Update to OTW Signal, May 2023

A few days ago we ran an article with an excerpt from an interview with a member of our Legal Committee. That article featured the opinion of one of our 900+ volunteers. It does not represent an official position on the part of the OTW or its Board of Directors. We sincerely apologize for the hurt and confusion we have caused, and we have removed the excerpt.

As fan work creators and users of AO3 ourselves, we understand our users’ concerns around this issue and are taking these very seriously.

OTW Signal
  1. M commented:

    Not the best holding statement. Curious to know whether OTW has any corporate comms professionals on staff? Pop up a role and I’m sure one of us can lend a hand at this point. 🤦

    • OS commented:

      it’s funny you ask because this was literally written by the OTW Communications Committee chair, who is a corporate communications professional.

      • M commented:

        When I look them up they appear to be a research manager at an art faculty but alright. I’ll take your word for it and amend my comment to say: if so, it’s tragic that this was written by a corp comms professional and it reflects badly on them and the board.

  2. Vaynglory commented:

    “the opinion of one of our 900+ volunteers” – you mean the chair of the OTW’s legal committee? Deeply concerning that someone in such a position is so enthused about AI scraping the Archive’s works for corporations to profit from. This non-apology seems more like an attempt to sweep the issue under the rug than anything.

    • depizan commented:

      Exactly. Don’t hide that Rosenblatt is the legal chair. She’s not just a randomly picked volunteer, she’s someone with a position in the organization that’s related to the topic she was discussing.

      Those of us who use (and donate) to AO3/OTW have good reason to be concerned by her words. This is not the reassurance you (AO3/OTW) seem to think it is.

      • Birdie commented:

        As someone who opted to donate this time around for the first time I’m definitely concerned. I support AO3 because they’ve been so good to writers, but allowing AI generated fic that literally learns from scraping fic written by real people who put their whole heart and soul into it isn’t being good to writers by any means. And the bit about selling data to corporate for profit is *especially* concerning seeing how far above and beyond donors go during each drive to make sure the site stays up and running. This most recent one where they received more than $200k overnight was an excellent example of the dedication of donors. And the site is run by volunteers. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, volunteers don’t get paid. So where does this AI-generated data profit go?

        • can't stop the wrock commented:

          certainly not to ao3!

          the site has already been scraped a million times over, and nobody on ao3s side will ever receive money for it. Just like reddit, twitter & co weren’t compensated for having been scraped (which they have, also a million times over)

      • Nah commented:

        To be fair, being a chair doesn’t really mean shit in the structural functionality of the org and AO3. It just means you carry out projects and make sure shit gets done. Now what she’s doing outside the org, that’s what sucks. Lawyers already meddle too much in artists’ and creatives’ problems, and the AO3’s ToS are written around US law. Betsy Rosenblatt’s support or nah of those laws is probably irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but it still sucks.

      • Anon commented:

        Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

  3. Plants commented:

    While I appreciate the clarification, knowing what the stance on AI from OTW as a whole would be nice and how you plan on protecting your userbase. AI does not belong in transformative works and I know myself and many other users are uncomfortable with AI being used to scrap our fics and to write fics to be later published on Ao3.

    • Vilija commented:

      I have already reported a few “fics” that had in their summaries an explicit “written by AI for my prompts”, and was told that they don’t break AO3’s rules…

      • omgtabby commented:

        I have also done reporting of these and been told they don’t break TOS….

        • apprepuff commented:

          they dont break tos /yet./ if that petition gets high enough off the ground and OTW listens to us, we could be looking at a sitewide ban of AI-written “fics”, which would be the best thing OTW could do to protect individual creators, their works, and AO3’s userbase as a whole.

          • Nah commented:

            Are you talking about some change.org petition? Why would that change anything in how AO3 is run? You guys are funny if you think some “signatures” will change anything lol

          • Tina commented:

            And then what? People will not tag them as AI generated, so whose gonna prove they are? The detection mechanisms people use barely work, we have the same issue in academia. So you’re gonna end up banning folks who haven’t used AI based on gut feeling.

          • jillordinary commented:

            Next step: use complaints of AI generated fic to bully legitimate writers out of fandoms because a set of fans doesn’t like/agree with/disapproves of their works.

            I’ve read human created works that are indistinguishable from AI works, not because the AI is that good, but because the human work was not as polished or English wasn’t their native language. These fandom arguments are as old as fandom. Only the characters have changed.

