Chris Williams Responds to Our Questions about FanLib

As of a few minutes ago, I have received Chris Williams’ response to the questions we collected here. I promised him that I would run his answers in full and I have accordingly made no changes here except to format this in a way that will make it readable on the blog. I should warn people that I am tied up with a conference this afternoon and this evening. I will put through comments from readers as quickly as I am able to do so but I may be off line for extended periods of time, so please be patient. As always, if you get an error message, send your comments directly to me and I will post them myself.

THE ANSWERS

Dr. Jenkins,

Thank you for the opportunity to address the questions and share the unedited answers in full with your readers. I would like to apologize to the fan fiction community for creating confusion, being insensitive, sending some inappropriate communications, and acting in an unprofessional manner. I acknowledge that some of my answers below are repetitive but I wanted to make sure the answers are complete and in context for those readers that may only be interested in certain questions. Now to the answers…

BASIC BACKGROUND

What is your own background in fandom? Have you had a history of involvement in this community? More generally, are there people working for your company who come out of the fan fiction world and have an understanding of its traditions and practices?

I am a complete media junkie. I love stories and since 2003 I have involved over 100,000 people in online fan fiction events. Because of my involvement in these events I’ve definitely spent the most time with Harry Potter and L Word fan fiction. As you see from my response in the forums, I am not a great writer.

Several people in our small company come out of the fan fiction world. All of us are now involved in the community.

What led you to create this site? What first gave you the idea and why did you carry through with it? What are you hoping to achieve? What sold your investors that this was a good idea and that this was the right time to move forward?

I was deeply involved with the ongoing online revolution at Yahoo for a long time and I have always had a passion for film. In 2001, my friend and I had an idea, inspired by many people we knew with creative movie ideas, who didn’t have the means or access to realize them. So we tried to create a collaborative event for fans to write an original script and produce a feature film from it. It quickly became apparent to us that online storytelling was about more than script writing: entertainment fans were also looking for venues to showcase their talent, and media companies were wrestling with how to best operate in a changing world. So we started by testing the waters with fans by running special online storytelling events and found that many of the participants loved fan fiction. We went to the media companies, talked to them about how they wanted to work with online communities and found that many wanted to connect with fan fiction readers and writers. FanLib started running special events in partnership with media companies and publishers in a moderated, controlled environment. These events were so successful with both fans and the media companies that we decided to create a venue for online storytelling based upon fan fiction.

In this broadly changing landscape FanLib (the company, not the website) is meant to be a positive agent of change for fans, media companies, and rights holders. I want FanLib.com (the website) to become a venue for fans who want to showcase and share their work, discover great stories, get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms and participate in creative storytelling events.

Our investors recognize the tectonic shifts taking place in the digital/media/consumer/entertainment landscape. I won’t fill space here with the facts and research about media convergence, user generated content (UGC) and personal media consumption and I certainly recognize fan fiction is not your “vanilla” UGC. I know you and your readers are very well aware of these modern media phenomena and changes that are occurring everywhere. Our investors believe FanLib can play an important role.

What is the basic value proposition you are making? Who is making money here? Why are the fans not being compensated for the work they produce? In what other ways might fans receive benefit from their participation in your site?

The value proposition for fans is a free venue where they can pursue their passion by creating, showcasing, reading, reviewing, sharing, archiving, discovering stories, and by participating in fun events in a community with similar interests. For those that are interested, they can also get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms through official special events we create with media companies, like we just did with the TV show Ghost Whisperer.

The value proposition for media companies and publishers is to connect, engage, and entertain fans of their media properties in a new online storytelling environment.

Right now, in the early stages, no one is profiting. We are on the leading edge of the changes, and this is an evolving model. Media companies pay us to create the special events that I’ve described and advertisers pay to sponsor them. Like many sites on the web, users don’t pay us and we don’t pay them. We want to introduce fans to online storytelling, where fan fiction plays an important role and where they can share in a particular experience provided at the website.

What does FanLib offer a fanfic writer that other ad-free sites run by people from within the fanfic community do not?

FanLib offers four things:

First, we provide a venue for people who want to showcase and share their stories, discover great stories, get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms and participate in fun events.

Second, for people who want it, we provide the opportunity to be recognized and discovered by a wider audience and by our media partners. For example:

- FanLib has run two online storytelling events resulting in twelve winning authors being published in e-books distributed by HarperCollins.

- FanLib is currently running an event where authors have their parenting stories produced into short video episodes with major stars that are distributed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and online. These videos have already been viewed over 2,800,000 times online, and we are only on the second episode with three more to go.

- FanLib launched the first ever collaboration between a television creator and their fans resulting in an original episode screenplay for The L Word. One of the winning authors secured literary representation as a result of the contest.

- FanLib has given away more than $50,000 in prizes to winning participants in our online storytelling events.

- FanLib has secured local and national press coverage for winning authors of FanLib events.

We have many more special fan events coming. You’ll see us shortly announce and launch: a fan event with a major media company around one of the most popular fandoms, a collaborative feature film screenplay and movie, a partnership with a major talent management company to identify star writers from the FanLib.com community and create opportunities for them.

Third, we have highly responsive customer support.

Lastly, no other site – whether they have ads or not – offers all of the features listed below. Our beta site also actively solicits member feature requests and implements them.

Features:

+ Massively scalable, reliable archiving platform (backed up daily)

+ Easy submission creation and editing, including:

o WYSIWYG editing

o Import from another website

o File Upload with support for .doc, .txt, and .rtf formats

o Auto-save (i.e., your work is safe if your connection drops or computer crashes)

o “Make Private” option (your fic will be completely hidden from all but you)

o Add chapters over time

o Easily assign up to three fandoms to each submission

+ Advanced searching and filtering tools: Easy to add multiple criteria and build a filtered query with simple clicks

+ Featured Fanfics and Members: They will appear on the site homepage as well as at the top of searches

+ Syndication and Sharing Tools: Including RSS feeds, invites, and the ability to easily embed customized promotional badges on other sites

+ Customizable Member Profiles: You can build your profile with your fanfics, favorites, descriptions and feedback, deciding which elements will be public

+ Story Views:

o Paginated with bookmarking

o Single-page (printer-friendly) and ad-free

+ QuickLists (save a fic for later viewing)

+ Favorites

+ Subscriptions (see the latest from your favorite fandom or author)

+ Fandom FastFind: The ability to type a few characters from the name of a fandom, hit return and go directly to a page with only stories from that fandom

+ Tagging of fanfics

+ Customized Fanfic themes and images (with the ability to disable themes when browsing and searching)

+ Auto-Recommendations

+ Private messaging

+ Full Featured Message Boards

+ Content blocking based on age ratings (e.g., mature-rated submissions may be completely hidden)

+ Star Readers and Writers

+ Rate submissions (1-5 stars)

+ Leave multiple comments

+ Strong search engine optimizations

And, coming soon:

+ Email notifications

+ Multiple Author submissions

+ Banning individual members from leaving you comments

+ Ability to associate other media (e.g., video, more images)

+ Social networking tools

To our knowledge FanLib.com is the only site with ALL of these features. Our site is designed so that you don’t have to use all these features – in fact it’s also a great private archive.

Who is the target audience for the site? Did you do a market survey and identify who they wanted, and what is the demographic breakdown of that audience?

The site is for people who want to showcase and share stories, discover great stories, get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms and participate in fun online events. Let’s call that the “site mission”. Our market research showed that the site mission has great potential in a surprisingly broad demographic range. So the site design was not principally driven by a specific demographic, it was much broader than that and was designed for those people who like to use the new online tools and services. Obviously, anyone can use the site and we recognize that it is definitely not what the traditional fan fiction community is used to. Many of the features are a result of requests specifically from our ongoing beta test.

COPYRIGHT ISSUES

What rights is your site claiming over the fiction that gets posted there? What rights remain with the authors? Can fans post the same stories on other sites, for example, or are you claiming an exclusive right to the material? Fans note that the original terms of service implied you had the rights to edit the material or republish it in other places. Is this true?

FanLib.com members do not give up any ownership rights when they use the website. Neither do they acquire any additional ownership rights to characters and settings owned by someone else. FanLib does not own any rights to a member’s content; the members only authorize us to share it on our own website and allow other members to make use of it for their own noncommercial purposes. By submitting a story on FanLib.com, they do not give up any rights to post it on any other website. FanLib imposes no restrictions on what you do with your content outside our website. The old beta terms of service (TOS) did have the word “edit,” which caused a lot of confusion and has been removed. The new TOS has been posted at [http://www.fanlib.com/termsOfUse.do] and reflects many of the comments from the fan fiction community.

