OTW Signal

OTW Signal, August 2021

Every month in OTW Signal we’ll take a look at stories that connect to the OTW’s mission and projects, including legal, technology, academic, fannish history, and preservation issues that are important for fandom, fan culture or transformative works.

In the News

A few months ago, OTW Legal Staffer Casey Fiesler wrote an article: Gift Logic: Labors of love flourish online under fandom’s social norms. In it she discussed the “pull to publish” practice and explored the history that led to the OTW’s founding, and how volunteers learned to create the spaces they needed.

Volunteer contributions that fuel the online communities in fandom stem from similar motivations as creating and sharing fanworks—love and enthusiasm for something, whether that thing is a media property or fandom itself. We also see evidence of this spirit of gift-giving in the social support that takes place in fandom. For example, research led by Ph.D. student Brianna Dym about LGBTQ+ participants in fandom illustrated how it can serve as a critical support space, and those who receive that support are often eager to give back by helping others and contributing to community resources. Our research about computational projects in fandom also pointed to enthusiasm and contributing to a community to be powerful motivators in learning technical skills. And though this community’s strong social norms do at times fail and community values are contested, most online fandom spaces (including AO3) are far more pro-social than we tend to think of online communities as a whole.


Vidding does not tend to be in the news as often as fanfiction, but one look at fan video creation appeared in The Science Survey with some references to OTW Legal’s work.

What is the biggest challenge for vidders? Without a doubt, that would be Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) restrictions. As, “a nonprofit organization run by and for fans,” the OTW — most known for running AO3 — launched a legal advocacy project in 2007 to address the issues. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in partnership with the OTW, successfully applied for a DMCA exemption to allow for the use of DVD clips in noncommercial fanvids in 2008. The legal team must re-apply for the exemption every three years.

In America, “there is no broad class of work that is automatically safe to make without fear of challenge. The OTW’s position is that transformative, noncommercial fanworks are fair use, but transformativeness is always a factual question and can vary from fanwork to fanwork,” said Betsy Rosenblatt, University of Tulsa Professor of Law and OTW Legal Committee Member, in an e-mail to me. However, “it’s usually not worth it economically for copyright holders to prosecute the average person.”

To find out more about OTW Legal’s DMCA work as well as other activities, check out their project page!


A request for survey participants has come to us from researchers Cyrus Eosphoros and Katharine Hunt. This research study is being done to understand current use of language and its relationship to identity in and around online media fandom, and has been approved for human subject participation by the Bellevue College Institutional Review Board. Participants must be 18 or over and the survey introduction page includes a consent form and contact information for the researchers. The survey will remain open through the month of August.

OTW Tips

Speaking of gifting practices and vidding, if you’d like to run a gift exchange on AO3, check out the FAQ about how that works. And for video makers posting videos to AO3, while you can’t upload them to the site, you can embed them in a post. AO3 offers guidelines for video (and audio!) embedding, and late last year updates were provided about what the death of the Flash format meant for existing video posts.


We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or news story you think we should know about, send us a link. We are looking for content in all languages! Submitting a link doesn’t guarantee that it will be included in an OTW post, and inclusion of a link doesn’t mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.