AO3 App Wars

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Event: AO3 App Wars
(The moniker "AO3 App Wars" has not been widely adopted within the fandom community but is being used to group multiple similar discussions together on Fanlore.)
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The AO3 App Wars covers a series of fandom discussions surrounding the creation and use of third party apps in connection with Archive of Our Own.

Fanfic Pocket Archive Library

On February 15, 2020, several fans began circulating posts on Tumblr and Twitter discussing Fanfic Pocket Archive Library, a third party app developed by Simple Soft Alliance .[citation needed] Launched in 2015[1], the app allowed users to view Archive of Our Own pages inside the app's interface, offering users a dark mode view option, the ability to sort and filter, leave comments and kudos, and login to view restricted content. The app did not copy or host any of AO3 content but served as a 'parser' or "window" into the site, customized for mobile users. The app was offered on both the Google Play Store (Android) and the Apple Store (iOS).  

The app was offered for free, but it did contain ads and the developer asked for 'tips' to offset their costs. There also was an option to pay a monthly subscription fee of 99 cents for weekly fiction recommendations based on reading habits and likes.  The subscription was auto-renewable. By February 2020, the app had over 100,000 installs through the Google Play Store. [2] According to the developer, the cost to develop and release the app was $2900 (US), while the app earned approximately $20 in ad revenue and $100 in donations over 5 years.[3][4][5] [6]

A series of Tumblr and Twitter posts went viral quickly, with most fans objecting to both the ads and subscription fees associated with the app.[citation needed] However, other fans argued that even if there were no ads or fees, the app violated their intellectual property rights, AO3's Terms of Service and transformative fandom community norms by allowing readers to view the AO3 website in an unapproved manner.[7] [8][9]  Unfortunately, at least one of the original viral posts inaccurately claimed that AO3 fanfic was being 'stolen" and 'copied' which then caused significant consternation leading to snowballing misinformation.[10] Elizabeth Minkel observed that the high level of misinformation indicated a "total breakdown in knowledge about copyright law and basic web technologies" all the while ignoring the irony that fans' objections were "all carried out on large commercial platforms they use every day".[11]

Complaints Raised by Fans

Complaints raised by fans included the statements that:

  • The app was illegal.
  • The app copied and reposted fanfic.
  • The app 'stole' kudos, comments and hits because the app use would not show up in AO3 stats.
  • The app violated intellectual property right of  fan creators by copying, reposting and distributing fanworks to other locations  without creator permission.
  • The app's fees put fan creators, the AO3, and all of fandom at risk by giving studios incentive to target those who were eating into their profits.
  • The app violated AO3's TOS by copying data to display it someplace else.
  • The app violated AO3's TOS by scraping data even if the data was never displayed anywhere else.
  • The app violated AO3's TOS and fan creators IP rights by allowing fans to download fic to their phones.
  • The app did not offer any additional value - AO3 was web friendly and readers could easily download fic to their phones.
  • The app's dark mode was not necessary because  fans could install other free extensions that offered dark modes.
  • The app subverted AO3's warnings system so fans' apps could stay on iTunes and Google Play stores.
  • The app's AO3 login feature  was an attempt to steal users personal information.
  • The app's AO3 login feature violated AO3's Terms of Service (because the only way to log into AO3 was through a sanctioned browser like Chrome or Firefox).
  • The app developer was getting rich from the free labor of fans.
  • The app was poorly designed &nbsp.
  • The OTW was at fault for not suing third party app makers and protecting their IP.

The OTW's Formal Response

On Feb 17, 2020, OTW Legal posted a formal response to two third party apps, stating that while they could not act on behalf of the fan creators, fan writers could submit  formal DMCA notices against the developed and also report them to the Google Play and Apple iOs Stores.

The OTW began receiving reports on Friday, February 14, about apps that are making available fanfic from AO3 without authorization. The first app is Fanfic Pocket Archive Library, which has been available on both the Apple and Google app stores. As far as the OTW can tell, this app provides an interface that allows users to access works on AO3, and it may not actually copy, store, or redistribute any data from AO3. This app has a premium option that allows users to access extra features of the app for a monthly fee; it also hosts ads. At the time of writing, it appears that this app has been removed from the Google Play store but remains available on the App Store. The second app is actually not just one app, but a collection of them by a company called Woodsign j.d.o.o. The apps are available in the Apple app store. They are called Harry Potter Fan Fiction, P.J. Fan Fiction, K-POP Fan Fiction, Bulletproof Boys Scout / ARMY, 1D Fan Fiction, MCU Fan Fiction, Fantastic Beasts Fan Fiction, Sherlock Homes Fan Fiction, Slashfic, TWD Fan Fiction, and Real Person Fiction. These apps do appear to be redistributing fanworks. They also charge for access to many fanworks. We cannot say for sure that all works contained on these apps are being redistributed without permission, or that all of the works contained on these apps are from AO3, but user concerns and Tumblr discussion suggest that at least some are.Below are some of the things we have told concerned users in responding to emails. We also highlight some of the steps users can take if they do not want their works on these (or other) apps or sites.[12]

The announcement did not address whether a DMCA notice would be effective against a 'browser' app (one that merely offered a window or interface with the AO3 website). This may have had to do with the fact that at least one other app  by Woodsign may have been scraping and hosting fic which would be subject to a DMCA claim.[13] 

OTW Legal's announcement  also did not  discuss whether the creation and operation of  both apps violated AO3's Terms of Service, although in the comments they discussed that the scraping and gathering of data from AO3 was permissible as long as it did not interfere with the function of the archive.[14]  

A day later, the OTW did clarify that linking, framing and embedding of web content was not infringing in the comments. Presumably, the AO3 Terms of Service permitted this basic aspect of Internet operability, although that was not specifically addressed.

