I'm a little late to jump on this bandwagon, but I've had time to stew on it a little bit.
'50 Shades of Gray.' If that doesn't strike some kind of chord, you probably don't understand this whole rigmarole. I'll give you a summary. '50 Shades of Gray' is an ebook that's really hot right now, and it's making a lot of buzz right now. Why? It started out as 'Twilight' fan fiction, and then the author cleaned out any legal reference to 'Twilight', mainly the names, kind of like replacing the VIN number on a car. The author put it out and *bam* it's a success.
A lot of authors out there might be cringing right now. Fan fiction? For sale? Without the explicit consent of the copyright holder? Preposterous! Surely this heinous excuse for an author will be hunted down and persecuted!
Why? Legally, no one has been wronged. There are no references to 'Twilight' left in the book, making it have nothing but an eerily similar world. As far as I can find, Stephenie Meyer takes no issue with it. Yet people are so incredibly polarized on the subject. Some people really hate it, say that it's not real writing. Others, myself included, rise to their feet and say 'Brava!'
The way I see it, fan fiction or not, '50 Shades of Gray' has to have literary merit. There's got to be some kind of something working with it. If no laws have been broken and the original author doesn't care...what is this huge issue?
Okay, I'm not that ignorant—people are calling into question the skill of this author because the world and characters weren't actually put together from the ground up—they were both borrowed. But that's the same thing, basically, as saying that Timothy Zahn isn't a good author because he wrote his 'Star Wars' books, or that Douglas Niles isn't good because he jumped into the 'Dragonlance' world. It's utter crap—they're, if anything, better authors. Fan fiction (or, if it's got the official seal of approval, 'companion novels') is hard to do properly. You don't get to have the same level of familiarity with world and characters as the original author, meaning you're working a lot on inference, but you're still expected to match the same level of 'reality' as the original author—in fact, you're kind of held to a higher standard.
I do prefer to make my own worlds and characters—but that's kind of just because I like to stay in control. When I make my own world and characters, I can change things as I see fit, and I only have myself to answer to (until it goes to print, of course). But, as far as '50 Shades of Gray' is concerned, let it happen. You don't have to like it, but you really do have to accept it—there's not a lot anyone can do about it anyway.