Morgan Briarwood (briarwood) wrote,
Morgan Briarwood
briarwood

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OTW - weighing in on the debate.

A few weeks ago, The Organisation for Transformative Works officially launched. I know some of my flist already know about them; if you're in fandom (any fandom) and you haven't run across them yet, you should check it out, either at their own website or in otw_news (on LJ, GJ, IJ and JF).

OTW got started this summer as the fanarchive project. Now it's something more.

In the past month or two, I've read an awful lot of paranoid nonsense about them, mainly in the comments of their own news posts and then in personal LJ posts by the same people rehashing the same stuff. I've also seens some very legitimate critique of OTW and their aims, some mud-slinging from people who seem to feel threatened by them in some way and, very occasionally wank that makes Harry Potter fandom look sane. A lot of it made metafandom.

*shrug* Just goes to show getting a good idea off the ground isn't easy.

In adding my own voice to the throng, I daresay I'm inviting yet more wank, but there are a few things which, maybe others have already said but if so, I haven't seen them said. So here goes.

First, and foremost, yes there are problems with the language OTW have chosen for their vision & values and mission statement. But I really, really, believe this is one time fen would do better to look behind the words to the intent, and just trust that these people are what they say they are. A lot of the worst criticism of OTW has come from fen who feel excluded by phrases like "transformative" or by OTW's recognition that media fandom is female dominated. They ignore the reassurances of the actual people involved in favour of nitpicking the language, and while I can see their points are valid, I don't belive that when it's time for OTW to show instead of tell, that they would actually exclude male fen or RPS fen or bandom fen. If they were likely to, I reckon they'd have said so already, and those people they didn't want around could go do their own thing and be happy. It would be far easier for them if they did exclude RPF, bandfic, songvids: they're far more likely to win some kind of legal recognition for written fanfic based on TV shows and movies (which actually is legitimate transformative use) than they are for real person slash (much of which which is legally libel, until proven otherwise). But they're bending over backwards to be as inclusive as possible. Of course they're not succeeding 100%: they're human. But they're doing a far better job than anyone has a right to expect.

I also think it's fantastic that they acknowledge the femaleness of fandom right from the beginning. Most of the argument against that is proving, to me at least, why that acknowledgment is so very necessary.

I have my own reservations. I love the archive of our own project, but I'm extremely uncomfortable with the academic emphasis they seem to have. I tried to follow fandebate over this summer and though I'm neither unintelligent nor inarticulate most of the entries seemed to me to be deliberately inaccessible. It read like the small print on a credit application. I don't think I made it through to the end of a single one. If that's representative of academic discourse on fandom, I can't help thinking it's doing fandom no favours at all.

OTW want to create a peer-reviewed academic journal to discuss fan works and fannish society. I have no problem with such a thing existing. No problem at all. Academia has always existed in it's own little ivory tower, generally harming no one and relevant to no one outside its own bubble. I was married to a sociologist; believe me I figured out real fast exactly how irrelevant it all is. My reservations stem from such a project being formed by, and apparently being the highest priority of, an organisation that purports to exist for the benefit of fandom.

I hope I'm wrong, but I strongly suspect that the interests of aca-fen and the interests of fandom as a whole will turn out to be mutually exclusive. It will be the regular wank about the ethics of critical reviews of fanfic dragged into the macrocosm. I know some people thrive on that kind of debate but meltdown is fun for no one. No matter what side of the argument you fall on, the fight stops being fun after the twentieth time your head hits the brick wall.

That said, it is my firm belief that fandom needs OTW. It has been needed for some time and I have nothing but respect for these women who have finally gone out there and made it happen.

I wonder if anyone remembers Fandom, Inc vs fandom? The fan history wiki appears to have no record of it, but that's no surprise as it happened about this time in 2000. The wiki is, shall we say, somewhat blind in that era.

But I remember it. I was there, if admittedly only as an interested observer at the time. I was too young, and too broke, and too not-American to participate in any meaningful way. Most of the earliest articles about the incident are gone from the net but I did find one, here on trektoday.com from "back in the day". Just, you know, to prove I'm not making this shit up.

What happened, roughly, was this. Carol, a fan I was vaguley acquainted with via the one mailing list we had in common came up with the cool idea of creating a multi-fandom website that would host news and fanfic and other cool stuff, and maybe a web-based email service for fans, too. She registered the domain fandom.tv, designed a logo and started work on her site. Not long afterwards, she received a C&D letter from the lying scumbags lawyers representing Fandom, Inc, who informed her that "fandom" was a registered trademark of said company. They demanded that she hand over the domain she'd paid for (they made no offer of payment), quit work on her site, and agree to never, ever again register or own a domain that included the word "fandom". If she refused to kiss their asses, they were going to sue her into bankrupcy. Or, that's what the legalese amounted to.

