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Update on Unofficial AO3 Reader Apps

The OTW began receiving reports on Friday, February 14, about apps that are making available fanfic from AO3 without authorization. The first app is Fanfic Pocket Archive Library, which has been available on both the Apple and Google app stores. As far as the OTW can tell, this app provides an interface that allows users to access works on AO3, and it may not actually copy, store, or redistribute any data from AO3. This app has a premium option that allows users to access extra features of the app for a monthly fee; it also hosts ads. At the time of writing, it appears that this app has been removed from the Google Play store but remains available on the App Store.

The second app is actually not just one app, but a collection of them by a company called Woodsign j.d.o.o. The apps are available in the Apple app store. They are called Harry Potter Fan Fiction, P.J. Fan Fiction, K-POP Fan Fiction, Bulletproof Boys Scout / ARMY, 1D Fan Fiction, MCU Fan Fiction, Fantastic Beasts Fan Fiction, Sherlock Homes Fan Fiction, Slashfic, TWD Fan Fiction, and Real Person Fiction. These apps do appear to be redistributing fanworks. They also charge for access to many fanworks. We cannot say for sure that all works contained on these apps are being redistributed without permission, or that all of the works contained on these apps are from AO3, but user concerns and Tumblr discussion suggest that at least some are. 

Below are some of the things we have told concerned users in responding to emails. We also highlight some of the steps users can take if they do not want their works on these (or other) apps or sites. 

If you have further questions, please ask them here. That will make it easier for us to answer and will let more people benefit from the same information.

Can the OTW/AO3 get my work taken down from these apps?

The OTW does not own the copyright in the fanworks displayed on the Archive. When you post a work on the AO3, you give the Archive the right to display your work – that’s all. And that’s good!  It means that when you post fanworks on AO3, you keep your copyrights. For that reason, the OTW cannot issue a copyright notice to apps on behalf of our users. Copyright owners, in this case affected fan authors, must do that for their own works. Although the OTW uses trademark law to ensure that app makers do not mislead users into thinking those apps are official OTW projects, we do not have any legal right to what you share on AO3. For that reason, we cannot get those works removed from other apps or sites.

As a fan author, do I even own the copyright in my fanworks?

Yes! As a fan author, you automatically own the copyright in your original expression. You don’t own any rights in elements of the canon you base your fanworks on, such as characters or settings, but you do own the rights in what you yourself have added to them. That means that people cannot copy and/or sell your fanworks without your permission.

What can I do if I do not want my works displayed on these apps?

Fan authors who find their works being distributed on apps without their permission can request that their works be removed. Most sites have takedown procedures (known as DMCA takedown procedures) that allow copyright owners, including fan authors, to request the removal of their works. Even if these particular apps do not have an official DMCA procedure, copyright owners can always use the contact information listed on the app’s description page to demand that their works be taken down from places they are not authorized. This means you can submit a notice containing the information below and ask the app maker to remove your works. As a matter of copyright law, sites or apps should comply with DMCA takedown notices and demands for removal.

What do I say in a DMCA takedown notice to get my works off an app I do not want them on?

If you want your works removed from one of the apps discussed (or anywhere else!), you can submit the information below in a takedown notice:

  • Your Name and/or Pseudonym as an e-signature
  • Link(s) to the unauthorized works (such as a link to the pdf, mobi, or hosting page) or other information sufficient to allow the site or app to identify the precise unauthorized works you want removed
  • Link(s) to an authorized version of your work (whether on AO3, Tumblr, or somewhere else)
  • An email address of the submitter (include it again even if it’s in the header)
  • This statement: “I have good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”
  • This statement: “The information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”

Finally, both the Google and Apple app stores have procedures for reporting apps that infringe copyright. They can be found at the following links:

App store: https://www.apple.com/legal/internet-services/itunes/appstorenotices/#?lang=en

Google Play store: https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905

33 thoughts to “Update on Unofficial AO3 Reader Apps”

  1. Just a comment – the pocket archive allows you to download the fics from within the app, so they are hosting those works somewhere. There is nothing I saw about the app interface that would lead me to believe that this download is somehow pointing back to the original fic that is hosted on AO3.

    1. No that’s not true- when you download the work it’s being pulled via ao3 and then it’s stored on your phone. They don’t have any synchronisation with their own service.

      It’s just an ebook reader basically.

    2. I spoke to Google Play and I was given a case number and I sent them screenshots. This App made money through advertising dollars, subscriptions services, tips , and reccomendations. Its not just enough to have the App taken down. I have screenshots that show ads at the bottom of my owns works. The account of the Apps creator should be frozen and either a pirtion paid out to every Author effected or we should have a vote on a charity those funds should be given to.

      The App is still working if you downloaded it. It may not be available for Download on Google anymore but it does still work.

  2. Is the only way to see if our work is on the Woodsign app, to have an Apple device? Everyone I know is on Android, but I don’t want my works on their app.

