The OTW began receiving reports on Monday, April 13, that a site called Ebooks Tree was hosting downloadable files of works posted to the Archive of Our Own, and that they were charging for access to these files. Since then our Legal team has been investigating the entities involved and our Accessibility, Design, & Technology Committee has been finding out what had been done with AO3 content and how.
Upon further investigation, it became clear that Ebooks Tree is not hosting MOBI files of AO3 works, but linking directly to the versions hosted on the AO3 servers, and we do not currently believe they are hosting PDF files, either. The AO3 team has taken action to prevent anyone from downloading works if they were following the links provided by Ebooks Tree.
In the meantime, we have received many questions from fans through both our news outlets and the AO3 Support form. We would like to compile here some of the responses we have already made, as well as address steps that fans can take. We would like to ask that if you have further questions you make them here as it will be easier for more people to get the same information.
What is AO3 Doing To Prevent Fanworks From Being Taken?
As much as we’d like to prevent a recurrence of this kind of issue, we want to take steps that will not end up interfering with fans’ use of the Archive of Our Own and content found there. Here are some things we can do and steps fans can take:
- The AO3 discourages bots from accessing downloads in our robots.txt rules. While these rules are usually followed by entities such as search engines, bots can also be set to ignore these rules.
- We are limiting how many files can be downloaded (and how fast) and could tweak these settings further.
- The only way we can prevent bots from downloading files would be to add a CAPTCHA button to downloads, and this would not meet our first goal of maximum inclusivity. CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA interfaces only work in a limited set of circumstances and create a number of problems for users who are not fluent in English or who have visual, auditory, or cognitive disabilities.
- We could also eliminate downloads entirely, but some users depend on downloads due to limited internet time or because they only have mobile access.
- Users can opt to keep fanworks locked away from anyone or anything that isn’t a logged-in AO3 user. In order to do so, edit your work and checkmark the “Only show your work to registered users” option, located in the Privacy box. While very dedicated PDF thieves could theoretically circumvent this by creating an account for their bots, this can help.
- If you are not yet a registered user at AO3, request an invite! Other than bots, everyone is welcome to have their own account at any of our projects. To get an AO3 account, click the ‘Get Invited!’ button on the front page, and you’ll be able to add your email address to the automated invite queue. The queue is first come, first served, and invite codes are sent out on a regular basis. The wait time is usually less than 48 hours, but be sure to check your spam folders if it’s been more than a few days.
Avoid Possible Phishing Scams
It is possible that the purpose behind offering content from Ebooks Tree was to gather financial information from users. To access their files they require you to sign up via a site called http://www.lazygame.net/ and give your credit card info. It is probably a very bad idea for fans to take this step.
What Can Fans Do if Their Fanworks Actually Are Hosted Elsewhere?
Fans who find their works taken and used elsewhere without their permission may want to consider using this template to tell those sites to take down your content:
- Your Name and/or Pseudonym as an e-signature (or the name of the person you’ve authorized to submit this request, with a slash before it and after it):
- Link(s) to the unauthorized works (link to the pdf, the mobi and the page hosting all of it)
- Link(s) to an authorized version of your work (whether on AO3, tumblr, LJ or somewhere else)
- An email address of the submitter (include it again even if it’s in the header)
- This statement: I have good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
- This statement: The information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Legal Options for Fanworks
Here are some questions fans have had about their works, along with replies from our Legal Advocacy team.
- “Do I even own any copyright in my fanworks?” Answer: yes, you automatically own copyright in your original expression. You don’t own any rights in the characters, settings, etc. that you’ve based your fanworks on, but you do own rights in what you, yourself, have added to them—which means people can’t copy and sell your fanworks without your permission.
- “Can the OTW make a copyright claim on behalf of all people whose works have been taken off the AO3?” Answer: No. We don’t own any rights in your work, and that’s how you’d want it! When you post work on the AO3, you give the AO3 the right to display it, but you don’t give the AO3 any ownership rights at all — which means the OTW doesn’t have the legal ability to, for example, issue a DMCA takedown notice for all of the AO3-hosted works, as some have suggested.
We will be updating this post should further information become available so please check back or leave questions here.