sherlockpremiereOh, for crying out loud.

The London season 3 premiere event of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, was emceed by feminist writer Caitlin Moran. And for God only knows what reason, during this event she thought it would be hilarious to have Benedict and Martin read aloud from a “slash” (homoerotic) Sherlock fanfic. From all reports, the actors weren’t terribly pleased, and neither was the author of the fanfic, tumblr blogger mildredandbobbin:

To Caitlin? Thank you for spoiling something I found joy in. Thank you for humiliating me, taking my writing out of context without permission, belittling it and using it to embarrass actors who I deeply admire. Thank you for tainting the one thing sometimes that gets me through the day when I have two screaming kids, someone’s drawn on the walls in their own poo, and I have to drive through peak hour traffic yet again because my husband’s forgotten his glasses for work. Thanks for that support, Caitlin.

The first several pages of the author’s tumblr blog are full of outpourings of support from fellow fans. Reportedly multiple people saw Caitlin Moran “getting yelled at” after the event, and she’s probably not going to be invited to any more such events.

Moran had previously written things like:

Any action a woman engages in from a spirit of joy, and within a similarly safe and joyous environment, falls within the city-walls of feminism. A girl has a right to dance how she wants, when her favourite record comes on.

But apparently that only applies if “dancing how she wants” doesn’t involve writing porn. Writes tumblr blogger leah617:

I mean that’s the reason that journalists keep doing this, right? Because fans are weird and live in basements and have no lives and should be locked away from the rest of society? They’re doing this to protect the rest of the human race, right? Earn themselves a pulitzer without having to go to a war torn country?

Journalists who tear down fandoms are doing the lord’s work, I swear.

This is not exactly the first time the Sherlock actors have been confronted with racy fanfic or fan art. Cumberbatch has said he found it rather flattering. In March, Graham Norton tried to embarrass Freeman with slash fan art on his talk show. And just a couple of weeks ago, Freeman stated in an interview:

I’ve always seen it as a point of principle not to be offended if people imply you’re gay – so no, I’ve never given a [damn]. If I was [offended], I’d kind of think, well what does that make me? I wouldn’t want a 15-year-old kid thinking I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. If anything, it’s kind of funny to see pictures of me and Ben doing whatever we’re doing to each other – even if they’re far from the truth. The only time I’m sort of bothered is when people get proprietary about it or think there should be a certain kind of reaction, like it needs to be in the National Gallery.

Even Hobbit co-star Ian McKellan was emailing it to him, Freeman noted. The only people he had a problem with were the slash fans who tweeted death threats to the actress for Watson’s season 3 love interest:

It’s ridiculous. To me, they’re not fans of the show – they’re fans of a show going on their heads. Obviously I love Amanda [Abbington] and I want everyone to react positively to her; she plays a fantastic character and brings a hell of a lot to the third series. If people want to imagine John and Sherlock [having sex] they’re more than welcome to, but it will have no bearing on what we do in the show.

So, both Cumberbatch and Freeman seem to be more or less cool with the whole slash fan art thing. Yet various personalities seem to think it’s funny to confront them with this stuff over and over, as if this time they’ll manage to get a rise out of them. I wonder if Shatner and Nimoy would have gotten this kind of treatment if the Internet had been around in the sixties?

People have all sorts of reactions to a work, and those reactions can include wondering about situations that the original creators never conceived of. In the spirit of writing the thing you’d like to read, some fans write those stories down and share them with like-minded fans. That’s what the fanfic community is all about.

Heck, you could consider Sherlock itself to be an alternate-universe present-day-setting fanfic of the Conan Doyle stories. No matter what copyright and trademark laws say, fanfic is a legitimate part of the human condition for fans who get into their shows and have the ability and desire to write about what they feel. But of course it’s going to look ridiculous to people who don’t have the same feelings. When fanfic of any kind gets held up to public ridicule, we all lose. I think it’s worth noting again that both Cumberbatch and Freeman are far too classy to belittle the people who love their work enough to write or enjoy fanfic—unlike such personalities as Graham Norton or Caitlin Moran. Good for them!

