Archive of Our Own and The Hugo Awards

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Event: Archive of Our Own and The Hugo Awards
Participants: Archive of Our Own, The Hugo Awards, Organization for Transformative Works
Date(s): 2019-
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Fandom: Science Fiction Fandom, Transformative Fandom, Fanfiction
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people holding the 2019 in a proscribe way

After several years of dedicated campaigning and outreach by fans, Archive of Our Own was shortlisted for a Hugo Award in 2019 in the category of Best Related Work. The shortlisting was widely celebrated as a momentous achievement within fandom and a significant step towards acknowledging the worth and legitimacy of fanworks and fan projects by a major Science Fiction award and in the mainstream.

This intensified when AO3 ultimately won the award for Best Related Work at the Dublin Worldcon, and fans celebrated the win as a joint victory for fandom. However, the Hugo Awards Mark Protection Committee subsequently requested that the OTW clarify that the win did not belong to individual fans, giving rise to an outbreak of wank and controversy as fans protested against the perceived gatekeeping of a Hugo Award which they felt belonged to all of them.

History

AO3's presence on the Hugo voting ballot in 2019 was the result of many years of campaigning by fans, in particular Renay, an OTW volunteer and contributor to the fanzine Lady Business (which itself won a Hugo in the category of Best Fanzine in 2019), who campaigned for multiple successive years to have AO3 shortlisted in the category of Best Related Work.[1][2][3][4] In 2018, AO3 missed out on the shortlist by a single vote.[5]

The Nomination

When AO3 finally made it onto the ballot for one of sci-fi's most prestigious awards in 2019, it was considered hugely significant for fandom and in particular the legitimacy of fanfiction as a medium, and resulted in a flurry of media coverage and delighted responses from fans.

Much of the media coverage highlighted the significance of the AO3 nomination as a sign of changing attitudes towards Transformative Work fans within Science Fiction Fandom.

In allowing for the nomination of AO3, the Hugo Awards are broadening what it means to contribute to the experience of fiction. This process, they have recognized, goes beyond interacting with a work of fiction as it is — it also encompasses interacting with what the work might be. The imaginations and creativity of fans also contribute to the story of that original story. Talking about art by working within it is not particularly different from talking about art from a remote perspective. [6]
But fan works, and the community that surrounds them, often don’t get the respect they deserve. So AO3’s nomination for the prestigious award—both for the platform itself and for the platform as a proxy for the very concept of fan fiction—is a big deal. Many, both inside and outside the sci-fi and fantasy community, deride fan fiction as mostly clumsy amateur works of sexual fantasy—critiques that, as those who have looked at them closely have pointed out, have a glaringly gendered component. [7]

While the Hugo Awards committee were quick to point out that the nomination was specifically for the underlying structure and code of the Archive, and not for all the individual fanworks hosted on it[8], some of the media coverage, including on Vice and Syfy, took a broader view.

This week, the Hugo awards—a set of literary awards given to the best science fiction and fantasy works of the year—announced that Archive of Our Own (Ao3), a massive internet fanfic archive, is a finalist in the Best Related Works category for 2019. If the archive wins a Hugo this year, hundreds of thousands of user-created transformative works—much of it horny, weird, and beautiful fan-made takes on existing pop culture like the aforementioned Avengers fanfic—will join the past and current honorees.[9]

Did you ever expect that Game of Thrones slashfic you wrote at 3 a.m. when you really should have been studying for your Psych 101 final would ever get nominated for the most prestigious literary award in the universe (or alternate universe) of sci-fi and fantasy?

It actually happened. The Hugo Awards, which this year includes nominees like Doctor Who and Into the Spider-Verse, just announced that one 2019 contender in the Best Related Works category is the immense online fanfiction archive Ao3. [10]

Some fans credited the nomination in part to the increased interest in the Hugos after Puppygate:

Both for what it offers and the platform it offers it on it’s worthy of a Hugo nomination, but without Worldcon fandom having to defend itself against the Puppies, a group of sad sack rightwing writers who wanted to use a reactionary backlash to cheat their ways to a Hugo, AO3 would’ve never be nominated. Thanks to the Puppies, actual fans mobilised to save their fandom from being taken over, we got organised and long term attempts to make it more inclusive and as a whole Worldcon fandom became more diverse. And with that diversity, that influx of new people both and old fans re-energised, came a new view on what was Hugo worthy or not. [11]

Ellen Fremedon questioned whether it was possible to separate the Archive structure from the fanworks hosted on it:

I don't think the archive as a whole CAN be separated from its contents, though. I could see nominating, say, the AO3 tagging system as a Related Work, but the whole shebang doesn't fit easily in any of the Hugo categories. [12]

On Tumblr, OTW Founder astolat posted that "we deliberately refused the lie, from the beginning, that a space like the AO3 was or could ever be the work of one or even a few people," and compared the the AO3 to a garden:

The AO3 is not a statue that one artist has made. It’s a living space, a community garden. And the first group of us stood up together and said we wanted a garden for our community and talked about what it should look like, and many of us committed to build it, and many started the work, many left, many joined in along the way. Because of all the early people, we were first able to open the garden, with paths and beds and the organization to keep it going.

But that alone wouldn’t have made the garden. The garden is made new every day, by the people who stop in and plant a flower, or a whole bed of strawberries, and the people who come in every weekend and do the weeding and teach the gardening lessons, and the ones who run the annual fundraiser and the ones who go to the local community board meetings to protect it. And the beds and paths wouldn’t still be there if people weren’t maintaining them and adding new ones and figuring out better ways to lay them out and occasionally bringing in a whole new tree and putting up a gazebo to make things even better.

And because the garden is there, many random passers-by can wander through and enjoy the flowers, and some of those people will stuff a few bills into the donation box or fill out the suggestion form, and some will come back often and some will come every day, and some will one day become caretakers and some will come in once and never again, and some who did huge amounts of work will move across the country and never see it again.