        • g4egfqf3 commented:

          If AI fics were made against the TOS people would still make them but just not tag them, better to allow them so you can avoid the people who tag them.

  4. Taenith @ AO3 commented:

    Sincerely, thank you all for responding and for the clarification that Legal Chair Betsy Rosenblatt’s atrocious views on the scraping (read: theft) of fanworks for AI text generators does not reflect the official position of the OTW.

    HOWEVER— we need more than this brief statement that doesn’t even mention the concept of AI. We need detailed action steps for how you are going to rebuild the trust you have broken with us, your donors/members as well as the fandom community you have been created to serve.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY, Legal Chair Betsy Rosenblatt needs to resign, effective immediately.

    *This is not over*, not even a little. Signed, a donating member of the OTW who has fanfic on AO3 and votes in Board Elections.

    • apprepuff commented:

      i have nothing to add, this is just a good comment and i want people (especially OTW) to read it.

      • Taenith @ AO3 commented:

        Thank you apprepuff ♡ I really hope OTW leaders will read it too. It for sure *does* take time for any organization to respond to an unexpected outcry (I mean they absolutely should have expected it, but whatever. Regardless, something as explosive as Legal Chair Betsy Rosenblatt’s conduct deserves a comprehensive and swift response, along with a heartfelt, detailed apology.

    • PhDelicious commented:

      Ditto everything in the comment above – including the donating and voting part.

      • Taenith @ AO3 commented:

        Thank you PhDelicious ♡ Our votes and donations keep the OTW functioning. I cannot believe we have arrived at this juncture, BUT— let’s see them try to pay the server costs if they keep going down this path. If nothing changes, the Fall Donation Drive will fail spectacularly >:(

    • Tina commented:

      scraping, as it currently stands, isn’t theft. otherwise we wouldn’t have cases like the stability ai lawsuit that rosenblatt commented on. her view, as a trademark lawyer, was this:

      > I would like to see courts consider the “training” process separately from the process of generating works. It is, of course, possible that a machine could generate an infringing work. But the process of training that machine involves something very different—turning expressive works into data and creating relationships based on that data collection. We call it machine “learning” for a reason. A well-trained machine won’t generate an infringing work, but it needs as large a pool of data to work from as possible to do that. The mere fact that an AI can create something infringing doesn’t determine whether the gathering of information is infringement. Consider the classic Sony v. Betamax case: The VCR can be used to infringe, but it has noninfringing (fair) uses, and therefore the VCR does not inherently infringe. I recognize that the analogy isn’t perfect, but I find it persuasive. In general, courts have found that “interim” copying isn’t infringement—that is, copying isn’t infringement when it occurs inside a machine and does not, itself, make copyrighted works perceptible to people—and I think courts should continue to follow that logic.

      That is, as the law currently stands, a perfectly valid opinion. Scrapping itself isn’t infrigement, but it can generate infringing content.

      AO3 runs on the premise of “making derivative works off someone elses IP without consent”. I do not quite understand why people want a volunteer of the organization whose entire job is to argue for a wide IP and Fair Use law to essentially shoot themself in the foot.

      You can disagree, of course, but scrapping away at Fair Use while not endangering fanfic will be quite the task.

      • WRD commented:

        “Scrapping itself isn’t infrigement, but it can generate infringing content.”

        This ↑ is an important distinction.
        Fanfiction archives might be the best – certainly the largest – source of how our culture currently structures and uses the written word. (As opposed to all the various work of say… 18th century Lit.) Teaching the algorithm how people communicate isn’t the problem.

        It’s the next step that may be infringing. It is the use of algorithm generated prose that is problematic, ethically questionable, and possible illegal.

        So then – are we at a place where we have to redefine exactly what IS a Transformative Work? Is a Transformative work intrinsically a piece of art that is both derivative AND generated by Humans using certain fundamental tools that could not produce a product of derivation on their own. (Such as, spell check, grammar check, style and clarity comparisons)

        Is publishing an AI generated work a form of plagiarism?

  5. Gina Marie Zuccaro commented:

    Ai definitely doesn’t belong in transformative works, and should not be allowed to gain a foothold here.