Let this be a lesson to you: if you write fanfic (or, for that matter, original Internet fiction) that could be remotely embarrassing if someone read it at a public event, be sure you use a pseudonym. Anything you put out there on the Internet could eventually be used to embarrass you—or the actors whose characters you write it about.


  1. If you write fanfic that, if read by the actors or aloud to a general audience, would embarrass you, then by definition you acknowledge that there is something about it that is questionable and maybe shouldn’t be handed to the general public. And anything posted to an open fandom website is basically accessible to the general public!

  2. I’m sure the writers are not ashamed of their fics being out in public. We are aware the actors know about the fanfic, but most us make it clear jt’s for us, and the actors have made it clear they don’t care.

    The authors are embarrassed that their works are being used specifically to put the actors on the spot, and used as a way to poke fun at the fans. How many actors would be comfortable being handed ANY sort of love scene and being asked to read it to each other in the middle of a Q&A, fanfiction or not? It was a dick move.

  3. Ouch. If you don’t want all and sundry to read your stories ( fan fiction, ‘real’ fiction, etc.) in places and ways you can’t control why would you post it to the internet? Once it’s out there, you can’t pull it back.

    That being said, the author of the fic in question should probably been notified in advance of the oncoming train of potential humiliation.

  4. Actually Danny, the show doesn’t own the Sherlock Holmes copyright.
    Unless the fanfic author used situations specific to the show(and I haven’t seen Martin and Cumberbach getting sexy time so I doubt she did), then it isn’t under copyright to the show. Whether or not Sherlock and Co are currently under any sort of copyright protection is a matter still being decided by the courts.
    What the courts have said over and over is that as long as no intent to profit from the fanfic is intended, then the fanfic doesn’t violate copyright.

  5. “What the courts have said over and over is that as long as no intent to profit from the fanfic is intended, then the fanfic doesn’t violate copyright.”

    Which courts in which countries? AFAIK, this isn’t true in the US. There have been no precedent setting court cases regarding fan fiction and copyright.

  6. =chuckles= That would have been a hoot to see. As for the fanfic writer, they should have realized that once it was posted, they were open to anything from legal action to this. (I got off lucky, worst any author said to me over using their characters in a fanfic was “Send me a copy!” )

  7. Guys just stop. Did you not read the article at all?

    @Severus- As a writer I can tell you that if someone reads my work out loud, no matter what it is about, I get very embarrassed. Especially if its without permission because that’s generally a big signal that I am not comfortable with people seeing what I’ve written. It doesn’t matter what was written there, I would still be absolutely mortified. Yes anything you post on a fanfic website is accessible to the general public, however it is rude and cruel to take someone’s work, which they wrote for themselves and other like-minded people to enjoy only, and force people who they greatly admire to read it out loud to a large audience in a clear attempt at humiliating not only the writer, but the entire fandom and the actors as well. What makes it worse is that she clearly thought that the actors would make fun of the fandom too, making it clear that she views fandoms as little more than a source of entertainment at the expense of others. What she did was cruel and unnecessary and largely offensive.

    @Andy- Andy I have the same thing to say to you as I said to Severus. Please look to the above paragraph.

    @Greg M- Irony is a cruel mistress. Here is a woman who wrote fanfic without permission (yes, Holmes is public domain and she can) but she bellyaches when her work is used without permission. It’s a good laugh. That author was a woman, like so many other fanfic writers, who writes fanfics for her own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of other like-minded people within the fandom. She is not ‘bellyaching’ about the work being used without her permission. That is not the problem here. The problem is that someone went online and took her fanfic with the sole intention of using it to humiliate both the writer, the fandom and the actors, and with absolutely no warning to the writer herself that this was going to happen. It is generally just a nice thing to do to warn someone first that you will be using some of their writing to humiliate a large number of people including that person before you go and humiliate them in front of a large audience. In that situation no one would be pleased to have their work used in such a manner. This is not simply taking a story and making changes to it/using the characters in your own story as fanfic authors do. This is taking the story and using it as a weapon for humiliation and it is wrong. That fanfic author has a right to be upset about this.