The garden is the work of and a place for all those people. It was built for the person who wanders through once and for the person who comes every day, for the person who contributes and the person who only comes long enough to enjoy the beauty and warmth they can find in a place built only for human pleasure and goes away enriched. And all the people who build it have made a choice to give their work to such a place and for that cause.

So if the question is, which of that work is the nomination recognizing? It’s recognizing all of it. You can’t separate one part of it from the other. The garden wouldn’t exist without all of it. And I am grateful for it all.[13]

Many reactions focused on the significance of a fanfiction archive being nominated for one of the biggest genre awards.

Author Seanan McGuire, herself nominated for a Hugo for "Best Series" posted to twitter:

As we're all yelling about the Hugo nominees today, how are we not yelling more about @ao3org being nominated? THE ERA OF THE TRANSFORMATIVE WORK IS UPON US!

This is a HUGE DEAL. This is a chance to say "fanfic is a legitimate and vital part of fandom" on our biggest stage.[14]

And the sentiment was echoed by other fans on twitter, tumblr, and in blogs. Twitter user @elvenjaneite posted a thread about how meaningful she found the nomination:

The name itself honestly makes me a little choked up. I know this sounds like hyperbole. It's not. The idea of fanfic, so frequently crapped on, so frequently by and for people who aren't old white guys, being deserving of an archive is amazing.

So yes, it absolutely is the project itself. But as many others have pointed out, there is no archive without the works in it. And the works are also transformational.

The authors who come out of writing fic are vastly different in scope, taste, style, etc etc etc. But they are also writing some of my favorite SFF right now and I don't think that's an accident.

Fanfic is changing the face of traditionally published SFF. It just is.[15]

Blogger ohioneedsatrain agreed:

AO3 winning would be a major win for fan culture, and specifically for fanfiction, which has always been a huge and active part of fandom. Since the Hugos are a fan-granted award, it seems to make sense for the thing that would be fan-related would be the one that is fan-focused and fan-driven, and I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be the best choice in the field.[16]

The excited squee from AO3 users was seemingly everywhere, and overjoyed fans soon started making jokes on social media about being Hugo nominees:

knopflerpettydylan: That is so going on my resume lol

Evan_Th: Right alongside Time Magazine Person of the Year 2006? [17]
Hell YES I'm a Hugo finalist [18]
I guess this means we can all put that on our resumes, now, right? [19]

Hope Neufeld: Me, screaming: MOM I’M NOMINATED FOR A HUGO

Tessa Elise Stockmaster: We're ALL Hugo nominated now! 😂👏

Rebecca Stormageddon Moreland: Does this mean I can put "Hugo award nominee" on my resume? 😂

Rachel Espiritu: Today, we are all Hugo nominees. [20]

Objections to the Nomination

Not everybody was happy about the AO3's nomination. Cora Buhlert and Ethan Wise were two of the fans who expressed the opinion that the AO3 did not qualify as a Related Work:

Now I think that the fanfiction archive Archive of Our Own is a great project and I know there has been a push to get it nominated in this category for years now. But I still don’t feel that it belongs in this category, though there is no other where it fits either.[21]
While I appreciate that other people are into fan fiction and I see the academic interest in it, it's not my thing. The Archive of Our Own website is a fantastic achievement and hosts an academic journal. This may be a weird rationale, but it feels like a bit ... too much for this award. Maybe I'd feel better about giving it to just the journal.[22]

One fan who argued particularly strongly against the nomination was Contrarius, who would later feature heavily in the heated discussion at File770

I’m not at all convinced that it belongs in this category. But I’d love to see it get some acknowledgment, like maybe a special one-time award.[23]

@Mark —

“AO3 deserves recognition *somewhere*”

Agreed.

“and I don’t see the harm in this.”

The harm is that works that actually fit the category may be denied a win, and that this could encourage other people to push the envelope farther and farther.[24]

“The supporters of AO3 have made some (imo) strong arguments about the overhaul of the site”

The site got a couple of new features. Big whoop. Is it going to be eligible again every year they add some new bell or whistle to the search engine? That’s what their argument would indicate.[25]

At File770, a commenter named Kendell declared that, "not every concept needs a Hugo and not everything people love must be awarded or eligible for some Hugo.[26]

Hampus Eckerman, another fan who would later clash with AO3 users, stated that even if he agreed with the justification for the nomination, he would not have nominated the AO3:

Andrew M:

Thank you for that quote. I do think you have an argument for why software can’t be called “non-fiction” (i.e changes in emojis and search engine is not non-fiction). The argument could be for the content as a whole (my guess is that there has been a lot of content added in 2018), but even if that made the site eligible, I would not nominate for that.[27]

Some commenters objected to the implications of the nomination on the ongoing makeup of the category. Greg Hullender went with the slippery slope argument:

It gets us one step closer to nominating something like the Falcon Heavy Rocket for Best Related Work.

1. It’s a rocket. You don’t get more “related to the field” than that. 2. It’s definitely not fiction. 3. I’m pretty sure it’s not eligible in any other category, although the video of the launch would probably qualify under “Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form.”

4. It didn’t exist at all before 2018, so the “substantially modified” doesn’t apply. However, since the vehicle is 99% fuel by weight, and the payload and top stage are always replaced, you could probably nominate it again every year.[28]

Cora Buhlert was particularly upset on the behalf of those non-fiction writers who might have made the ballot in the AO3's place.

