My Transformative Works and Cultures coeditor, Kristina Busse, and I have written a document about “Fan Privacy and TWC’s Editorial Philosophy.” It addresses our editorial decisions about citation of publicly presented fan works in TWC. TWC’s submission guidelines strongly suggest that scholars seek fan permission before citing a fan artwork, but we fall short of requiring it. The document we wrote goes into detail to explain why this is so.
To summarize the problem: there is a divide between best practices in the academic and fan realms regarding the appropriateness of citing things like fan fiction, fan videos, or fan-manipulated art. In the academic realm, any text publicly posted is considered published, and it is not required to obtain permission of the writer to cite from it. Scholars wouldn’t ask Jane Austen (who is dead) or Philip Roth (who is not) if they could write about their works; such an idea actually seems ridiculous. It thus would probably never occur to your average scholar that there might be a problem with citing a freely available fan artwork. The text here is perceived as text only, separate from the creator. The academic stance assumes that citing the text violates no privacy concerns because it is publicly posted, and presumably the fan wouldn’t have posted it publicly if she didn’t want people to read it.
In some circles of the fan realm (but by no means universally), any fan artwork that is publicly posted is still considered a private document, meant to share with the community but not really the world at large. The idea of scholars publishing an article about a fan’s work without letting the fan know they are doing so is intolerable to many fans. The text here is perceived as a representation of the fan herself, an aspect of the creator. Citing the text is a violation of the fan’s expectations of privacy.
TWC’s policy is a middle-ground attempt to reconcile these two differing points of view. As we say in “Fan Privacy,” “We are an academic publication drawing from a myriad of different disciplines and fandoms. We have created an ethics guideline that forces scholars to seriously consider the potential costs of citing, referencing, and linking even publicly posted material.”
As a fan, I personally do not care if someone cites my fan fiction. I also don’t care if, for example, someone took it and disseminated it, maybe by putting it in a hard-copy zine, or maybe by adding it to a fic archive she wants to start. To make this stance abundantly clear, I have stated this preference in several places: on LiveJournal, it’s in my profile, and on my blog pages, in the navbar, I have provided a Creative Commons copyright that permits remixing and reposting, but with attribution. This is a signal to anyone, scholar or not, that they can take my work and I don’t care. There is no need to ask.
However, if I wanted privacy—if I wanted the documents I create to be part of the fan community but not the world at large—I would lock everything down. In LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, I would friendslock. On An Archive Of Our Own, I would adjust my privacy settings. I would take my fic down from any public fic archives, such as Wraithbait. The Internet is part of the reason fandom has gone mainstream: it’s just so easy to find these texts. Fans need to rigorously police their own online identities. The culture of silence that protected them is being broken—by fellow fans, especially ones who came to fandom recently via the Internet and who have no longtime background in fan culture, and by outsiders to fandom.
What it comes down to is risk management. Everyone who posts, fan or not, needs to balance the risks with the rewards: readership and the potential for new friendships, versus the possibility of intense and possibly unwelcome scrutiny.
This text is copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. This post was originally written on December 5, 2009. It may be freely copied anywhere. If you read this document a site other than its original, I may not see any comments you might append, and I’d love to hear from you. Please comment at the original blog post if you wish me to see your remarks.