  6. Maud O'Bedlam commented:

    So what is the official position of OTW on this issue? Prof. Rosenblatt isn’t just another volunteer, she’s chair of your legal committee, so we have good reason to assume her opinions have sway in the organization.

    • Nah commented:

      Why would you think that? “Chair” is a fancy word, but the responsibilities of them is to carry out projects and make sure shit gets done. The AO3’s ToS are modeled according to US law, so even if she was anti-AI, it is the US lawmakers that have the final say. What sucks here is that someone so involved in fandom is pro-AI, but personally I think it’s nuts y’all think she’s somehow “powerful” enough to bypass everyone else in the org lol

      • Mazarin221b commented:

        Eh, she’s there as a legal advisor, and as chair if the committee she does have sway over what issues are pushed, or not, and the framing of legal arguments from OTW. That’s literally why she’s there, to provide her legal expertise.

  7. Spell commented:

    Betsy Rosenblatt is more than just a member of a committee- she is the Chair of your legal division. That implies a level of power that I am not sure I am comfortable having an influence over AO3’s future. I understand that this is a delicate situation and the Archive does not want to harm its relationship with their legal representatives but at the same time, those legal representatives need to understand the wants and needs of the archive. And that includes protecting the members from exploitation.

    to TLDR how this comes off from her original interview:
    So that would mean the people actually creating the work can’t profit off of it, but major corporations? Go ahead!!!!

  8. Yen commented:

    There should be no AI influence present what so ever because it’s theft.

    Please listen to us and do not implement it or you will see several people delete their hard work and leave your platform.

  9. waddaluvr commented:

    I hope everyone who donated in the drive is able to vote for whoever could replace Ms. Rosenblatt. AI is unethical and I’m tired of people plagiarizing me and my friends fics via AI.

  10. MJ commented:

    Interesting that you’re minimizing the head of your legal committee as “one of [y]our 900+ volunteers.” This isn’t the act of one of your many many volunteers making ill-advised statements on their personal social media, it’s your literal legal representative saying deeply concerning things on your official news output. Please take this seriously and hold everyone involved to account.

    • miera commented:

      This is not correct. The chair of the legal committee is not the attorney for OTW or AO3, she is an advisor on policy matters. This entire thing is being blown out of proportion by people who do not understand the structure of OTW or what the different groups within it actually do.

      • well... commented:

        I believe it’s fair to say that users no longer trust her advice, and that should matter

  11. Kekspeek commented:

    It is, in my opinion, pretty cowardly that the Board, the membership’s elected officials who are the face and voice of the entire organization, are hiding behind this communications volunteer to deliver an “apology” while, at the same time, not acknowledging any of the very valid, very loud concerns both users and members have with AI and scraping the AO3.

    “We’re working on it” is not a stance. Board of Directors: you’ve had time enough. Address the user base and membership directly.

  12. TiroTiro commented:

    This isn’t good enough. Tell is what your stance on AI scaping is, tell us how you will esnsure it doesn’t happen, tell us why we, as writers and readers, should trust you now and give you or money?

    • everything about this sucks commented:

      You can’t ensure that scraping doesn’t happen. They already slapped a DO NOT WEBCRAWL edit onto their robot.txt in January, and that’s (sadly) literally all they can do. It’s not effective at all, of course.

      Open AI and Co already pay poor people in third world countries like 2 Dollars and US based ppl minimum wage an hour to tag and sort through the material they have, and there’s literally nothing stopping them from making every single one of those people an account and having them manually download all text on members-only forums etc.

      ChatGPT is already testing an always online mode (which will have access to any site open in the users browser), Microsoft, Apple & Co are all in on system-native AI as well, so there really is nothing that the OTW and or Ao3 can do that isn’t entirely performative.

      • TiroTiro commented:

        Oh I know that. But they could still make it clear that they won’t ever use the works on their site in AI, that they themselves won’t be the ones who sell us out and that they’re against Ao3 being used for AI. Obviously that wouldn’t stop the theft, but at least it wouldn’t be endorsed and encouraged by them and they could also make every work on the opted-out by default.

        • everything about this still sucks commented:

          > that they themselves won’t be the ones who sell us out

          they ain’t selling anything. not even userdata. they are a non-profit.