Hi! to hopefully clear up any confusion — although different courts approach the question differently, most agree that as a matter of U.S. law, linking to copyrighted works, framing copyrighted works (e.g. permitting embedding or acting as a portal), and providing information location tools that help users find copyrighted works are permitted activities do not infringe copyright. This is how search engines and rec sites exist, and it’s good! In contrast, distributing copyrighted works without authorization (which on the Internet typically involves reproducing those works and hosting them) does constitute copyright infringement. Therefore, the question of whether a particular app infringes authors’ copyrights depends on the specific facts of the situation, and whether the app reproduces/distributes works as opposed to merely linking to them or framing them.[15]

The developer had in fact been in contact with OTW Legal earlier in 2017 where they received permission to 'parse' or create an app that offered a window onto AO3. Her 2017 posts did not make it clear whether the OTW had given permission for the app's subscription fees or ad revenue, but OTW did warn them against using a GUI that mimicked AO3 design and color scheme which were trademarked.[citation needed]

In any event, to many, OTW's permission or the legality of parsing was moot:

You may have gotten permission to parse from Transformative Works but you never got permission from us: the creators of the works hosted on Ao3 and/or the people whose donations keep Ao3 on the air.

Without us, you would have NOTHING to parse. Without us, you would not have had a way to make money. And we’re the ones you never considered.

We spoke up via complaints and DMCA Takedown notices (despite your ego, no one decided to take action because you were sleeping at the time, as if we knew that or that it even mattered), which were all LEGAL responses (See? I can type in all caps, too). Apple and Google responded accordingly[16]

A few fans pointed out that there were potential risks to fans when submitting a DMCA, especially if they used their real names and contact info which was then passed along to the app developer. This last point was not lost on fans and some offered to serve as agents in order to submit DMCA notices on their behalf so their real identities could be concealed.[17]

Groundswell, and Some Dogpiling

What followed was a groundswell of fan activity across Twitter and Tumblr with fans posting guides how to submit DMCA notices against all 4 app developers, how to contact Google Play and Apple store to file complaints, and submit 1 star reviews (and the vote for them) to drive down app ratings.[citation needed] Because the developers listed their emails on the app store, fans were encouraged to spam the developers inbox.[citation needed] One app, Fanfic Pocket Archive Library had been launched by a friend of the developer and fans quickly located both their Twitter and Tumblr accounts to send complaints directly to her.[18]Others reblogged her older posts calling her a "piece of shit,"[19] "scum",[20] a leech and parasite",[21][22] [23]. Chasheha-wing wrote that they were glad her app had been removed, that she had failed and that she had suffered.[24] Other comments: You don’t deserve to have a fucking app you fucking thief", "Yeah no, shut the fuck up and delete your app", and Delete your fucking app and account you scum fuck. [25].

Even a test post of the developer holding a coffee cup elicited public harassment:

  • dark-willow-vengeful-witch reblogged this from riya2002 and added: Why don’t you test the palms of our hands, you fucking parasite. Dung beetles do more good for this world than you ever...
  • savvysass reblogged this from riya2002 and added: Test test idk what ur doing but dont come back on this site. Get out.
  • maindeckdeathtoymonsters reblogged this from riya2002 and added: Piss off you fucking asshole[26]

A person with a similar sounding gmail account received a barrage of emails

[citadelmonitor wrote]: Also the email listed for the app is info.catapps@gmail.com. One of my friends is XXXXXX@gmail.com and he has been receiving a good chunk of angry emails aimed at this person. My friend doesn’t even possess any tech skills, and has a chip on his shoulder over techies fucking up his city. If he was a techie he would’ve had the money for his surgeries much sooner.

Because the developer claimed that they posted the app through a friend, Sergey Pekar, there was initially some confusion over their gender with artemisastarte writing: "I don't want it available through an app making money for anyone. Particularly not a male" and "I will be removing all my work from AO3 if this man is allowed to continue. How do we stop him?" [27]

Away from the developer's blog, authors announced they were locking their fanfics to prevent readers from accessing fic through the apps (even though several apps allowed logged in readers to view locked fic) and offered up invites to readers who wanted to read locked fic.[citation needed] A few authors deleted their fanfic from AO3[28] and others stated they would not longer write any more fic because of the app.[29] By Feb xx, all 4 apps had been removed from the Google Play and Apple iOS stores and fans declared victory. Several posted memes celebrating the removal of the apps: one meme known as "Shut The Fuck Up Liberal" showed crabs shooting each other with lasers[30] and another that declared that "The evil has been defeated."

A fan posted this far-right/far-left political meme in celebration of Fanfic Pocket Library's removal[31]
A meme used to celebrate the removal of one of the apps.[32] The use of 'Evil is defeated' subtitle used in the meme is unintentionally ironic because in the original scene the girl is saying: The spirit of this girl [the bad thing] is now in the frog and will live out its days happily.[33]

Or, as another fan summed up their feelings:

So, whatever your feelings on the legitimacy or otherwise of sites that scrape fic or app readers that use AO3, the thing I noticed was the power of fandom and what it achieved in the space of a weekend. And that’s not nothing.[34]

Other Unrelated Apps

At the time of the Feb 2020 debate there was at least 3 other AO3 app developers - Archive Track Reader, FluffAO3,  and Woodsign.  By Feb 18 2020, all 3 apps were removed from the Google Play Store and/or Apple iOS Store, presumably because they were the subject of similar DMCA notices.

