Proposed Changes to the Archive of Our Own’s Terms of Service and Frequently Asked Questions

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The OTW Board of Directors has approved changes to the Archive of Our Own’s Terms of Service and Frequently Asked Questions. Proposed additions in bold; bracketed to be deleted.

This post marks the start of a two-week public comment period. Your comments and questions will be reviewed in order to evaluate whether further changes need to be made.

Thank you for your assistance.

III. Archive Privacy Policy

E. What we will do:

1. We may collect personally identifying information when you register for a user account with the Archive, visit any of the Archive sites, or use any of the Archive services. We may use third-party services to store, process, or transmit data, or perform other technical functions related to operating the site. These services may include spam detectors, backup services, icon hosting, and e-mail services. We endeavor to use only services with comprehensive privacy policies but cannot guarantee their performance. We or the services we use may store or process your personally identifying information in data centers which may be located in the United States or other countries.

2. We will use your e-mail address internally, and if you make it public on the site, anyone can access it and use it for any purpose. We may occasionally send e-mails to you from the Archive. We reserve the right to send you notice of complaints or violations [or suspensions] of the Terms of Service, as well as to reply to any e-mail message you send to the Archive.

3. We may retain:

a. the e-mail addresses of those who communicate with us via e-mail;
b. user-specific information about what pages users access or visit;
c. the IP address of each visitor to our sites;
d. any information that a person sends to OTW or Archive e-mail addresses (i.e., any e-mail to an administrator or other official address).

V. Assorted Policies

A. Collections, Challenges, and Exchanges

Archive users may create collections and encourage other users to submit fanworks to those collections. The collection maintainer can set any constraints they want on the collection, including rules about anonymous works (see A.4 below) but must otherwise follow the content policy (e.g., if the collection content is explicit, it should be marked as “explicit” or “choose not to rate”). The collection maintainer may be able to ask users for suggestions for new fanworks (“prompts”), collect prompts, match participants with prompts (including contacting them via the contact information provided to the Archive or to the collection maintainer), and show the prompts on the Archive, following the general rules governing works on the Archive. Where collection rules allow, prompts may be anonymous or limited-visibility, as detailed in A.4 and A.5 below.

A challenge maintainer can communicate with challenge participants. The challenge maintainer may have access to participants’ email addresses for this purpose.


Assorted Specialized Policies


What do you mean by “collections”?

Collections are groups of works collected together under one heading. Collections can be fic or art fests, exchanges, ‘big bangs’ matching artists, authors, and/or podficcers, or other types of creative challenges, as well as simple collections of fanworks chosen by the collection maintainer. Learn more about collections.

What information can the collection/challenge maintainer see about participants?

The maintainer can see prompts as well as the username and email address that participants use to sign up, in case the maintainer needs to communicate with participants.

What’s the point of having separate rules for collections/challenges?

The rules are basically the same as for everything else on the Archive. This just allows another way to group fanworks by areas of interest. There is one important special rule: if the collection maintainer says in the rules that submissions are final, then you can’t withdraw your contribution from the collection, though you can always orphan it. We put this rule in place to allow gift exchanges. Ordinarily, removing a fanwork from the Archive is sad, but it’s up to you. But when you’ve added a fanwork as a gift, and possibly received a fanwork as a gift in return, we think it’s fair to say that the other participants should continue to enjoy the benefit of your contribution. In those cases, orphaning allows you to sever your connection with the fanwork while not removing it from the collection. This policy was based on prior experience with the Yuletide Rare Fandoms gift exchange.

I think my fanwork would be perfect for a collection, but the maintainer won’t add it to the collection!

Unless there’s an independent violation of the Content Policy, we won’t intervene in collection decisions, even if they are arbitrary, biased, or wrong. You may want to add tags to your fanwork that will be of interest to people who are fans of relevant collections.

How can I start a collection?

Please consult our Tutorials. Please note that participants may provide information to the maintainer for purposes of participating in a collection or challenge. Any use of this information other than to manage the collection or challenge is a violation of our Terms of Service and can result in the termination of the maintainer’s account.

Other Changes

Can orphaning be reversed?

Usually not. [If you orphan a work inadvertently, or wish to rewrite it and repost under your name, and you can verify your identity as the author in a way we consider reliable enough, we may be able to reverse the orphaning. But orphaning may be irreversible in some cases,] Orphaning is irreversible in most cases, so please use this option carefully.

What if what I want to post isn’t similar to one of the examples listed in the Terms of Service FAQ?