If I were a non-fiction author who had an SFF related book out this year, particularly a research intensive non-fiction book (rather than a compilation of previously published essays or reviews) which may have taken years to research and write, than I wouldn’t be happy, if that book had just missed the ballot because of one of the three edge case finalists this year.[29]

A sentiment that was echoed by fan Andrew M

It’s not that AO3, in and of itself, is destroying the purity of the award. It’s that it confirms a growing trend of seeing this as the ‘everything fandom wants to honour’ award, and it’s not fair to non-fiction works to make them share the award with everything else.[30]

Steve J. Wright, acknowledged that the AO3 was appropriate for the category, but did not consider it a worthy nominee:

There remains the question of where I’m going to put it on my ballot, of course. This is a can of worms all by itself… obviously, if I’m judging by the average content, it’s hard to see it anywhere other than dead last. But Ao3 is up for judging as a thing in itself, not for its content, isn’t it? Well, fine… but if the content isn’t to be taken into consideration, then it feels like – by way of analogy – being asked to give a book a Hugo based solely on the fact that it has a really spiffy index. Is Ao3’s user interface, handy though it undoubtedly is, really the best thing to happen in SFF related works in 2018?[31]

The celebratory jokes about being "Hugo nominated fanfic writers," and being nominated for "1 millionth of a Hugo" particularly did not sit well with some long-time Hugo voters:

On the website Amazing Stories, Steve Davidson argued that the jokes diluted the prestige of the award:

But I do strongly suspect that we’re going to see a lot of fanfic plastered with “Hugo Finalist” (or even, maybe “Hugo Award Winner”), necessitating a lot of running around by over-worked volunteers informing said individuals that they are not entitled to make such statements. They can state “my work is published on the Hugo Award nominated website AO3” (or even better and more accurate, “I’m a member of AO3, the website that was nominated for a Hugo Award”), but individually, no work and no author can make a claim to Hugo Award Finalist or Winner status.

Doing so dilutes the prestige of the award. (“This won a Hugo?”.)

We’ve already enough FInalists deserving of an astericks from the Puppy era dragging down the perception of the prestige of the Hugos. We don’t need any more, especially inaccurate and unfounded ones.[32]

Others, such as the editors of the Hugo Book Club Blog, argued that the people making jokes about being nominated for a Hugo were disrespecting the award:

It has been suggested that these claims are made in jest – though this assertion seems disingenuous to us. If these authors are making such claims in jest, it might imply that the Hugo Award is a joke to them.[33]

Even the claim to a partial nomination was considered spurious by some, as evidenced by this comment by Xtifr at File770:

Even if AO3 were being nominated on the basis of the works it contains, that doesn’t mean that all those works now have a “fraction of a nomination”. Back when we had awards for Best Professional Magazine (1953-1972), the award was considered to be for the magazine. Individual stories published in the winning magazine were not considered to have won a fraction of a Hugo![34]

These objections would return in force after the Hugo win.

The Win

AO3's win was considered a significant step in the broader acceptance of fanworks fandom. Organization for Transformative Works co-founder Naomi Novik, accepting the award on-stage alongside three other OTW volunteers, acknowledged this significance in her acceptance speech:

All fanwork, from fanfic to vids to fanart to podfic, centers the idea that art happens not in isolation but in community. And that is true of the AO3 itself. We’re up here accepting, but only on behalf of literally thousands of volunteers and millions of users, all of whom have come together and built this thriving home for fandom, a nonprofit and non-commercial community space built entirely by volunteer labor and user donations, on the principle that we needed a place of our own that was not out to exploit its users but to serve them.

Even if I listed every founder, every builder, every tireless support staff member and translator and tag wrangler, if I named every last donor, all our hard work and contributions would mean nothing without the work of the fan creators who share their work freely with other fans, and the fans who read their stories and view their art and comment and share bookmarks and give kudos to encourage them and nourish the community in their turn.

This Hugo will be joining the traveling exhibition that goes to each Worldcon, because it belongs to all of us. I would like to ask that we raise the lights and for all of you who feel a part of our community stand up for a moment and share in this with us.[35]

Attendees at the Hugo Awards ceremony reported that "half" the auditorium stood up at this point - including many nominees from other categories.[36]

Controversy

Although AO3 co-founder Naomi Novik did not directly attribute the Hugo win to the entire community, in her acceptance speech on behalf of the project, she acknowledged the significance of the award to the whole community of AO3 creators and users:

Even if I listed every founder, every builder, every tireless support staff member and translator and tag wrangler, if I named every last donor, all our hard work and contributions would mean nothing without the work of the fan creators who share their work freely with other fans, and the fans who read their stories and view their art and comment and share bookmarks and give kudos to encourage them and nourish the community in their turn. This Hugo will be joining the traveling exhibition that goes to each Worldcon, because it belongs to all of us.[37]

A great number of AO3 users took to platforms like Twitter to express their excitement at being “Hugo winners” with sentiments such as, “PS hey y'all my fanfic won a Hugo asking with hundreds? thousands? of other fanfic. WHEEEEEEEE”[38]. Many fans joked about having written Hugo-winning porn or contributed Hugo-winning comments. News websites like The Mary Sue further conflated the meaning of the Hugo win with headlines such as “Everyone Who Contributed to Fanfiction Site ‘Archive of Our Own’ Is Now a Hugo Award Winner”[39].

Some people questioned whether an entire project could be eligible for a Hugo Award, resulting in the WSFS stating that AO3 was eligible for the award based on “aspects other than the fictional text.”[40]

On September 13, the OTW posted Hugo Award – What it Means, Archived version, stating that the World Science Fiction Society (who give the awards) had asked them to publicly clarify "that the Hugo was awarded to the AO3, and not to any particular work(s) hosted on it":

We’re as excited as you are about the AO3’s Hugo win, and we are shouting it to the rafters! We are grateful to the World Science Fiction Society for recognizing the AO3 with the award, as well as to the many OTW volunteers who build and maintain the site, and all of the amazing fans who post and enjoy works on it.

The World Science Fiction Society has asked us to help them get the word out about what the award represented—specifically, they want to make sure people know that the Hugo was awarded to the AO3, and not to any particular work(s) hosted on it. Therefore, while we can all be proud of the AO3’s Hugo win and we can all be proud of what we contributed to making it possible, the award does not make any individual fanwork or creator “Hugo winners”—the WSFS awarded that distinction to the AO3 as a whole. In particular, the WSFS asked us to convey this reminder so that no one mistakenly describes themselves as having personally won a Hugo Award.

