"I do not own this trope. It and any characters that may appear in it are the intellectual property of Unknown Troper @ 188.8.131.52. Please don't sue me."
— Micah, who launched but didn't suggest this trope
Fan Fic writers frequently see the need to begin their fiction with statements that look sort of like the page quote. These disclaimers are not only completely useless or even counterproductive from a legal point of view but also generally redundant, especially if posted on a website like FanFiction.Net which already includes its own well-written legal disclaimers. It should also be noted some sites require the disclaimers on individual stories in addition to the site-wide disclaimers for some reason.
The origin of this kind of disclaimer comes from a misunderstanding of the reason for copyright law as being concerned with someone taking credit for someone else's work, and that so long as a fanfic author is explicitly making clear that she did not create the characters or setting, then she is not taking credit so not doing any harm. Actual copyright law is concerned with potential loss of revenue to the copyright holder due to the fact that some use of their material is not generating revenue for them. Even if you don't charge for your fanfic, the rights holder can argue that they could have written your story and then charged people for it if your free version wasn't there, so you've still damaged them monetarily.
The point is, this kind of disclaimer does not really improve your legal situation — A copyright-infringing fanfic with a disclaimer is still copyright-infringing. However, a vast number of rights-holders are generally tolerant of Fan Fic authors simply because (1) having fanfic written helps consolidate the fan community for the original work, or at least (2) most fanfics are not popular enough to dent revenues anywhere near as badly as the bad press of going after a fanfic author would. Being "not worth suing" saves more fanfic authors from legal troubles than the disclaimer does.
In fact, stating you know you are violating copyright can make the situation worse. Copyright law has one level of damages for standard infringement, but triple damages for 'willful infringement', which apply after you have been told you are violating copyright, and you keep distributing copies anyway. It is possible that stating you know you're violating copyright could make you start at willing infringement, if anyone wanted to sue. (On the other hand, the disclaimer also implies you think this is legal, so, paradoxically, it might not be 'willful infringement' at all.)
Apparently this practice dates back to Star Trek fan magazines from the '70s, when studios were worried that the magazines would cut into their profits. Then they remembered Sturgeon's Law.
At this point, these disclaimers are more of a tradition than an attempt at actual legality. They often are used now to show gratitude for the work of the original creators; some compare them to Homer's invocation of the muse. Some authors also use them to clearly demarcate which elements of their story are canonical and which are invented (e.g., by having a disclaimer that says "I don't own any of these characters, except Author Avatar"). Still others use them to (fallaciously) point out the futility of suing them for infringement damages by indicating that they have little, no, or negative assets. (A note to whoever may actually think this would dissuade anyone from suing: companies sue in order to protect their own assets, not to acquire someone else's.)
As such, people frequently use vague, cutesy, or parodic versions, along the lines of:
"Stuff in this story is owned by some company, I didn't look it up."
Not quite fanfiction, but every episode of the Excel Saga anime begins with Rikudo Koshi, the artist of the original manga, giving permission for whatever is about to happen next. (And Episode 1 begins with Excel trying to murder her own creator, but that's neither here nor there.)
From a Star Wars fic: "Thanks, Uncle George, for letting us play with your toys! We promise to put them back in the box when we're done." This could be inspired by the Acknowledgments pages of actual Star Wars novels, nearly all of which end by thanking Lucas for creating the GFFA and letting the authors "play in his sandbox."
"(Yo, Rumiko-chan! Borrowing the kids for a while, don't worry. I'll have them dry-cleaned before I return them. Kenko)" (From Rob "Kenko" Haynie's Ranma fic "Fair Warning".)
"I don't own these characters. I don't even own the humorous disclaimer I was going to put here."
"If these characters belonged to me, I would be living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I'd have a nice luxurious cabin near a mountain somewhere. It would have solar panels, central air-conditioning, and hot and cold running supermodels. The cold supermodels run to warm themselves up. The hot ones run cause they accidentally lit themselves on fire while trying to cook me dinner. Silly supermodels, you don't know how to cook! "Anyway, I don't own this stuff."
"All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you." (Meltha's disclaimer)
"Joss is Boss" (used on uncountably many Firefly fics)
"This fic bears no intentional resemblance to any persons living or dead. If I'm doing my job right, it should bear a very great resemblance to persons made up and not owned by me." (From here.)
"Don't own, wish I did, no way wish can come true, end of story.....errrr, this story" —from a FFVII fanfic on aff.n
Clell65619 generally does this for his Harry Potter fics on fanfiction.net.
His standard disclaimer is "I don't own Harry Potter and wouldn't particularly care to. I would like a rental agreement with option to buy for Hermione Granger. A short term contract with Nymphadora Tonks wouldn't be turned down. A Long-term agreement with Luna Lovegood would probably be a whole lot of fun. Any time Padma Patil wants to open negotiations, call me and oh for a weekend with Fleur. Oddly Lavender and Padma's sister (despite being her twin) Parvati do nothing for me."