Archive Track Reader

Archive Track Reader[35] and developed by Alexis Ryan[36]allowed users to track what they had read on AO3, synced their reading locations across multiple devices and also organized stories in order of completion by pairing in a tab system. It was offered for free, without ads and the source code was also freely offered on Github. An added advantage was that even readers without an AO3 account could bookmark their favorite stories. Several users begged fans to not report the free app, but their argument fell on deaf ears after the app was included on the list that fans were asked to target with DMCA and app store complaints. [37]Some have argued that Archive Track Reader was removed from the Google Play store around Feb 6,[38] well before the flurry of mid-February DMCA and app store complaints. However while Feb 6 was the last date the app page was crawled Google, fans were still recommending the app through mid-February in response to the criticism of the other paid apps. As of Feb 15, 2020 the app no longer appeared in the Google Play store.[39]

To many fans the fact that a not-for profit, fan created app had been caught in the DMCA frenzy was irrelevant and if any blame should be assigned, it should be to those apps that did charge fees or that had allowed ads:

[rainofaugustsith]: I’m sorry if an app you enjoy has been pulled or caught up in this, but instead of blaming content creators for being understandably upset that their work is being monetized, blame the people who made the Pocket Reader and CreepyPasta/etc. apps and are endangering Ao3 and profiting from fanfiction writers.[40]

FluffAO3

FluffAO3  by S. Tan was launched in October 2019 and offered both an ad free and a premium version.  Fluff Premium was a monthly subscription  for $1.99 /month and enabled  "unique themes and other app-friendly features." [41]  One app tracking site estimates that it had over 20k downloads.[42]

Features listed
"Read seamlessly online and offline without having to transfer files or download PDFs or ebooks
  • Comfortable reading view: Adjust fonts, sizes, paragraph and margin spacing
  • Pleasant colors: Four different background and text colors, including sepia and night mode
  • Log in to AO3 and view your user's bookmarks, history, mark for later, and works
  • Automatically saves progress in long and multi-chapter fics
  • Automatically marks fic as already viewed in browsing mode and complete when finished*- Remembers last searches and recent tags used
  • Send kudos and save bookmarks right from the app 

 

Woodsign

This was a collection of apps by a company called Woodsign j.d.o.o. and were available through the Apple app store.

  • Harry Potter Fan Fiction
  • P.J. Fan Fiction
  • K-POP Fan Fiction
  • Bulletproof Boys Scout / ARMY
  • 1D Fan Fiction
  • MCU Fan Fiction
  • Fantastic Beasts Fan Fiction
  • Sherlock Homes Fan Fiction
  • Slashfic
  • TWD Fan Fiction
  • Real Person Fiction.

The app developers claimed their apps selected "the most popular fics from fandoms". They then prompted users to pay a fee to view more content. OTW Legal concluded that these apps were copying and rehosting fanfiction vs. Fanfiction Reader Archive Library which offered a window into the AO3 website.[43]

Codex Reader

Codex Reader was an Android app launched around 2015 that allowed fans to read fanfiction from FF.Net, AO3 and FictionPress. It was removed from the Google Play store in 2018. There was only an ad supported version.[44][45]

Features:
- Save stories for later
- Browse Fanfiction, FictionPress and Archive of Our Own
- Pick up reading where you left off
- Filter and sort your stories.
- View Communities
- View recently uploaded stories.
- Dark or Light Theme
- App can be opened from browser when story URL is clicked.
- Read stories online or offline.
- Search

Reactions

[need more reactions, especially ones that discuss the accuracy of the complaints raised above] 


Many fan reactions were muddied by the fact that people were often simultaneously talking about different apps which differed from one another in both function as well as pricing. Few fans understood the breadth of the discussion or the number of apps involved, so where possible we will indicate which app they may have been discussing.

Arguments against third party apps

  • The app was illegal
  • The app copied and reposted fanfic
    • OTW Legal stated that the Woodsign apps may have copied and rehosted/rehosted fanfic. Others pointed out that AO3Fluff, Archive Track Reader and Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library did not. In comments to their Feb 18 post, OTW Legal clarified that linking, framing and embedding content (which is what the latter 3 app allegedly did) was not copyright infringement, but as always, the final determination would depend on the specific of each app.

[Regarding Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library]:

[@PorcupineGirl8]: It does not "steal" anything, any more than a web browser does. It's just an interface, the stories stay on AO3 unless you download them using the download tools AO3 provides, which this also gives you an interface for.

[Silverink4]: They didn’t ask MY permission to use MY Work. To profit off it is disgusting. If people want to read stories they can use AO3 officially which is already free.

[@PorcupineGirl8]: Neither did your web browser."[46]
[@Fluff_thought Replying to @inameitlater]

I’m not the app developer but here are a few things to [k]now:

  • AO3 knows this app since 2015
  • This App is like an e-reader with fancy skins. You find your work on it because you’re essentially looking at ao3
  • you pay 1$/m to use their interface
  • no works are stored on it[47]


  • The app 'stole' kudos, comments and hits because the app use would not show up in AO3 stats
    • Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library allows users to leave comments and kudos, although the app was buggy. AO3Fluff claimed to do the same. It is unclear if Woodsign transferred over the kudos and comments

[Regarding Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library]:

[@FiveStillAlive1]:

Can anyone confirm if these apps allow readers to comment/kudos in a way that the author will see on AO3? I’ve heard they’re stealing, I’ve heard they’re just a fancy specialized browser... basically my outrage hinges on whether or not they’re stealing comments, honestly.

