There has been a very active and thoughtful response to our recent announcement in favor of allowing meta on the AO3. We'd like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to everyone for raising their concerns, showing their support, and otherwise engaging with us as we work to define our policies, refine our processes, and improve our communication. In addition, we'd like to respond to a number of the issues raised and clarify how this decision was reached and what the process will be from this point forward.
For the purposes of this and the previous post, the term "meta" refers to nonfictional fanworks in all media. While text-based nonfiction fanworks have been a frequent focus, this decision and the surrounding commentary is meant to encompass fanworks in all media; this is one reason why multimedia hosting, posting, and filtering will be referenced frequently in conjunction with the decision to support meta.
There is still a long way to go before meta can be fully supported on the AO3, and we will address a number of the concerns about implementation and timing below. Determining how meta should be supported — for example, the details of how multimedia hosting on the AO3 will ultimately look — is a matter for our committees and users to decide through committee collaboration and user input. However, determining whether supporting meta on the Archive is consonant with the OTW’s mission falls squarely within the Board’s purview and duty.
History of the discussion
When the initial question of meta was posed to Board, it was framed as a request for clarification on whether meta fell under transformative works as we defined them for the AO3, and how to proceed with reports of meta as a violation of our Terms of Service (ToS). The Board voted last August to send the meta issue back to the committees for more discussion, in the hope that the committees could work out among themselves issues that the Board had found insoluble. The decision called for balancing the competing concerns of several committees, and the Board had been unable to reach a satisfactory agreement. However, the execution of that plan dragged on for months as we dealt with Board member hiatuses, resignations, and appointments on top of other day-to-day business, and the vote was never put into action.
When the Board reconvened in 2013, we initially had intended to continue with the plan set out by the 2012 Board, but we quickly realized that — partly as a result of the Board’s dramatically changed composition and partly because of a new focus on clarifying the Board's purview — we no longer felt it to be the best course of action. We looked at the conversations that had been happening within and outside the organization for the previous six months and came to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of both our users and our personnel that a basic decision be made as soon as possible, rather than occupy staff and volunteer time in further stretching out a question that we felt it was our responsibility as Board to settle: the question of the scope of the OTW and AO3's missions with respect to meta.
We had many users who had been waiting all that time to find out if their meta could stay on the Archive, and several committees who needed a determination in order to perform their duties. We took a fresh vote, which was unanimously in favor of interpreting the OTW and AO3's missions as inclusive of owing meta the same protections and support as other fanworks. Once that vote had been taken, sending the issue back to committees for a discussion that would not have changed the Board’s stance would have been disingenuous. We felt it was preferable to state a firm decision and engage the committees in determining how best to carry it out.
We are aware that the Board's decision seemed very abrupt to people both inside and outside the OTW, and we acknowledge that more transparency would have been preferable. The Board’s overall workload and the emotional burnout many of us have experienced as a result of the length and intensity of the meta discussion were obstacles that prevented us from communicating effectively. We regret our shortcomings in this area and will strive to do better in the future; we are working to reduce workload and burnout and clarify policies and purview in an effort to prevent this from recurring.
We are committed to fully engaging committees and users in determining how the decision will be implemented, and a revised Archive TOS and FAQ are currently being drafted under the leadership of the Content Policy Workgroup. As with other TOS and FAQ revisions, they will be posted for public comment before they are formally adopted.
Replies to some questions and concerns
We recognize that this decision will not be popular with all users, members, or even OTW personnel. Conversely, the choice to allow meta — and turning over the ability to define and craft specific policy to our committees — is a decision many support. The concerns raised by those leaving comments are ones the Board spent a great deal of time discussing, and we are happy to share our reasoning and to continue answering questions to the best of our ability. Here are some responses to common concerns and questions:
- Meta does not require new code to be hosted in its bare form — unlike image or video hosting no new code is required for a basic level of service. For example, a nonfiction essay can be uploaded just like a fictional story, or a meta comic can be linked just like a fictional one is now, or a vid focused on commenting on the canon can be embedded like vids that build fictional narratives currently are. While there are ways the AO3 could be better organized to deliver meta, a basic level of hosting is already available.
- The AO3 is intended to eventually have filtering based on work type/medium, allowing meta to be found and filtered. The intention is to expand the AO3 functionality to better host non-textual fanworks (e.g. vids, podfics, art, etc.), and the most-requested behaviors with respect to meta (filtering, tagging, etc.) all intersect with what will be in place for multimedia hosting and posting.
- Refusing to host meta and waiting until we have sufficient code for works types would unduly punish users who have already posted meta works in good faith. In addition to posting meta based on good-faith interpretation of the TOS, users have been posting many types of works the AO3 is not strictly prepared to deal with on a technical and usability level, which includes meta of all media and most non-textual fanworks. Allowing and encouraging users to post all types of fanworks has been a cornerstone of the AO3's philosophy as an archive, and it would be disingenuous and unfair to punish one type of fanwork or creator but not others on this basis.
- While text-based meta faces much less legal challenge than some other fanwork types, it still faces other challenges such as loss of hosting due to failing archives or discontinued blogging platforms. Non-text-based meta, such as meta art and vids, shares many of the same legal challenges as other non-text-based fanworks.
- Fans should be able to archive all their fanworks together. Besides this general principle, there are specific instances of at-risk archives that include meta fanworks. Grandfathering in previously posted meta or disallowing meta except for that taken in through Open Doors leads to an inconsistent policy likely to cause confusion, conflict, and difficulty in enforcement.
We hope this answers some of your comments and concerns. We welcome further input and look forward to working with our personnel and our users in continuing to welcome a broad range of fannish endeavors under the OTW umbrella.