Fanfic remains in a legal gray area because there has yet to be a precedent set stating that it is or is not, legal. Many fans worry that FanLib changes the terms by which fan fiction is being produced and circulated by charging money and pushing it further into the public eye and that this increases the risk of legal action against it. A court battle could adversely impact the entire fan community by basing case law on the most commercial rather than the least commercial forms of the practice. How might you respond to this concern? What risk analysis have you done here?

We have done an extensive risk analysis and are comfortable with supporting fan fiction through our website. As some of our members have already acknowledged, the landscape is changing. Fan fiction is already on the radar of media companies and publishers. For example, Lucasfilm, which has traditionally been conservative about fan-generated content, has even added, this year for the first time, a fan fiction category to their annual “Official Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge,” and NBC has invited fans to submit their theories around the TV show Heroes.

We want to be positive agents in this change by working with fans, media companies and rights holders. We are going to do whatever is feasible to assure people that posting on FanLib.com does not somehow add to their liability. Our goal is build a great venue, open to everyone, that allows people to showcase their work, discover great stories, get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms and participate in fun events. We think that by building a collaborative model, we will positively impact the fan community and will avoid needless litigation. We believe that we will be seen as an online community that goes to great lengths to protect everyone’s rights in a positive, collaborative way. For those members or prospective members who are worried, I encourage them to look at our new TOS, which we feel are very fan-friendly. FanLib.com is a free service for users, and we do not charge fans to read or post fan fiction.

Statements in the original FAQ and comments from FanLib representatives that “we assume fanfiction is legal fair use” and “it’s not in the copyright holder’s interest to sue” have many fan authors concerned. In some cases, you are publishing stories in universes where there have been explicit statements made by creators that they do not consider fan fiction to be fair use. Have you researched the individual fandoms involved or are you treating them each the same?

First, I want to apologize for our poorly written FAQ and our old beta terms of service (TOS), all of which resulted in an understandable uproar in the fan fiction community. We have posted a new FAQ [http://www.fanlib.com/cms.do?page=faq.html] and new terms of service (TOS) [http://www.fanlib.com/termsOfUse.do]

Our policy is to not accept submissions in fandoms for which the right holders have explicitly stated they do not consider fan fiction to be fair use. Since we don’t actively police the site, as stated in our TOS, we will remove any such stories that come to our attention.

Yes, we have researched the individual fandoms, and no, we are not treating them all the same.

Your previous efforts around The L Word and The Ghostwhisperer involved working directly with production companies to authorize certain kinds of fan fiction. Why have you shifted strategies with this new initiative? And can you reconcile the two models?

The premise of this question is 100% false. We have not shifted strategies. As noted above, fan fiction is already on the radar of media companies and publishers and being pushed into the public eye. We want to be a positive agent in this changing environment by collaborating with fans, media companies and rights holders. We’ve already experienced significant success on this front through our series of special storytelling events, and we intend to build on that success with the FanLib.com venue where all the parties can participate in fan fiction. We believe we can help reconcile the two models, but changes are coming with or without us.

How is the site planning to deal with the (inevitable) first complaint from a copyright holder?

FanLib complies with the DMCA. Please see our http://www.fanlib.com/cms.do?page=dmca.htm> for more details.

Your TOS requires writers to “defend, indemnify and hold harmless FanLib” in the case of legal action. What efforts do you plan to take to inform writers about the risks they are taking? Many fans are concerned that your company will make all of the money here while leaving fans to take all the risks. How would you respond to this criticism?

Again, our old beta terms of service (TOS) was not a good expression of our intent. The new TOS has been posted at [http://www.fanlib.com/termsOfUse.do] and reflects many of the comments from the fan fiction community, including this issue. Indemnification clauses are a standard part of most website TOS. For your convenience, here is the language from our new TOS:

“You agree to indemnify and hold harmless FanLib, its officers, directors, employees and agents, from and against any and all claims, damages, obligations, losses, liabilities, costs or debt, and expenses (including but not limited to attorney fees) arising from any violation of the Terms. This indemnification obligation will survive these Terms and your use of the website for 12 months.”

Our new FAQ also helps address some of these issues. [http://www.fanlib.com/cms.do?page=faq.html] This is an ongoing process, and we know there is more work to do.

So, how would I respond to this criticism? I would respond by asking if you truly think that the fans are the only ones taking the risks. To accomplish the mission I’ve described above and be positive agents of change for all parties involved requires enormous commitment, investment and substantial risk for us. To some extent we’ve tried to mitigate the risk for fans by being extremely flexible in our new TOS, but we’ll never be able to make everyone happy and there are always some risks.

CONTENT ISSUES

FanLib allows adult content under an “ADULT” rating, but the Terms of Service say that the website must not be used to publish any material “obscene, vulgar, or indecent.” Isn’t there an inherent conflict there? What happens when a parent finds his-or-her child reading an ADULT-rated Harry Potter fic?

These words, which were included in our old beta TOS and caused understandable confusion, have now been removed. The new TOS has been posted at [http://www.fanlib.com/termsOfUse.do] and reflects the input of the fan fiction community, including this issue. Naturally, we will do whatever we must to abide by law.

First of all we know that in the past J.K. Rowling has expressed her disapproval for certain kinds of adult Harry Potter fan fiction. We don’t presume to know her boundaries about what may be acceptable or unacceptable in a Harry Potter fic, but if she notifies us we will take down the story. As it relates to the situation where a parent finds his-or-her child reading ADULT-rated Harry Potter fic, I can’t speak for the parent. What we’ve done on the site is completely hide all adult content so that the user must actively seek it out by changing filter settings with explicit warnings. This far exceeds what a lot of other sites do, and our process will continue to evolve.

In your marketing brochure –

http://www.my2centences.com/my2c_new/FanLib_info.pdf — you assure the copyright holders that FanLib is “managed and moderated to the max,” and that “as with a coloring book, all players must “stay within the lines.” Can you explain what you mean by that statement? One of the reasons so many fans write fanfic is so that they can deliberately step out of the “lines” and do their own creative thing without any interference from the copyright holders.

I’d like to clear up some confusion around the FanLib brochure you’re quoting from. First, it was produced three years ago – in 2004. Second, as a company, we have two distinct parts:

1. The beta site, FanLib.com (launched in March 2007); and

2. Official online storytelling events. In this second part, which we actually started years ago, we work with other companies and sponsors to create special online fan events. Each event is governed by its own clear rules and terms of service that are separate from those for the FanLib.com beta site referred to above. This is necessary because contests, sweepstakes, prizes etc. need their own rules and regulations. The brochure that people are referring to was written for potential companies and sponsors and relates only to these special events and not the FanLib.com beta site. At the time we published the brochure, our URL linked to a site that essentially described the events for companies and sponsors in more detail. These special events are managed and moderated and “missions” are provided so that players “stay within the lines.” This brochure has NOTHING to do with fan fiction submitted on the FanLib.com site, where we provide a venue for anyone to be as creative as they want as long as they don’t violate our policies. We totally understand that general fan fiction doesn’t fit in the process described in the brochure, which is ONLY for certain special events we create.

I hope that addresses the confusion.

COMMUNITY RELATIONS ISSUES

Fans note that someone named “Naomi” was used to send out the original invitation letters to fan writers, but fans have been unable to find out who this person is. Is it a real person or a sock puppet? Why was a female name used for this purpose, when the board of directors for the company seems to be all male? Why has the initial advertising with its play on the Charles Atlas bodybuilding campaign adopted such a masculine metaphor for what has been and remains an overwhelmingly feminine cultural practice?

I acknowledge the way we sent out certain invitations was flawed. Our objective was to invite fan fiction authors to participate in our beta test and, if they chose to, join our beta team testing the site and providing feedback. As I hope you can appreciate, I am not going to publicly discuss personal details about our employees. We do not use sock puppets, no gender criteria were taken into account during the process and nobody at FanLib is pretending to be of a different gender.

The advertisement you mentioned was one of four that we tested during the beta, and we ran it on a site targeting a younger audience where it performed very well. We also put the ad in a general rotation on our beta site as a “house ad.” In my considerable experience in online advertising unless you do some profile related targeting you’re going to expose an ad to people for whom it isn’t suitable. Because this ad was in a general rotation unfortunately this is what happened. We pulled the ad in order to be sensitive to some of the complaints. We are acutely aware that fandom is predominantly female, just like the users of the FanLib.com beta site, who seem to like its design and features.

Many fans feel that the company has done a poor job so far in community relations. What steps are you taking to turn this around? Are you rewriting the terms of service and FAQ based on the feedback you’ve received? Are you planning to develop an advisory board composed of members of the fanwriting community?

I’ll be the first to admit we’ve done an awful job with community relations. I think the good news for us is that we have lots of feedback from the beta site and community, far more than we expected. As a result we have rewritten our terms of service and FAQ. We’ve taken some extraordinary steps to make our policies more fan-friendly and we are currently putting together final plans for a fan advisory board, which will be published on our beta site shortly.