    @Wiredwizard- Please look to what I have said to both Greg M and Andy.

  8. I dispute the term “fan fic” in all of this. Was The Seven Percent Solution fan fic? Is the show Sherlock itself fan fic? How about all the other adaptations, spoofs and so on?

    If “fan fic” as a term means anything at all, it means unauthorized adaptations of protected works. Holmes and Watson are in the public domain (in spite of anything the Conan Doyle estate has to say about it) and so the slash fiction is best called a literary adaptation. Using a term like “fan fic” creates an arbitrary divide between this writer and everybody else who adapts Holmes.

  9. @Vya, calling the use of the story as a weapon is a bit of an overstatement. I’m not the best person to research incidents, but I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts this is not the first or last times “stars” will be provided “embarrassing” to read in public. It may not be in good taste but it is something that happens. The use of slash fanfic is, at worst, irrelevant and maybe even apropos if someonethe material is derived from the show in question. I suppose it would be different if the joke was intended to insult homosexuals, but it seems more like to gag was on the actors.

    As for the author, she had two options when her was laughed at: laugh with them or keep quiet. Any thing else is “bellyaching”. Unless there is a real intent to slander.

  10. I disagree with the ‘if you put it on the net, it’s fair game’ POV. With photos, for example, the photographer can pursue legal remedy if a photo is posted on Tumblr, for example, without express permission – even if the photographer displayed the photo on the internet with no attempt to “secure” or “watermark” the photo, even if no copyright warnings were posted, and even if the poster makes no attempt to profit. (Legal remedy is seldom sought, but it’s possible.)
    A story is as much a work product as a photo. The fanfiction writer had the same expectation for her work NOT to be used in a public setting as would a photographer and her photo, I would imagine.
    What Caitlyn Moran did was wrong. Period. It wasn’t nice, either. It took something of value to a person with no particular power, and used it to ridicule that person. Moran used her power to victimize an entire group of people – writers of fanfiction. Moran is a self-important “personality” and I truly hope she did get chewed out big time.

  11. @severus and co
    Actually, the fact that the writer feels humiliated has nothing to do about the author or their work. Interesting, right? But I could assure you, any thing: a person’s look, dress, gender, sexual orientation, social class, HAIR COLOUR, anything, can and have been used to humiliate people.

    Humiliation and bullying is A SOCIAL DEVICE to exert power and control on a person or a group of people. It is marked by the known pattern of action on the bully’s part, not the victim. People feel embraced not because of what they are being humiliated about, but the act of humiliation itself: the social estrangement, being singled out, laughed at, treated as less than human, etc, etc.

    And it is exactly what happened here. By intentionally misrepresent the author’s work and use it to embarrass the actor they admire, Caitlin had singled out the writer and fan community as “the other,” pointed, and then laughed. And, since the author is a human being who grow up in our culture, who know the language of bullying—-they have a physiological response to it. It is not about their work, you see? The work we are all PROUD of. The fact that the bully took something so personal and turned it upon us? HURT.

    I am especially angry about this event. For one because I am firmly against bullying. And also because the recent event of fandom humiliation is just one of the many instances where the established power group (mainstream media) trying to use public shaming to police a (mostly female lead) subculture. And it is more hurtful for a self-claimed feminist to do it. (I do think fandom should have been angry with this for a while now. Graham Norton made me so mad. I dare not think why it has just getting the attention now.)

    The many comment where people implying that the writer “deserved it” or “should know better” is indeed exactly what I fear the most. Victim blaming is NOT OK. Just because someone can be bullied, does not mean they SHOULD. This will only encourage people to lock themselves in and cover themselves up, which, if you care to know, is exactly how patriarchy control women through rape culture.

    P.S: If you are interested, there are many anthropological works on the dynamic of bullying. You can find works on rape culture among other feminist literature. The relationship between mainstream&subculture has also been an old topic in culture study. Good luck.

