This is just a short note about a rather excellent article and a hilariously bad one. Copying things is an accepted technique across disciplines to improve one's skill. I learned to knit and bead from patterns; I learned to draw from classes and photographs. I won't deny enjoying fanart...but I have get to find fanfiction to read that hasn't made my eyes bleed or hasn't had 'visible cracks'.
I've got a prejudice against messing with proper timelines and 'head canon' stuff--JK Rowling's experiences with people demanding that Harry and Hermione get together are a prime example--but I'm
pretty amazed by how respectful, careful, and loving most fans are.
However, I've come to respect that it's a way for people to play and experience a story again. I think serious fanfic writing should wait for the development of original characters, because it can teach poor habits. That being said, caricature and re-interpreting a story is part of human culture and the way we experience stories. The 'what if' nature of thought and the teasing some shows provide--Farscape, one of my absolute favorites, is far from immune, and has several jokes and moments that blatantly tease fans about certain relationships--opens a door to speculation. Often, that door can lead in interesting directions. Sometimes the directions are awful and dull, or worse, awe-inspiringly awful.
I mentioned Rowling's work above; this is a fine example of how fanfiction can make one a worse writer. If you rely on shortcuts and make them a habit, it's hard to improve or get over them. However, the creation of a web-series based on one of the worst stories of all time was pure genius, showing the power of reinterpretation. Please note that you will probably have to run to Youtube proper to watch it, because DRM is evil. I apologize in advance if you laugh your self sick.
There's also the really cool aspect of crossing influences and expanding a world. H P Lovecraft had an open world. Hugh Howey does as well. Doctor Who does, too, to a certain extent. Going to the musical side of things, Queen would not have existed without Freddy Mercury--a fan of the band. Clearly, there are times when the interpretations we get from fans can make the source material better. I'm already experiencing this with The Stolen, and the screenplay an actor fan is working on.
Also, why the hell are the only artists here dudes? I don't think I even know any male fanfiction artists/writers--maybe one? Maybe?