Fanfiction’s Meant to Be Free. So Why Are People Selling It?

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

A recent phenomenon in the fanfiction community sees physical copies of popular works being sold online, without involving edits or the original authors. Sellers on eBay, Etsy, and TikTok Shop have copied major fan works like “Manacled,” “Remain Nameless,” and “Rosemary for Remembrance,” all of which are based on Harry Potter and run more than 100,000 words long, bound them to look like “real” books, and listed them for anywhere between $90 and $600.

But, now, many of those works are disappearing from the internet—and there is a fear among fanfiction readers and writers that they’ll never come back.

Fanfiction has long been a staple of the internet, with platforms like Archive of Our Own (Ao3), Wattpad, and all sources of hundreds of works of fanfiction about Harry Potter, Star Wars, Gilmore Girls, One Direction, Twilight, Marvel, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Hunger Games, Supernatural, and countless other franchises from which fans have taken inspiration to create their own stories and romances; Ao3 alone boasts more than 12.5 million works.

In short, it is not something to be scoffed at. These works comprising dozens of chapters and hundreds of thousands of words, and receiving millions of views online, rendered by fans who are simply obsessed with a series; they’re inspired and able to put their creativity to paper and generate something new within those existing worlds.

Because fanfiction takes existing material as a jumping-off point for a new story, fanfic writers are not able to profit off of their work; the copyright and intellectual property of Harry Potter, for instance, belongs to J.K. Rowling. It is illegal to profit from fanfiction, which is why sites like Ao3 are free to access. It’s why several well-known books and movie adaptations started out as fanfiction until the authors changed the names and storylines so that they no longer resembled the source material. Perhaps most famously, Fifty Shades of Grey began its life as Twilight fanfiction, while the After franchise was originally One Direction fanfiction. The upcoming film The Idea of You, starring Anne Hathway and Nicholas Galitzine, is rumored to be inspired by fanfiction, with Galitzine’s character being a substitute for Harry Styles due to the similarities between them; though the source novel’s author, Robinne Lee, has said Styles influenced the character, she has frequently downplayed comparisons between the two.

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Other sellers provide binding on request rather than selling an already-bound fic. In this scenario, buyers can send a seller a link to the fanfic they want bound along with cover designs, usually taken from the original fic author or from fanart they found online.

Illustration of a book cover with a robber mask wearing a Gryffindor scarf from Harry Potter
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

One listing for “Manacled” selling for $247 has over 50 reviews where people have commented how “happy” they were with the purchase. Assuming 50 people bought a copy at that price, it would have netted the seller over $12,000, without taking into account the cost of materials. Listings for “Rosemary for Remembrance” and “Draco Malfoy and the Mortifying Ordeal of Being in Love” selling for upwards of $150 each similarly have 50 to 60 reviews expressing how much they loved their copy —each seller would have received a minimum of $5,000 as a result.

Fanfic writers were not pleased when they discovered that this was happening. Many writers and readers spoke out about it on TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter) about how these sellers are “ruining” the underlying principles of being a fan and the fanfiction community as a whole—that it’s supposed to be free. Some have reported the sellers they’ve found on Etsy in particular in order to deter them from selling bound fanfiction and drive them away from the site, as intellectual property infringement is against Etsy’s terms of use as well as the law. Others have attempted to write policies on their Ao3 profiles and into the notes section of their individual works to say they do not give permission to people to take, bind, and sell their work. But this has hardly proven to be an effective deterrent.

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Though this practice is definitely illegal, Mel Thomas, a fanfiction writer and reader who is popular on TikTok for being a “cultural ambassador” for fanfiction within the BookTok community, believes that the legality is not the main issue for the authors whose work is being stolen. The biggest problem, they say, is that “selling bound fanfic is a lousy thing to do.”

“It’s a violation of community trust,” they tell The Daily Beast. “The problem isn’t that it’s illegal, the problem is that it’s a selfish, greedy thing to do. When you sell a fic, you break the social contract you agreed to when you read it.”

A Harry Potter fanfiction writer known as Rocky, whose work focuses on the wildly popular ship “Dramione,” or Draco Malfoy/Hermione Granger, agrees, saying that selling and buying bound fics “threatens the future of all creators within the fandom.”

Rocky has been writing fanfiction for nearly 20 years and was shocked and “hurt” to find one of her own Dramione fics, titled “The Art of Keeping Casual,” being sold online by a book binder for $75.

“It definitely gave me pause and made me consider my interaction with fandom as a whole,” she tells The Daily Beast. “It feels like a slap in the face when you spend hours and hours pouring energy into something that is, at its core, a labor of love—just to have someone essentially steal it and try to turn a profit from it.”

“Countless hours have gone into practicing my writing,” another Dramione writer who goes by Ren tells The Daily Beast. Ren found a fic she’d written titled “The Best of Me” available for sale on Etsy. “In six years, I’ve published 1.7 million words of fanfiction, and knowing that a stranger has taken one (or multiple) of my projects and made a profit upsets me so much that I don’t want to write.”

Illustration of a book cover with a golden snitch and nimbus 2000 broom from Harry Potter
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The listing for “The Best of Me” is no longer live but Ren pointed out that there are several Etsy shops offering “custom bindings” for any fic you choose.