Thanks for sharing our enthusiasm, and consider yourselves reminded! We appreciate every one of your contributions.[41]

Discussion ensued in comments to the post as well as on File 770 and elsewhere. Some AO3 fans concluded that WSFS was unable to tell the difference between a joke and a serious claim of being a "Hugo winner". Some people on the WSFS side seemed to be aware that it was a joke, but thought that the joke wasn't funny and would harm the Hugo Award's reputation. AO3 fans suggested that SF fandom was still anti-fanfic. One person wrote a fic parody entitled "Stanley Cup — What it Means", and that fanfic was then turned into a podfic; both were posted on the AO3.[42] By the end of the day one fan counted at least eight transformative works in the AO3 comments section, noting that "the more they yell at us about it, the more fic we write!"[43]

On a more serious note, another writer lamented:
"I feel like I'm watching what could have been a great opportunity for getting more people interested in and involved in the Hugos getting pissed away in real time....I love WorldCon. I have been to WorldCon several times. I have little doubt that WorldCon was the biggest tent around for many years. But at this point, AO3 (and OTW) is an exponentially bigger tent than WorldCon could ever dream to be.[44]

Initial comments on the news post pushed back lightly against the WSFS’s request for the news post:

I consider the fact that you had to write this post at all hilarious [45]
Oh wow did they really take everybody joking about being award winners seriously xD Well, nevertheless! Congratulations on the win AO3 and all of the OTW staff![46]

Kevin Standlee's Comments

Kevin Standlee, a longtime SF fan, is Chairman of the World Science Fiction Society's Hugo Awards Marketing Committee.[47] Within nine hours of AO3 making the post, Standlee began commenting on the post in response to other commenters whose replies did not align with the WSFS’s perspective.

And every single work of fanfic published on AO3 is individually eligible for a Hugo Award in the category of the appropriate length, of course. I'm not sure why you seem to think it's a matter of "ego." The joy you feel at being part of a Hugo Award-winning project would possibly be tarnished if the exclusivity of the Hugo Award was destroyed by anyone, anywhere, anytime, being able to say they are a Hugo Award winner, wouldn't it?

Let me put it this way: I've been published in a magazine that won a Hugo Award for Best Fanzine (The Drink Tank). That doesn't make me, personally, a Hugo Award winner myself. It means I was a contributor to a magazine that won a Hugo, and I'm proud of my contribution. It would, however, be wrong of me to say that I'm a Hugo Award winner.

Be proud of of your contribution to an Award-winning project.[48]
I have no idea how you took my comments and twisted them into "we should never, ever mistake this as a suggestion that maybe, one day, fanfic could enter the hallowed halls...." etc. Did I not say that every single work of published fiction on AO3 is already eligible for a Hugo Award in the appropriate fiction category based on length? They are, you know. Every one of them. There's nothing that requires that works be published by a "professional" publisher. (Something that's nearly impossible to define, and has never been a requirement anyway.) Seems to me you're assuming malice where none exists.

It's not uncommon for an editor of a magazine, when they win one of the two 'zine Hugos, to give credit to all of the people who contributed to that magazine and to say something along the lines of "You all share in this, like Naomi Novik did." That still doesn't mean that those individual contributors are themselves Hugo Award winners.

If you think that's not the same thing because Best Related Work isn't the same thing as Fanzine or Semiprozine, here's a very concrete example in Best Related Work: In 2005, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction won the Hugo Award for Best Related Work. (See http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2005-hugo-awards/ -- the category was at that time called "Best Related Non-Fiction Book," but it's the same category with a subsequent name change to reflect realities in publishing.) About twenty different authors contributed to that book. Did they all win a Hugo Award? Nope. The work did, and the 2005 Worldcon gave the co-editors, Edward James and Farah Mendelsohn, trophies. They thanked all of the contributors and recognized their contributions to the work, as was only right and proper, and those authors should be justly proud in their contribution to an award-winning collection of essays, but the individual authors themselves are not themselves "Hugo Award winning authors." (Although in fact at least a couple of them have won the Award for other works in their own right, but that's not the same thing.)

If you're a member of WSFS -- and it's not difficult to join, you know, and if you were a member of the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, you're already eligible -- and you see works published on AO3 this year that you think are worthy of a Hugo Award, you should nominate them in the appropriate written-fiction category for next year's Awards. What's stopping you?[49]

Standlee also posted his perspective in a public LiveJournal post, comparing AO3 users to the Sad Puppies voting bloc scandal from the 2015 Hugo Awards:

I have contributed articles to The Drink Tank, a Hugo Award-winning fanzine. Heck, I have a Hugo Award trophy (one of two leftovers from ConJosé, engraved for the two co-chairs). Does that make me a "Hugo Award winner?" Of course it does not. When, back in 2002, I brought that display copy up to show to my mother (who is the person who set me to reading SF/F), she said, "My little boy has a Hugo Award!" and I carefully said that having a display trophy and having an actual Hugo Award were not the same things.

So why is it that a bunch of people who contributed toward a Hugo Award-winning related work have taken it into their heads that they — all of them, thousands of them — are all individually "Hugo Award winners?" (And why have several online news sources repeated this assertion when they should know better.) And when the organizers politely pointed that out, some people seem to interpret it as the Big Bad Meanies Want to Spoil Our Fun. It's not like that at all.

For an award like the Hugo Award to have any meaning, it needs to be something that not everyone can have. That means trying to enforce our service mark. We're not trying to be bad guys. It's not like anyone pays those of us doing it. We're just trying to make sure that it's being used legitimately, so that anyone who has legitimately won the Award is entitled to their legitimate honor.

A certain group of people set out to deliberately destroy the Hugo Awards a few years ago, and they didn't succeed in doing so, thank goodness. It would be terribly ironic that people who celebrate and embrace their corner of fandom having won a Hugo Award would, by excessive exuberance, end up undermining the very award they claim to value.[50]

Standlee also cross-posted this post to his Dreamwidth, where it attracted several more comments.