  12. You know, sometimes being mean is reason enough for people to be upset, and this was mean. Stuff doesn’t always need to be illegal, or violent, or something that falls in the lines of social injustice for people to be upset about it. The author of the fan fic is not “bellyaching” because she’s upset that her work was used to ridicule. Her feelings are valid. Sometimes I think that people forget that the internet is a community of real people. We’re not just pixels, or text on a page, or avatars, or characters in some kind of alternate universe. The things we excuse on the internet are often things that never would’ve gone excused in real life, and that makes no sense. Nobody would question why someone was upset that somebody at school or work publicly humiliated them. Why is it different when it’s a person on the web? Why are we supposed to ignore our humanity just because we’re typing on a device to communicate, instead of face to face communication?

    Also, why do men always assume their opinions are obviously more valid and intelligent than everyone else? It seems all the people playing Devil’s Advocate here are men, as are all the people complaining that this woman is “bellyaching”. This is like a passive aggressive form of sexism in general. If you think about it, male members of fandom are often emasculated and called nerds and have their sexual prowess called into question, and female member of fandom are ridiculed and belittled and made out to be irrational and frivolous. Which obviously means, to these guys, that they are better suited to pass judgment on the situation at hand. All of us feminized, nerdy, irrational and frivolous people couldn’t possibly have a sound opinion on the subject of fan works in general, or this particular incident.

    Fan fiction itself isn’t new, but as it now is common on the internet, it’s a new concept that the law hasn’t quite caught up with, yet. All of this falls into a grey area. There isn’t any clear way that this author could’ve protected her work, and there isn’t any clear reason that her work was wrong in terms of copyright and that. But this isn’t really what the issue is about, anyway. The issue is about how tasteless it was for Ms. Moran to ask the actors to read aloud a fan work that was potentially risque in an effort to ridicule the work and humiliate the fandom in general. It wasn’t nice to the actors, and it wasn’t nice to the writer, and it wasn’t nice to the fandom. And it absolutely undermined Ms. Moran’s previous attitude that a woman should be able to express herself in any way she wants. This writer enjoys writing slash fiction. This is her dancing alone in her room, and she doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed for it, or humiliated in front of her favorite stars, or have the guilt of being a source of humiliation for them. Writing the work in the first place wasn’t wrong. Posting it in a fan forum for other fans to read also wasn’t wrong.
    That’s like having the attitude that sharing a naked picture with someone gives people the right to spread it online (which is currently illegal in a few places, and has bills in many other places working to make it illegal.)
    She shared her work so that it could be enjoyed by her fandom, just like millions of other fan fiction writers around the world have for years and years and years. And sure, the work was available for free online, and sure, there’s no law to stop it, but it was still mean for Ms. Moran to use her work in such a way.
    And for those who would compare the two; it is not mean to write derivative fiction about a TV show/book/movie/comic that you like.

  13. @Andy: I think you’ll find that in the US there’s a policy called “Fair Use” by which a judge can determine whether or not a piece of work derived from another was used inappropriately. If a work is considered to fall under “Fair Use” it means no copyright law has been breached. This is how reviews and articles can use film stills on websites/in newspapers without it causing massive court battles. Things they use to judge Fair Use is the amount of content taken, the intent of the content and whether or not the content will make money or prevent money going to the original author. Fanfiction, as it is not intended for making money, does not prevent money going to the author/creator, generally only uses snippets of the original work and is usually only intended to be fun, falls under Fair Use, therefore does not breach copyright.

    The UK also has a fair use policy, which is pretty similar. So, factually speaking, no fanfiction written in the US or UK, unless it plagurises large amounts of the text or is used to make money, breaches copyright, meaning the fanfic that Moran decided to use did not breach copyright.

    When something falls under Fair Use, it’s usually considered to be, legally, it’s own piece (as far as I know), which is why original authors cannot dispute copyright. This means that the Intellectual Property Rights of the fanfic belonged to the author of the fanfic and only the author of the fanfic. Though IP rights can easily be disputed, as there is no legal copyright in place, the owner of that work isn’t in dispute here.


    Yes, the fanfic was in the public domain and there is always the risk that something in the public domain will be leaked out. However, were Moran a decent person, she wouldn’t have used that fanfic with such a malicious intent. You can argue that it’s “bellyaching” all you want, it doesn’t change the fact that what Moran did was a horrible and disrespectful thing to do.