Carol had guts. And brains. She did a little research of her own. She discovered that "fandom" was a registered trademark of absolutely no one but there was a lapsed trademark application in the name of the company now threatening her. So she hired an attourney, put in an application to trademark "fandom.tv" herself and told the lying scumbags lawyers of Fandom, Inc where they could shove their baseless threats. Around the same time, she let folks on the mailing list we had in common know what was going on. Fox, who I believe was her attourney through the whole thing (I could be wrong about that), was also a member of several fandom mailing lists.

Fandom kicked into gear. It emerged quickly that Fandom, Inc ran the website fandom.com which essentially paid fans to create websites ("fandomains") devoted to certain popular fandoms. Copyright issues abounded as none of the "fandomains" had any official sanction and most of them used official pictures and/or screencaps (not to mention trademarked logos) in the building of their sites. Fox organised a boycott of fandom.com and letter writing campaign. The boycott was laregly symbolic as most of us in fandom never used the site anyway, but the symbol was important. Two of the people who ran "fandomains" popped up to yell at fen about what they were doing: both of them were male. (I consider this significant, yes.)

A mailing list was created (and still exists) on Yahoo: fandomfightsback. The list archives used to be public; at one point they were made members-only, but it's well worth joining to have a read: the early posts in particular are highly educational. Fandomfightsback coordinated the campaign and donations to support Carol's fight and the original founders considered starting some kind of fandom legal defence fund in case of corporate bullies trying this again. After the Fandom, Inc incident was over. FFB continued on, with the aim of defending fans against similarly unreasonable lawsuits. There was, for example, some discussion onlist of an artist who had been C&D's by Anne McCaffrey's reps because her artwork featured dragons, though unconnected to Ms McCaffrey's works.

Back to Fandom, Inc. It's the nature of legal disputes that the full truth of the settlement will never be publicly known. Carol, I'm sure, is bound by a confidentiality agreement. But there are three things I do know of the outcome:

1. Carol won, because fandom.tv continued to operate for many years.

2. Fandom, Inc collapsed. Apparently that had been on the cards before they tried to sue fandom.

3. Fandom.com, the domain and associated assets, were bought up by Creation (yes, the con people) some time before the final resolution happened.

You know that saying about having done the impossible? Fandom did it, that year.

In the years that followed, I became aware of a number of other cases where fandom members were C&D'd for fannish activity. The biggest was an archive of SW Angst fic which LucasFilm forced offline. I don't know if it ever came back; I'm not into Jedi-fic so I never really followed the story. Another I know of was a fan artist who was asked to take down some artwork based on WB toons for copyright reasons. She complied with the request immediately, but WB complained to her web host anyway (possibly at the same time they complained to her, but I don't know). The result was all her web sites went down, which included the major slash archive of a big fandom. Most of it was eventually restored.

What if we'd had OTW back then? What if fen had an option other than duck-and-cover when the corporate heavies pull out the big guns? What if we could fight for our right to our hobbies? Fandom proved we can win when we fought Fandom, Inc. Fandom can come together and be mighty, and we can win against the corporate nasties when we bloody well try. And what's more, we should, because just look at what might have happened if Fandom,Inc got away with bullying Carol. Who would have been next? Anyone with "fandom" or "fan" in their website domain name, that's who.

2007's events on Livejournal probably wouldn't have fallen directly under OTW's umbrella. But if fandom were a force to be reckoned with, if we had an organisation prepared to fight for us, then jerks like Six Apart might need to listen to us instead of caving in to neo-nazi fanatics screaming that we're a bunch of pedos.

OTW came about in response to fanlib dot com (I won't link to them, but they ain't hard to find), another bunch of corporate nasties who thought they could exploit fandom. They still think it. But I won't rehash that wank here: there are a gazillion or so posts on metafandom that'll explain it quite clearly. The short version: fanlib is an openly commercial website which invites us to post our fanfiction there so they can profit from it. There was a clever little clause in their original TOS which meant that if they got sued for profiting off our fanfic, the fans who wrote the fics in question could be forced to pay their legal fees and any damages awarded by the court. That clause may have been removed or changed, but they still say it's the unpaid fans who'll get sued, not them.

OTW came about in response to fanlib, but they are the natural successors of fandomfightsback and, I suspect, might involve some of the same people. I'm sure that at least one of those involved was active in the same part of fandom back when the Fandom, Inc thing went down.

The archive project which is the fanlib response is a great idea; it remains to be seen how well it will work. If they suceeed in combining the social networking features of LJ with the ease-of-archiving of somewhere like fanfiction.net, I think it'll be a great success. But that's a long way off and all we can do is wait and see.

Their academic journal I have serious reservations about. The fan history wiki idea...I don't know. I'm not much into wikis so I don't really have an opinion on that one.

But the thing that makes OTW unique and the thing that has me saying all fen should be supporting them is the notion that their archive will be tied directly into an organisation that won't cave to the first DMCA notice or C&D they receive. They'll fight for us. And, you know what - fandom just might do the impossible...again.
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