The Lost History of Fifty Shades of Grey

By Jason Boog 

The French publisher Lattes has sent “warning letters” to publishers it feels are infringing on the copyright of Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Telegraph had this quote from editorial director Laurent Laffont: “Some of these titles, which pick up on elements of the book, are clearly parasitical … We would like those planning new releases next year to know that we are watching very closely to ensure they are not parasitical.”

Online authors should never forget that readers can travel backwards in Internet time and explore their earlier work. Author E L James scored a seven-figure book deal to publish the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and a movie deal quickly followed.

This erotica bestseller began as a work of Twilight fan fiction called Master of the Universe, earning a massive fan fiction following years before the book deal. Most traces of this fan fiction history have been removed from the Internet. Using the Wayback Machine, we were able to take snapshots from James’ old work–getting a peek into the book’s previous incarnation as an X-rated version of the Twilight story.

UPDATE: Since we first published this story, the Wayback Machine has stopped indexing the archives referenced in the screen-shots below. The site now posts this message: “Sorry. This URL has been excluded from the Wayback Machine.”

James’ agent told Deadline Hollywood: “This did start as Twilight fan fiction, inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s wonderful series of books. Originally it was written as fan fiction, then Erika decided to take it down after there were some comments about the racy nature of the material. She took it down and thought, I’d always wanted to write. I’ve got a couple unpublished novels here. I will rewrite this thing, and create these iconic characters, Christian and Anna.”

James career began on, but she moved the work to her personal website, Now the site automatically redirects to her author page for straight erotica, but we found old snapshots of this work with the Wayback Machine. Follow the links below to explore…

Part One: in December 2010

The Wayback Machine took a snapshot of in December 2010, storing a copy of the first chapter of Master of the Universe, the fan fiction novel that would later become Fifty Shades of Grey. James had published the novel under the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon.

Here is a screenshot of the link to the first chapter, complete with photographs of Kristen Stewart playing Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen from the film version of Twilight.

Follow this link to read an archived version of the first chapter of Master of the Universe. You can compare it to the first chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey. Readers have been debating similarities between the books all month.

Blogger Jane Litte used the Turnitin plagiarism detection program to measure similarities between the two books. She reported: “According to Turnitin, the similarity index was 89%.  There are whole swaths of text wherein just the names were changed from MoTU to 50 Shades.”

Here is a wider screenshot of, clearly labeled as fan fiction in 2010:


Here is a copy of James’ old “About” page on, explaining the roots of her fan fiction. If you want more context, University of Utah English professor Anne Jamison explained the fan fiction history behind Fifty Shades of Grey in an interview.

In December 2010, James’ page also included a link to a book trailer for Master of the Universe II. When you click on the link now, you receive a takedown notice filed by Summit Entertainment, the studio that produced Twilight:


If you are interested in watching the video, this popular fan-made trailer for Master of the Universe II has a similar title to the video that was removed. The slightly NSFW video mixes footage from the Twilight movie with text from the book.

If you scroll down the page, you can see how James published the book in installments. She would thank her fans for their contributions to the book, helping her edit and adjust dialogue. Here are two examples, as she posted a section of Master of the Universe II–the book that would evolve into Fifty Shades Darker.



Part Two: in June 2011

The Wayback Machine also archived a snapshot of the site in June 2011. James had already published the first installment of Fifty Shades of Grey through The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House and she removed all the fan fiction from This is a snapshot of the new message:



Part Three: in July 2011

The Wayback Machine also took a shot of the site in July 2011. It had been completely converted to focus on Fifty Shades of Grey at this point. Here is the new message on the site:

Hello and welcome to my new home.  I’m the author of the adult romance Fifty Shades trilogy, the first instalment of which was published in May 2011.  I’ve been delighted and honoured by the positive response to my story from readers the world over, and I hope that this website will be a regular port of call for those who want to know more about the world of Fifty Shades and about the other projects I currently have in development.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading my blogs, exploring the site, contributing to the conversations and joining in the fun, and that you’ll bookmark this page and come back often.

With love and thanks

E L James