Spotlight on Legal Issues

U.S. Copyright News, OTW Legal, and You

Since we began in 2007, the Organization for Transformative Works’ core mission has included working to promote fan-friendly copyright law. For years, we’ve submitted testimony and comments to governments, filed briefs in court, and helped mobilize fans to have their voices heard by lawmakers around the world. Recently, one of our big legal advocacy projects has been testifying and submitting comments to the U.S. Senate about the way U.S. Copyright works online under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Today, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis has released proposed legislation that would be bad for the AO3 and bad for fans. OTW Legal will fight for fans against this proposal, and you can help.

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Copyright and Fandom: An Update on EU Article 17

This post is guest-authored for OTW Legal by Julia Reda, a German researcher and politician who represented her country as a Member of the European Parliament between July 2014 and July 2019. She was a member of the Pirate Party Germany, part of the Greens-European Free Alliance, until 27 March 2019. You can find her on Twitter as @Senficon.


Article 17 is a new EU copyright rule that will make some for-profit online platforms directly liable for copyright infringements by their users from June 2021. In order to protect themselves from liability, those platforms will need to filter new uploads for potential copyright infringements in works that have been registered with them by rightsholders. These automated filters are notoriously bad at recognizing the difference between blatant copyright infringement and fan art, which is often legal under the copyright exceptions that apply in Europe instead of US fair use – such as caricature, parody, or pastiche (the use of existing materials and creatively combining them into something new). The likely result will be more frequent blocking of fan art and other forms of everyday Internet culture such as memes, reaction gifs or lipsyncs. Experts such as the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have warned about the danger of Article 17 for our fundamental rights.

Thankfully, fully non-profit platforms such as Archive of Our Own will be excluded from the upload filter provision. Still, Article 17 poses a huge threat to the broader online culture ecosystem. It’s unclear whether small forums that generate some advertising revenue but are commercially insignificant when compared to YouTube or Facebook will still be considered for-profit platforms that have to apply the onerous new rules. Additionally, EU countries have a lot of freedom to adopt national rules that would help prevent the automated blocking of legal content such as fan art. Read More

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What’s Going on with Disney and Fanworks?

Recently, you may have received an email informing you that Disney has updated its terms of use. Or you may have seen discussion about Disney’s terms of use and statements on Twitter around the #maythe4th hashtag. So what’s going on? Our Legal team can’t give you advice, but here’s what they have to say about what Disney’s terms mean for fans and fanworks.

Disney’s terms of use can be found here. (The direct English-language link is here). They govern the use of various (unidentified) Disney “products” such as websites, software, applications, contests, and services. What does that mean? Well, although this scope is broad, Disney can’t use terms of service to govern what people do out in the world — they can only govern what people do in Disney’s own platforms, (such as Disney’s websites, apps, software, and contests). Even if Disney would like to control what people do outside of those spaces, they just don’t have that power: out in the world, the usual rules of copyright, trademark, and fair use law apply. Read More