[@the_lakerose replying to FiveStillAlive1] when I use it I can comment and see others comments in the same way that I would on Ao3 - my comments show up on Ao3 and other's Ao3 comments show up on the app. The app itself is pretty buggy and annoying to use but it's means I can read fic on the tube and in dark mode so...

I reckon it's just another way to access Ao3 right? Like an a different browser...

Obviously if Ao3 released an official app that would be ideal

[@FiveStillAlive1] But I just read another post saying they don’t let readers post comments to AO3, so the author’s getting no feedback. Authors live on feedback; that’s stealing something more valuable than money!

[@the_lakerose replying to @FiveStillAlive]: The app is quite buggy so for example sometimes you will click to see comments on a fic and it will show you comments on a completely different fic - maybe the first result in a particular tag that you searched which is annoying. And this is a particular issue with downloaded fic

but if you really wanna comment (and I do often) if you search the fic whilst online then it does allow you to comment and syncs with your Ao3 account[48]

[Regarding Archive Track Reader]

[antrozous8] I’ve regularly left kudos through the Archive Track Reader which show up on the website itself (I have gone and checked), and comments I’ve made also show up if I look through my computer browser. I opened up my app to check, and you don’t actually log in to the app but rather log in to Ao3 itself, just like you would if you were using Chrome or Firefox, and looking at a fic increases its views as it would were you using a different internet browser. As far as I can tell, it simply makes life easier for readers without monetizing anything and without sacrificing hits / kudos / comments for the authors. It doesn’t download people’s fics as it is essentially an internet browser which only functions properly in conjunction with Ao3, and the only way to download fics through it is by downloading them using Ao3′s tools themselves (as, again, this is essentially an alternative to Chrome or Firefox).[49]
  • The app violated AO3's TOS and fan creators IP rights by allowing fans to download fic to their phones
    • AO3 allows fans to download fic to their phones, tablets, laptops, desktops in a wide variety of formats and the 3 apps Archive Track Reader, Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library, and AO3Fluff all linked to the AO3 download option

[Regarding Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library]:

[fernkind] i would like to point out that what's actually worse than the subscription/ads revenue part is the download feature. anyone can direct download our fics to their device at any time w/o our knowledge[50]
  • The OTW was at fault for not suing third party app makers and protecting their IP
    • The OTW explained that because they did not own the copyrights to the fanfiction they host, legal action like a DMCA could only be done by the authors. This led several fans to lash out at the OTW

[Regarding all apps, even the non-profit/free ones]

[proudtoehaver] Ah yes, it’s the writers who are the big bad villains in this for daring to take steps to protect ourselves because OTW said, “fuck it, your problem”, saddling us with going through 3916482 different apps. Well so sorry that we may not have had the fucking energy or time to evaluate each and every one individually and just mass reported them. I fucking swear fandom is so fucking entitled when it comes to fic and access to fic. I really hope this causes a big dearth in writers stopping posting on AO3, so fandom can maybe gets its entitled head out of its ass.[51]
[beccaanne814]: If AO3 won’t protect my work, then I can’t in good conscience post my stories there anymore. I thought it was a safe place to share my writing, but they seem to have no problem allowing people to profit off of my hard work. I’ll be deleting my account and I highly suggest everyone else that’s pissed off about this issue do the same. As for tumblr and Wattpad, I’m seriously considering doing the same. I’m tired of begging people to reblog or leave feedback while other people steal and profit off my ideas. Being a fanfic writer used to be fun, but now it’s just one fight after another and I’m tired of fighting.[52]
[caffiend-queen] However, I’m extremely unimpressed with AO3. The only interaction they’ve had with the theft apps is protecting THEIR name. If you read through their legal notice to the app creator, their only concern is the use of their name, even down to the SHADE OF RED HE WAS USING because they “own” that shade of red. I’m not joking. You can read it in the post below. So AO3 seems more concerned with color hue than the millions of fanworks on the site. Part of the reason I’ve donated to them every pledge drive is to address predatory aspects like these. They have a formidable legal team and strong messages to Apple and Google Play would make all the difference in getting these apps shut down. So, no. AO3 is NOT the hero in this case.[53]
[jujubiest replying to @caffiend-queen] If you read AO3's actual statement, there are no legal grounds for them to protest because of the way these apps function. There is a difference between not bothering to do anything and not having anything they CAN DO. It could damage their credibility to start making demands they have no legal grounds for, which could leave them less able to protect AO3 and us by extension.

Reactions to the Reactions

A few fans attempted to clarify the difference between a parser interface vs hosting, app functionality, and the process of developing apps but were often faced  with hostility.[54]

Several fans called on fandom to report and purge any and all apps or services that would allow readers to interface with or view AO3 through any tool other than a commercial web browser like Chrome or Firefox.