What, if anything, do you think you can do to enhance the credability and responsiveness of FanLib to the people who have invested their energy into fan fiction in some cases for several decades?


First, I want to apologize for my own idiotic post across multiple blogs and for my offer to open a dialogue that I was unable to follow through on due to overwhelming community response. As a first step, based on the feedback from our current beta test, we have rewritten our terms of service and FAQ, revised some of our policies, and are creating a fan advisory board. We are in this for the long term to make FanLib.com a venue where anyone who wants to, can showcase and share their work, discover great stories, get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms and participate in fun storytelling events,

This last question is a bit awkward for both of us but it has come up a number of times and so I feel I need to ask it: Isn’t it somewhat symptiomatic of FanLib’s problems that the spokespeople are more willing to talk to a man with credentials rather than some of the female fan writers who have approached you?

I do think your question is a bit unfair, but I’ll answer anyway. I am here because you hold dual citizenship in fandom and academia, you maintain credibility and integrity in both worlds, and you told me I you would get a fair hearing and you would share the unedited results of our interview in its entirety with those interested in the matter. Meanwhile, we’ve been listening to the many comments we’ve received from the community and taking action. For proof check out our new TOS and FAQ on our website.

We intend to continue the conversation with the fan fiction community through our developing fan advisory board and, as time permits, by responding to other inquiries, comments and requests that we receive from interested individuals – obviously, regardless of gender.

Thanks again for your willingness to be interviewed.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Comments

  1. Renet says:

    I’m disappointed that he still doesn’t feel ‘our’ difficulties were worth addressing directly, and that the very audience he is trying to court is somehow not to be trusted.

  2. Branch says:

    So.

    On the one hand, it is “100% false” that they have changed stratagies from the contests to the archive, and on the other their brochure, stating contest-related stratagies and policies, has “NOTHING to do with fan fiction submitted on the FanLib.com site”? Am I supposed to believe someone who talks out of both sides of his mouth like this and never addresses the contradiction?

    Then, too, I notice that Mr. Williams has entirely failed to address the question of why fans are not compensated for their “collaborative” “online storytelling” efforts. To be sure, many sites neither charge nor distribute money–but, then, /this/ site’s users are also its product writers, for those contests. I’m reasonably sure that screenplay writers normally have more of a salary than a gift certificate.

    As for Mr. Williams’ implication that, of the many people who offered to open dialogue with him, /only/ Mr. Jenkins has “dual citizenship” and standing in academia and fandom, and the further insinuation that only Mr. Jenkins offered a fair hearing and a posting of the results unedited is, in the first place, absurd, false and ignorant in the extreme, and, in the second place, a deadly insult. His apology would mean more if Mr. Williams was not, in the same breath, implying we are uneducated, maliciously falsifying, and so unreasonable we can’t be talked to. If he’s trying to convince me that there are no gender issues involved, he has worse than failed.

    Not that anyone /needs/ to change his words to make him look bad.

    The revisions to the TOS and FAQ are decent first steps. Neither of them, however, really make the archive’s association with the naked exploitation of those contests smell any better. Nor does his evasion of some of the most pointed questions make me inclined to do anything other than warn everyone I know away from this site.

  3. Carmarthen says:

    Thanks for coordinating this, Prof. Jenkins. Definitely the most profesional response I’ve seen from the FanLib folks so far.

    I would like to note, however, that it’s pretty difficult for many academic members of fandom–who write fanfiction that may include adult material–to be as open about their dual citizenship as Prof. Jenkins is. I personally think you can still tell their quality as academics by their quality of fannish essays, even if you don’t know their offline identities.

    Unless it becomes societally acceptable to write incestuous pornography–to pick an extreme of fandom–about other people’s characters, that association will make it difficult for even tamer academics to be out of the fan closet. There’s a world of difference between writing about a phenomenon and being a part of it.

    Refusing to give fans legitimacy unless they’re open about their real identities strikes me as a tad condescending, given the nature of fandom and societal perception of both fandom and people who admit to liking sexually explicit material.

  4. E. M. Pink says:

    I haven’t read every FanLib-related post linked to by Metafandom yet (which I think gives a pretty well-rounded idea of fan reaction to the company and their site), but I’ve read enough to know that these answers likely just won’t cut it. As someone said in the comments on your last entry, we’re obviously not the fans Fanlib are looking for.

    Firstly, just to get it off my chest, how on earth is the last, quite appropriate question unfair? Chris, you’re a man, one of several on a largely male board of directors of a company who reeks of fan exploitation that is focusing its efforts on a community that is largely female. How can you NOT have replied to Telesilla’s very courteous post and expect not to lose face? Backing away and pronouncing it unfair to be called on not answering the questions that female fans have (mostly politely) put to you is just another example of what is probably the very root of your company’s problem. No, it is not unfair. Though Henry is, as you say, a holder of dual citizenship in fandom and academia, and maintains credibility and so on, he is not the first person that offered you a fair hearing. He is not the only credible acafan that’s spoken about this issue. To put it bluntly, I think you feel uncomfortable talking to your target audience because they’re female, vocal, and irritated with how you’ve misjudged them. And I think that stinks.

    As per the rest of your answers, Chris, all I have to say is I call bullshit. A lot of this sounds like marketing spin to me. Fanlib, so far, just sounds like Fanfiction.net painted with bright colors, propped up with Web 2.0-ey architecture and levered into place. In case you haven’t heard, we already HAVE a place to share our fanfiction, to get it on the radar, to get it read by people who matter- other fans. Livejournal. Fanfiction.net. An vast number of archives and sites that range from small, private affairs to the behemoths like Fictionalley. And don’t give us that crap about ‘wider audience’ – if you crave fame in fandom, there are ways to get it, good and bad. And they are just as free to use, and don’t come hand in hand with limits and editing by people I don’t know from Adam. Oh, and ‘highly responsive customer support’? Just…please.

    I’m not going bother to dissect all your mostly useless answers- let’s just start with one feature. The public-private switch. Sounds so advanced, like a real feature, all prettied up in a wonderfully focused list. But consider this: if I want, I can disappear completely off the radar from fandom; I can take down my fics, remove any traces of my livejournal, dismantle my websites and communities and ask everyone not to share my fics around, and leave in confidence that most people would do as I asked. In direct comparison to that, I could go as far as leveraging my small fame into something far larger, and ascend to the heights that people like Naomi Novik have risen through hard work. Or I could stay right here, writing what I love, posting it where I like, when I like and how I like. Or I could handle my fandom exposure a thousand other ways, leveraging the tools available to me exactly how I wish to. In comparison, Fanlib offers me two options: private or public. Private, in that only I read it (when I could set up a webserver on my own computer and post my fics there if so desperate to read them on the web all by myself), or public, in that everyone, including the powers that be that might or might not approve of my work and decide to take action.

    I think I’ll just stop there.

    Honestly, I think it’s nice that you’re enabling dialogue and meaningful interaction between the some enlightened members of the entertainment industry and customers. I just emphatically do not think the way you are doing it is for me. The way you took note of the analysis of the ToS and FAQ that was done by the community, changed both of them and still didn’t dialogue with the community at all is highly suspect. Your whiny comments to various LJ posts, or rather, whiny comment that you spammed to various people, is highly suspect. Your obvious lack of knowledge of us as a community is highly suspect, considering that you wish to profit off of our work. The evidence in your disfavor is overwhelming. Currently, I do not trust you to have my back if the powers that be decide they don’t like your profit model, and neither do I think well of being repaid for the hours I spend on writing fanfic in ads, irritating site design, dubious legal ‘immunity’ and having my work restricted by a bunch of people who don’t know the first thing about interacting with me in the first place.

    I’m in two minds about posting this, really. Then I think back to when I first heard about Fanlib a couple days ago and shrugged and thought ‘whatever, interesting idea, but who cares right now’, and remember how rapidly reading the posts about it changed my mind. I think back to how you proclaim our questioning your not answering us and choosing instead to answer to a man you perceive as having authority (over us? Seriously, I’m trying hard to have no idea why you think him being a male, credible acafan and publisher of many books would give him some kind of power to silence or placate any one fan in this community that other established female acafans would not have), and this set of answers just makes me smile in uncertain astonishment, and inch my mouse toward the post button. Maybe, I think to myself, maybe he’ll rethink this daft approach of presenting lists of dry features and making vague promises to a community that’s all about the community.

    Then again, maybe not.

  5. Aja says:

    This is what I’m about to post in response to Henry Jenkins’s blog, but it’s not letting me post it (probably because I’m a moron who hit Preview Post too many times? *scratches head*) so I’m going to repost it here.

    I feel compelled to respond to what I think is at the heart of the previous comments. E.M. Pink wrote:

    I think back to how you proclaim our questioning your not answering us and choosing instead to answer to a man you perceive as having authority (over us?

