Note that I have *nothing* against tie-in novels; some of my favorite books were tie-ins (e.g., The Final Reflection), and I have several tie-in ideas I'd love to do (a novelization of Chrono Trigger, a particular Conan story, etc.). But I think anyone who writes a tie-in novel and then goes and tries to talk about how terrible fanfic writers are needs to understand three words: Pot. Kettle. Black.
Everything I write is fanfic. Including the published novels Digital Knight and Diamonds are Forever, the forthcoming coauthored book Boundary with Eric Flint, the RPG game materials I put together for my weekly games, the more standard fanfic that I wrote for Saint Seiya, the gamefic "An American Gamer in Gondor", and so on and so forth.
Everything almost EVERYONE writes is, in my view, "fanfic". You get a Kewl Idea and you use "stuff" that you have around you to enact that Kewl Idea in text. Write historical fiction? You're a a history fanboy making fanfics around historical times or events that interest you.
I'm not sure that the act of writing fanfics violates copyright. Publicizing them may, depending on the specific use of the characters and elements. What fanfic DOES do, much more often, is violate *TRADEMARK* rights. However, I consider current usage of BOTH copyrights and trademarks to be exaggerated and incredibly stupid. We now have copyright being extended whenever The Mouse gets nervous, and enforced to ludicrous extremes.
FANFIC IS A GOOD THING. It shows that people are *INTERESTED* in your product. It shows they care. It shows they want your stuff SO BADLY that if you can't give them a fix fast enough, they'll go MAKE THEIR OWN. People like that are your best possible customers. They're the ones that will write letter campaigns to keep your show on the air, the ones who will purchase your books, every one of them, in a 42 book series.
Only idiotic authors and producers of TV/Movies object to fanfic. They don't understand: THESE ARE YOUR FANS. These people like your stuff SO MUCH that they are spreading your gospel -- or their twisted version of it -- around the world.
Most fanfics are DIRE. Yeah, so what? So are 90% of the "original" stories submitted to magazines, publishers, movie studios, etc., etc., etc.
The Japanese have something called "Doujinshi" which are basically fanfic manga/comics which are based on various popular anime series. Do they go out and crush all who make these things -- which are **CLEARLY** trademark/copyright violations -- especially those who sell them??
HELL NO. They're not that dumb. They do put LIMITS how how many can be sold (and the limit is high enough that relatively few doujinshi are likely to reach that level), but they also sponsor entire CONVENTIONS with the things. And what else? Why, they watch the doujinshi producers and find the ones that are really professional level -- the ones that have the inventiveness, or drawing talent, or wit -- and then they HIRE them.
A few Western companies appear to be at least TRYING to be sane in this as well; Cartoon Network, for instance, not only did NOT do a C&D against "Bleedman" (bleedman.snafu-comics.com/), even though his doujinshi of the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter, and a buttload of other CN (and Nickelodeon) characters was, um, Different to say the least -- but instead they PROMOTED it, mentioned it on their site, and have left him alone to Do His Thing.
There are things one can do with direct fanfic that can't be done with one's own writing, also. Oh, sure, you can try to steal the basic concepts, paint over the characters with new names and appearances, etc., but that's clumsy and often loses the impact of what you would have wanted to accomplish with the originals. In some cases, the only difference between what the fanfic author does and what a real author does is a contract. The endless Star Trek/Star Wars tie-in novels... what are they, exactly? Why, nothing more or less than paid fanfics. The Conan novels by people other than Robert E. Howard? Conan fanfics. Paid Conan fanfics. The multitude of Lovecraftian stories? HPL fanfic.
Bah. Contempt of fanfic misses the point. Authors steal from each other all the time. Some are embarrassed about it. Most of us get over that and recognize that -- if we are LUCKY -- we'll have one or two really original ideas in our entire lives, and that even THOSE will have built upon other people's worki. Most of what we write will be taken from something or someone else.
So, in short -- don't be ridiculous. And that goes triple for the publishers, MPAA, and all the other people out there becoming anal-retentive on these topics.
Ah. That felt good.