In general, you can post any non-ephemeral, transformative content that is fannish in nature. If you have doubts about any particular examples and you don’t want to risk posting it, you can always contact our [Support] Abuse team to ask, using the [Support] Abuse form.

Announcement, Archive of Our Own
  1. msilverstar commented:

    Reading the info about Personally Identifiable Information worried me at first, because I didn’t know what it was.

    Please consider defining it before discussing what AO3 will do with it.

  2. msue commented:

    I think there needs to be more awareness that orphaning in many cases is not ideal, but it is presented in fan circles as if it’s a great solution. So many times I see people blithely suggest, “Oh, if you don’t want your name on that fic, just orphan it.” In reality, many people do want to keep control over their work: perhaps they’re worried about a fanwork’s (possibly negative) reception, or fear having their kinkfic found out by family or workplace. Orphaning seems okay at first, but…

    If a work is orphaned, IT CANNOT BE DELETED. AO3 will not delete it for you. You have no way to make it go away forever.

    The workaround for wanting both control and anonymity is to add works to one or more anonymous collections. Your name will be listed as “Anonymous”, but you can still edit or delete works. While such collections are not run by AO3, the fact that you are editing your FAQ re orphaned works shows that people don’t know about the anonymous collection option — even when it would serve their needs better.

    Perhaps add that to the FAQ.

  3. aralias commented:

    I can see why you’ve done it, but I feel like I’d be confused if I wanted to know whether I could post my meta or podfic etc and I had to contact the ‘abuse’ team, which I feel is where I would report other people.

    Not too worried if you can’t change it. Generally things seem good. Thanks for asking.

  4. jadelennox commented:

    Could you link the original from the top of this post? It took me a couple of minutes to find it.

    Anyway, when I was reading the original privacy policy to see what definitions of PII you are using (which I think are pretty clear in context, kudos), I noticed this bullet:

    “d. We use cookies to store visitors’ preferences; customize Web page content based on visitors’ browser type or other information that the visitor sends; and record activity at a site in order to provide better service when visitors return to our site. Cookies must be enabled for the site to function properly with your computer. The OTW has no access to cookies set by other sites.”

    This is factually incorrect. The correct sentence would be “Cookies must be enabled in order to have access to all site functionality.”

    I primarily browse with cookies, but in certain environments browse without, and I lose very minimal functionality (certain preferences which affect the viewing experience such as “show adult works”, the ability to see locked stories, etc.). The effect is overall minimal.

    For what it’s worth, I think very highly of the ADT team for how well the site works without cookies, without JS, and even in elinks/lynx, all of which are ways in which I browse under certain conditions.

  5. the_dragongirl commented:

    I am honestly incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of challenge runners and collection maintainers being given direct access to the email addresses of people participating in the challenge. For the sake of prompt checking of my ao3 messages, I have my ao3 account associated with my main email, which is easy to attach to my real, non-fandom identity. I do not use this email for any other fandom purposes, however, and would not want it given out to challenge runners under any circumstances.

    And even if participants are alright with the specific individuals who are running a challenge or collection having their emails address, since that list of people can change or be added to after the fact with no notice to people whose works are in that collection, the list of people who have access to their email address can change without notice. Unlike staff members or volunteers who could access this information now, there is no vetting or accountability if they should choose to use this information in ways not associated with the challenge or collection they run, so this seems very ripe for potential abuse.

    Would it be possible for challenge runners and collection maintainers to be given a way to message participants without being given direct access to their address instead?

    • Iri commented:

      Fwiw it’s not a new policy. Challenge maintainers have always been able to see participants’ email addresses. I’m surprised this wasn’t documented before.

  6. Morbane commented:

    Hi! Thank you for your work.

    It is a surprise to me that a prohibition against deleting gift works is part of the TOS. (Perhaps it shouldn’t be, since I note this is no new change, but it seems incongruous with other aims of the Archive.)

    As an exchange runner (Jukebox, and sometime assistance on Night on Fic Mountain, Once Upon Fic, Yuletide, others), I don’t feel bad about stating up-front that there may be penalties if a person deletes the work they have submitted, but it gives me pause that it is a violation of Terms of Service. Surely it is a matter between collection maintainers or challenge runners, the creator, and the recipient?

    I am speaking only for myself and not on behalf of Yuletide mods – this is not an officially Yuletide-y opinion. I also realise that as this clause is not one in bold or square brackets, it might be an issue for later discussion.

    Regarding actual changes, I’m glad to see text added about collection maintainers’ access to emails. I don’t have an opinion about whether this should be available or not, but I think making it very clear that we have that access is a positive step.