    Ultimately, the fannish anxiety about what FanLib is trying to do is not something that an improved and modified FAQ and TOS can assuage. The reason for this is the essence of FanLib’s marketing strategy, the essence of your (CW’s) sales pitch to both fans and investors:

    The value proposition for fans is a free venue where they can pursue their passion by creating, showcasing, reading, reviewing, sharing, archiving, discovering stories, and by participating in fun events in a community with similar interests. For those that are interested, they can also get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms through official special events we create with media companies…. The value proposition for media companies and publishers is to connect, engage, and entertain fans of their media properties in a new online storytelling environment.

    The term ‘value proposition’ encapsulates the real issue here. FanLib sees fanfic as a potential value. As seen through the gaze of FanLib, fanfic is something whose proposed worth has not been fully capitalized upon until a tangible transaction, a value exchange, has come about because of it – fans generating content for media conglomerates in exchange for a webchat or forum session with a scriptwriter, for example. Underlying all of FanLib’s rhetoric about this exchange is the upsell – the push for fans to have their work acknowledged by someone higher along the hierarchy of creative production, by getting “closer” to the “talent behind” their favorite canons. The implication is that that hierarchy (imposed upon the fandom by outsiders) carries with it its own authority, its own implicit weighted system of value.

    But that’s not how fans see their experience, and it’s not how fans view fanfic.

    The value proposition for fans is a free venue where they can pursue their passion by creating, showcasing, reading, reviewing, sharing, archiving, discovering stories, and by participating in fun events in a community with similar interests.

    Mr. Williams, fans already have that. Only they have it within an autonomous arena where the act of posting a fanfic is its own best end – no upsell needed.

    It’s true that many fans might be excited about the prospect of a creator reading their fic; but many more would not be, and in fact it would make them uncomfortable, because what makes fanfic unique, what makes it fanfic, is that it operates outside the sphere of the media production machine that created its canon counterpart. It has an authority all its own.

    FanLib, by its very nature, seeks to overturn that implicit authority. It implies that fanfic is not enough *on its own* to do the work of responding and commenting to the canon that inspires it. Several fans have written about their anxiety that “babyfans” coming to FanLib for the first time would gain a narrow perception that fanfic is meant to be a stepping stone to achieving a connection to a media distributor, the “creative talent behind” the canon. This kind of fanfic would not have its own inherent authority, because it would be operating within a superimposed, rather than an autonomous, self-and-communally-created, value system.

    That prospect deeply troubles me, and I’m not alone.

    It may be inevitable that fanfic is going to be commodified in this way, that FanLib is capitalizing on an impending technology wave that will impose a capitalist value upon the production of fanfic no matter what.

    But that day will be gentler, and fans will be assimilated more easily into this new way of thinking about their writing, if we have the assurance that those seeking to commodify fanfic respect and value fanfic, not for its potential value, not for its “value proposition,” but for its current value. For its value as something that stands outside of the media and publishing conglomerates that would attempt to reconcile with it.

    FanLib says that it can be an agent of reconciliation in this process, but until FanLib firmly acknowledges that fanfic is already a valuable genre, with its own conventions and its own inherent value and its own inherent authority as a literary text, FanLib will not be able to convince uneasy and wary fans that by wanting to turn that genre into a commodifiable product, it has their best interests at heart.

    Likewise, until the creators of FanLib acknowledge that fans have an authority all their own, rather than one imposed upon them via academic or literary or commercial channels – until it admits that fans and no one else, including the FanLib board, are the very best experts on fanfic, fans will continue to resist it.

    What most fans really want is not to be hooked up with the show’s writers or our favorite novelist. We don’t want “the opportunity to be recognized and discovered by a wider audience and by [your] media partners.”

    What we want is to be respected for what we already are, and have our work valued in the fan community and context in which it was created. In many cases, you can’t pull fic out of that original context without embarrassing everyone involved, because that fic is so entirely a product of the particular, fan-communal, context in which it was based.

    FanLib seeks to pull fanfic out of that context and into a new, commercial, value-exchange-based context. I’m not saying such a feat is impossible. But FanLib will have an extremely hard time succeeding unless it *really* understands that it is essentially proposing to fix something that was never broken. To the vast majority of fans, you are attempting to bring our product, fanfic, to fruition, when to us, it’s already been brung.

    Fandom is its own reward – an autonomous space with its own inherent value systems and hierarchies that FanLib’s current proposition would serve to disrupt rather than consolidate within a larger sphere.

    FanLib does appear, with this interview and the modified legalese, to be trying to head in the right direction and work with fans – but so far, I believe that you have yet to take the most crucial step: to understand and acknowledge fans as their own authorities, and fanfic as its own authentic literary genre, with elements that cannot, and should not, be assimilated into a larger cultural context – especially and including a market-based one.

  6. Mel says:

    Mr. Williams, you invited a dialogue. Telesilla attempted to open one in a calm and reasonable manner even after you had spammed her LJ, among others. She even offered to have you answer one point a day.

    You responded with “I’m too busy” and everyone from FanLib vanished from the LJ discussions, which are still ongoing. Like the spam, it was incredibly rude.

    While I have respect for Henry Jenkins and the delicate way he handled that particular issue, I’m not sure I have respect for the way you handled it. You walked out on us. I have no doubt that you were busy, given the PR disaster of the last week or so, but you were surely already aware that the gender question had been raised more than once. Yet you responded rather quickly to Jenkins’ previous post. Did you honestly think no one would speculate as to why you ran away from the dialogue YOU wanted to open, but jumped at this opportunity?

    Your statement that you knew Henry Jenkins would not edit your answers is a nice backhanded swipe at Telesilla and others. You trust him, but won’t trust us? While LJ does allow for the deletion of comments, it’s not common practice for a journal owner to do so unless someone’s spamming with offensive images or something. That hole you’re in keeps getting deeper, frankly.

    From the very start of this, your staff, namely the woman who has said she was hired because she’s a fic writer, has shown an appalling lack of understanding of the gender issues in fandom. I doubt you’ll find many in fandom who don’t believe in gender equality, but the community is largely female no matter their beliefs on feminist issues. These things come up, and it should have been no surprise that when you declined to participate in a dialogue with a woman but immediately responded to a man’s offer to talk, someone was going to cry foul.

    As it happened, a lot of people cried foul.

    I don’t think it was an unfair question, even if your intent in declining one invitation and accepting another was benign. At this point, for me, it’s not even a matter of gender. You said you wanted to talk, but didn’t actually talk until an academic whom you didn’t spam offered.

    At this stage, making judgment calls like that about the community you claim to be courting isn’t helping, any more than David Williams making unsubstantiated claims that fans were getting violent. So far we’ve been called violent, unfair, unreasonable, and a string of other unflattering adjectives because we called you into question, and when corporate obfuscation was offered in place of answers we called that into question too. But here’s the deal: you’re the ones trying to come into our community, one you seem to know very little about, and get us to buy into your product so you can make money off our work. The burden of proof is on you. We really don’t have to cut you a break.

  7. Cesare says:

    Why is the gender question “a bit unfair”? Fans invited Mr. Williams to comment freely as part of existing discussions. We also encouraged him to create a Livejournal community where he and/or his representatives could take questions and answer them in his own words, unedited, in his own time.

    He backed away from those proposals. But he agreed readily to this interview. I’m grateful to Henry Jenkins for representing fannish questions so well here. But what was the problem with dealing with us directly? If he wanted to deal with fewer people, Mr. Williams could have asked us to designate two or three representatives. I would have voted Stewardess and Telesilla for that in a heartbeat.

  8. Quicksilver Eyes says:

    Thank you so much Professor Jenkins for hosting this dialog.

    I do think FanLib has potential and might be able to coexist with fans if they narrow their scope greatly. They don’t need to be an all-inclusive multifandom archive.

    The FanLib representatives are always talking about their media ties. These are the only people who would ever be interested in fanfic as a resource for their shows. In exchange, fans of these shows get to see their ideas on TV. This relationship works, the others do not.

    The fandoms with sponsors are the only ones that should be hosted on the site, and with each new sponsor FanLib acquires, it could then add that fandom, but no others. They’d also have to make sure that fanfic is okay by the sponsors, not just assumed to be so because they are sponsored.

    (All this is fine as long as the sponsors don’t decide to prohibit fanfic that doesn’t show up on FanLib. That’d be a definite threat to fan-run archives. However, this would be a pretty bad idea because it wouldn’t herd us into the FanLib corral, merely send us underground and annoy us greatly.)

    FanLib doesn’t need to host all those other fandoms that are still in legally gray areas and who’s IP rights holders aren’t sponsors. The site is just putting them in danger while not even providing them with service. (The fic writers aren’t being recognized by the original creators or even communicating with them.) Those fic writers are just extra weight and only help the site by buying things from ads and boosting site participation stats.

