To support the March Drive we asked a few members of our community to write a guest blog about their views on the Organization for Transformative Works. Thank you to Kass for her fairytale origin story on the history of the OTW; fandom’s strength is our differences in background and perception. Share yours: write a fairytale, an adventure, a quest, a song. Add your fannish progenitors, your views; share it, pass it along. Help us to build our stories.
Let me tell you a story.
Since the beginning of time, fans like us have been making fanworks with our own two hands and sharing them with each other. In our earliest history, we scrawled our art and stories on cave walls. Then we wrote them in cuneiform. Then we wrote stories to explain scripture to ourselves and each other in creative ways. Then came Shakespeare, Arthur Conan Doyle, Star Trek, Professionals, and eventually a wild profusion of books, movies, anime, manga, role-playing games, celebrities, and more. Fans love what we love, and in sharing that love, we build castles in the air which we can inhabit together. So it has always been.
Once upon a time, back in the year 2007, two sorcerers came up with an evil plan: although they were not part of fandom, and had no love for the fans who made fanworks, they would create a multifandom archive and lure fans to share stories there. They built an archive and left a trail of candy across the internet to entice fans to come in. “This represents the coming of age of fan fiction!” they brayed. They hoped to make millions of dollars by exploiting the creativity of fans.
This made some fans uneasy. Fans gathered, over email and chat, in living rooms and hotel ballrooms, to discuss what ought to be done.
One fan said, “we are sitting quietly by the fireside, creating piles and piles of content around us, and other people are going to look at that and see an opportunity. And they are going to end up creating the front doors that new fanfic writers walk through, unless we stand up and build our OWN front door.”
In the hallowed halls of our internet gathering places, in our wolfhealls and floating castles, fans began to talk about creating an archive which would be built by fans, for fans. An archive where no ads would flash. An archive which would be a home for fanfiction of all kinds and varieties.
The sorcerers of FanLib couldn’t defeat us. We were too smart to eat their pomegranate seeds and become trapped in the labyrinth of their proprietary content mechanism forever.
Quickly the conversation grew. And, because fans are notorious for our creativity, people began to suggest even more mythical possibilities of which they had dreamed. What if fans had access to an online archive that wouldn’t back down at the merest hint of a lawsuit or change policies at the whim of an advertiser? What if we could create a wiki where we could record our own histories in accordance with our value of preserving many voices and many narratives? What if we could teach each other to code, and become more powerful in our own rights even as we worked together? What if, instead of letting decades of our history be rewritten, fannish creators and consumers celebrated our past and shared it with the wider community?
And lo, a project was born.
Out of the many hundreds of fans who volunteered to help make our dream real, seven were chosen as companions, the fellowship of the fanarchive project. These stout-hearted explorers pondered and discussed and argued and came up with the name the Organization for Transformative Works, because it is the magic of transformation which makes a fairy tale a fairy tale — and which makes fans, fans.
Those first board members braved the wilds of nonprofit incorporation, fighting armies of paperwork with the slashes of their mighty pens. They drafted a mission statement, and then tamed the dragons of internet domain name registration. The dragons, now friendly, opened up their lairs of loot and from amidst the piles of glittering URLs the first board of the OTW selected a sparkling domain name which would be ours alone.
Through the remainder of 2007 and all of 2008, the fans of the newly-named OTW boldly went where no fans had gone before. We launched a journal, a wiki, a blog, a multi-lingual website. We planted a beanstalk and nurtured it to help it grow all the way to the skies. We raised money and purchased two survers of our very own, which we promptly crowned with lolcats as is the custom among many of our people. In 2009, the Archive of Our Own — that first dream which had been spun back in the dark days when the sorcers of FanLib roamed the land — entered open beta.
Fans, like many magical creatures, have a well-known love for shiny things. The fans of the OTW launched a Vidding History project, to preserve and protect the history of the fannish tradition of making vids — one of our shiniest fannish creations. Fans from the merry OTW band testified at the DMCA Hearings on Noncommercial Remix at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in an attempt to protect the legality of vidding.
But different fans have different loves. Some fans love the labyrinthine intricacies of legal argument, and with their help, the OTW co-sponsored the 6th annual IP/Gender Symposium at American University Washington College of Law on the theme of Female Fan Cultures and Intellectual Property. Some fans thrive on the collaborative nature of wiki editing, and those fans gravitated toward Fanlore, settling in to help hash out questions of image policy and plural point of view.
Some in the OTW mourned to think of the ephemeral nature of printed fanzines. We live now in the magical era of the internet, which means that many fans now find fanfiction online — and the endless creativity in decades’ worth of fanzines is in danger of being lost! So the OTW founded the Fan Culture Preservation Project in partnership with the University of Iowa to preserve zines and other analog artifacts of fannish culture.
When our trusty servers began to shake under the load of our many and varied fanworks, we purchased more servers to fly alongside them. We began to host Yuletide, the rare fandom fanfic exchange which takes place each December. Brave tag wranglers rolled up their sleeves and plunged in to the wild waters of the Archive of Our Own, organizing tags and fuzzy wuzzles into delightfully ordered categories.
In 2010, the OTW established an International Outreach committee, because we wanted to invite fans worldwide to help shape our future. We participated in all manner of conferences and gatherings, from Digital Media and Learning to Re/Mixed to Escapade. Our intrepid journal editors released a special issue of our journal, this time dedicated to Supernatural. We began to craft a roadmap for a proposed journey through the unknown wilderness of vidding resource sites, and vowed to someday build a Torrent of Our Own.
We celebrated with wild whoops and a cascade of confetti when the Library of Congress granted noncommercial remixers (like fan vidders) an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which had served as a moat preventing vidders from openly seeking the footage we need.
We began to draft a Fair Use Curriculum Project so that we could, like Hogwarts’ school of witchcraft and wizardry, teach schoolchildren how to wield the wand of fair use, that magical principle which is so near and dear to our work.
We even ventured into the fire swamp of our first contested election, and found it to be far more delightful than we had dared to imagine (we’re thinking of building a vacation home there. Or at least, returning there again this coming November; it’s a very pleasant time of year.)
At the end of 2010 we climbed the beanstalk we had planted, and retrieved all kinds of treatures: we brought Fanlore out of beta — we hosted Yuletide a second time, for almost two thousand participants — and then we dove headlong into the new year.
And now? The tale of the OTW is neverending. We continue building our fannish infrastructure to be ever more strong and more beautiful. When our trusty servers grow tired, and need new patches so that they don’t fall apart in flight like Serenity, we’ll raise money for new ones. Every three years, we’ll defend that DMCA exemption so that the vidders among us can continue to rip source proudly and without fear. Our quest continues: we’re ever in search of each other, finding fans and offering them support, sheltering the treasure of their hands and hearts, preserving their loves and their history — and yours, too.
The fellowship of the OTW is still going strong. Together, we can boldly go wherever we can dream. Won’t you join our merry band?