Get To Know Our Members: Organization for Transformative Works

Re:Create’s Get to Know Our Members blog series helps others better understand the different ways Re:Create members work to support balanced copyright laws and why they are so motivated by copyright issues. For this post, we heard from Betsy Rosenblatt, legal chair at the Organization for Transformative Works.

1: What is your organization’s mission?

The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a nonprofit organization established by fans to serve their interests by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. We believe that fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate. 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.  Our legal advocacy project is proactive in protecting and defending fanworks from commercial exploitation and legal challenge.

2: What types of people/organizations/businesses do you represent? 

The OTW represents fans, particularly those who create, re-create, and consume fanworks like fan fiction, fan videos (fanvids), fan games, fanart, costume play (cosplay), and engage in many other forms of fannish expression and community.

3: Why are balanced copyright policies so important to your organization?  

By their nature, fanworks are new works based on existing media, transforming works to add new meaning and insights—from reworking a film from the perspective of the “villain,” to using storytelling to explore racial dynamics in media, to retelling the story as if a woman, instead of a man, were the hero. These works are core fair uses, and balanced copyright is essential to allowing fans to create and share fanworks and the many personal, social, and expressive benefits they provide.

4: What role does the DMCA play in supporting the work of your stakeholders?

The DMCA plays two distinct and important roles in supporting fans and the OTW.  First, the DMCA’s safe harbors are essential to the creation and maintenance of fan communities and the platforms that support them. The OTW operates the Archive of Our Own (AO3), a Hugo-Award winning, volunteer-run site that hosts over 6 million unique user-posted transformative noncommercial works, has over 2.5 million registered users, and receives almost 350 million page views per week. Users rely on the AO3 to host noninfringing fair-use works, and DMCA safe harbors allow the site to host such works without fear of liability for user activity. Second, fanwork creators are authors and copyright holders in their own rights, and rely on the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown framework to protect their own works from being infringed and exploited. 

5: What concerns you most about proposals to make the DMCA more restrictive?

Critiques of the DMCA often focus on its age, and claim that more restrictive proposals would serve the new generation of Internet creators. But that new generation is exactly who the OTW serves, and our experience demonstrates that broadly applicable DMCA safe harbors that discourage invalid takedowns and encourage fair use are crucial to those user-creators. 

Proposals to make the DMCA more restrictive especially tend to undervalue the doctrine of copyright fair use. Fair use is what enables user/creators to critique and comment upon copyrighted works in ways that are demonstrably beneficial to society—including political critique, educational use and analysis of copyrighted works, and parody—by protecting such uses from copyright liability. Proposals that burden fair use, allow fair uses to be taken down without analysis, or discourage OSPs from evaluating whether uses are fair invite viewpoint discrimination and are harmful to free expression and fan communities.

6: What key fact or stat about will help readers better understand how important balanced copyright policies are to American creativity, innovation and economic growth?

During the period of COVID-19 lockdown, use of the AO3 has reached unprecedented levels, including dramatic increases in site traffic and comments on works.  As COVID-19 quarantines began in March 2020, comments on the AO3 rose a staggering 42%. This is a powerful demonstration of how much people rely on creating and consuming fanworks, and rely particularly on the communities that fanworks foster, to maintain mental health and personal connection during challenging times.