Every month or so the OTW will be doing a Q&A with one of its volunteers about their experiences in the organization. The posts express each volunteer’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. As part of our celebration of Copyright Week, today’s post is with Casey Fiesler, who volunteers in our Legal Committee.
How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?
I am part of the OTW Legal Committee. We provide guidance for other parts of the OTW when legal issues come up, provide information for fans when they have questions, and do advocacy work to give a policy voice for the interests of fan creators. This last part especially I think is critical to the mission of OTW, which has always been to serve the interests of fans, and copyright-related advocacy is a huge part of that.
As it says in our vision statement, “We envision a future in which all fannish works are recognized as legal and transformative and are accepted as a legitimate creative activity.” I’d love to help us get there! For example, when I first joined the team in 2009 (!) as I was finishing up at law school, I helped with the very first DMCA exemption for noncommercial remix videos. We often partner with organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but I think it’s wonderful to be able to advocate for the specific interests of fan creators.
What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?
The work that I do with OTW is so highly variable! Some weeks it might be nothing outside of reading some emails, and others there might be a lot to do depending on what we’re up to and what my particular role in it is. For example, I recently worked on a Terms of Service revision for AO3, which also included some lengthy conversations with volunteers across the OTW. There are also a lot of fun one-offs; recently I was on a panel about DMCA abuses with representatives from Public Knowledge and EFF, along with video essayist Lindsay Ellis.
What benefits can celebrating Copyright Week bring?
I think that it’s great for fans to both advocate for themselves when it comes to copyright policies that might be less than ideal and to celebrate the parts of copyright law that allow for transformative works! It’s easy to think of copyright as being a form of restricting creativity, but it should also encourage it. Drawing attention to the awesomeness that fair use cultivates (especially fanworks!) serves as a reminder for how important it is to have copyright policies that support remix. I also think that the more you understand about copyright law, and especially fair use, the more confident you can be about the legitimacy of your fanworks.
How does your day job relate to your work for the OTW?
The other academics on the Legal Committee are all law professors, but I’m actually faculty in an information science department. Not all of my research these days is about fandom, but some of my favorite work I’ve done was about the design of Archive of Our Own, and most recently, about platform migration in fandom. I also really love public scholarship–writing and talking about my research outside of academia! This is one reason I have a YouTube channel, and the most fun thing I’ve done so far was about fair use and the omegaverse lawsuit. Though this video had nothing to do with my role on OTW Legal, it sparked some great questions and conversations about fandom and fair use! I also taught an Online Fandom class for one semester, which was super fun.
What fannish things do you like to do?
I confess, I’m not as fannish as I used to be — though I just checked my AO3 stats and I wrote 503,409 words of fanfiction between 2002 and 2012! So I am definitely a fanfiction writer at heart, even though I don’t write as much anymore. As much as I love AO3, I’m very nostalgic for the glory days of LiveJournal. But some of the fannish friends I made during that time are still some of my very best friends! Fandom has been such a positive and important part of my life for decades.
Now that our volunteer’s said five things about what they do, it’s your turn to ask one more thing! Feel free to ask about their work in comments. Or if you’d like, you can check out earlier Five Things posts.