Kristina Busse

The Organization for Transformative Works: I Want Us to Own the Goddamned Servers

If You Build It, They Will Come: How the Internet Builds Communities Around Fanfic

Writercon (August 2009)

I’m not sure how much back story I need to give on OTW, the Organization for Transformative Works and how many of you are familiar with its history or are even members, but I figure I’ll give a very brief overview and then elaborate if y’all have any questions.

In spring of 2007, so a little over two years ago, FanLib became a much debated topic in fandom. FanLib was a commercially driven fan fiction archive and the first large scale attempt to commercialize fan fiction. Moreover, it was an archive that did not arise from within the media fandom community but instead was a venture capital project that advertized itself to media corporations while requiring fans to “color within the lines” (that’s a quote!) all the while not offering any legal protection.

Metafandom probably had a dozen to two dozen links a day through early May ’07, and it quickly moved beyond our LJ community into the general blogosphere. The (all male) FanLib founders were unresponsive to communication requests until Henry Jenkins stepped in asking for an interview. That, of course, was indicative, because a respected male academic could go where fangirls, many of us academics of our own but existing in fandom under pseudonyms, could not.

One post was astolat’s entitled “An Archive of Our Own,” clearly resonating Virginia Woolf’s feminist manifesto. In it she said (and I cite her fully here):

We need a central archive of our own, something like Something that would NOT hide from google or any public mention, and would clearly state our case for the legality of our hobby up front, while not trying to make a profit off other people's IP and instead only making it easier for us to celebrate it, together, and create a welcoming space for new fans that has a sense of our history and our community behind it. (5-17-07)

Within days the post had hundreds of comments, people excited and willing to do something, to become active. What became clear pretty quickly was that fandom had reached a tipping point in terms of a number of areas that then were to become the various aspects of OTW:

In order to do all of these things, Naomi Novik, speculative fiction writer and media fan, sat down with some other volunteers who had agreed to constitute the first board of OTW to found a nonprofit fan organization. Within a year the OTW was incorporated and had received US 501(c)(3) qualification for tax deduction. (I know nothing about this, but I’ve been told by people who work in the field that even nonprofits with paid staff usually take longer than that).

Very quickly, the call for volunteers went out, and while the quasi-professional, heavily bureaucratic model can be somewhat offputting, it has yielded results pretty fast. Within a year from announcing incorporation, the first journal issue was out and the wiki went live. The archive entered a limited beta release shortly after. Several of the board members have been interviewed by various newspapers, magazines, and NPR—and in an unforeseen move, several board and OTW members went to testify at the U.S. Government Copyright Office’s DMCA [Digital Millenium Copyright Act] Hearings on Noncommercial Remixes.

The first election that replaced the first two members of the board was held last November with the second election replacing the next two coming up this fall. By 2010 then the entire board will have been elected by OTW members. (At last membership drive in April there were just under 400 registered members.) Every fan can become a member with a $10 tax deductible membership but all services (archive, wiki, journal, legal counsel, PR advice) are free. Everyone can volunteer—and everyone’s needed.