[SirCumf] I'm gonna destroy every app I see that does what that app did and I wont stop until I die" [55]
 
[hjbender] These are probably not going to be the last apps we see trying to make a profit off of what fanfiction authors provide for free. Stay vigilant, protect your content, report infringements, defund these apps and developers that drive traffic (and donations) away from AO3 to line their own pockets with your hard work. If people want to read fanfiction badly enough, they can sign up for an AO3 account and read it there. I hear AO3 has a mobile app (?), there are browsers and “reader view” settings individuals can use that make it easy to read text on mobile devices, no one is going to suffer if they read fanfiction directly from the source. If anything, it will encourage more user sign-ups and donations during each fundraiser drive. REJECT THIRD-PARTY FANFICTION APPS. THEY ARE HARMFUL TO AO3 AND THE FANFICTION COMMUNITY AT LARGE."  [56]

Others were worried about the conflation of a small developer with large commercial exploitation:

[elizabethminkel]I mean, I think this guy essentially re-skinning the ao3 to make a better reading experience (based on his preferences as a reader) is not really comparable to large companies stealing individuals’ work? And that kind of rhetorical direction has troubled me in the past few days.[57]

Some called for more thoughtful engagement with developers, focusing on the ones that were renosting and charging fees and not reporting apps that were offering what was essentially a custom window to AO3:

[dontcallmecarrie]:In the process of looking up the apps above, a lot of people have suddenly become aware of an app called Fanfic Pocket, which refers to itself as an “unofficial AO3 app”. Fanfic Pocket acts as an interface for the AO3 site itself, allowing you to browse all posted fics there through the app instead of through the website. If you leave a comment or kudos or whatever on the app, it still goes through to AO3 proper. The app preserves tags and warnings and makes authorship very clear. In theory, this person isn’t stealing or plagiarising, just providing a different way to read AO3. They have monetised the app with ads and subscription options that give you in-app perks, but they aren’t keeping any content behind paywalls or asking you to pay to view certain fics like Woodsign is.

My take on the second person is that they meant well. That they are thinking of the monetisation of the app as purely paying them for their work on coding it, that they haven’t taken into account either fandom’s history with exploitation or the general sensitivities of IP law. I expect they are currently being inundated with a lot of angry posts and emails, and they’re probably legitimately confused about why it’s happening and why people are calling them a “thief”.

I’m not defending them particularly. My personal opinion is that it’s still fundamentally not cool, that they’ve been either very naive or very foolish to think it was okay, and that I strongly do not want my fiction appearing alongside advertising content. (This is also why I’ve turned down several requests to post translations of my stories on ficbook.net - there are ads on all the stories and I am not okay with that.) It’s reasonable in theory to want to be paid for your work on an app like this, but when it gets tangled up with other people’s creative content - and not just that, but fanfic, which is already a tangle of multiple people’s creative content! - I wouldn’t touch the idea with a barge pole.

If I’d found out about this app before it blew up, I would have contacted the developer with my concerns and strongly urged that they at very least make sure people can opt out (which I would then have done with my fic). As it is, I don’t think attempting to have that conversation with them right now is going to go anywhere.

Nonetheless, it would be nice if we could all take a deep breath, separate these two conversations, and stop yelling quite so much at the person who’s made a bad judgement call instead of the one who’s clearly profiteering.[58]

Others took a wider view of the controversy, comparing to an epidemiological 'moral panic' that periodically sweeps through fandom communities:

[FaceDeeer]: It's a moral panic, these seem to sweep the fanfic community every once in a while. I was tangentially the target of one a few years back when someone noticed that there was a listing for a fanfiction on Goodreads and raised the alarm that "Goodreads is stealing fanfic!" (It's a review site, it doesn't host any content). It's a user-contributed site and I've created a few fanfic listings myself, so first I heard about this was some author whose work I've enjoyed in the past PMing me to cuss me out for stealing his work and demanding I take it down. Very confusing and disheartening. I wish people would check more carefully before firing the hate cannons. But the few comments pointing out that this app is basically just a special-purpose browser are down near the bottom of the thread, so I guess hate sells better."[59]

Collateral Damage  and Unintended Consequences

Many fans pointed out that the vehemence and indiscriminate targeting of all third party apps could and would have a chilling impact on both developers and fellow fans.

Y’all are talking as though any third-party viewer app whatsoever is somehow “stealing” your work by existing. You know, the way an RSS reader is “stealing” your blog when it requests the full text of a post. Or the way you “didn’t consent to have your work taken out of context” when someone views your Tumblr posts in the Washboard app. Or the way Discord’s auto-embed previews are “stealing” fanart. Any online RSS reader is probably running ads to cover its server costs, btw. What are the ethics of that?

And once it’s been framed as “stopping content thieves,” apparently that end justifies absolutely any means of takedown, regardless of the actual nature of specific apps. Brigading, finding the dev’s personal accounts and harassing them there, doxxing, review flooding, sending spurious DMCA notices about apps that aren’t even hosting content, tugging Mama Apple’s skirts and pointing at the exact content AO3 exists to protect as reason to nuke it for Purity Crimes… what the fuck, guys. What moral high ground could you possibly hope to occupy by tattling about all the icky, nasty porn on AO3, all to force an arbitrary takedown of an access point you find dodgy for unrelated reasons? I sure as fuck didn’t consent to having my fic used for that.

