OTW Signal, October 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

Just in time for OTW’s celebration of its 15th anniversary came a retrospective on the organization at The Verge. Interviews with a number of early volunteers, board members and project founders revealed a variety of perspectives on what the OTW was needed for. One part discussed the importance of the legal aspects of fanfiction’s status, and how educating fans about their rights was a priority.

It was also received wisdom at the time that fanfiction was illegal under copyright laws. Even many of those involved in creating and sharing it simply believed that was true. “Rebecca [Tushnet] was sort of the first person who started saying, ‘Stop saying that. Stop saying it’s illegal,’” says Novik. “Because nobody actually knows. And in fact there are very good reasons to believe that the vast majority of fanfiction is in fact completely legal.”

The article also emphasized the importance of volunteers’ dedication to the project all these years and how some of them learned on the job to take on important roles across various committees.

Many volunteers learned to code through programs that the team put together. One of these volunteers was Lucy Pearson, who eventually moved on to chair the Accessibility, Design, and Technology Committee…Pearson participated with a friend and enjoyed it enough to do more training when it became available. She went on to write code for AO3 and train other newcomers.

“Part of the original premise for building the archive was that we would not only be building the archive but also building the community that could support [it],” she says. “So the aim was to train people and support people, including people like me who’d never done any coding whatsoever before.”

Reflecting the different perspectives of participants, other volunteers were critical for the skills they already had and brought to the new fandom project.

Novik had coded archives and run events both online and offline. She knew how to coordinate a worldwide team long before the pandemic and Zoom made it commonplace. And she knew people who had skills that might be useful, including Coppa and Tushnet.

Volunteers also stepped forward with knowledge of the law, coding, server maintenance, design, accessibility, and more. AO3 was built by and for fans, but those fans knew what they were doing. “It turns out fans are everything. Fans are journalists, fans are librarians, fans are graphic designers, fans are lawyers, are accountants,” says Coppa. “Fangirls do absolutely every job there is.”

“You often see people talking about the archive as this triumph of amateurism,” says Michele Tepper, who was a founding board member and head of design for AO3. “It absolutely was not. It was a triumph of professionals having the opportunity to do it right.” Tepper herself, for example, had been working at a design firm for clients like MTV and the BBC at the time.

Then and now, volunteers are the reason the OTW and its projects continue to be available and development on them continues.

OTW Tips

Want to volunteer for the OTW yourself and become part of its mission and history? Calls for volunteers generally occur once a month from January to October starting on a Wednesday. You can visit the Volunteering Page to learn more about what is required of volunteers (including age minimums). You will usually have a week to respond but recruitment may close earlier depending on how quickly maximum application numbers are reached. Be sure to read the details carefully when they are posted and we hope to hear from you in the future!

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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