    1. The only way I can think of is to use an ios emulator. There are ios emulators that users can download that allow android and PC users to install and use apple apps on their android devices or PC computers. That may be a long way to go to check this, but it should work if you do.

  3. is transformative works planning to make an official app for ao3? It would probably help other users to avoid apps that are blatantly ripping off works from another site, and could help other users use ao3 more easily on their phone.

    1. AO3 works absolutely fine in my browser on my phone. i’ve been reading in the browser on my phone for years (using several devices). i keep seeing people claim their browser refreshes every few seconds? but that must be a deliberate setting in their browser (or a really bad browser). maybe check your browser settings? or try a different browser… both google chrome and the samsung browser on my android phone work absolutely without problem. and one of my preferred settings is viewing the whole fanwork at once, which means that i’m sometimes reading fic of serveral 100k in one single browser window over several days or weeks. I can just continue where i left off.

      another feature that’s already part of AO3: changing the skin of AO3. if you don’t like reading with white background, go into your user settings on AO3 and switch to another skin. one of the skins for example has a dark grey background and white letters. (similar to “dark theme” on discord, twitch or twitter.)

      another feature that’s part of AO3: you can download any fic you like as (for example) an ebook (epub format) and upload it (very easily) into any e-reader app of your choice. here you are the one responsible for the fanwork, and you are storing a copy on your phone. and you can delete the copy when you don’t want it anymore. no ads, no costs, nothing. and you get all the options a (paid & illegal) app gives you (and many more).

      anyway. there are many ways of using AO3 completely free of charge without infringing anybody’s copyright.

      those fanfiction apps just hope that people are stupid enough to make them money. and unfortunately it works.

      1. AO3 have their own app. I use it on my phone. It’s really good and works really well. I’d consider mentioning this to people you know and tweeting about it, it might encourage people to stop using these other apps.

        1. Ao3 does not have an official app so you might want to double check which you are using. They don’t have an app for a number of reasons, the most important being that volunteer coding and support time is best devoted to the site rather than developing and maintaining an app for multiple platforms when the browser works so well.

        2. For a variety of reasons, AO3 does not have an official app. If you are aware of apps claiming to be official, please let us know.

      2. I used to read FFN and AO3 on my DSi (that’s fun to say), without any issue. They’ve done amazing work with the adaptive formatting and allow people to access different versions of fics, although having epub and pdf files may make it easier for pirate apps.
        Honestly, if Opera can load AO3 perfectly, I don’t know what these other phones are doing wrong.

      3. I agree with this completely; I’ve read on browsers on laptops, kindles, multiple phones, and pretty much any screen device with a decent browser I’ve owned since 2014, 2015, without any incident of constant refreshing. I’ve had it refresh to the first page before, but that was only if my browser crashed and I restored the page, and even then it usually went back to my current chapter. Since I got my account back around that time, I’ve also posted chapters of my own works without incident on various devices; this semester, I’ve taken to saving drafts of fics so I can post in 12 hour increments, one of which takes place when I’m in class, so I update from my phone. AO3 has been perfect for me since I first started using their platform, and I’ve only grown to love it more and utilize its features more since I joined.

        I think everyone who wants an app needs to check up on their device. I have wanted an app in the past, but that was only when I had a truly horrible browser, not because AO3 itself was horribly inaccessible for fic reading.

    2. They have said in the past they are not interested in making an official app because hosting it in a playstore would clash with their freedom of speech principle. There are an infinity of works that are published in AO3 that would veto a possible app unless they delete them and they will obviously not do that under any circumstance

    3. They may not be available for download but if you download them they vary much still work.

    4. wait shit. there isn’t one? i have archive track reader, i thought that was an official one…

  4. Is there a way we can access the apps (/their databases) if we don’t have access to the Apple store? I only have an Android, and can’t check if any of my works have been (re/)posted there.

    1. The only way I can think of is to use an ios emulator. There are ios emulators that users can download that allow android and PC users to install and use apple apps on their android devices or PC computers. That may be a long way to go to check this, but it should work if you do.

  5. Thank you for addressing this issue. Social media has been in an uproar, throwing all kinds of misinformation around. and it’s good to see a common-sense, factual response on how best to deal with it.

  6. Thank you for addressing this issue. Social media has been in an uproar, throwing all kinds of misinformation around. It’s good to see a common-sense, factual response on how best to deal with it.

  7. Thank you for addressing this issue. Social media has been in an uproar, throwing all kinds of misinformation around. It’s good to see a common-sense, factual response on how to deal with it.

  8. I saw a post on Tumblr say that if you privatize your works so that they’re not available to users without an AO3 account, it removes them from the Fanfiction Pocket Archive app. I tried it myself and my stories no longer show there. I’m not sure about the other apps, because none of the two fandoms I’ve written for have a specific app, but this definitely works for the Pocket archive.

    1. Before the Pocket Archive went down, users had the ability to login and according to @NaokiIchigo (twitter) logged-in users could access private fics via the app.