AO3 Discussion

Backlash against Standlee’s comments quickly began to pour in from registered users as well as anonymous commenters, while a handful of commenters jumped in to support Standlee and the WSFS.

Just like OTW, WSFS has spent years building something special, something nice, something important for their little community. And with this nice little thing that they've created and nurtured, along come a bunch of people who decide to co-opt it and use it for their own purposes.

So you'd be okay with that, right? You'd be okay with a bunch of people coming in and co-opting the AO3 trademark and using it improperly to promote themselves, wouldn't you? You'd be okay with them making pins that trade off of all of your hard work and use the AO3 name for their own promotion. They'd tell you, "it's just a joke, what are you getting so uptight about?" And of course, you'd just smile and go along with it, because it's a joke, and you don't mind them taking this wonderful thing you've created and twisting it for their own purposes. It's a joke, right? What's the problem?

Of course you wouldn't be okay with that -- nor should you be. But that's what you are asking WSFS to do, to let people who aren't Hugo Award winners abuse their IP trademarks and call themselves Hugo winners, asking them to just smile and go along with it, because it's all just a joke. You're asking the real Hugo winners to smile and be just fine with a whole bunch of pretend Hugo winners bragging all over social media, pretenders who are making the real winners' special day in the sun a whole lot less special.[51]
What's going on here is a disparity of perspective, pure and simple. On the one hand, we have an award which - correct me if I'm wrong - was to the entire AO3 community in recognition that fanfic, as much as traditionally published fiction, is (or can be) worthy of public merit. And we were all hugely delighted by that and it was a very positive thing, and lots of fans decided to share this victory by saying 'I'm a Hugo award winner!' - in the abstract sense that we are all Hugo Award winners. While, simultaneously, of course none of us are, as individuals, in a concrete sense, because that's the entire point - that there are millions of works on this site, spanning the whole spectrum from awful to majestic, and it's the idea of fanfiction which is being celebrated, not any specific works. And if one or two genuinely misguided people didn't understand this, I'm pretty confident that the rest of fandom would have put them right in no short order. Also, yes, I don't doubt that one or two fans - or possibly outside scamming concerns seeing a window for a quick buck - have taken the joke beyond the bounds of decency and tried to profit from it. Unfortunately, that's life, this happens. You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater because of it. That's like the (UK) government wanting to pull social benefits because of the minority of benefit fraudsters. And I get that the WSFS had to say something, if things really have gotten that bad (but have they, really..?) but - there are ways and ways of presenting a point. I think that the announcement was reactionary and overly harsh. It sounded like a complete U-turn, from the embracing points of Naomi's amazing speech to 'Oh no, we didn't mean it like THAT, no this award has nothing to do with you fan writers! Hahaha goodness the very idea..! Go away you silly people.' A big slap on the community wrist for daring to celebrate, basically.[52]
No, we’re pissed that OTW made the post the WSFS obviously asked them to... and everything was fine and calm and would have died down. Then you all invade it and stir all the wank up. Do you even participate in Internet fandom? Because you and Kevin and the rest did exactly the OPPOSITE of what online engagement best practice tells you to. Then you acted surprised when the people that live the in house you invaded get defensive and attack. Dumbasses all of you.[53]
the wsfs mishandled this in a big way. it was their responsibility to protect their mark, but instead of going after the unauthorised merch dealers and press releases that got it wrong, they foisted the responsibility on the AO3 and took potshots at fans in the comments. it was cowardly, and quite frankly makes me look at the wsfs in a bad light. the admins tried to pass a message on in good faith from the wsfs, and then kevin et al caused wank in the comments. it is not the admin's fault that the wsfs didn't want to put the effort in to handle it properly, and it's not their fault that members of the wsfs thought it was appropriate to harass fans about it instead of, yknow, actually chasing folk who were infringing on the mark.[54]
Kevin's comments were informative and he was trying to engage in a discussion. It's not his problem that you automatically consider anything you don't like a 'potshot'. That's something you really need to work on because you're going to have trouble dealing with the real world where people may not engage with you in the exact way you like.

If you disagree, then please point out exactly what made his comments 'wank'. I'll be waiting. If your only response is that you didn't like his comments, therefore it's wank...then you're making my point for me.

As for WSFS, they're apparently a tiny organization, run by volunteers. Would you want to chase after hundreds of people on the internet when you're not getting paid to do it? Neither WSFS nor AO3 thought the Hugo news would become this weird mess that fandom turned it into. They thought we'd all do a little celebratory dance and then move on. But when it became a mess (through no fault of their own because they don't know AO3s audience and they don't need to), they tried to find the most efficient way to fix it. Instead of chasing after random people on the internet, they went to one of the biggest news outlets for fandom (AO3) and asked them to help spread the message. That's an example of putting in the effort to handle it properly and it's also efficient for a small organization.

You're just angry that this whole 'we're all Hugo Award winning authors' party train has come to a stop and that you were told to take your toys and go home because WSFS takes their trademark and organization seriously and didn't like how people were turning it into a joke. And like a small child, you're taking out your temper tantrum on people who did nothing wrong. That's really immature and you should work on that.[55]
Kevin, I respect the work you do and the fact that you and the WSFS have had a few very challenging years regarding the definition of the award and who has the right to assemble its nominees and determine its recipients. I specifically want to acknowledge this because those experiences alone should have informed you that your statement here is, quite frankly, out of your fucking mind.

You do not get that the "Hugo award winning fanfic" comments are specifically and pointedly highlighting, mocking, and pushing back at the sort of gatekeeping the SFF community still participates in, is still called out for, and is still made significantly poorer by. Your failure to recognize that, given that your last four years or so has been tied up entirely in the dying paroxysms of some of the most blatant of that gatekeeping, is disappointing and out of touch. You demanding that a Hugo winner make a clarification post that basically boils down to "Dad says you have to stop having fun" is only furthering a level gatekeeping I had hoped you'd learn better than doing after the first Sad Puppies debacle. Doing it to a community that is overwhelmingly marginalized people is worse.