Do you have any idea what kind of chilling effect this all has on fans who might want to create third-party apps with actual, useful additional features? Because y’all aren’t exactly drawing distinctions between the sinners and the saints, here–you’re at “see AO3 app, burn it to the motherfucking ground.” Right now, one of my Discord servers has multiple members completely reassessing whether/how to share fandom-related coding projects and how to keep their identity firewalled, so they don’t get fucking doxxed if some underinformed moral panic lumps them in with whatever witches are getting hunted next week. Is that likely to happen to fans trying to contribute helpful extra functionality, noncommercially, out of their own pockets if necessary? I don’t fucking know! I realize the vehemence of this incident is mostly driven by the monetization, but the way y’all are talking sure isn’t giving me faith in your willingness to even consider that distinction.[60]

Disabled fans were concerned that the negative reaction to any third party apps would limit their access:

[freedom-shamrock]: "As a disabled person who is paid to help with tech accessibility, I have a huge concern about the constant misrepresentation that a free app functioning solely as another window to look out at the landscape of fanfic is stealing content. If someone wanted to make an app that helped make AO3′s content more accessible for a specific disability, one look at this mess and they’d nope right out.

While I’m not sure that any of these current apps are catering to disability accessibility, the chilling effect of fandom’s response means it’s not very likely we’re going to get such apps.

AO3 does a great job maintaining a mobile friendly and pretty accessible site, but no site is perfect for all needs. And while a person may have their laptop or desktop computer all tricked out to modify things as they need, mobile devices don’t always have the power for that.

If your concern is that these apps are stealing your content - This is not happening with the apps everyone’s freaking out over right now. Your content isn’t being duplicated to a mirror hosting site. The apps aren’t taking you to a funky alternate reality. Think of AO3′s website as a high speed mass transit hub in an enormous city. Most of these apps are working as the little golf carts that zip people from the main entrance to the gate or platform they’re looking for within that hub. AO3 has pointed out that this is not illegal. Requesting funding for the infrastructure of those little golf carts is also not illegal (just like AO3′s fundraising for its infrastructure isn’t illegal).

This isn’t a copyright violation or content theft. It’s more like using Firefox or Safari instead of Chrome as your web browser.[61]

Many were dismayed when their accessibility needs were not only dismissed by fellow community members but also the factual functionality of accessibility apps was ignored

[@theladyandthewolves] Disability or not, you don’t get to use people’s work without their consent.

I choose to post on AO3. I decide where I share MY work, how I share it.

No one should be able to ignore my consent.

People want to make apps? Awesome. But they need to ask for the artists’ consent first, that’s the bare minimum in terms of respect.[62]
[freedom-shamrock replying again to @theladyandthewolves]

@theladyandthewolves - if you had read what I’d posted, you’d see that no one is using your work without your consent There is no content theft in the current instances that people are bringing up. These apps are providing an alternate window for AO3. They aren’t using your work. They aren’t taking your work off AO3. They aren’t duplicating it and hosting it elsewhere.

Think of it this way. You have a window that looks out into your backyard. But maybe there’s a spot in your house where the view would be better. So you knock a hole in the wall to install a new window. This new window doesn’t change anything about your yard. It doesn’t steal shrubs from the neighbors or relocate trees. It’s just another way to look at the same thing.

And this is the key problem. So many users are framing this in the context of content theft when that isn’t the issue.[63]
[tenlittlebullets replying to @theladyandthewolves]: So, let's take a sadly hypothetical example and say Braille ebook readers finally become a thing next year. Let's say they can even run apps and have some limited, quirky internet-browsing capability! Are you sitting here telling me that an app that converts AO3 pages to a friendlier format as you browse would need to build a repositoriy of *individual authors*' permission and filter everyone else out of the on-the-fly translation?

Sample App Reviews

Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library (posted on the Apple iOS store, now offline)

Posted after the Feb 2020 controversy

YOU THIEF!!!  by  PonderPal on 2020/02/16 14:29 HOW DARE YOU STEAL MY WRITING AND ART AND POST IT FOR PROFIT!!! I’M ABSOLUTELY LIVID! >:( I had hoped that I was not part of your mass theft, but oh boy...there was EVERY SINGLE STORY I HAVE POSTED sitting in your app. Thief! How dare you! I post my work for free for others to enjoy and you have the nerve to make an app that pulls from the non-profit site (that protects our right to even create such works) and use a loophole by saying that the subscription only covers the service of app itself and not the content?! You make me not want to post any of my work!!! I’m sickened and so upset. How dare you! HOW. DARE. YOU. I do not profit from my work but you go and profit from me and the thousands of other authors and artists that pour their heart and soul into their work and posted it for free on AO3? Your site doesn’t even increase our counts, Kudos, or comments. This app needs to be taken down immediately. I did not consent to have my work hosted on this site and I see not compensation for my work. I even took screen shots of my work that you stole. AO3 is already free and yet you go and pull a stunt like this. If I could give this negative stars, I would!!! TAKE. DOWN. THIS. THIEVING. APP. —One of the authors you stole from

Posted in 2017

Incomprehensible Purchasing  by naniosh on 2018/07/17 12:27I recently downloaded the fanfic pocket reader and was very satisfied with my experience so to begin with, thank you. My problem occurred when I wanted to use the special “premium” fonts to read in. I paid a “generous tip” of $1.99, yet my nothing of my fanfiction experience changed. I checked in the App Store and the pro subscription is $1.49 so I paid more than enough to be able to access the premium features, yet I have not been granted to access to them. I was hoping for an explanation of why my payment didn’t grant access to the benefits and how I can get those features applied to my account. I also sent an email with this grievance, but it’s been about two days and I still haven’t got a response. I would suggest making the purchasing process clearer to understand as I have spent $2 and have received nothing for it.
 