    People should be free to express creative and artistic talents. They shouldn’t have those talents turned around and used against them, the fandom, the actors and the makers of the show that they love.

  14. “Fanfiction, as it is not intended for making money, does not prevent money going to the author/creator, generally only uses snippets of the original work and is usually only intended to be fun, falls under Fair Use, therefore does not breach copyright.”

    In the US, Fair use is decided by a judge, in a court, on a case-by-case basis. There is no overriding law or precedent that can be used to declare all works of fan fiction “fair use” ( if there is, tell me what it is. As a fan fiction author ( why yes, I write the stuff and am aware of the legalities of creating derivative works of copy written material. Which is what fan fiction is. Derivative works.), I’d like to see the real evidence ( not just random people on the internet saying it is so) that means fan fiction is not in a grey area legally. In the US anyway.)

    Fair use, as applied to news, research, non-fiction, is not fair use as it applies to using someone else’s fictional characters in your own works.

    Also, I’m very aware that ownership of a fan work is taken by seriously within the fan community. But control of a fan’s work is based on the honor system more than the legal system. Once you post your story/fic/poem/whatever to the internet, it may be “yours” ( excluding the stuff you borrowed from your fandom – characters, etc.) but you no longer have control over its distribution. It’s now part of the “community”

    I’ve seen numerous cases over the years where someone has withdrawn from the internet and attempted to take their stories with them but the fans of THEIR stories continue to pass them around, because they can and because once they’re released “into” the maw of the fandom’s fan fiction community, the fans feel ownership of the work, much as they feel “ownership” of the fandom itself.

  15. I write fanfic. I write Sherlock fanfic. The purpose of posting it on-line is so other people will read it. If I have a problem with anyone, anywhere, reading that fic, I should keep it to myself for my own amusement. Once it’s posted, it’s out there for the public to see and enjoy/hate/disparage/adore.

    If the actors of any show I’ve written about were to read it, would it upset or humiliate me? No. But maybe that’s because I haven’t written anything upsetting or humiliating about the characters.

  16. @andy Fanfiction as fair use is not a moral code—it is a legal stance taken by many within the community. There may not be a precedence, but the arguement is a legal one, not a moral one.
    And no author has control over the distribution of their work once its publicized. I would argue that even less so in case of publication, where reader owns the copy they paid for.

  17. ”Fanfiction as fair use is not a moral code—it is a legal stance taken by many within the community. There may not be a precedence, but the arguement is a legal one, not a moral one.”

    I’m not talking about the justification used by some in the fan fiction community to say that fan fiction should be legal, but the ACTUAL legality of fan fiction and intellectual property law/copyright law.

    There is a big difference between what people may believe and what has passed muster in a court. And fan fiction as “Fair Use” has not, to the best of my knowledge. Just because people say it is so, doesn’t make it so.

    As much as I would like fan fiction to be firmly legal/defensible in a court (I’m speaking of the US here.) it currently isn’t and anyone who thinks it is legal based on their interpretation of “Fair Use” (which as far as I can tell is being wildly misinterpreted )when the matter can only be decided by a judge in a court, is living in a dream world.

    And because “Fair Use” can only be decided on an individual basis (meaning one copyright at a time), there is likely to NOT be any precedent set in any US court any time soon that makes ‘Fair Use” a legal defense for fan fiction writers. And given how tightly the Big Media companies are holding onto copyright, I’m pretty sure “any time soon” will be long after everyone here is dead and gone.

    From the US Copyright office’s ‘Fair Use’ summary :
    ( )

    The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

    I don’t see anything in there or the source documents that says using someone else’s characters, locations, or situations, that are under copyright, in your own stories, constitutes fair use.

  18. Lots of people have written stuff that says fanfic ought to be legal, including articles in law journals. (See this piece on Rebecca Tushnet, one of fanfic’s first legal advocates.) But you’ll probably never see an explicit ruling saying it is because there’s not enough money in fanfic to make it worth someone’s while to stand up and fight for its legality. And since it’s not a big civil rights issue, you’re probably not going to see the EFF or the ACLU pour money into fighting for it on someone’s behalf.