The idea that the SFF community has always valued fanworks is a risible misstatement of history. Until a decade or so ago, pro SFF authors who wrote fanfic had to treat their fic like radioactive waste. I'm pleased that's changing, but the idea that it's never been that way is ahistorical bullshit and I thought you were better and more intellectually honest than that.[56]
A key point in the cognitive disconnect I’m seeing between how this interaction has been parsed here and how it read to Kevin & co is that there is, I think, a shared assumption there that individual AO3 members must be trying to elevate their own personal brands by claiming that they are SEPARATE from the AO3, and their own personal fiction/art/vidding/podfic/meta/coding/tagwrangling/editing/whatever has, in itself, won a SOLO Hugo.

I can see that this makes sense from the pov of a community built chiefly around stand-alone works, and stand-alone creation - that they’re seeing things in terms of a stand-alone win.

But I think it’s fair to say that we are quintessentially NOT about stand-alone achievement, and stand-alone art, and FAR more about community, and shared achievements, and shared creation, and shared responsibility. It’s an Archive of OUR Own. It’s fundamental to what we do, and how we engage: every piece of fanfiction is itself a response, is evidence that one has been listening, is part of an ongoing conversation.

I think it’s fair to say that we think very much more in terms of WE than I, within a fannish context.

[...]

Another component in this cognitive disconnect, I think, is that (as I’ve now nipped over and read the discussion linked above) they cannot get away from the paradigm of a hierarchical & individualistic writer -> reader dynamic.

Someone there was sneering about how we rely in the internet to publish our writing, and I suddenly had a POV shift and realised that he is absolutely conceptualising this as, idk, loads of feral solo writer people too shit to make the big time, who are leveraging technology to pitifully Reach An Audience, and who all desperately dream of being plucked from obscurity to become Real Published Writers. Like - he’s seeing it as thousands of MEs, instead of a vast and sprawling US. Whereas I’m seeing this as a community hub, where we make stuff together, for & inspired by each other, as part of an ongoing conversation about narrative and art and culture. (You know, with graphic sex scenes.)[57]
I SWEAR TO GOD I am going to tattoo "trademark dilution inherently requires commercial use and the existence of a service mark does not give the mark holder the right to police noncommercial speech with no chance of confusion as to the source of the service" on the forehead of the next 12 people to make this wrong assertion about trademark law, oh my GOD. The WSFS *may* have the right to intervene with Kickstarter about the kickstarted pins campaign; I personally would argue that's not an infringing use because their actual service mark is a lot more narrow than they want to convince people it is and I think it's parodic enough that there's a good case there, but there's enough reasonable doubt that I wouldn't be angry at them for trying. The WSFS has zero legal leg to stand on with their "you can't talk about winning the award if you did not win the award" censorious bullshit, much less their "you cannot make the joke about winning a fraction of an award", and their legal thuggery over constitutionally protected speech is fucking Scientological in its intellectual property overreach.[58]
I suspect that old-school con fandom sees a Twitter bio as an inherently public-facing and professional space, because most people in that part of fandom use Twitter and other social media under their real names. And that they see anything posted there as inherently serious, because anyone could read it. Transformative fandom sees that as a space for play, because if we're talking about our fandom in a public space, that in itself marks it as a space we are not using professionally. So it's a reasonable place to put ".000000000435% Hugo Winner," or "30-50 feral hogs in a trenchcoat," or "I am Batman," or any of the other things we say in publicly-readable social media as jokes. They're the kind of things we would have put in email sigs back when we were all on listservs, because they're the kind of jokes that only really work in public or semi-public, where they can be seen by people who don't already know you well and function as a tribal marker--like wearing your sports team's jersey.[59]
thanks for pointing that out donald! i've taken a look at the figures from the agenda from dublin, and compared it to the OTW budget for 2018/19. you bought in about twice as much money in membership donations as us, and your total income is just under twice times as much as the OTW. Your net income is also much more that the OTW - even though last year was one of the best years for the OTW.

the wsfs is not a poor fucking nonprofit, it is far fucking bigger than us, which makes what they've done (and by extension, you donald, as a member of the MPC) far more fucking egregious.

how fucking dare you.[60]

File 770 Discussion

File 770 reported on AO3’s news post, stating, “So far there are 80 comments, any number by Kevin Standlee making Absolutely Clear Everybody Must Understand Things Exactly The Way He Does. One reply says, ‘You aren’t doing a particularly good job of reading the room here.’”[61]

Many, but not all, commenters on the File 770 post were opposed to the attitudes of AO3 supporters against the WSFS in AO3’s news post.

See Archive of Our Own and The Hugo Awards/File 770 Discussion.

Twitter Discussion

By the Monday after the news post was published, wank about the meaning of the award and about the AO3 news post comments section had migrated to Twitter.

This is the most petty garbage I’ve ever seen the WSFS try to pull. Kevin Standlee should honestly be ashamed of himself. It’s one thing to protect a trademark, it’s another to bully a nonprofit into helping him bully fans.[62]
Counterpoint to the post Alex is tweeting here: I consider every writer who has contributed to AO3 a fellow Hugo winner. I don’t need them to not feel special so I can feel more special. It’s just an award. Let ‘em enjoy it.[63]
My deepest condolences to the fragile egos of the people running the increasingly irrelevant organization that is trying so hard to stay current but also can’t resist raining on the parade of new people who might just be caring about them for the first time.[64]
I think the summary of this post should be, "WSFS is deeply uncomfortable that they're growing ever more irrelevant as SFF has mainstreamed and expanded—and they have no sense of humor—so they're taking this out on ficcers for some reason," but maybe that's just my read[65]
it's SO INFURIATING. possibly because it makes me feel like Charlie Brown - of course the SFF old guard are going to pull the legitimacy football away now, making me feel like the idiot for thinking they were starting to accept transformative fandom as legit.[66]
Following the shining example of the WSFS, Time Magazine would like to clarify that the 2006 Person of the Year award was given to web based content creation as a whole and you're not allowed to call yourself Person of The Year because you had a livejournal in college[67]
I do, however, care if Hugo administrators reinforce the notion that SFF is a stodgy clubhouse full of joyless gatekeepers, because that does far more harm to the genre. Defend trademarks by all means, but harshing all of fandom's squee is just unnecessary.[68]