    2. The problem with making them private is the stumbling block when you participate in events like BBs, or you use ao3 for portfolio for zine submissions, for both public access is a preference. Personally I’d rather spend time getting such apps shut down than take away the option for non account holders to access my stories. I may have cackled on Friday when I filled out the take down request in Google app store.

      I also noticed that if you have code in your fic like footnotes, it breaks the fic in the pocket app. It just cuts the fic off mid line.

  9. I recently changed my settings so no one can share my fanfictions, is this enough so they won’t be on the app or will they be taken regardless of my settings? Also, I work very hard on my fanfictions and have many in progress and the last thing I want is someone putting them on an app without my knowledge.

    1. Hi!

      It appears that that the FFPAL was essentially a portal that allowed users to log in to the AO3 and view works as their logged-in selves. To our knowledge, the other apps would only have had access to works that were publicly available.

      In other words, we do not have any current concerns about hacking or improper access. On a security note, if a third-party app or website requests your AO3 login information, please proceed cautiously and be aware that you are providing this information at your own risk.

      Hope this is helpful!
      OTW Legal

  10. I assume Archive Track Reader on the Play Store is also unofficial, but they’re sort of just an app interface to the Ao3 website. It shows the up to date news, including this post as well as everything the website contains. It doesn’t work offline either, so i think it’s just a proxy to the website.

  11. A note about DMCA takedown requests: anyone can write an app that functions as a web browser, and then access your fics using that web browser, with or without ads, and with or without charging for extra features.
    Filing a DMCA takedown request against an app which does not store fics is like telling Microsoft that you don’t want people reading your fic using Internet Explorer. Just because you can see content using the app does not mean the app is hosting anything.
    There is a ton of demand for a mobile AO3 interface, and it’s way too much work to do for free. Remember that whole conversation we’ve been having about how “art is real work and artists shouldn’t be shamed for asking to be paid”? Apply that whole line of reasoning to coders, and accept that if we’re ever going to get an app, it’s going to be from someone asking for money.

    1. This is actually an issue of redistribution, which is clearly laid out in the terms and conditions that we agree to when posting to ao3, and any third party app, even functioning as a mirror, is in violation of copyright by usurping and violating those terms and conditions the authors only agreed to on ao3.

      But please, continue lecturing the team of lawyers.

      1. Hi! to hopefully clear up any confusion — although different courts approach the question differently, most agree that as a matter of U.S. law, linking to copyrighted works, framing copyrighted works (e.g. permitting embedding or acting as a portal), and providing information location tools that help users find copyrighted works are permitted activities do not infringe copyright. This is how search engines and rec sites exist, and it’s good! In contrast, distributing copyrighted works without authorization (which on the Internet typically involves reproducing those works and hosting them) does constitute copyright infringement. Therefore, the question of whether a particular app infringes authors’ copyrights depends on the specific facts of the situation, and whether the app reproduces/distributes works as opposed to merely linking to them or framing them.

        I hope that’s helpful!

  12. I’ve been following this since it broke on Friday, and I’ve been wondering: while the OTW/AO3 does not own the copyright to individual works and thus cannot ask the apps not to host them or profit off of displaying them, only the fanfic authors themselves can do that… would it be possible for the OTW to represent a large group of fic writers who are AO3 users in a sort of class-action suit against the apps? Or, short of that, as a class-action request towards the apps to stop violating the TAC of AO3 in the form of DMCA takedown requests?

    I don’t know if I’m describing my thoughts clearly enough, but, my concern (as a fic author) is that if apps are making money off of fanfiction, then they are violating one of the core points that we use to argue that fanfiction falls under Fair Use? And that while individual fic authors bombarding these apps with DMCA notices and other attempts to have the apps stop profiting off our work is the way to tackle the problem… that’s also an extremely inefficient way to deal with it. It’s impossible for ALL fanfic authors (whose works are being accessed for profit) to keep up with sending take-down notices to multiple apps. Many fanfic authors likely will not even learn of this issue if they aren’t connected to some of the places talking about this. And we run into the problem that keeping up with new apps that spring up will be a giant whack-a-mole game that individual fans cannot keep up with.

    It would be more efficient for a single entity to send such notices to apps, at the request of multiple copyright holders. Is this even possible, though?

    1. Thanks for your question. There are companies that represent copyright holders and send out DMCA notices on their behalfs, but doing so requires monitoring, collecting and sending out the same information that users would send. In other words, although it would consolidate the work, it wouldn’t actually be more efficient (and it would be impossible for our tiny volunteer legal team!).

      As to whether apps making money from fanfiction undermines the core principle that fanworks are fair use–it probably doesn’t. Many, many companies make money by placing advertising around fanworks–Fanfiction.net; Tumblr, Wattpad; YouTube; the list goes on and on. But the OTW’s position is that the existence of those companies does’t make noncommercial fanworks commercial, especially when the fans posting on those sites are not benefiting commercially.

      Hope that is helpful!

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