    However, the presence of their fics on FanLib might be what drives IP rights holders to prohibit fanfic based on their works because someone’s making money off if it. This is just unnecessary and those fandoms shouldn’t be hosted. If FanLib truly cares about those fans it would let them go instead of keeping them for whatever money they could bring to the site.

    If they do decide to keep them, however, they should implement a system where they ban all fics in a fandom as soon as they get their first C&D in order to (hopefully) ensure that the IP rights holder doesn’t ban all fics. Just ones on the site.

    This is the only way I can see FanLib staying around while not being such a huge threat to fandom as a whole.

    I agree with Chris Williams’ belief that big changes are coming. There’s the bill for the incredibly strict IP Protection Act of 2007, the (losing) battle for net neutrality, and other things that threaten our privacy and safety every day. So yes, I do agree that changes are coming and many of them won’t be favorable for fans. If they get what they want, corporations will have much more control over what we do online, what we do with their products, and how much information is available to us. Unfortunately, in it’s current state, FanLib seems like just another step towards this future. I hope I’m wrong.

  9. Blackbird Song says:

    Thank you, Professor Jenkins, for posting the answers given to you by Mr. Williams.

    I don’t blame you for feeling awkward about having to ask that last question, but am very grateful that you did ask it. Up until that question, I was merely somewhat uncomfortable with Mr. Williams’ answers. When I read his last answer, I became incensed.

    Mr. Williams, if you happen to read this, please understand that you have utterly lost the respect of this female academic who also writes fan-fiction. Your ad juxtaposing a weak, somewhat effeminate male in front of a pink background against a more extreme ‘masculine’ male in front of a blue background caters to stereotypes and says nothing good about your attitude toward those who have been investing all the work and assuming all of the risk in the writing and dissemination of fanfiction. It is disrespectful, in the extreme, and shows a marked lack of understanding of the community from whom you seek to profit.

    That said, I might have been willing to overlook the ad as a tactical error, had you shown some respect for those well-respected female fan-fiction authors who offered you (very politely) the opportunity to clarify your positions. The fact that you chose to ignore such (earlier) offers in favor of responding to one of the extraordinarily rare males who have produced and discussed fan-fiction sends a message that you hold women who question you or your endeavor in contempt.

    Your choice not to give any of the female fans (many of whom have academic and/or professional writing credentials) the courtesy of a direct and honest reply is made more insulting by your implication that a male professor was the only exponent of fan-fiction who was (a) worthy of your time and (b) trustworthy. While Professor Jenkins certainly does deserve to be answered, so do Telesilla and the other, equally-credentialed women who have asked you pointed but polite questions, and many of them asked you first.

    I, for one, do not anticipate visiting your site for any purpose in the near future. I give my dollars and talent to those whom I respect, and who show me some respect. I do not create, perform for or hand money to those who hold me in such low regard. If you did not mean to send such a message, I would strongly suggest that you revisit the way you’ve been communicating with us.

    Professor Jenkins, thank you, again, for posting these answers, and for tolerating my comments to Mr. Williams in your blog.

  10. barano says:

    Everything I wanted to say about this interview has already been said by people who are more capable of saying it than I am. In short, it did nothing to convince me that the people running FanLib really know what they are doing and that they have any respect for the people they are trying to reach. They may know a small portion of fandom and fanfic writers, but they clearly have no idea how to address, how to treat a wider community. They are clearly clueless as to how fan communities work.

    I’ve yet to see one reason that makes me think “this FanLib thing is a good idea after all” – as others commented above, we already have most of what FanLib offers. We already have a living, breathing community in which we can enjoy our hobby, an infinitely diverse, constantly evolving community that can be infinitely customized according to individual needs. What we lack (in general) is the approval of the copyright holders, but under the current circumstances this hinders only a relatively small minority whose needs are very unlikely to be fulfilled by FanLib. The only positive thing I can reasonably see coming out of being involved with FanLib is a vague prospect of being featured in some kind of official fanfic anthology, and even this only applies to those authors who write stories that the copyright holders are comfortable with.

    Still, my problem is not that FanLib is essentially unnecessary. It’s not that FanLib is trying to involve business with what is supposed to be a from-fans-by-fans exchange either, although it certainly isn’t something that makes me like FanLib any more.

    My problem is the way FanLib seems to approach not only fanfic but also fandom: completely ignoring the way fandom in general works (let alone individual fandoms that have their own traditions, own politics), barely knowing anything about their potential users and their needs. FanLib folks don’t seem to have a miniscule of respect for the people and the texts they are planning to work with. “Coming of age”? Bringing fanfic into the mainstream? Do they even know what they are talking about? Do they know what fanfic is about? The way FanLib ignores the fact that the majority of their potential users are female is a very telling example of just how much they know about the community they are trying to engage.

    Just to state the obvious: there are only two reasons why Mr. Williams might have chosen not to accept Telesilla’s invitation for a discussion. He either does not take Telesilla seriously, or he feels intimidated by her and those she represents. Both reasons are very telling in-and-of themselves.

  11. Lexin says:

    Like others, my concern with the interview is with Mr Williams’ answer to the last question.

    I do not believe he has understood the importance of the fan fiction community as primarily a female space in which women share ideas. He and his company seem to be treating fan fiction writers as younger than their demographic and as more male than I believe is their demographic.

    He also seems to believe that fans are more interested in ‘official recognition’ than I believe is the case.

    I think this is a marketing mistake that the site will pay for down the line.

    On the other hand, maybe there is a groundswell of people for whom those things are important and if there is, I don’t think we older and female fans are the target audience for his venture.

    My primary concern with the site itself, and which I outlined on my LJ remains…I don’t understand what the relationship is between Fanlib and its backers in the media industry. I therefore remain mistrustful of the aims of both.

  12. Lexin says:

    Like others, my concern with the interview is with Mr Williams’ answer to the last question.

    I do not believe he has understood the importance of the fan fiction community as primarily a female space in which women share ideas. He and his company seem to be treating fan fiction writers as younger than their demographic and as more male than I believe is their demographic.

    He also seems to believe that fans are more interested in ‘official recognition’ than I believe is the case.

    I think this is a marketing mistake that the site will pay for down the line.

    On the other hand, maybe there is a groundswell of people for whom those things are important and if there is, I don’t think we older and female fans are the target audience for his venture.

    My primary concern with the site itself, and which I outlined on my LJ remains…I don’t understand what the relationship is between Fanlib and its backers in the media industry. I therefore remain mistrustful of the aims of both.

  13. DragonScholar says:

    Frankly, the responses sound too much like marketing materials – we have similar verbage, we have bullet-pointed lists, we have talks of marketing research. What we don’t have is something that seems to talk person-to-person. It feels, frankly, like the answers are talking down to the fans.

    What I don’t see is enough interest in the fans themselves, their community, their interests, and their concerns. The answers are marketing answers and give me the impression the people involved are disconnected from fandom communities and their concerns andinterests. It gives the impression of the FanLib people being somehow “above” the fans to me.

    Fanlib as its basic concept intrigues me greatly. But I don’t think answers don’t address the overall concerns, and in my case add to them.

  14. Emmuzka says:

    Mr. williams’ answers might give him some more credibility in the fans’ eyes.. but then I read about this:

    Now, when you create an account in Fanlib, they actually ask for the persons’ Fanfiction.net username and password (and there is no denying this since we have screen captures). As a respond for this, Fanfiction.ner added a extra loop in the signing in process to prevent bots for signing.

    With what intentions Fanlib is asking people their fanfiction account passwords? How dare they? Do they think that it would be perfectly ok to steal the writers fics from their Fanfiction.net accounts?

    I don’t have an account in Fanfiction.net, but if someone would come and ask my livejournal password for, you know, finding all the good content and taking it for free, thanks?

    I would *never* trust them again. How *dare* they?

  15. Scott Ellington says:

    I think Maygra’s early perception of this situation was precisely correct. FanLib is engaged in rebuilding an unbroken wheel that appeals to “babyfans”, while thoroughly alienating and enraging the established community that SHOULD have been relied upon for inclusion, counsel and advice.

    Nobody here doubts that mistakes were made, but FanLib isn’t going to go away. Apparently it’s going to persist as a blundering annoyance that calls attention to a crisis it is also precipitating.

    Whether or not the future holds any reason for optimism in the continuing controversy between IP ownership, commercial interests, government and the creators of fan fiction, turning your back on FanLib apparently will not deter that organization from jepordizing a cherished semi-legal institution. How will this community rewrite the eventual, favorable resolution?

  16. MajorFischer says:

    Most of what I have to say about this interview has been said by others already, so I will limit my replies to a couple of points.