My comment on File770 seems to be getting et and not by the spam moderation, so I'll repeat it here. I will save the WSFS trademark protection committee an expensive legal consultation and tell them exactly what their lawyer would:

For someone saying "the AO3 won a Hugo, therefore I won a Hugo" to be trademark dilution under 15 USC § 112(c), your mark must be "widely recognized by the general consuming public of the United States as a designation of source of the goods or services of the mark’s owner."

Even if your mark were that famous -- it's not; case law cites brands like Barbie, Viagra, and Victoria's Secret -- there are multiple carveouts including:

1) Any fair use, including a nominative or descriptive fair use, or facilitation of such fair use, of a famous mark by another person;

2) identifying and parodying, criticizing, or commenting upon the famous mark owner or the goods or services of the famous mark owner;

3) All forms of news reporting and news commentary;

4) (just to reiterate) Any noncommercial use of a mark.

If you attempt to attempt to C&D someone saying "AO3 won a Hugo, therefore I am a Hugo winner", much less "AO3 won a Hugo so I won 0.000386% of a Hugo" on dilution grounds, it will end so badly for you that I cannot assemble the appropriate intensifiers.

Attempting to chill constitutionally protected nominative speech about a registered service mark that is insufficiently famous for dilution protection is censorious legal thuggery. There is a nationwide network of first amendment lawyers who will explain this to you.

Please note, because I am certain that statement will be misread as a legal threat: it is not. It is the advice the WSFS attorney will give the Committee if they have any level of professional responsibility at all.

^^ #hugoawards #wsfs #censoriouslegalthuggery[69]

Supporters of AO3’s users included Andrea Horbinski, former member of the Organization for Transformative Works Board of Directors (see OTW 2015 Board Election), and Impertinence.

I'm a former OTW Board member, and unspeakably proud of the AO3's Hugo win in that capacity as well as my capacity as a former volunteer and a current fanworks creator. The idea that the AO3 Hugo isn't for the works on AO3 is just a wild misunderstanding of what AO3 is.[70]
Thank you for this Hugo award winning clarification post[71]

Chuck Tingle also defended AO3 users on Twitter.

tell the devils to get out of the way because THE BEST FAN FICTION BUCKAROOS ON THIS TIMELINE ARE COMING THROUGH NO TIME FOR SCOUNRELS WERE TROTTING BUDDY. DEVILS OUT! [72]
@ChuckTingle Man name of Chuck, I need advice. People are making my fanfic-writing friends feel ashamed of their trot. I get angry and want to protect them but I can’t. How do I not seethe about all my wonderful buckaroos getting snubbed?[73]

Further Discussions

Several AO3 supporters defended AO3 users on their blogs, including Renay[74] and Elf[75].

Lawyer and AO3 user scifantasy published a work on AO3 entitled "HugO3" that summarizes their argument that "trademark rights owners, as a matter of law, must be diligent in protecting their brands from infringement or other misuse lest they risk weakening or losing certain legal rights to those marks... If the Worldcon-running community doesn't police use of the phrase, someone else--someone with less humorous, less celebratory, less free-spirited intent--might be able to plausibly argue that he can call his self-published book a Hugo Award Winner just because it was fanfic, or he has an AO3 account, because the term has lost all of its significance by not being protected."[76] One commenter notes, "You're actually wrong about trademark not having fair use! Fair use is the first of six listed nonexclusive factors that prevent a particular use of a mark from being prohibited under a dilution argument in 15 USC § 112(c)(3). (Please also note that the WSFS cannot use a dilution argument as their mark is not "widely recognized by the general consuming public of the United States as a designation of source of the goods or services of the mark’s owner".) ... Will's invocation of his law degree and his area of practice to further this extremely common and extremely dangerous trademark myth without clarifying many of the ways in which trademark law does contain significant carveouts for noncommercial speech, parody, satire, fair use, nominative use, news reporting, and a dozen other forms of protected speech is why I objected to it on Twitter and why I object to it here.[77]

Various anonymous users on Fail-Fandomanon wrote the following parody of the situation:

French people: Woo we won the worldcup! FIFA: The people of France have not won the Worldcup.

FIFA: Why doesn't the French government send cease and desist letters for us? Are they too American to understand that real collectivism is when the corporate entitry wins awards and the people involved shut their pie holes and don't devalue it by trying to claim they're a non-heirarchical community of equals?

FIFA: If you keep insisting on saying you won, French people, you're really no better than Nazis. Wait, I mean...just the people making their own shirts declaring themselves the winners are Nazis. Why are you still offended?

Real FIFA markets winning team t-shirts which is a WAY better move. How's that budget going, wsfs?[78]

Works & Memes

"I lik Hugo" - a manip created in response to a parody poem based on the "I lik the bred" meme

Chuck Tingle wrote a short story, "Pounded In The Butt By Fan Fiction Hosting Website Archive Of Our Own's Hugo Award Nomination, which was published in April 2019.

Inspired by the Controversy

In true fandom fashion, the controversy generated a large number of transformative works, some of which one AO3 user using the pseud HugoWank2k19_Archivist has gathered into a collection, HugoWank2k19.

See Archive of Our Own and The Hugo Awards/Works & Memes Inspired by the Controversy.

