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Summary:

For better or worse, the self-published erotic trilogy ’50 Shades’ is now a bona fide smash, attracting a seven figure deal from Random House and plans for a movie. No surprise then, it’s also spawning a spate of imitations and borderline rip-offs.

Plagiarism / book theft
photo: Shutterstock / kaczor58

For better or worse, the self-published erotic trilogy 50 Shades of Grey is now a bona fide smash, attracting a seven figure deal from Random House and plans for a movie. No surprise then, it’s also spawning a spate of imitations and borderline rip-offs.

As Andrew Rhomberg of Jellybooks noted on Twitter, a would-be parody of 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Black & Blue by I B Naughtie (ha ha) has risen to #41 on the Amazon Kindle Store’s UK Bestseller list despite terrible reviews. Not far behind it is another “parody” called 50 Shades of Red, White & Blue by Maggie Muff (again, ha ha).

In the case of the “Black & Blue” parody, the customer reviews are beyond scathing. Readers blast the work as unfunny, badly written and too short or else complain that they purchased it by mistake. Reviews for its comedic competitor are better (though one wonders about their legitimacy — i.e., “I have read many many books but i have never ever came across one as funny as this.”)

In the bigger picture, the 50 Shades imitators raise questions about how digital authors and Amazon will respond to the problem of parody in the e-book age. Rip-offs masquerading as parodies are nothing new, of course — recall the late JD Salinger’s recent lawsuit to shut down “60 Years Later: Coming through the Rye.” The problem is that real parody is an essential element of free expression and that courts are rightfully reluctant to use copyright law to suppress genuine social commentary.

In the past, a parody publisher had to invest considerable money into printing costs while the publisher of the original could go to court to challenge any blatant rip-offs. Now it costs next to nothing for an opportunist to quickly publish a thin imitation of a bestseller and then slap a “parody” label on it (and hide beyond the shield of free expression). Meanwhile, the original author is unlikely to have the legal resources to challenge a dozen instant imitators.

This leaves the question of Amazon’s role in policing parodies. The company already has a spotty track record in screening for out-and-out forgeries, but that is a different issue from the parody question. Amazon should not have to be in a position of deciding the tricky legal question of what is a parody and what is not. The solution may instead lie in the retailer employing an authentication service that highlights original works and slaps disclaimers on imitators.

  1. I hate people who don’t give authors what they deserve, we toil over countless hours to produce a thing of magnificence and someone out there with no creativity doesn’t want us to have all the credit

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    1. There is no way a professional writer would defend this book. most of you lot have not actually read it. It is a terrible book – FACT. Perfect if like me you have a wobbly table… just the right thickness; like most of its fans.

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      1. If you think that any writer would not defend any novel because their “professional” then you obviously have never met a real writer that doesn’t have the stick up their ass pulled out.

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  2. Its a common disgusting problem. One works hard, the other takes advantage.

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  3. Greatest book with sequels: Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.” On the other hand, the best parody ever: Harvard Lampoon’s “Bored of the Rings.”

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  4. Melanie Jones Thursday, August 2, 2012

    I wrote a parody of the first Fifty Shades of Grey book (available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008QNE5S6/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B008QNE5S6&linkCode=as2&tag=modernistdepot-20 – it is not one of the ones you mention in this piece), and I didn’t do it just to try and cash in. I’m a professional writer and I wanted to properly satirize the phenomenon and to do something more creative with my criticisms of the book than just slam it in a review or a blog post. My book is intended as a work of comedy, and also a literary criticism of the original.

    Yes, you can produce things like this quite quickly and with little cost, and that means that there will be people producing “knock offs”, but that doesn’t mean that parodies are less valid. A good one can be incredibly funny and also offer an interesting and valuable commentary on a pop culture phenomenon.

    If you simply want to slam people for expanding on other people’s ideas, consider that EL James started off by “knocking off” Twilight. Almost everything these days is inspired by something else.

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  5. Michele Brenton Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    “Yes, you can produce things like this quite quickly and with little cost, and that means that there will be people producing “knock offs”, but that doesn’t mean that parodies are less valid. A good one can be incredibly funny and also offer an interesting and valuable commentary on a pop culture phenomenon.” Melanie Jones
    I agree Melanie, plus it can introduce general readership to a genre they usually ignore.
    My own rhyming parody – Fifty Shades of Blue – the trilogy has been consistently in the top ten/twenty UK poetry bestsellers list since it came out on 1st July. It has been the most purchased UK poetry Kindle ebook three times and is still going strong. Yay for poetry I say :)

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Shades-Blue-trilogy-ebook/dp/B008GUMKVI/

    There is also a YouTube version of the first of the poems contained within my parody trilogy:

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  6. Michele Brenton Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Woah! Sorry for that HUGE advert – didn’t realise it would show like that. I thought it was going to be a little unobtrusive link. It is a bit hit-you-in-the-eye there isn’t it? Apologies.

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  7. I agree with Melanie, a good parody should be more than just a series of bad puns/jokes about the original’s plot. With ’50 Shades’ it should make fun of the theme of ‘control’ [and maybe the brainless-ness of the main female character too]

    Like this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Shades-of-you-know-ebook/dp/B0094VD29C/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1346991834&sr=1-1

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  8. Elaine Leonard Balliet Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Eddie, I am a professional author, too, like Michele and Melanie, and just wrote a parody (actually four short parodies) of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey that I published yesterday. I love it! It does more than parody the original; it pokes good, clean fun at the theme of control and the brainless-ness of the female character. I think you’ll like it… P.S.- Amazon, when they did the Kindle conversion, typed one word in the heading of one of my chapters twice (floor); I asked them to fix this, and they assured me that when readers buy it that it will be the updated version. It’s a great little story (four almost flash-fiction type stories), and I can’t wait for everyone to read it!

    Elaine.

    http://www.amazon.com/Fifty-Shades-Grey-Hush-hush-ebook/dp/B00981742Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347415228&sr=1-1&keywords=fifty+shades+of+grey%2C+strange+days

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