    1) The question wasn’t unfair. It was perfectly reasonable. FanLib is attempting to insert itself into an already existing and thriving subculture and expects to make a profit off of it. The very least that should be expected of any company who wishes to do that is to deal with the respected leaders of that community. Mr. Williams, you do not get to choose who those leaders are. While I respect and thank Mr. Jenkins for asking the difficult questions which for the most part were not answered… FanLib is not expecting to profit off of the work of Dr. Jenkins.

    I am an academic. Several of the people who have enganged the FanLib staff are professionals, and academics. Of the people I personally know who have been engaged there were several lawyers and a few PhDs. But not all of us work in the fields that Dr. Jenkins does and it is not a wise idea for our careers to publically post our identies in association with things on the internet. Or haven’t you heard that Google is an employment tool these days? I certainly wouldn’t want to loose a job in my (entirely unrelated to the media) field because someone found adult scifi fan fiction I have written.

    2) FanLib offering me, as a fan fic author or as a reader, anything I can’t get elsewhere. Moreover, the very model FanLib is pushing endangers my ability to continue being a fan fiction writer by it’s stated goal of dragging this subculture “into the mainstream”. We have existed for thirty five years and the copywrite holders have left us be because we are small, we are fans, and they have the ability to deny they knew we even existed. You, Mr. Williams, have no right to take that away.

  17. henry jenkins says:

    This message comes from Lyore:

    In addition to the above comments, something that was not addressed in

    the answers was whether or not a site like FanLib makes it more likely

    for a copyright/IP owner to take action.

    For instance, see comments from John Scalzi

    (http://ficlets.com/blog/entry/corporatized_fan_fiction):

    I�m willing to look the other way for fans, who are just enjoying

    themselves and not bothering to try to do anything other than have

    fun. I�m less inclined to look the other way when someone is trying to

    build a business a) off my fans without compensating them; b) off of

    my universe and characters without compensating me.

  18. Michaelle says:

    Professor Jenkins, your comment above is precisely what has me worried regarding the future of all fanfic.

    I have a feeling that there are many other writers out there who have the same opinion as Mr. Scalzi, and who will eventually feel the need to put a stop to fanfic’s commercialization.

    Call me Chicken Little, but when this happens, I fear that all fanfic not specifically sanctioned by the authors, or the production companies involved with certain shows, will be officially declared copyright infringement and thus illegal.

    Fanlib is simply a test-case waiting to happen.

  19. rez says:

    For those that are interested, they can also get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms through official special events we create with media companies, like we just did with the TV show Ghost Whisperer.

    The value proposition for media companies and publishers is to connect, engage, and entertain fans of their media properties in a new online storytelling environment.

    Huh. My flist (that’s LJ-speak for friends list) includes professional novelists, editors, journalists, and at least one high-profile television writer, not to mention more PhDs than is even decent. That’s not to disrespect the incredibly talented high-school students and undergraduates they rub shoulders with, of course. On any given day I can get a good mainline jolt of culturally connected talent just by logging on.

    Not to mention that hanging out with fan talent is pretty much the only thing that makes television remotely interesting on a long-term basis. Getting closer to the corporate producers isn’t going to make me like their product more, Mr. Williams; it’s more likely to put me off. There’s not enough there there, if you know what I mean.

    I’m not the fan you’re looking for, apparently. Good to know.

  20. Henry Jenkins says:

    Another post that got blocked by the filter:

    RESPONSE TO CHRIS WILLIAMS’ INTERVIEW:

    I, too, am both an academic, and an LJ and fandom member annoyed by

    the evident preference of CW for exactly the normative patriarchal

    relations the worldwide fanfic community works to supersede.

    “Unfair,” CW, to be asked to explain your strong appearance of bias?

    Not at all; ironically, your answer reveals more evidence of that bias

    in its efforts to evade the issue than you could possibly have managed

    by just flat-out agreeing.

    FanLib’s actions so far suggest, at a minimum, an incomplete

    understanding of (a) the political theory and praxis of the fanfic

    culture; and (b) the cultural norms of the community FanLib seeks to

    profit from; not to mention (c) the sheer extent, intelligence, and

    internal cohesion of its many highly educated, aware, women members.

    Instead, quite different values are asserted or, worse, presumed

    (though CW also seems to realize they are not shared when he aligns

    with Henry Jenkins, but not Telesilla or Icarusancalion). Some of

    these presuppositions are: that the highest value of fanficcers

    includes contact with “the talent behind the show” (and thanks for

    derogating all the fanfic talent you seek to exploit, btw);

    mass-market circulation; ‘normalization’ into a masculine worldview

    and publishing economy; and assimilation into a single dominant

    website with rules codified and enforced by an external authority.

    This holds little appeal for many who enjoy and support the multiple

    intersecting and overlapping communities now in practice, with rules

    that are evolving, dynamic and responsive to diverse needs of both

    individuals and their communities.

    This misreading piques my interest as an academic and longtime

    government consultant myself … yes, yes, another one of those pesky

    smart women. (Who like others, uses an online identity to keep

    appropriate separation from noninvolved colleagues and students.)

    Others have pointed out the evasiveness and incompleteness of both the

    FanLib plan and its response to questions. And Dr. Jenkins and others

    have posted about many of the implications for the ever-evolving issue

    of media rights vs. artists. I’m intrigued that as I read more of the

    discourse, there is an unfolding potential for fruitful framing or

    analysis from additional academic disciplines and perspectives,

    including public participation, postcolonialism, and feminist ethics.

    Public participation has been badly handled or even denied, as seen

    especially in the deferral across several open forums (on LJ) to this

    one. Stakeholder relations have been soured – if these stakeholders

    were even recognized, or planned to be included in the first place

    (news reports of FanLib’s young-male market focus suggests not).

    The reluctance to directly engage with the very sophisticated

    “natives” of this culture on their own turf betrays a lack of

    understanding, at best; at worst, the gender-and-status bigotry others

    have noted.

    There may be good parallels here to various governments learning, over

    past decades, better skills for welcoming and incorporating public

    comment when planning for things like urban renewal and toxic waste

    disposal. As the environmental justice movement disclosed, minority

    and low-income occupants of locations targeted for toxic dumps and

    nuisances were not, in past decades, considered in the decision

    making. In its worst form (think “Tuskegee Experiments”) the

    power-holding elite simply does not even consult this group of

    stakeholders. Still being stamped out are practices nearly as bad,

    such as: vague promises; defaulting on pledges to discuss; sending

    weakly credentialed spokespeople; attacking with disparaging or

    berating language; … oops. All done by CW.

    Another move commonly seen, and found insufficient by social and

    environmental justice analysts, is to arbitrarily set up a

    “representative” of the discounted stakeholder group, hold discussions

    only with him (usually male), and claim that this constitutes a fair

    and full hearing. Hmmm… will we see CW claiming this discussion

    with HJ constitutes closure on all issues with the multifarious fanfic

    communities involved?

    Finally, another move held out by CW as evidence of openness is “our

    developing fan advisory board.” Who will this be? Stakeholders – or

    friends? It’s all too easy to handpick those who will agree with you,

    or even with the best intentions, leave out vitally important members

    of the community you need to work with. (For those interested in

    seeing the form and function of a *real* stakeholder advisory board in

    a situation of contention, google for your nearest U.S. Dept of Energy

    “Citizen Advisory Board” – they deal with Superfund [CERCLA] wastes,

    like radioactivity; here’s one in my region http://www.inlemcab.org/.

    An interesting Comm analysis is at:

    http://convention.allacademic.com/nca2004/view_paper_info.html?pub_id=12454&part_id1=10281&discussion_panel=t)

    Turning to the postcolonial framing of the issue, we see deployment of

    several strategies to coopt the most tractable part of the subaltern

    voice, and silence the rest. Ironic that these are employed to

    commodify writing, given that much of the work to define this key

    field of cultural theory was carried out by writers and scholars of

    literary criticism. I’m sure there are many online in LJ communities,

    especially, who know the terms of this analysis. (For quickest intro:

    look up Chakravorti Spivak.)

    Culturally, Dr. Jenkins and others have noted that FanLib’s proferred

    goods beg the question of our even being in the same “community.” The

    FanLib culture may share little more than a language with the online

    fanfic culture. The actual values of online fandom may go beyond, or

    not even include, values CW’s statements seem to presuppose we all

    share: a strong desire for contact with copyright-holders or

    “originating” artists; conversion of fanfic into commercial sales or

    profits (whomever that benefits); and centralized authority that

    speaks in a male voice and assigns value on the basis of individual

    ‘rights.’ Online fandom, by contrast, strongly demonstrates

    philosophical, epistemic and cultural values of cooperativeness rather

    than hierarchy, earned status rather than ascribed, collaboration

    rather than competition, mutual contribution rather than individual

    consumption, an ethics of care and of character, rather than an ethics

    trumped by individual and rigidly, contractually-defined rights.