On Harry Potter and the Distaff Side: "I own none of this. I do not own Harry Potter or any rights to his image or personality. I do not own the moon or the stars. I do not own human genders, other than my own personal original factory equipment. Honest. Nope, not me. I most certainly do not own the rights to a billion dollar literary work. Damn it."
From another Harry Potter fic: "Jo owns the characters, the plot, and my soul. I own only the spaces inbetween."
"Written by a Fan of Lemony Snicket — a phrase which here means 'Someone who is most certainly not Lemony Snicket and would greatly appreciate it if he did not sue her.'" (This (femslash) fic.)
One Death Note fic starts with something like "I do not own Light, but he probably owns me".
Some Death Note disclaimers have something on the lines of "If I owned Death Note, X would still be alive."
The first and only disclaimer of Kira Is Justice ends with, "And remember, this will be the last time you'll be seeing this."
Subversion: "Disclaimer: Little boy..." from the Super-Ultra-Mega Ranma 1/2 crossover on Ranchan's Crossing Bridges.
Fittingly, given the nature of his act, some fics involving Stephen Colbert have two disclaimers: one for the copyrighted fictional characters and one for any Real Life people who become involved during the course of the story (frequently reporters or political figures).
Paraphrase from various fics: "I do not own The Beatles. They belong to Apple Corps., EMI, and their management..." (Or MPL if it's a post-Beatles McCartney fic.)
One Beatles fanfic has: "Please don't sue. I spent all my money on a copy of Let It Be."
The end of the first Canto of Lord Byron's Don Juan reads: "The first four rhymes are Southey's every line:/ For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine." Of course, this was essentially pre-Internet Don JuanFan Fic, since Byron didn't own Don Juan either.
"The only thing to which I can lay legitimate claim is the personality of Elizabeth (who says that she is perfectly capable of owning that herself, thank you very much)."
In one Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok fic, the author exclaims that her attempt to claim legal ownership of the Norse Gods resulted in her brother's car being blown up and her getting sued in multiple dead languages. Oh yeah, and the original mangaka's characterizations don't belong to her either.
The disclaimer on thisKim Possible fic takes it to a ridiculous but logical conclusion: "I own nothing, which is why I'm currently sitting naked in an internet cafe. I'm getting some pretty funny looks, I can tell you."
Not so much a disclaimer as an hopeful lawsuit deterrent, one Supernatural fic featured the header, "Our porn makes more people watch your show."
A now-defunct site had the following disclaimer: "I do not own the Gunslinger. Right now I'm blackmailing Stephen King to try and change that."
Paraphrase: "I do not own the characters in House. I do own the complete sets of DVDs. One cancels out the other." Found on "Casualty" by Angelfirenze, an "M"-rated House "Fix Fic" running in an Alternate Universe.
"Disclaimer: Do I LOOK like Terry Pratchett?" From here.
Apparently, there have been some cases of people thinking disclaimers have legal weight — see this thread on rpg.net, started by someone who apparently thought you could make a RPG based on someone else's intellectual property as long as you credit them.
Summed up pretty well at the start of Dogma. "Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass; 4) a foresaid word for not being blamed later."
One fic holds that the characters (who are all human) bear no intentional resemblance to any persons living, dead, or X with X becoming something increasingly ridiculous with each chapter until coming to "author finally finishing with a running gag".
A rather elaborate version:
Sing, O Muse, or speak, or dance, and so your audience entrance: For voice, or step, or gilded phrase - each art shall mortal minds amaze. But Muse, ensure whatever work is safe from harmful law and clerk, the legal hounds who howl at we who honor creativity.
Who honors more an artist's skill? The fan who will the soul distill from artistry, and so conceive new tales from what that art achieved? Or one who simply reads a book and even if their heart is hooked, tells none, nor lets their minds be swept to lands where untouched tales are kept?
But yet let needful words be said, which still I treat with grief and dread: I own the narration within, but not the world it happens in. It isn't hard to separate my words from those I emulate. What's mine is mine, what's not is not, I lay no claim to other plots.
So guard, Calliope, and Sing! The humble words which I might bring would in your speech flourish and thrive, in ways I could scarcely contrive. And reader, if you would allow just one more moment, here and now to introduce my nascent glory — Sit back, relax, enjoy the story!
The disclaimer of one Star Wars fanfic includes: "Some items, such as lightsabers, Jedi robes, etc., are owned by various characters, and Anakin Skywalker was owned by Watto once, but now he's not, so if you see an undisclaimed fic about him by Watto, report it immediately."
Linkara generally plays this straight in his reviews; in Amazons Attack reviews, he used several variations, such as:
The installments of Radio Free Cyberton's parody of the Transformers film usually contain this: "Any resemblance to characters owned by Hasbro or Takara is hoped to go unnoticed by their attorneys. All celebrity voices impersonated... obviously." Averted in that they actually used music from the Transformers soundtrack with permission.