FluffAO3 (posted on the Apple iOS store, now offline)

[anna over and over again, 2020-02-05]

The existence of this app validated my obsessions

Seriously great.

First off, night mode on this app is everything (its the kind of dark every Emo girl wanted to achieve). Fanfics from archive update regularly onto the app, and make it real easy for viewing. I love that I can filter my searches on the app itself just like I can on ao3, with all the tags and suggestions it really doesn't stray from the original website. Which is refreshing and very user friendly. Part of that is the way you can organize things on the app, most of them time without even meaning to. There are seperate sections (your currently reading, your bookmarks, your history, your archives, and your marked for later.

I also can't stress enough how convenient it is to be able to download fics, this way I have them handy on the subway to read and fangirl over.
[MTaleswapper, 2020-01-22]

Love it!!

Definite 5-star - good integration with AO3

A few of the more recent reviews were archived on appgroves. Reviews: Fluff AO3 Fanfiction Reader - by S Tan - Books & Reference Category - 348 Reviews - AppGrooves: Get More Out of Life with iPhone & Android Apps, Archived version

Archive Track Reader (posted in the Google Play Store, now offline)

[Andrew Chung, 31 January 2020]: I love the idea, being an avid AO3 fanfic reader, but the execution needs work. Streamline the interface. The app feels slow because there's too much to process, especially when stories have too many tags. Add options to hide things users don't want to see, like general story tags (some stories have....[review truncated]
[Kayleigh Hallatt, 15 January 2020] I have definitely seen improvement, but one issue that persists is the stability. The amount of times I have to force close the app because it completely locks up is concerning. It mostly happens when you have a lot of filters set and you open something to read, then hit the back button when you want...[review truncated]

Posted in the Microsoft Store

[K. Mobile, Submitted on 10/1/2017

Seems great!

A full-featured Ao3 client, with tag blacklisting and syncing! Seems very well put together - I've been using App-It for Ao3 browsing on mobile, and so far it seems like this app will be a great replacement. Thanks, dev! My one suggestion is to get rid of the address bar at the top - it just seems like wasted space to me.
Raven, Submitted on 5/27/2017

Would Be Better

Would be better if it allowed me to make a AO3 Cloud Sync account. Past that, it's a pretty decent and neat app.

Flashpoint Origin

Fans had been using all 4 apps since they were launched, tweeting and blogging about the pluses and minuses of the apps.[64] Many thought these were official apps, even though AO3Fluff, Archive Track Reader and Fanfiction Pocket Archive Library all contained statements that they were 'unofficial".[65] On Feb 14, JGGKSTAE asked: "am i the only one who uses [AO3Fluff] app for ao3 fics ??" in response to a fan stating that they "never downloaded fics from ao3 and always read from website."[66]

kzabrekker announced the same day that "this is just my unprofessional opinion but i think society is collapsing bc we don’t have an official ao3 app yet"[67] When someone suggested Archive Track Reader, they were told that there was no official AO3 app.[68] Another fan suggested Fanfic Reader Pocket Library. [69]

Also on Feb 14, 1lostone reported on Tumblr that they had found an app called Woodsign that demanded payment to unlock stories on AO3.[70] The blog post was linked in fail-fandomanon on the following day, February 15, and other nonnies suggested that the app be reported to Google and Apple. [71]

On the morning of February 15, 2020, lexical_dreamer posted about Fanfic Pocket Archive Library on their Twitter. They included screenshots of the app:

So theres this app that's reposting a shitton of stories off of AO3, including my baby wip, Sea Change. And they're doing it with ads and subscription service. Fuck right off with that. Please report to the app store if you have a moment! I've already sent a report to AO3. [72]

Also on February 15, 2020 winchestersingerautorepairs raised the alarm on their Tumblr:

🚨ATTENTION🚨 🚨ATTENTION🚨

All Writers Published on Ao3:This app, “Fanfic Pocket Archive Library”, is lifting all public content from Ao3 and making it available through a service they profit from.

Your work has been stolen and is being used to make money for a third party. ....

... 🚨Please flag/report this app in your app store. 🚨

🚩Google Playstore link (go HERE to report directly)

🚩Apple Store link (download app, then go to report it here )

Feel free to contact Ao3 as well to alert them to this issue. Let’s take em down, folks. In the meantime, you can put your Ao3 in private mode to prevent any more data theft.

Please reblog and tag your writer friends. Signal boost this.[73]

Additional Reading

"AO3 is as open-source as they come. AO3 is 100% okay with us building tools like apps, scripts, extensions, etc. around their website’s infrastructure.There’s no need to go through AO3 to get your AO3 app sanctioned if everything you wanted to do with your app is able to be obtained legally & fairly already.... Personally, I think when an app can present AO3 data in an aesthetically pleasing way that native AO3 can’t, plus maybe a few extra bells & whistle features, that makes ppl love AO3 more, use AO3 more, and cause them to consider donating to AO3 more. Dang, we don’t need less unofficial AO3 reader apps, we need so many more! [74]