    CW both shows awareness that he is courting a culture he is not part

    of, and underscores his inescapable biases against it when he tells

    Henry Jenkins

    “I am here because you hold dual citizenship in fandom and

    academia, you maintain credibility and integrity in both worlds.”

    Many of the LJ community who tried to dialogue with him have equally

    strong credibility and integrity in the fan culture and academia (or

    law, publishing, other professions, etc.) and may claim more active

    “citizenship” in fandom, as measured by … well, their activity

    in it, as opposed to actively talking at it, or about it. With

    the greatest respect for our host here, Henry Jenkins, I learned first

    and most about this issue from telesilla, icarusancalion,

    bethbethbeth, and about a hundred other trusted, active, and

    conscientious members of my online world. In fact, they’ve now turned

    me onto Henry Jenkins’s blog; his books have been gathering dust in

    one of my stacks of “neat things to get back into after the

    dissertation defense.” CW, by contrast, recognizes only HJ as an

    authority. We indeed have two worlds here, one of which does not

    respect the other, and knows it only insofar as that knowledge brings

    economic power.

    The social and political ecology of these two worlds bears out the

    differences. For those who work with the modeling of ecology and

    environmental science, the online fan community shows an organization

    and praxis more similar to polyculture, than to the monocultures of

    free-market industrial capitalism. One of my fields, environmental

    philosophy, would readily frame the holistic and non-hierarchical

    aspects of online fandom with models like Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis,

    or Indra’s net, the Hindu myth that is an allegory for the

    interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena (see James

    Lovelock and Fritjof Capra for more on these, respectively). These

    models do not fit the FanLib project.

    From the perspective of education and the anthropology of work, online

    fandom is a community of practice, in which learning takes place

    through social coparticipation, mediated by willing ‘old-timers’ (cf.

    the extensive CoP work pioneered by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger), not

    a traditional controlled, linear, content-based learning environment

    centered on the teacher, or boss.

    From any of these perspectives, the FanLib project fails to

    respectfully engage with the post-industrial ethical, learning, and

    social ecology represented by fanfic and reified in its writing. I see

    the writing as following from the social form of the community, not

    separable from it. FanLib seems to see the form and the function, the

    structure and product, as separate. Thus, its desire to preserve and

    promote the fan’s work, while taking the fan community back into a

    narrow, elite-ruled, mercantile-valued predecessor form, claims to

    honor the product while exterminating the culture that produces them.

    This is like governments promising a group’s culture, etc., will

    remain intact – even as they are dispossessed from their traditional

    language, religion, subsistence, and sociopolitical system. As the

    fanficcers say: No. Just … No.

    It’s not for me to say whether this results from inadequate analysis

    (i.e., well-meaning but ignorant), or a hegemonic mindset (i.e.,

    old-fashioned predatory colonialism). However, I’m open to further

    discussion or a citation to relevant research at slashpine on

    livejournal, or slashpine.lj@gmail.com. My apologies for the lack of

    complete citations; post or email if you’d like more.

    My very great thanks to Dr. Jenkins for hosting this discussion.

    /pine

  21. Saens says:

    Quoted from Fanlib’s TOS page, as of 1.05 am EST on the 27th of May:

    Another part of FanLib’s service allows other people to use Your Content on the FanLib Website. By putting Your Content on the FanLib website, you are granting each FanLib website user all the rights you have that they need to use, copy, distribute, or display Your Content on the FanLib website.

    So basically, I could plagiarize the Content from any other Fanlibber’s work and happily use it for my own Content, since I theoretically have been granted ‘all the rights they (each and every Fanlib user) have’ to ‘use, copy, distribute or display’ their work, as long as it’s posted on Fanlib? And no one on Fanlib could incriminate me for TOS violation?

    Awesome.

  22. get closer to the talent behind their favorite fandoms

    This is the part that bothers me. Aside from the whole commercializing of a gift economy and the unsavory implication of “hey, guys, we’ll get women to do all the work and we’ll make all the money,” this is my biggest thing.

    He keeps saying that. Yet from earliest fandom, the rule has been “STAY OFF THE TALENT’S RADAR!”

    Too many people still remember the Blake’s 7 dust-up. Too many remember the Lucasfilm control aspects. Some of us even remember Strazincy’s blanket “no fanfiction while the series is in progress, for all our sakes” rule on B5.

    You don’t put fanfiction in front of the actors. If you meet one at a convention (a much more fanboy mode of interaction), you say nothing of fanfic.

    I was taught as follows, even in the late 1990s:

    The first rule of fanfic is “We make no money.”

    The second rule of fanfic is “We stay away from the media talent.”

    FanLib proposes to violate both of those most egregiously.

  23. Theresa Wishes says:

    Whatever Mr. Williams’ intentions, it has become abundantly clear that he needs fandom far more than fandom needs him. I plan to vote with my feet and walking away from FanLib.

  24. Maygra says:

    First off, thank you again to Dr. Jenkins for taking this on and secondly, all other issues aside, thank you, Mr. Williams, for taking the time to answer those questions put to you. Dissecting those answers is, no doubt, the next phase of this discussion and likely to be as uncomfortable as anything, but still, you took the time and my agreement or opinion on your answers has nothing to do with the courtesy of you responding at all. So, thank you.

    A great many people have already taken apart both your answers and the marketing plan you’ve laid out for FanLib. The site itself, if it does everything you say it will (and I haven’t seen all of it nor have I explored it at any great length – and am unlikely to) could well be a lovely new bit of archiving software offering a great many of the options of both social networking sites like MySpace or LJ, as well as some of the better features already in play for fiction archiving. I can understand your wanting to protect your code — although, in a tangent from the main discussion of the actual site purpose, there’s several versions of fan-written archiving software out there already. It’s open source and freely available for anyone who as the skill set to implement it, and at least the basic code for LJ is also still available, I believe. So to be perfectly honest, the site itself, with all its bells and whistles, isn’t enough to lure me into it just as a new piece of software — and I fear that nothing you’ve revealed in your responses is all that tempting either.

    Then again, I maintain, that I’m really not the kind of fan you are looking for. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t fans out there who are exactly who you are looking for. The lure of having a source creator read and possibly make use of a fan writers creations can be a pretty powerful lure, especially for those fans who do see writing fan fiction as stepping stone to some future (and possibly more lucrative) career writing for television or film, or having a book published.

    It would be a nice idea if I had any faith that this really was a door opening into a less passive-aggressive relationship between those entities and the fans who spend so much time and energy in various pursuits inspired by their work. I fear that faith escapes me.

    Nothing in your business plan nor your TOS indemnifies the fan writers who participate. I get why it’s necessary for that to be in your TOS or any other online site, but the “don’t ask, don’t tell” tone of the reassurances falls a little short. Especially given that the entire point is to bring the eye of the media companies onto the work the fans are doing, ostensibly to their (the companies) benefit.

    To be honest, it would make more sense to me to offer limited contracts to fans, under the aegis of the media companies (be they studios or individuals) for a nominal renewable fee (say $1.00) for a year’s worth of hassle-free limited rights to fans to play as they will, with a guarantee of no legal intervention on the basis of copyright or trademark as long as the fan isn’t making money off the property. If Paramount or CBS (or JK Rowling, for that matter) actually trips across something they might see as useful or intriguing, then they could approach the individual author to work some kind of a deal. Maybe FanLib could get a percentage…

    Or you know, some other arrangement under the creative commons licensing. Some fans change fandoms as often as they change hairstyles, and for true multimedia fans one could offer a package of rights at a reduced cost, Say $10.00 for any 20 fandoms.

    I’m only half joking.

    You seem to have at least tapped into a part of the fan experience that is less craft driven and more social, but the social interactions of fans, the community of fans, as has been pointed out, is actually a larger part of this equation than I think you realize. Or at least in the segment of fandom I play in. We tell stories to each other, either in textual or visual form. There’s a give and take of ideas, not always equitable but still there, to build on each other’s work the same way we build on the source creators work. There’s a reason why a great many fandoms still thrive on properties no longer in production or circulation.

    I agree that FanLib (or any single entity) cannot be all things to all fans, and perhaps it will be wildly successful and usher in a whole new age of collaborative work. That would be the best, brightest hope I think — wherein fan works are considered fair use and more importantly, fans are treated fairly for what they contribute as opposed to what can be taken away from or denied them.

    It’s not so much that I distrust your motives as I distrust your model.

    And also, that I really believe that separating the wheat from the chaff is a far bigger endeavor than you may realize. If Fanficiton.net is your model, then seriously, pick any 100 stories at random — and see if the noise to signal ratio is even slightly workable. I don’t think FanLib can provide a better ratio without vetting.

    I’ve worked media events with celebrities, creators, producers and directors. I’m again, not the fan you are looking for since I far prefer the conversations of the end users.

