OTW Signal, January 2022

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

OTW’s Legal Committee was consulted by Tech Crunch about a now-cancelled project involving Young Adult fiction back in October. The plan was for authors to post “12 initial origin stories about their fictional universe, to which they owned the copyright. Then fans would be tasked with writing their own stories, submitting them to the Realms of Ruin universe by minting them as NFTs on the Solana blockchain. If the authors were to enjoy a fan’s story enough, they could declare it part of the project’s official canon.” But fans had a lot of questions and the plans were soon withdrawn.

Harvard Law professor Rebecca Tushnet — who is a member of the legal team at the Organization for Transformative Works, which runs major fan fiction site Archive of Our Own — said that these questions would depend on what the actual contract is between Realms of Ruin and the writers.

“If they’re giving permission, there aren’t copyright infringement questions, there are ownership questions. And those would be navigated by contract. But the thing that you usually expect is that the people writing the fan works might have limited rights,” she told TechCrunch. Because the Realms of Ruin project was shut down before it officially launched, contract details weren’t available.

“The fan fiction part is probably the least interesting part about this,” added Tushnet. “It’s not unknown for authors to say, ‘I want to authorize you to play in my world, and you can even have some of the money.’ Kindle Worlds was an attempt at this, but it ultimately did not seem to be profitable, and Amazon shut it down.”

As the article notes, a concern about fanwork monetization was one of the main reasons Archive of Our Own was founded, and its Terms of Service FAQ explains “We want the Archive to remain a non-commercial space. That means that it isn’t the right place for offering merchandise, even fan-related merchandise. Linking to your personal page (not, for example, an Amazon author page) is fine, even if the personal page includes some items for sale, but the Archive is not advertising space.”

An October essay and book review suggested that fanfiction and literary fiction are starting to resemble one another: “[W]hat used to be a hard-and-fast division—literary fiction over here, fanfic over there—has become something of a revolving door.” As part of the argument, Anthony Domestico examines what seems typical of most fanfic.

Fanfic tends to have a distinctive style: heavy on sentence fragments, emotionally expressive actions, and one-sentence paragraphs; filled with italicized phrases, syntactical repetition, and present-tense verbs. These stylistic features arise from the genre’s particular demands. In fic, the writer’s task isn’t to create a character named “Han Solo” or “Barack Obama.” It’s to convince the reader of this particular instantiation of a character they already know. Backstory and general habits of mind can be excised without much loss; elements that intensify character presence and readerly identification—strong emotions and bodily descriptions—are emphasized. The result has a particular staccato rhythm. Everything, from syntax to narrative perspective, stresses immediacy…In recent years, some of the most lauded works of literary fiction have begun to read an awful lot like fanfic.

Certainly, as Fanlore has long recorded, there is a long list of fanfiction that has been published in another form as well as pro authors who were once, or who still are, fanfiction writers. However the article makes the argument that it is fanfiction as a whole that has begun to influence what gets published commercially and how it reads.

OTW Tips

Fanlore can also be very helpful during fan migrations. Anyone can create a page for themselves on Fanlore and record things, such as what site(s) they are posting on, what communities they belong to, or where they can be found if they’ve changed usernames.

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.

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