  19. Hey guys, even if the author of the fanfic should have known that her fanfiction could be used publicly and should know the consequences of publishing it on the internet, doesn’t mean that her feelings or consent shouldn’t be considered. Moran should have at least informed the author that her work will be used in a big public event not because of legal issues or copyright but because of how the author herself would have responded. Many other authors of fanfic would have reacted differently if they found out. Some positively, others negatively so not everyone reacts the same way. Just because it wasn’t illegal, doesn’t mean you should still do it without caution whatsoever. Just the same reason why you shouldn’t insult someone even if it’s not illegal. Writing fanfic is meant as a hobby that can be shared with friends and people who enjoy the same things. It also allows people to enjoy their ‘guilty pleasures’ as some may put it. Not everyone is bold and proud of what they love and enjoy. Same reason why most gays do not like to express their sexuality so openly. No one should be humiliated for the things they enjoy doing. Most fanfiction writers put a disclaimer in their fanfiction anyways and if this author did not do so, then at least she now knows to tread carefully from now on and make sure to remind people not to spread her work without her consent, outside the website of which she published it. For some people, the internet is the only way to express themselves. It doesn’t mean once something is on the internet, it’s a free-for-all. Just because you can take it, doesn’t mean you should. The internet is huge and filled with people like the world only that everyone can connect with anyone. Ask permission even if you don’t have to. It’s common courtesy.

    What I’m saying is that right now, this isn’t a legal issue. It’s about a person’s dignity.

  20. I find it interesting that an MC at an event at the BFI, the HQ for visual media fandom by nature of its existence, would choose to vilify and target a subgroup of the fans and not expect a backlash. The equivalent would be going to the members enclosure at Lords and making fun of someone for their actions – like discussing a fantasy cricket teams or keeping score.. Its harmless fun by people escaping their stressful lives and sharing ideas.

    Its also very unwise to attack people who could, in their ‘real’ lives be able to influence ones life. For all Caitlin Moran knew the person she was attacking could be a casting agent, a professional theatrical reviewer or an advertising executive, etc, etc, who could derail her career if upset enough.

    There’s a distinct difference between poking fun at a genre and attacking an individual.

  21. What do you think about this new brou-haha over at Out magazine with some harshly-attributed quotes from Benedict toward fanfiction writers? The more I read about his past behavior in the face of this tactic, the more I think the ‘journalist’ had an agenda. Too bad.

  22. I’ve done a bad fanfic panel at anime conventions. I always start with the disclaimer that if you publish it online- it is fair game. Don’t use your real name- that’s just internet common sense, folks. To protect the stupid, I never post the email of the author, even if they attached it to their story (Don’t DO that, the internet cannot be trusted with your personal information!).

    Whether it was written intentionally bad or not, we are there to celebrate the genre, not belittle or attack. Yes, it’s the “we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing WITH you” argument, but it’s true- I have RESPECT for anyone who puts their work out there, even if it doesn’t go over well. Even bestselling authors can put out crud sometimes- often this same badly written, bad fanfiction BECOMES the bestseller (ex. Twilight, Fifty Shades). Everyone has failed at something in their life- in celebrating that, we are rooting for them. As a society, we love underdogs.

    Now obviously, if an author personally approached me and asked me to not use their story, that’s fine, I’d respect their decision and take it out. I agree that attacking the AUTHOR personally is wrong. Laughing at what they produce- well, criticism is something that artists have to deal with.

  23. @Sarah, in my opinion, the bigger problem with this panel was forcing the actors to read it. Fan works should not be forced down the actors’ throats if they don’t want to deal with it. Especially not explicit or semi-explicit content.

    I agree that once the stories I publish are out there, they are out there, for all to comment on as they will. But I don’t think it’s right to push it on actors at panels or conventions.

  24. I happen to write all sorts of fanficiton and I always wondered if the actors knew that they were being pictured in such ways by fans. I like how Ben and Martin are so cool about it. It makes me feel better about writing Johnlock. 🙂 Daniel Radcliffe is cool about Harry Potter fanfics too! 🙂

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