happened with a lot of anime and manga.
It's not really a legal issue, it's a personal issue. The short of it is that he doesn't want his view of characters or a story poisoned by some writer's crappy or disrespectful version of things. And since most fanfiction (though not all) is pretty bad, it's a legit concern. Once you strip away his reason-based arguments, which can be refuted or challenged, what it boils down to is an emotional response from a man who takes stories very seriously. And I respect that.
(I find it fascinating that Martin brings up Alien 3 as an example of how stories can get spoiled by a bad installment. I can't think of a movie I hate more than Alien 3, so I really sympathize with his point on that.)
Martin also says that "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," which accounts for his own ventures into the grey areas of fanfiction. He contributed pretty heavily tot he whole Suduvu character battle thing, including some pieces of fanfic all his own. And yes, it was supposedly all done with permission (I have my doubts about that... Aragorn and Gandalf were in that contest, and I don't see Christopher Tolkien as giving his blessing for that sort of thing). It was still fanfiction. Publishing a RPG based on your world and characters is also entering some fuzzy territory, since it's basically giving permission for people to play in your world with your characters.
What it boils down to is that his real emotional objection is to bad fanfiction... and indeed, bad fiction in general. Not poor writing, but existing characters abused by authors who either don't understand them or don't respect them (a problem that exists whenever you switch writers -- he brings up both comics and the Alien movies as examples). Since there's no way to police fanfiction quality, and since much of it is indeed quite bad, Martin is pretty much against it as a rule.
I can respect that. Even when I was writing fanfiction, which I don't really do now (I dabbled again with the Suduvu thing), there were only some things that I felt like being a part of. Mostly I did Ranma 1/2 fanfiction, of course. I thought Ranma was the perfect subject for fanfiction, because the original material was both good enough and bad enough. The author, Rumiko Takahashi, never took it very seriously. In fact, some of the storylines she wrote were embarrassingly stupid, and would've been scorned as fanfiction if they hadn't actually been part of her canon. This is to say nothing of the anime version, which got unwatchably bad after a while. So while you had a core group of fun characters and wide-open possibilities in Ranma, it was also hard to abuse it much worse than the original creator already had, unless you went for something really depraved.
I may differ with Martin in vehemence about fanfiction, but I've pretty much gone off it myself. It's more fun to play in worlds of my own.