"We envision a future in which all fannish works are recognized as legal and transformative and are accepted as a legitimate creative activity. We are proactive and innovative in protecting and defending our work from commercial exploitation and legal challenge. We preserve our fannish economy, values, and creative expression by protecting and nurturing our fellow fans, our work, our commentary, our history, and our identity while providing the broadest possible access to fannish activity for all fans."
That, my friends, is the mission statement of the Organization for Transformative Works, a new organization that hopes to legitimize fanfiction. I kid you not. When I first saw the site, I thought it was an elaborate practical joke, like amptp.com. But it isn’t. The movers and shakers behind this effort include Naomi Novik, a fanficcer turned acclaimed fantasy novelist, and Dr. Robin Reid, the Texas A&MUniversity professor best known for writing fiction about real people like Viggo Mortenson having sex with other male actors.
They steal the creative work of others and then have the balls to say they want to "defend their work from commercial exploitation." Their hypocrisy is staggering…and apparently boundless. One of their "missions" is "establishing a legal defense project and forming alliances to defend fanworks from legal challenge." (I wonder if they will also form an alliance with the group that polices plagiarism of fanfic by other fanficcers) Novik writes on author John Scalzi’s blog:
"We just want to enjoy our hobby and our communities, and to share our creative work, without the constant threat hanging overhead that an overzealous lawyer at some corporation will start sending out cease-and-desist notices, relying not on legal merit, but on the disproportionate weight of money on their side."
With that kind of reasoning, I’m surprised they haven’t recruited Lori Jareo to lead their organization.
While their staggering hypocrisy might be lost on the majority of fanficcers, the foolhardy nature of this effort isn’t. For years, studios, publishers, authors and other rights holds have largely turned a blind eye to the blatant copyright infringement that is Fanfiction as long as fanficcers haven’t tried to profit from it. Or, as John Scalzi puts it:
"To the extent that fandom currently does what it does, it does it because of the benign neglect or tolerance of the copyright holders of the works the fans are working with.
Now many fanficcers seem justifiably concerned that the OTW’s efforts to claim ownership of their copyright-infringing works could end this fragile détente. Elfwreck writes on Scalzi’s blog:
"Sooner or later a copyright owner is going to issue a DMCA notice to a fan, a fan is going to run to OTW (or alternately, OTW will offer its services), and an expensive legal suit will be on and if the case is of sufficient profile, then other copyright owners, alerted to the existence of a group who says they can in fact no longer control their copyrights from people who claim to be fans, will start giving the fannish community quite a bit more attention, and probably not of the good kind…"
Scalzi envisions it happening like this:
"If and when a fan, told by, say, NBC Universal to take down her Battlestar Galactica fanfic, decides to make the legal argument that her work is transformative and fair use, […] and the fan shows up in court with the assistance of an umbrella group dedicated to the proposition that all fan work is legal and transformative, I suspect the era of benign neglect or tolerance of fan activity will be at a sudden and pronounced end. Because now the fans are saying, why, yes, this really does belong to us, and corporations who have invested millions in and can reap billions from their projects will quite naturally see this as a threat. From there it’s all DMCA notices and entire fan sites going down."
The OTW claims that "fannish work," an umbrella term for fanfiction and the "Real People Slash" that Dr. Reid gets off on and even such fetish fanfic as "DUE SOUTH Masturbation" stories, is "transformative" rather than "derivative," that it is a unique and important expression of feminism, and therefore should be legally protected. John Scalzi observes:
"OTW’s claim, however, appears predicated on a fairly expansive idea of what "transformative" means under the law, and also that all fanwork is transformative, apparently by the mere nature of being fanwork. OTW is perfectly in its rights to make such a claim, but they are fairly significant claims, and I don’t imagine that OTW’s interpretation of the law would go unopposed if it were presented in a court of law."
[…]I suspect that a judge asked to consider a possibly infringing works’ "fannishness" as a relevant criterion for evaluation will toss that out early, chosing instead to look at what the law actually requires."
One fanficcer offered this comment on Scalzi’s blog:
"I’m not going to stop [writing fanfiction] either way, so I’d like to see the rules set on fandom’s terms, even if it is a segment of fandom that I and others don’t wholly agree with. There’s a risk in founding OTW at all, of course– it scares me to think of what unintended consequences might arise due to the whole thing. But there’s also a risk in sitting on one’s hands and doing nothing. If this history ends up being rewritten by victors that are not part of fandom, I’d at least like to know I didn’t stand still and do nothing while they were at it."
I want to see the day OTW legally challenges J.K. Rowling’s right to prevent people from disseminating stories about Snape and Voldemort gang-banging Harry Potter and Ron. Or the day the OTW fights for Robin Reid’s right to create and distribute stories about Sean Bean having sex withViggo Mortenson. Because when that day comes, instead of legitimizing fanfiction, they will kill it…not only in a court of law but in the court of public opinion.