Chapter 33 of Spoiled Brats by DarkFyre99 actually quotes the first paragraph of this article (as it stood as of November 2009) as its disclaimer.
The author of said fanfic also posts this on chapter 7:
"Whoa. A spokesman for Rowling's literary agent said that Rowling is okay with the existence of fanfiction as long as no one charges for it and everyone's clear that the original copyrights belong to her? That's really cool of her. I had no idea. So thank you, JKR, and thine is the kingdom!"
"Do I look like I own Niall and Edward? Really? Wow, that would account for the millions of dollars I DON'T have." Chapter two of a crossover fic of Wicked Lovely and the indie band Larrikin Love, featuring Niall and said band's lead singer as a pairing, found here.
I do not own Kim Possible, or any related characters. I also do not own a 1997 Chevy Impala, but that is completely irrelevant.note There was no such car, anyway.
I do not own Kim Possible, or any related characters. If I did, Dr Drakken would have a German accent (cliché I know, but really, doesn't the name "Drakken" sound German?)
I don't own Kim Possible, or any related characters. Of course, even if I did none of you would believe me.
I do not own Kim Possible or any related characters. Please don't tell on me.
I do not own Kim Possible or any related characters. I also don't own Family Guy (that's important, remember that)
The disclaimer at the beginning of almost all Abridged Series goes something like: "The following is a non-profit fan-based parody. [insert name of anime here] is/are owned by [insert name of anime's creator(s) and/or studio(s) here]. Please support the official release." Admittedly, most of these are added in the desperate hope that YouTube won't pull down their presumably Free Use-protected parodies with accusations of copyright infringement.
Post-script to Afterword ofDeity's Tool: By the way, by no means am I trying to get in a fight with Nintendo.
On the poster of How I Became Yours Rise Of The Agni Army, Jackie Diaz wrote: "...and to all you bitch ass half cocked so called artists on DA, I DON'T OWN AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER(c) or the original characters from it. never said I did. The art and fiction from both HIBY stories I do own. read the fine print next time you fucking morons. write about that in your forom because I know you will. And by the way I'm doing better than ever! thanks for the fame!" Class act.
The description for thisBleach video has the following: "DISCLAIMER: blah blah blah i don't own bleach, Tite Kubo does blahhhh if i did, i would've made someone toss a bucket of pink hair dye at ichigo :P"
Sonic webcomic series Sonic Wrecks has long and detailed copyright disclaimers at the bottom of each comic, filled with shout outs and more jokes tying into the comic itself.
A student-made film, parodying Angels and Demons, mentions the plan to immediately file for bankruptcy should any company sue, thus wiping off student loans. It's posted on Youtube (it's in part four) here.
"My ponies! Muaahahahah! Mine, all mine! M-my p-ponies! Mine? Please? Maybe one? Just a little one then? How about a background one? Aw dammit. Selfish Hasbro."
From a Portal fanfic "SEXY TIEMUU" describing the horrors of Portal fandom: "Disclaimer: Valve owns Portal, thank God, because look what everyone here would be doing with them if they owned it."
From a The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fanfiction, Beyond Family: "I did not invent most of these characters and can't claim ownership. A large majority of them were created over one hundred years ago and belong to a number of dead Victorian writers (if they do not like what I do to their characters, they are free to haunt me)".
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bible, God does. I will not feel sorry for using Percy Jackson as it is evil and should not have a disclaimer.
From a StarWars/BIONICLE crossover: "Bionicle isn't mine. Neither is Star Wars. Otherwise I would have ended the 3D Clone Wars TV series a LONG time ago and replaced it with a Bionicle one."
Dagayemar, a PMV artist well-known for his My Little Disney set, usually has something like:
I do not own My Little Pony or Disney, but I do own this deed to the London Bridge! That guy in the trench coat over there was selling it at a ridiculous deal! I just had to give him the number to my bank account and it was all mine! Now, what to do with my new bridge?
Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy belongs to…alright, you know what? Screw this! It's not like they even read these fanfics!...or do they? Um, in that case, Danny owns EEnE, and Hasbro owns MLP. So, if any of them are reading this: Don't sue me bros!
If I owned Ace Attorney, Ace Attorney Investigations 2 would have been released in the United States already. And if I owned Ed, Edd n Eddy, I wouldn't be wasting my time on a fanfiction and I would actually be animating it.
Of course I own everything! In fact, I am personally head in chief of the staff behind Gyakuten Saiban 5, making sure it is released in the states before Japan, because fuck Japan! It's all about America, fuck yeah! … Nobody's believing me.
I am now the co-writer for Ed, Edd n Eddy Highschool! How cool is that? So I now own all of the characters! … Yeah, right, as if you'll fall for that ol' trick.
I own everything. I am also an alicorn. I'm just kidding, of course. I'm a male, and alicorns are only female as far as I know.