As a result, some writers are setting their works to private and may consider removing them altogether in the future, in order to avoid sellers profiting off their work—especially since the online marketplaces haven’t been helpful in getting their stories removed. Emerald Slytherin, the author of another popular Dramione fic titled “Secrets and Masks” recently said in a TikTok video that she was very close to removing all her works from Ao3 after trying—and failing—to get listings of her work removed from Etsy. (We have reached out to Etsy and eBay for comment.)

Etsy declined to provide a comment but did point towards the fact that Etsy is an open marketplace where sellers list their own products and therefore agree to follow the company’s intellectual property (IP) policy, which they take very seriously. All reports of IP infringement are reviewed carefully and listings are removed if they violate the policy or the law, Etsy says.

Another Dramione writer known as “K” only allows her works to be viewed by people with registered Ao3 accounts, she says. “The new people coming into fandom from other platforms don’t understand fandom etiquette. The guest accounts are the people who are new to Ao3 and who don’t know what is okay and what isn’t okay.”

Onyx Elm, a popular writer of Dramione fanfiction, recently announced on Tumblr that they would also be deleting all of their writing from fanfiction sites.

“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. “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.”

K believes this will have a detrimental effect on the fanfiction community: “More fandom writers and artists are considering leaving or actually leaving than I’ve ever seen before; some of my friends have moved on from fandom and deleted works and it is heartbreaking.”

“I suspect that if [the illegal sale of fanfic] doesn’t stop, the negatives may start to outweigh the positives and writers will no longer want to contribute to fandom spaces any longer,” K says. She herself doesn’t want to stop, however, because it’s “such a fundamental part of who I am.”

“Manacled” author SenLinYu echoed that sentiment in a thread about the resale debacle. SenLinYu, who also has a book deal for a separate, original work, said on X that they are not planning to delete their fanworks, such as “Manacled.” Instead, they highlighted the “vast mental/emotional toll to having your creative work ceaselessly exploited.”

“This fandom has saved my life many times over in a myriad of ways,” they wrote. “It is so intrinsic to me even knowing who I am, and it makes me angry to think I have to leave because of something others are doing.”

But writers aren’t the only part of the community; readers are too, including people buying these bound fics. Are the people spending hundreds of dollars for these works aware of their role in causing such turmoil for the writers of these beloved fics?

“I think more often people who buy bound fic don’t have a lot of experience in fanfic culture and don’t understand why it’s wrong,” says Thomas. They also warn fanfic fans and authors from pinning too much blame on those buyers. “Strategically, it’s not a great use of energy to chastise individual buyers about it. I think it’d be better to focus our collective energy on bullying sites like Etsy to take down the listings.”

Rocky and K were much more unrelenting in their judgment.

“The people who buy bound fanfiction are just as complicit [as the sellers],” Rocky says. “It is one thing to pick up binding as a hobby [for yourself] and ask an author to bind their work but it is another thing entirely to do that with the intent to mass produce. Supporting it encourages the continuation of bad behavior.”

K isn’t hopeful that the illegal sale of fanfiction will stop entirely – though there is one way of minimizing the sheer number: “I’m hoping that sites like Etsy and eBay where these bound fanfictions are listed for sale will start doing something about it, and maybe the listings will decrease. All I know is that us writers and the readers who care about fandom will keep spreading awareness and hopefully people will realize how harmful it is.”

Rocky doesn’t think it will ever stop.

“People don’t learn lessons. People coming from BookTok or other places into fandom don’t know or care to know fandom etiquette,” she adds.

Despite it being an issue for writers and readers alike, the one thing that the selling and buying of bound fics suggests is that fanfiction is popular—popular enough for people to shell out a not-insignificant amount of money to own their own copies of it. But if it continues, what will happen to the fanfiction community? With authors removing their works, making them private, or generally expressing their frustration with the state of the community, there is the possibility that the number of fanfiction publicly available online may begin to dwindle.

“It puts fandom in danger,” K says of the resellers. “If the authors of these series ever wanted to take fanfiction away from us, they could, and other people profiting off of their work illegally could push them to that point.”

Thomas adds that fanfiction “used to be underground for a reason,” pointing to what happened with author Anne Rice as “the most infamous example.”

In 2000, Rice and her lawyers sent legal threats to fanfiction sites like to force the removal of and future banning of any works related to the author’s works, particularly Interview with a Vampire. If you search “Anne Rice” on, there are a few fics relating to her work that have slipped through the cracks but generally, all Anne Rice-inspired fanfiction is swiftly removed from the site, or writers simply don’t write them anymore over fears that she might sue them for it after individual writers claimed that Rice threatened legal action against them because of their fics.

Fanfiction as a whole is largely tolerated by most professional writers, despite being in a legal “gray area,” since it appropriates copyrighted work. Rowling has encouraged fanfiction in the past, providing it remains free and online rather than in print. Other stipulation includes that it be “non-commercial, does not purport to be written by her and, if it contains graphically violent or sexually explicit material, is placed behind an age verification wall,” according to the Literary Review of Canada.

But that tolerance and encouragement could change at any time, and at the whim of the writers to whom the original works belong. As more and more fanfics become commercially available to purchase, looking like ‘real’ books, without any changes made to the content to distinguish it from the source material—like what Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James did to sell the story—could also further anger authors. It could lead to fanfiction being banned by authors entirely as they realize people are profiting off of their ideas.

“Issues like this will keep cropping up until fanfic is forced back underground in some capacity,” says Thomas.

Even so, Thomas is adamant that fanfiction will always exist in some form.

“Fanfic itself won’t ever die,” they add. “People love the stories too much.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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