AO3 News

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2021-04-30 13:03:22 -0400

Spotlight on Legal Issues

Of special interest to German fans, as well as other fans in the EU.

Germany is working on implementing Article 17, which makes significant changes in European copyright law. This has created an exciting opportunity to clarify that fan fiction is legal under German copyright law.

The German government has sent a draft bill to the two houses of Parliament. The final vote is planned for the beginning of May. The government proposal makes clear that nonprofit websites like the Archive of Our Own should not be required to get licenses from copyright owners, as commercial websites like Facebook and YouTube will have to do. The draft bill also proposes to explicitly legalize fan fiction, fan art, and many other transformative works, as part of the EU exception for “caricature, parody and pastiche”.

There is one problem, and one risk. The problem is that the proposal includes language that is not required by Article 17 and that could be confusing and unduly restrictive of the ability to engage in caricature, parody and pastiche. This language restricts caricature, parody and pastiche “to the extent required by the specific purpose,” which would invite second-guessing of an artist’s purpose by courts and copyright claimants. Fan fiction, like caricature, parody and pastiche in general, has its own artistic existence and courts should not ask whether a work of fan fiction takes “too much” of the characters.

The risk is that some lobbyists are asking for a remuneration requirement for caricature, parody and pastiche—including fan fiction and fan art—even if they are not posted on commercial websites. The consequences of a payment requirement would be perverse: it would favor commercial platforms over nonprofits such as the Archive of Our Own and Wikipedia. This is because users could freely upload fan fiction, fan art, memes etc. to YouTube or Facebook, because the commercial platform would already be paying a collecting society through the implementation of Article 17, but the same users would have to pay a collecting society if they wanted to upload the same fan fiction, fan art or memes to their personal website or to a nonprofit website such as Archive of Our Own. In practice, the law would strengthen the big commercial platforms by creating an incentive for internet users to close down their private websites, leave nonprofit platforms such as AO3, and move their activities to a Facebook group instead.

We suggest that German fans should (1) ask Members of the German Parliament (Mitglied des Bundestags) to remove the restriction on the caricature, parody & pastiche exception “to the extent required by the specific purpose” and (2) explain how important it is that this exception should not be subject to remuneration. One easy way to do that is to use the portal, whose page on the Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection shows those members of parliament who will be in charge of this proposal.

We believe that the law should not add an additional condition, not part of Article 17, to the exception for parody, caricature and pastiche, saying that uses should only be allowed “to the extent required by the specific purpose”. This wording only serves to muddy the waters, because it is very difficult for a user to determine the extent of the use of a work that is “required” for the purpose of fan fiction, fan art, and other transformative uses. Likewise, we believe that the law should protect individual fans and noncommercial websites, and fight against the dominance of Facebook and YouTube, by rejecting a compensation requirement for the exception for parody, caricature and pastiche.

Update 5 May 2021: Based on fan response to this post about Germany's impending copyright reforms, we have created a petition for fans to use, which may provide an easier way to reach the legislator than submitting individual comments in the form of a question to the website (as suggested in the original post). 

The Organization for Transformative Works is the non-profit parent organization of multiple projects including Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, Open Doors, Transformative Works and Cultures, and OTW Legal Advocacy. We are a fan run, entirely donor-supported organization staffed by volunteers. Find out more about us on our website.


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2020-12-22 13:22:02 -0500

OTW logo with the words 'Spotlight on Legal Issues'

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.

Sen. Tillis's proposal is awful. Among other things, it would dismantle safe harbors in the DMCA that protect the AO3 and other fan sites. It would put fanworks at greater risk of being taken down, and make it harder for new fan sites to get started. But here's the good news: it's just one Senator's wish list. Although Sen. Tillis's office has released a proposal, it's not even a bill yet--and if we remember our Schoolhouse Rock, becoming a bill is only the first step on a long, winding road that can involve lots of changes and may go nowhere. And before it starts on any road, the OTW (and you!) will have opportunities to have our voices heard and make a difference in what (if anything) might go in a bill.

OTW's legal advocacy team is on the case. We've been submitting responses and objections to Congress and the Senate, meeting with Sen. Tillis and other lawmakers, and doing everything else we can to continue to support free expression and fair use, promote copyright safe harbors that make it possible for the AO3 to exist, and protect fans from having their works unfairly taken down or commercially exploited by others.

