Bound Up in Fanfic Controversy

Fanfic authors are contemplating scrubbing the internet of their writing due to bound book sellers stealing their work.
Bound Up in Fanfic Controversy
An example of a bound fanfiction book from one of the now-deleted listings on Etsy. Screenshot via 404 Media

Etsy sellers are turning free fanfiction into printed and bound physical books, and listing them for sale for more than $100 per book. It’s a problem that’s rattling the authors of those fanfics, as well as their fans and readers. 

Several sellers, easily found on Etsy and incredibly popular, each with hundreds of five-star reviews, are selling copies of fanfiction taken from sites like Archive of Our Own (Ao3) and reselling them as bound books. The average price of these bound copies is around $149. Some sellers claim that they’re simply covering the cost of materials, while others just sell the books, usually with the fanfiction writers’ Ao3 username on the cover.

This is hitting the “Dramione” fandom—which pairs Hermoine and Draco from the Harry Potter series—particularly hard, because this type of fanfic is extremely popular on Etsy. “All the Young Dudes,” a massively popular Harry Potter fanfic by MsKingBean89, is being sold by multiple sellers, including one that mostly sells bamboo and rattan handicrafts. “Manacled” by SenLiYu is another wildly popular one that’s been turned into merch and bound books.  

Some authors are deleting their works from the internet altogether to prevent book binding resellers stealing them. 

Onyx Elm, a popular writer of Dramione fanfiction, recently announced that they’re deleting all of their writing from the internet. 

“due to the seemingly unstoppable monetization of fandom and the sheer volume of illegal fan bindings being sold, I will be pulling all my works within the next few days,” they wrote on Tumblr. “thank you to those of you who worked so hard trying to keep fandom free and to all of you who supported my writing. it was fun while it lasted” 

“I hate these shitty vultures who are destroying fandom spaces to make money before moving onto the next grift once we are burned to the ground,” a Redditor wrote in a thread about the announcement. “Vultures is exactly what they fucking are,” someone else replied.

SenLiYu wrote about the book binding issue on Twitter: “As someone not planning to delete all their fanworks, can I just say, there is a vast mental/emotional toll to having your creative work ceaselessly exploited. Especially when it happens in a manner adjacent to a community that you consider yourself a part of,” she wrote. “Fandom is about community more than it's about any specific original work, that's why a community can migrate light years away from the OG and become a new microcosmic space. It's the people and relationships, the journeys of writers, artists, and readers that makes it meaningful.” 

Writing fanfiction is generally considered fair use under U.S. copyright law if it’s transformative—if there’s added meaning and value beyond the original source material. Selling fanfiction, however, is probably more likely to draw attention and legal action from the original authors or their publishers. In 2022, the estate of JRR Tolkien sued a fanfic writer for commercializing fanfiction based on the Lord of the Rings series. But this was a countersuit, after the writer tried, incredibly, to sue the Tolkien estate in a claim that it stole his idea for the recent LOTR Amazon series. Some authors, including Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer (50 Shades of Grey started as a Twilight fic) have publicly stated that they’re cool with fanfic. Others are not.

What’s happening on Etsy is even more complicated. The Etsy sellers are monetizing transformative works that the authors of those fanfics themselves have not monetized. This is pretty blatant infringement of their work, but fanfic authors may be reluctant to fight it because of the perception that fanfic itself operates in a legal gray area.

On Etsy, some shops work on commissioned requests, where buyers can send a seller a link to the fanfic they want bound along with cover designs. Others are selling books with seemingly stolen art on the cover. For example, a quick reverse image search revealed this now-deleted listing for a bound copy of a fanfiction of the “Court of Mists and Fury” series by Sarah J. Maas featured fanart from this artist

Listings from one of the Etsy shops that's since been deleted. Screenshot by 404 Media
Listings from one of the Etsy shops that's since been deleted. Screenshot by 404 Media

Some authors have added notices about the binding of their works on their profiles.

LovesBitca8, who wrote Dramoine fanfics “The Auction” and “Rights and Wrongs,” also posted a notice on their Tumblr about binding their books: “I allow individually-made bound books of my fanfics for personal use or gifting purposes, as long as they are profit-free and my authorship (and any artists) are properly acknowledged. You may make them yourself or order them from a reputable fandom book binder,” they wrote. “I allow individual commissions of book bindings of my fanfic, as long as the charges are strictly for materials and shipping, and no profit is made. I do NOT allow my fanfics to be printed using any type of commercial / mass printing platform (e.g., Barnes & Noble, lulu).”

They also wrote that they require anyone making bound copies of their work, or typesets (files formatted for printing) to get permission from fanart creators before including art alongside their text, and that typesets shouldn’t be behind a paywall.

She told me in an email that she doesn’t consider any Etsy shops selling bound copies of fanfiction as legal sellers. “The exchange of money for a bound copy of a fanfiction probably needs to include an itemization of how the money is for materials and materials alone. To my knowledge, these Etsy shops wouldn't be offering that,” she said. 

Intellectual property infringement is against Etsy’s terms of use (as well as being against the law). It introduced an IP infringement reporting portal in 2022, where people can report sellers and items. But fanfic authors say reporting isn’t effective. 

“I do try to report these sellers, but it becomes a drain on my time,” she said. “I am a big supporter of fandom and my own fandoms of Dramione and Reylo [Rey and Kylo Ren from Star Wars], but I am now a published author and can't devote the energy to punishing bad behavior any more unfortunately. I do know that some of my readers do continue to report sellers on my behalf, which is very appreciated.” 

Brigitte Knightley, who also writes under the pseudonym isthisselfcare, wrote “Draco Malfoy and the Mortifying Ordeal of Being in Love,” a very popular fanfiction for binding sellers on Etsy. Knightley also has a disclaimer forbidding this on her Ao3 profile, updated this month: “I am honoured that you like my fic enough to ask, and very enthusiastic yes to translations, art (no AI), inspired-by fic, audio adaptations, etc. Binding is permitted for personal use only (gift-giving and exchanges are fine). Please check artists' policies before including their art in your binds. No need to ask me for permission to create anything,” she wrote. “No monetisation. Do not sell my work, do not put my work behind paywalls, do not auction my work, do not merchandise my work, do not charge for typesets of my work, do not charge for slots/chances at winning binds of my work; do not, in sum, generate money from my work. It's fanfiction. It is, and must always be, free.”

Emerald Slytherin, who wrote “Secrets and Masks,” said in a TikTok video last week that she was “this close” to removing all of her works from Ao3. She said she’s tried to get the listings on Etsy removed, but hasn’t been successful. 


#secretsandmasks #secretsandmasksdramione #fanficauthor #dramionefanfic #indieauthor

♬ original sound - Emerald_Slytherin

As is often the case, it takes a journalist reaching out and handing over specific links—and the prospect of negative press—for platforms to act on these accounts. After I sent Etsy several links to popular fanfiction book binding shops, they were all removed from the site. Etsy claimed to me that it complies with IP laws by assessing all reports and removing items or sellers when they get repeat notices of infringement. It also claims that a human reviews every report of IP infringement. 

According to Etsy’s most recent transparency report, intellectual property infringement was one of the most common policy issues reported in 2022, and the platform “ processed approximately 99,000 alleged infringement reports, a 20% decrease from the year prior, and we removed a total of approximately 1.1 million listings—similar to the number of listings removed in 2021,” the report says.