Further Reading

References

  1. Hugo Award Nominations: Best Related Work - Archive of Our Own by The Organization for Transformative Works. by heyheyrenay via Tumblr. Published January 18, 2014 (Accessed August 20, 2019).
  2. The Hugo Awards 2015: A Collection of Nominations, Lady Business. "Archive of Our Own — so this may be a pipe dream, as I was told last year in pretty frank terms this is a "platform", not a "fanwork" and thus I'll have a "hard time convincing the committee" it should be eligible, by someone who apparently "knew people on the Hugo committee" (seems legit)." Published January 15, 2015 (Accessed August 20, 2019).
  3. 2016 Hugo Award Nominations: Best Related Work - Archive of Our Own by heyheyrenay via Tumblr. Published January 25, 2016 (Accessed August 20, 2019).
  4. 2017 Hugo Nomination Recommendations, Lady Business. "Archive of Our Own — That's right, pals! I'm back and I haven't given up. Archive of Our Own continues to be one of the most epic pieces of fanwork that fans have shoved up their metaphorical sleeves to make and maintain." Published February 16, 2017 (Accessed August 20, 2019).
  5. For Your Consideration by zz9pzza via Tumblr. Published March 11, 2019 (Accessed August 20, 2019) Archived version.
  6. Archive of Our Own’s Hugo Nomination is a win for marginalized fandom, hypable.com. Published April 2, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019).
  7. Why Archive of Our Own’s Surprise Hugo Nomination Is Such a Big Deal, slate.com. Published April 9, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019).
  8. AO3’s Hugo Award win is a long time coming for the fanfiction community. Polygon.com Published April 2019, Updated August 19, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019).
  9. An Internet Fan Fiction Archive Is Nominated for a Hugo, vice.com. Published April 3, 2009 (Accessed September 22, 2019).
  10. Fanfiction Just Got Nominated For A Hugo Award... In This Universe, syfy.com. Published April 4, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  11. AO3 as a Hugo finalist is a victory for inclusive fandom, cloggie.org. Published April 3, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  12. Tweet by @ellen_fremedon
  13. About the AO3 Hugo nom!, on tumblr. Accessed September 25, 2019).
  14. Tweet thread by @seananmcguire
  15. Excerpts from a Tweet Thread by @elvenjaneite
  16. The 2019 Hugo Awards, ohioneedsatrain.wordpress.com. Published August 16, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  17. Comment Thread: Congrats to AO3 authors for being Hugo Award Finalists, r/HPfanfiction,
  18. Comment thread: You're a Hugo Finalist! and you're a Hugo Finalist! And you're…. metafilter.com
  19. AO3 -- all of it -- was nominated for a Hugo Award. r/Fanfiction
  20. Selections from Facebook Comments thread @ChrisBrecheensWritingAboutWriting
  21. Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part II: The 2019 Hugo Awards, Published April 3, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  22. Hugo Ballot 2019, Part Three: Related Work, Dramatic Presentations, and More, examinedworlds.blogspot.com. Published July 31, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  23. Comment by Contrarius: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  24. Comment by Contrarius: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  25. Comment by Contrarius: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  26. Comment by Kendall at File770.
  27. Comment by Hampus Eckerman: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  28. Comment by Greg Hullender: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  29. Comment by Cora Buhlert: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  30. Comment by Andrew M: Archive of Our Own is a work and its related and I’m really happy that it’s a Hugo finalist, camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  31. Hugo Nominee Review: Archive of Our Own (Best Related Work), stevejwright.com. Published April 5, 2019 (Accessed September 22, 2019)
  32. The Hugo Awards Best Related Work Category and the AO3 Nomination, amazingstories.com. Published April 6, 2019 (Accessed September 25, 2019)
  33. {http://hugoclub.blogspot.com/2019/07/best-related-work-category-or.html Best Related Work: Category or Collection of Categories?], Hugo Book Club Blog. Published July 3, 2019 (Accessed September 25, 2019)
  34. Comment by Xtifr at File770.
  35. AO3 Wins 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work, transformativeworks.org. Published August 18, 2019 (Accessed August 20, 2019). [https://web.archive.org/web/20190819000127/https://www.transformativeworks.org/ao3-wins-2019-hugo-award-for-best-related-work/ Archived version.
  36. Aug 18, 2019 by @ben_rosenbaum
  37. AO3 Wins 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work
  38. Tweet by @NeolithicSheep
  39. The Mary Sue, “Everyone Who Contributed to Fanfiction Site ‘Archive of Our Own’ Is Now a Hugo Award Winner”
  40. 2019 Hugo Results
  41. “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  42. Stanley Cup — What it Means by Anonymous, posted 2019-09-17; podfic by FayJay, posted 2019-09-17.
  43. A positive outcome of all this..., Archived version
  44. watching what could have been a great opportunity..., Archived version
  45. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  46. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  47. Kevin Standlee on Fancyclopedia 3
  48. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  49. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  50. “Loveing Something to Death?”
  51. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  52. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  53. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  54. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  55. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  56. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  57. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  58. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  59. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  60. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  61. Pixel Scroll 9/14/19 We Are All In The Pixel, But Some Of Us Are Looking At The Scrolls
  62. Tweet by @renay
  63. Tweet by @MattFnWallace
  64. Tweet by @commandercait
  65. Tweet by @flourish
  66. Tweet by @jaimewrites
  67. Tweet by @MarkGerrits
  68. Tweet by @nkjemisin
  69. Tweets by @rahaeli
  70. Tweet by @horbinski
  71. Comment thread, “Hugo Award – What it Means”
  72. Tweet by @ChuckTingle
  73. Tweet by @UrsulaV
  74. Lady Business, "Fandom, Recognition, & Community"
  75. "One-Millionth of a Hugo"
  76. "HugO3"
  77. Comment thread, "HugO3"
  78. Comment thread, "FFA DW Post #1165 - "Ass-chive, is that a rocket ship in your pocket or a Huge Hole Award statuette?"
  79. additional discussion here We Did The Thing: Musings On the AO3, Wiscon, and Winning the Fandom Culture Wars, Archived version