We're optimistic that this wish list will not become law! But we have a lot of work ahead of us, and if you live in the United States, you can help. As things go forward, we'll know more about what specific actions will make a difference, but for now the biggest thing you can do is stand up and be counted. If you are interested in staying informed or getting involved, let us and our allies at the Re:Create Coalition know!.

OTW Legal is here to help! To find out more about the OTW's Legal Advocacy work or how to contact us, visit our Legal Advocacy page.

The Organization for Transformative Works is the non-profit parent organization of multiple projects including Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, Open Doors, Transformative Works and Cultures, and OTW Legal Advocacy. We are a fan run, entirely donor-supported organization staffed by volunteers. Find out more about us on our website.


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2020-05-16 17:47:58 -0400

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.

The part that has attracted the most attention in fandom circles has been Section 7: Submissions, User Generated Content, DMCA Takedown Notices. So what does this term mean?

First, 7A asserts that you have no expectation of compensation for any ideas or materials submitted to Disney. This is an important rule of thumb: Always be careful when submitting ideas or materials to anyone, not just Disney!

7B then goes on to discuss user generated content ("UGC"). It defines UGC as content by users that Disney "asks for" or "allows." This refers to be content uploaded to Disney's platforms, sites, and such. What do Disney's terms mean when they say they cover content uploaded to third-party platforms "integrated" with Disney? This seems to refer to Disney platforms that you can get through various devices and tools such as Xbox, Apple iOS, or Android. Of course, we can't promise that Disney won't try to assert these terms over content posted elsewhere--but the law limits their ability to succeed in that sort of broad assertion.

Disney's terms appear to refer to two categories of UGC made available via these platforms:

(1) If the UGC is entirely your own original work, then the terms state that you grant Disney a non-exclusive, royalty-free worldwide license to do what it wishes with the UGC. This license means Disney can use the UGC in a variety of ways, without attribution or compensation. Non-exclusive, royalty-free worldwide licenses are fairly common in the UGC world. Indeed, these licenses are often necessary for social media and other UGC websites to function (otherwise, they might not be able to display your content at all, which generally isn't what people want when they post something!). However, the license purportedly taken by Disney in its terms of use is somewhat unusual in its breadth and duration. Again, the extent to which Disney can assert its terms of use over UGC posted to third-party websites, apps, and platforms is limited, but please be aware of this term when interacting with any of Disney's platforms.

(2) The other type of UGC referenced in the terms is UGC that Disney has "authorized" users to post, upload, distribute, display, or perform that incorporates Disney's copyrighted works. Although we can't be sure, this probably refers to works that Disney has invited or challenged users to create and post. In that situation, Disney asserts that it has granted a license for that use of its copyrighted works within the UGC, with the condition that all rights in the resulting derivative work UGC is assigned back to Disney. The terms go on to state that a refusal to assign the rights in the derivative work to Disney would result in Disney revoking the license to use its copyrighted works in the UGC. Like the first category, this term is unusual in its breadth.

But it is important to note that not all uses of Disney's copyrighted works in UGC require a license from Disney. You do not need a license to create any derivative work that would be protected by fair use, and it is the OTW's position that noncommercial fanworks are creative and transformative works protected by the fair use doctrine. Therefore, Disney's terms grant your UGC a license on the condition that you assign all of your rights to Disney; but not all UGC requires that license in the first place. In that case, revoking the license would just mean that ordinary copyright law, including fair use, governs the UGC.

What's the tl;dr here? If you post something on a Disney platform (website, app, service, etc.), Disney's terms are likely to be enforceable. However, we do not believe Disney's one-sided assertion of control over anything it "allows" is broadly enforceable. If you post something on a non-Disney platform without doing anything to agree to Disney's terms, then copyright and trademark law, including fair use, provides the rules.

The Organization for Transformative Works is the non-profit parent organization of multiple projects including Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, Open Doors, Transformative Works and Cultures, and OTW Legal Advocacy. We are a fan run, entirely donor-supported organization staffed by volunteers. Find out more about us on our website.


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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:

Google Play store:


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2019-04-01 13:02:32 -0400

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It's an active time for OTW's copyright-law advocacy, and if you're in or from New Zealand, we need your help! Here's what you can do.

We're hard at work arguing for fan-friendly law around the world. In addition to our continuing work in the EU and our upcoming testimony to the U.S. Copyright Office about the importance of safe harbors for online service providers, we'll also be submitting a comment to the government of New Zealand in connection with that country's review of its Copyright Act.

Here's where you come in! As we've done in many countries, including Canada, Australia, the U.S., and South Africa, we'd like our New Zealand submission to include first-hand accounts from New Zealanders about the benefits of laws that promote the creation and sharing of transformative works.