References

  1. Fanfic Pocket Archive Library by Sergey Pekar, Archived version
  2. link to Fanfic Pocket Archive Library dated Feb 16, 2020.
  3. [1], Archived version
  4. [2], Archived version
  5. [3], Archived version
  6. Tumblr, Archived version
  7. would a free app still be objectionable? Honestly, yeah, kinda., Archived version
  8. [avannafruitgiver wrote]: "And even if it isn't monetized, it still really isn't cool to use anyone's work without permission, you know?"
  9. [rainofaugustsith wrote]: "....If the creator did not give permission for the work to be used, it shouldn't be used.""' both replying to just wanted to point out that one of the apps on that post, Archive Track Reader, has no ads, subscriptions or donation option, Archived version
  10. reblog of winchestersingerautorepairs's Tumblr post: This app, “Fanfic Pocket Archive Library”, is lifting all public content from Ao3 and making it available through a service they profit from. Your work has been stolen and is being used to make money for a third party., Archived version
  11. [4], Archived version
  12. Update on Unofficial AO3 Reader Apps, Archived version
  13. This disconnect was originally pointed out by AO3 staff members before OTW Legal  made their public announcement.Regarding the third party mobile apps AO3, Archived version
  14. Show Comment, Archived version
  15. Update on Unofficial AO3 Reader Apps – Organization for Transformative Works, Archived version
  16. Tumblr, Archived version
  17. [5], Archived version
  18. jewelsrulz wrote: "This piece of shit has a tumblr account too, unofficialao3app. Go tell them what you think... don't forget the @ in front. I didn't want to put it there because I don't want them to receive a notification." in response to reblog of winchestersingerautorepairs's Tumblr post, Archived version
  19. [tomboyish75 said]: I don’t normally curse but ur a piece of shit for taking hard work from authors that spent hours on end creating these stories. See Tumblr, Archived version
  20. Tumblr, Archived version
  21. Tumblr, Archived version
  22. caffiend-queen wrote: Using this app is supporting a parasite who is indeed profiting off our original work" in a reply to Tumblr, Archived version
  23. [thekingparrot said] AO3 is a Hugo Prize winning platform run by and funded by volunteers, and here you are making money by piggy backing on it. You are a parasite. as a note to a 2018 post Tumblr, Archived version
  24. Tumblr, Archived version
  25. See cassandranoellewinchester's Feb 2020 reply to the developer's Dec 2018 tumblr post Tumblr, Archived versionannouncing a feature to highlight and quote text, Archived version and greedisathot reply to a 2018 post
  26. Tumblr, Archived version
  27. replies to ivyblossom's Open Letter to the Developer of “Fanfic Pocket Archive Library”, aka “Unofficial AO3 Reader App”, Archived version
  28. Tumblr, Archived version
  29. A writer left this comment on an earlier 2018 blog post: diztastik said: Thanks to you I’m never writing another fic again. You stole my work without my permission and I’ll never let that happen again. Enjoy whatever content you got from me that I can’t take because you’ll get nothing else from me. in a reply to announcing a feature to highlight and quote text, Archived version
  30. This image originated from far right and far left communities who used it to simulate their destruction of liberals. Shut the Fuck Up, Liberal, Archived version
  31. Tumblr, Archived version
  32. Tumblr, Archived version
  33. Tumblr, Archived version
  34. [6], Archived version
  35. archived version on the Play Store
  36. Home Page, Archived version
  37. girl-with-no-pearl-earring: antrozous8:... - shine like thunder cry like rain, Archived version
  38. Show Comment, Archived version
  39. See [7], Archived version and [8], Archived version
  40. rainofaugustsith, Archived version
  41. Tumblr, Archived version and
  42. S Tan Revenue & App Download Estimates from Sensor Tower - Apple App Store, Archived version
  43. Tumblr, Archived version
  44. Anyone know what happen to Codex reader? : FanFiction, Archived version
  45. Codex FanFiction Reader 1.5.0 Download APK for Android - Aptoide, Archived version
  46. [9], Archived version
  47. [10], Archived version
  48. [11], Archived version
  49. Tumblr, Archived version
  50. [12], Archived version
  51. Tumblr, Archived version
  52. Tumblr, Archived version
  53. AO3 is NOT the hero in this case, Archived version
  54. "Rather disgusted at your dismissal and defence. ", Archived version; "The sheer entitlement in your argument is what floors me more than having to list the myriad reasons why this app is so shitty.", Archived version  
  55. [13], Archived version
  56. Tumblr, Archived version In a later post they tried to walk back some of the rhetoric by focusing on for profit apps: In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for for-profit fanfic apps (check for the “in-app purchases” text in their descriptions) that are trying to pull this same crap. Report them. Leave bad reviews. Get them removed
  57. [14], Archived version
  58. Tumblr, Archived version
  59. For-profit app hosting AO3 fics without author consent? : FanFiction, Archived version
  60. Listen, if the conversation happening around... - shine like thunder cry like rain, Archived version
  61. Tumblr, Archived version
  62. Ibid.
  63. Ibid.
  64. There is a really great fan made app! Archive Track Reader! You can sign into the site and also it has it's own bookmark function if you don't have an ao3 account., Archived version
  65. [15], Archived version
  66. [16], Archived version
  67. [17], Archived version
  68. [18], Archived version
  69. [19], Archived version
  70. Tumblr, Archived version
  71. fail_fandomanon FFA DW Post #1248 Woodsign apps scraping fic + using paywall, Archived version
  72. [20], Archived version
  73. reblog of winchestersingerautorepairs's Tumblr post: This app, “Fanfic Pocket Archive Library”, is lifting all public content from Ao3, Archived version 5 days later the post had gathered over 45,000 note
  74. Tumblr, Archived version