    I did think your writing competition for the L-Word and HarperCollins was kind of cool though. I didn’t participate and probably wouldn’t but you know, if nothing else the rules and regs for that were far more clear.

    Although, you know, if you ever want to do another contest for tie-in novels, do please make it well and widely known. I’m not averse to being paid for my work, I’m just not that interested in pursing it as a full-time career. I like my job.

    In closing, I do agree with one point you made (and one goal you have): in the inevitable face-to-face meeting between property owners and fans, I would much rather see it happen collaboratively than as a head-on collision. I’m just not sure that trying to prompt that conversation this way is the best way to go about it. It would have been nice if you’d done a little more extensive marketing research on the fan side of the “partnership”.

    You know, since we are half of the equation. (Or maybe a third.)

  25. the online fan community shows an organization

    and praxis more similar to polyculture, than to the monocultures of

    free-market industrial capitalism. One of my fields, environmental

    philosophy, would readily frame the holistic and non-hierarchical

    aspects of online fandom with models like Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis,

    or Indra’s net, the Hindu myth that is an allegory for the

    interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena (see James

    Lovelock and Fritjof Capra for more on these, respectively). Some of

    these presuppositions are: that the highest value of fanficcers

    includes contact with “the talent behind the show” (and thanks for

    derogating all the fanfic talent you seek to exploit, btw);

    mass-market circulation; ‘normalization’ into a masculine worldview

    and publishing economy; and assimilation into a single dominant

    website with rules codified and enforced by an external authority.

    What we lack (in general) is the approval of the copyright holders, but under the current circumstances this hinders only a relatively small minority whose needs are very unlikely to be fulfilled by FanLib. The only positive thing I can reasonably see coming out of being involved with FanLib is a vague prospect of being featured in some kind of official fanfic anthology,I would like to note, however, that it’s pretty difficult for many academic members of fandom–who write fanfiction that may include adult material–to be as open about their dual citizenship as Prof. Jenkins is. I personally think you can still tell their quality as academics by their quality of fannish essays, even if you don’t know their offline identities.

  26. helluin says:

    slashpine, a cogent analysis which I fear may be over Mr. Williams’ head, but you aptly named the problems we’re dealing with here. One of the joys of the internet is that it helps to free us from certain outmoded norms, and your essay brings that into sharper focus for me. The postcolonialism angle is not only a good lens here, but is a good way of describing the transition from the time when the web was largely .edu to its .com dominance now. But that starts veering away from the main subject.

    I am a comparative mythographer/depth psychologist, and I found your reaching for the right myth to be too tempting not to examine this whole situation that way. You identify several net, fiber, and overlapping/interpenetrating symbols for the way online fandom tends to operate. The first thing that occurred to me for the Fanlib situation is the semi-legendary Dorian Invasion, a rather alarming metaphor!

    Slashpine and Telesilla, among many others, have identified the major holes in Fanlibs’ inadequate answers and refusal to address or acknowledge the concerns or even the credibility of the consumer base it hoped to court.

    At this point, we have a pressing question to consider. Fanlib.com continues to deny,dodge, and run rough-shod over the central issues summed up by Angelia Sparrow above:

    “You don’t put fanfiction in front of the actors. If you meet one at a convention (a much more fanboy mode of interaction), you say nothing of fanfic.

    I was taught as follows, even in the late 1990s:

    The first rule of fanfic is ‘We make no money.’

    The second rule of fanfic is ‘We stay away from the media talent.’

    FanLib proposes to violate both of those most egregiously.”

    We have said this many, many times (I posted it on Fanlib’s discussion forum as what I found to be the most part of Telesilla’s initial analysis). Fanlib disagrees.

    In the informed opinion of a great many fanfic writers, their actions threaten the existence of fanfiction. How can we, as responsible members of the fanfic community, make sure this information reaches as many other fanfic writers as possible? There are many young writers and those who participate in other cells of the online community who will not know about Fanlib’s actions during this debate or the issues it’s failing to address. I don’t propose a protest or boycott or anything like that (although Fanlib’s current stance makes a boycott a fait accompli for a significant portion of the fanfic community, since we cannot accept this sort of exploitation or reckless disregard for the nature of fanfic), but just a way to get the word out to other fanfic writers that there are certain problems they should consider in addition to the marketing spin they receive from Fanlib.com.

  27. Spatz says:

    Since everyone else has covered the social aspect much more eloquently, I’ll be brief: as a business, you have lost mine. You screwed up big and treated your customer base in a condescending and unprofessional manner. All you have done since then is plug the holes that *we* pointed out to you, which hardly qualifies as ‘good service.’ You don’t offer anything new to the market except tenuous media ties that may threaten our self-made community through unwanted publicity. We have no reason to trust you, no guarantee that you won’t screw up again, and every reason to think that you will.

    Thank you for hosting this discussion, Professor Jenkins. It’s been very interesting, and I think I’ll continue reading your blog. Who can resist a guy with dual fannish citizenship? ;)

  28. drlense says:

    Mr. Williams, I have a many, many issues with your responses, but I’ll limit my comments to two. First, claiming that you’re “involved in the [fandom] community” is disingenuous at best, at worst a total falsehood. Your livejournal has no entries, no friends, no interests. You’ve only used it to post comments. You’ve produced nothing of value to the fandom community, save your archive, and I think we can agree that its value is debatable. There’s no artwork, fanfic, vids, recs- not even rambling posts about how much you’re looking forward to the next Harry Potter book, or an ode to your favorite L Word character. You’ve repeatedly committed the kind of social faux pas that turn fellow fans off: spamming, using tools at sites like lotrfanfiction.com to attempt to poach authors, setting up a site feature that allows you to import stories from fanfiction.net. It’s just yet another reason (among what seems to be literally dozens and dozens of reasons) why your venture will probably fail: you just don’t get fandom. You literally don’t seem to understand it.

    My second issue is with the main reason you say your archive is going to be better than other archives: you’ll reward authors with access to “the talent”. Now, while this may appeal to some fans, there’s a large number out there that don’t want anything to do with the talent, and worse, when the talent has shown up in the past the results haven’t always been pretty.

    Take the Television Without Pity boards, for example. Aaron Sorkin showed up there and it was a huge wankfest. The guy who writes for “Rescue Me” (forgive me for not knowing his name) also visited those boards after a hotly contested episode that involved a rape and it was not a pleasant conversation either.

    What are you going to do when the “talent” gets an interaction that doesn’t go well? When the writers are taken to task for a lack of continuity, or a character arc the fans don’t care for? What will happen when an actor is asked a question about slash, or Real Person Fic, or just an inappropriate personal question? How will these interactions be handled?

    As a potential customer- I’m sorry Mr. Williams, but I’m voting with my pocketbook. Fanlib offers me nothing I can’t get elsewhere, and I resent the fact that someone who knows nothing about the culture, values or community is attempting to profit from it.

  29. Chronolith says:

    Thank you, Professor Jenkins, for acting as a mediator since Chris appears to be too frighten to engage the female academics within fandom directly, which does not speak well of him in any fashion.

    Dear Chris,

    I’ll be brief as many of these points have already been covered by other posters in a very coherent, erudite fashion. Something that I cannot say of your answers to Professor Jenkins.

    1.) It is not unfair to ask you of your apparent and now confirmed biased. Fandom is overwhelmingly female. The politics of gender are deeply entrenched within discourse of the community. You have acted with either total contempt or complete obliviousness of this fact. That is insulting and far less ‘unfair’ than asking you to explain yourself.

    2.) Fanfiction does not need your arbitrary and outside value tacked onto it. The stories that we tell each other have value in and of themselves. The process of being involved in the fandoms–with all their insanity, discourse, and conventions–has value. We do not need your value propositions, because, fundamentally, they offer nothing of value to us. It is so very typically male for you to barge into our communities and tell us that what we are doing is without value unless you give it value. This is blatantly ridiculous proposition. We do not need you, Chris Williams. And I realize that this must come as a complete surprise to you. But you desperately need us and we do not want you.

    3.) You do not understand us and our communities, nor do you respect us. We are not stupid, Mr. Williams. We are all extremely intelligent women and we will not be herded into your little money making corral. We will not be belittled. If you want us to participate in your endeavor then make it something in which we would want to participate. Because at this point it reeks of exploitation. You do not come to us as equals and that is your fundamental failing in this endeavor. You cannot build a new community at your site all nicely regimented and controlled because the community already exists and we will not be controlled by the likes of you.

    In short, Mr. Williams, get out.

  30. fledge says:

    I would just like to say BRAVO to all the commentators. You have shown fandom for what it is: a singularly resourceful, intelligent, well educated, critical, communally serving community, which I am proud to be a part of. I am sure that CW never even realised we existed, much less wished to court our services; now, however, he has courted our righteous indignation. May he and his company reap what they have sowed, and before it impacts upon fandom.