If you’re in or from New Zealand and have expressed yourself, gained skills, been part of creative communities, or otherwise experienced the benefits of being able to create transformative works, we’d love to hear your stories. They can be long or short--just give us some specifics about why making and enjoying fanworks matters to you, so we can include those stories in our submission.

The deadline is approaching quickly! Please send your stories to us by April 3 using our contact form (scroll down to "Legal Advocacy") or e-mailing us at legal [at] (Feel free to use a pseudonym if you don't want us to share your personally identifying information.)


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2019-03-29 13:02:37 -0400

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On March 26, by a pretty slim margin, the European Parliament passed the un-amended Digital Single Market Directive. This directive includes the fan-unfriendly provisions known as Articles 11 and 13 (now re-numbered to 15 and 17, but otherwise unchanged), which we have written about before in this space. We won’t sugarcoat it—it’s bad news—but it isn’t the end of the world. Nonprofit platforms like the AO3 will not be affected, and there are provisions designed to protect some of the sites and fan activities you (and we!) love. A lot remains to be seen. Here’s a close look at what the law means and what we can expect.

The European ministers still have to vote on the directive before it becomes final, but it is widely presumed that they will approve it. Assuming the European ministers approve it, the directive will then be transposed into national legislation by EU countries, at which point it will become law. Each country’s implementation may be slightly different, but will conform to the directive’s principles. Here are some of the key takeaways from the directive as it passed:

- The definition of "online content-sharing service providers" is limited to platforms whose main purpose is to “store and give the public access to a large amount of copyright-protected works or other protected subject matter uploaded by its users, which it organizes and promotes for profit-making purposes.” The directive therefore excludes non-profit platforms like the AO3.

- The definition also explicitly excludes "not-for-profit online encyclopedias, not-for-profit educational and scientific repositories, open source software-developing and-sharing platforms, [Internet service providers], online marketplaces, business-to-business cloud services and cloud services that allow users to upload content for their own use." That means that platforms like Wikipedia, Open Science Framework, GitHub, telecom companies, eBay, Etsy, Amazon Web Services, and Dropbox should also be safe from these provisions.

- For-profit "online content-sharing service providers" will be liable for copyright infringement by their users, and will have an obligation to obtain permission from copyright holders for providing user-uploaded copyrighted works. This means that some big sites will negotiate license agreements with major copyright holders to implement systems (like YouTube’s ContentID) that allow those copyright holders to block or monetize instances when users upload their copyrighted material.

- However, platforms will not be liable for infringing content if they implement notice-and-takedown and filtering systems to prevent uploading and re-uploading of material claimed by copyright owners. Although this has some things in common with the notice-and-takedown safe harbors in the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it places more intensive obligations on platforms. Industry standards will vary, but some sites will almost certainly install "filters" that try to prevent the upload of unauthorized material.

- The directive states that it "shall not lead to any general monitoring obligation" (although the consensus is that filters will be required) and that platforms must have an "effective and expeditious" way for users to dispute a block or takedown. Therefore, the directive requires that fans be provided with mechanisms to combat abusive takedowns, including the ability to dispute takedowns of non-infringing transformative works, although we don't know what those mechanisms will look like or how well they may work.

- The directive states that its implementation should "in no way affect legitimate uses, such as uses under exceptions or limitations" to copyright, and should "not result in the prevention of the availability of works ... which do not infringe copyright and related rights, including where such works or other subject matter are covered by an exception or limitation. Member States shall ensure that users in each Member State are able to rely on [exceptions for] quotation, criticism, review; use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche." We don’t know how this will be implemented or how it can work with filters that can't tell whether these exceptions apply, but it provides countries with the opportunity to include significant exceptions in their laws implementing the directive. Fans may wish to contact their national legislators to emphasize the importance of protecting users' rights.

- The directive says that the standard should take into account "(a) the type, the audience, and the size of the service and the type of works or other subject matter uploaded by the users of the service; and (b) the availability of suitable and effective means and their cost for service providers." This means that in theory, smaller or less-resourced sites, sites whose main purpose is hosting non-infringing transformative works (like fanworks), and sites that focus on criticism and commentary can argue that they should not have to engage in filtering because filters are too expensive or are simply not suitable for dealing with the non-infringing transformative works they host. Although we cannot predict what they will do, fansites and popular for-profit fanwork platforms like, tumblr, Wattpad, and DeviantArt may be able to argue that they should not have to install upload filters. However, we can also predict that for-profit filtering providers will argue that their products are priced appropriately and that large copyright owners will argue that any sites that host video, audio, or images for profit should be required to filter.