          Now am I for them throwing a giant banner on top of the site saying “LLMs cannot does not have emotions or creativity and can therefor not create fanworks — therefor their work is not allowed on ao3” yes. Will that actually have an effect? No. It’s gonna be as useless as our disclaimers were, will just make people post their LLM written crap untagged, and do nothing good in the end except invite more trolls to go around with their idiotic commenting bots.

  13. BiblicallyAccurateGremlin commented:

    Not a great statement considering how many people the article went through before publishing for editing purposes, and if this person does not represent the values of OTW than why the hell is she the legal chair???

  14. Johniarty commented:

    This is lukewarm at best. AI has zero place on the archive. Period.

  15. NO AI ON AO3!! commented:

    Nice non-apology! Betsy is not just any volunteer, she’s your legal chair (a position OTW members can’t vote on because she wasn’t elected to her role). She clearly holds a lot of influence at OTW, otherwise you wouldn’t feature her as you did! Please take an official stance on this issue: protect human writers! NO AI ON AO3!! NO SCRAPPING OF OUR WORK ALLOWED!! SET “OPT-OUT” TO DEFAULT!!

  16. LW commented:

    I saw both the excerpt included by the OTW Signal and the ARL Views article that the Signal that it took the excerpt from, and I am more concerned about the contents of the excerpt.

    Why did the OTW feel the need to highlight the individual in question’s views on the shippability of DALL·E and ChatGPT rather than the several paragraphs of content considering legal precedent of machine learning, and current debates about the definition of transformative work?

    That content might also be polarising… but it would have been significantly more relevant to a section summarising the individual’s interview about AI legal issues. Definitely an odd editorial choice.

    • Ring commented:

      Yeah. I actually would not have been on alert if they had published the relevant excerpt with an acknowledgment that it’s a single person’s views. But the first thing anyone into this stuff on an ideological level does is start using every vector they have to talk it up and any influence they have to spread support for it. If the org can’t afford to lose her and she’s deep into pro-LLM territory, it’s going to become a real problem.

  17. RogueSareth says boot Betsy commented:

    This is not even close to a good enough statement. We want guaranteed work on better protections from Ai scraping for the archive(I understand it’s impossible to completely stop it) and a ban on any obvious or tagged Ai generated fic. Also boot Betsy to the curb, I don’t care if she’s a volunteer, kick her out.

    A paragraph of “oh we’re sorry you’re concerned” isn’t good enough when it comes to this even a little bit.

    You’ve completely shaken your users faith in this archive allowing someone with those views to be associated with the archive, especially when it comes to something as important as the legal side of things.

    Give us a real answer, and live up to the promise of saftey, protection and freedom for writers.

    It will be tragic, and a pain the ass to build another archive like this one, but we did it before and we’ll do it again if it’s clear it’s necessary.

    • RogueSareth can't believe you picked her to talk to the fucking government commented:

      Also, let’s address the “one of 900+ volunteers” She is the chair of your legal team, no she is not just a random volunteer.

      And making that statement even more bullshit she was the official representative of OTW sent to speak to the US GOVERNMENT on Ai. That is not random and that does not lend credibility to her opinions not being a representation of OTWs official stance on Ai, which you HAVE NOT clarified

  18. One of the 900+ users who don't want AI commented:

    Then let’s hear the official position.

  19. Mekare commented:

    *Everything* about this statement is making me concerned especially in context of reading all the comments of people who were able to read the original news post. Leaves a bad aftertaste at best.

    Be clear and tell us what the organisation‘s official stance is!

  20. FicVix commented:

    Wait, what happened?

    • AshToSilver commented:

      https://www.arl.org/blog/applying-intellectual-property-law-to-ai-an-interview-with-betsy-rosenblatt/ – the legal chair did an interview saying she wants to have AIs trained on fanfiction.

      • MB commented:

        Thanks for the link. That’s a very lawyerly opinion, most artists are against AIs and becoming chopped liver.

      • Nah commented:

        Betsy Rosenblatt never said she “wants” AI to be trained on fanfiction, she’s aware that it’s already happening and she thinks it’s cool. Let’s critize her for what she said, and not put words in her mouth, hm?

      • Tina commented:

        She doesn’t? She says that she seems some benefit to it (AI models picking up more modern ideas compared to when they were mostly trained on older works) and that legally she thinks there needs to be a distinction between the training vs. generating part of AI (i.e. scrapping and training isn’t inherently copyright infrigement as it currently stands, but it can be used to create non-fair-use content).