- There is also an exemption for very small and very new platforms (less than 3 years old, average monthly unique visitors under 5 million, and annual turnover below EUR 10 million). This is a minimal exception, but it may allow new fansites and platforms a small opportunity to get on their feet before having to comply, if they can figure out a way to do so.

- Finally, the directive provides for research and stakeholder dialog on implementation. The OTW has joined a coalition that will be conducting such research and dialog, and will continue to fight for fans’ rights on the Internet!

If you don't live in the EU: Big copyright owners are seeking the same changes around the world, and will be asking the U.S. Copyright Office to support similar changes in April. Keep an eye out for a chance to let your legislators know that filters are a bad idea.

Have questions about the directive? OTW Legal is here to answer them.


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2019-03-16 12:56:06 -0400

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Copyright lawmaking efforts continue in the EU, and we want to keep you informed. Our last post on this topic contained some good news. Our news this time is less good--the European Parliament is now considering a revised version of Article 13 that still contains fan-unfriendly provisions. This proposal only applies to for-profit sites, so the AO3 is still safe, but sites like YouTube and Tumblr are not--and there is still time to fight. Here's what the proposal means and what you can do!

In February, after the EU nations' Councils rejected a draft of Article 13, its supporters went back to the drawing board and created a revised version. A leaked copy of that version is available here. You can learn more about the history and summaries of the provisions here, here, and here.

Like the previous version, the revised version still only applies to for-profit sites, so it still would not have any impact on the AO3. But that doesn't mean it's good for fans! The revised version does contain exemption for very small and very young (less than three-year-old) startup platforms, and a provision under which users must be able to dispute wrongful blocking of material. But ultimately, it still contains many of the fan-unfriendly provisions that had existed in the earlier version. Importantly, it still places a burden on for-profit platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr to prevent the upload of infringing material. And although the revised Article 13 proposal purports to protect non-infringing uses such as quotation, criticism, review, parody, and pastiche, it is not clear whether platforms would be required to install algorithmic filtering mechanisms, which are notoriously bad at identifying those sorts of non-infringing uses.

You Can Help Fight This Proposal

On March 25-28, April 4, or April 15-18, the European Parliament will hold a Plenary Vote in which all 751 MEPs will vote on whether to accept this proposal. This vote can kill the bill or make changes to it, including removing Article 13. This vote will happen only a few weeks before the EU elections, so there is a particular opportunity for Europeans to make their voices heard. If you are European, contact your MEP, call or visit your MEPs' offices, visit campaign or party events, and let them know that this issue matters to you in the upcoming election! Some groups have organized protests around Europe on March 23. If you aren't European or in Europe, you can sign a petition to lend your voice to a record-breaking number of voices worldwide.

OTW Legal has fought against Article 13 since the beginning, and will continue to fight against this and other fan-unfriendly legal developments!


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2019-03-01 13:47:50 -0500

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When you create or enjoy a fanwork, whether you know it or not, you are usually relying on the laws of fair use and fair dealing. These laws--known as fair use in some countries (including the U.S.) and fair dealing in others (including Canada and the U.K.)--are what allow fans to make and post fanworks based on pre-existing copyrighted work without being copyright infringers. Every year, organizations across the Internet celebrate this set of laws and all of the wonderful creativity they promote.

Fair use and fair dealing laws provide that certain uses of copyrighted material are not infringing, even if they are done without the permission of the copyright holder. Fair use laws favor uses that transform the meaning or purpose of an underlying work, that are distributed noncommercially, that use limited amounts of the underlying work, and that do not compete with the underlying work in the market. Fair dealing laws also favor transformative uses such as parody, commentary, criticism, and noncommercial user-generated content. The OTW stands for the proposition that transformative, noncommercial fanworks are fair use. OTW’s Legal advocacy project works to make sure that stays true, and to make sure that governments around the world recognize the value of fair use and fair dealing in making and interpreting their laws.

In the past, we’ve answered your questions about fair use and fair dealing, exploded some fair use misconceptions, and talked about how fair use and fair dealing laws apply to fanworks. We encourage you to check out those things, and the many wonderful posts and events that other organizations are putting on this week. We invite you to reach out to OTW Legal with your questions about fair use and copyright. And finally, we hope you celebrate fair use/fair dealing week this year by engaging in some fair use of your own!


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