Lost Media

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Synonyms: Keeping Track of Fanworks on the Internet
See also: Doctor Who Restoration Team, Purge, Deleting Fanworks
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Not to be confused with lost episode, a genre of creepypasta.

Lost media is a term used to refer to media that is unavailable or inaccessible to a wide audience, or no longer exists. This can encompass art, literary works, games, music, software, and more. Fanworks can also become lost media (see Lost Works). A piece of media becoming lost can occur for any number of reasons, including media degradation, accident, deliberate destruction, and more.

With the advent of the Internet, lost media has captured the attention of members of various fandoms. This is due to the rise of interest in preserving works, as well as the ability to conduct coordinated efforts online. Preservationists will conduct searches, document information about the work, and more. Some preservationists release the media online if found.

Lost works should not be confused with orphaned works, which are deliberately gifted to the commons. Lost works create gaps within fandom archives. Empty spaces where the primary works no longer exist and only the metadata remains.

Lost Media as a Trope

Lost media is often used as a trope, particularly with videography and horror. A lost episode is a genre of creepypasta in which a piece of lost footage is discovered by the reader or character. For example, watching an episode of a real or imaged cartoon on television that scared or traumatized the character, but which can no longer be found. In 2023 Welcome Home became a popular lost media alternate reality game based on the artist partycoffin's "found" art from a "lost" cartoon series.

Found Footage is a genre of horror, potentially made mainstream by the Blaire Witch Project from 1999. The found footage genre uses a broken 4th wall to increase the fear factor, such as suggesting the "found footage" is real lost media that has been rediscovered, rather than part of a film or art project. The found footage genre often makes use of handheld cameras, webcams, and security cameras, giving the footage a low fidelity appearance for authenticity.

Analogue horror often encompasses aspects of both lost episodes and found footage, but more often has a focus on VHS tape style video graphics, as if recorded on tape and later rediscovered. Analogue horror is usually uploaded to YouTube as a series of short videos and is sometimes a multimedia project, such as the analogue horror series The Mandela Catalogue which has an accompanying indie video game called Maple County.

Lost Media by Website

The Lost Works of AO3

Archive of Our Own was built to be a repository of fan works, primarily fanfiction, but it does not host all media types. Works that are not text, such as audio, video, photos, media feeds, and physical objects can not be hosted on the site. Despite this, fans have found ways to place these objects in the archive by linking images, audio, or video within the fan pages. When the sites which do host this content change, often the links fail and the work becomes lost.

The Audiofic Archive

Many factors can lead to the loss of fanworks including crashing of servers, loss of accounts, the sale or failure of hosting websites, and even deliberate damage by hacking. One such loss occurred when the Audiofic Archive went down in 2017. Damage to the archives led to a disconnect between the backend storage and the index. Although efforts were made to relink or reupload these works, many may be permanently lost.


YouTube has gone through a number of changes that led to purges of fan content and fandom creators. Fanvids in particular are subject to inconsistent content enforcement meaning that one work may remain on the site while a similar work or author may be removed.

Self-Deleted Works

Other works are lost when a creator deletes their works, but references to those works remain. This can happen when an author writes a proprietary novel and the publisher insists that they remove the original fan work it is based on. When works are pulled to publish they become lost to the commons.

Discussions on Lost Media Preservation

Website Changes That Lead to Lost Works

Some works are lost when terms of service are changed, or websites are sold. For example, Photobucket[1] and tinypic once hosted free content, but once sold they required annual fees that ended up leading authors to remove or rehost content.

Terms of service changes can ban content that was formerly acceptable. Often the creators of the content do not even know that their work is lost, and sometimes the works are lost forever.

The great tumblr purge of 2018 led many fan creators to move or delete their works entirely, especially explicit or mature fan art. The transfer of works from one site to a new site can also damage connections and cause deletion of website specific data, such as hashtag dialog, that is not easily downloadable.

In “The Meta - a podcast about podcasts, Episode 6: A Brief Timeline of the Homestuck Fandom” they discussed how the closing down of the website, TinDeck caused the loss of a great number of Homestuck audioworks. Although a fan had stored a copy, for a period of time, to much of the fandom, these works were lost. [1]

The Dilemma of Preservation

One problem with fanworks is not only how to preserve these works, but whether they should be preserved. Many a person has posted content as a youth that they regretted when they got older. Should we simply allow those works to be lost? The problem is that once something is released into the commons, it may come to have value to others. So, is it fair for one person to control whether others can continue to enjoy it?

Discussions of this type can be found in other Fanlore articles including the following:

Finding Lost Works

Online archiving tools can be of use for finding missing fanworks; many deleted fics and works of art can be found via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. However, these archiving sites have limits. They are often unable to capture audio or video, meaning that podfics and fanvids are typically not saved by them. These archiving tools may also only capture some of a work, in the case of multi-part works; if only one chapter of a two-chapter fic is saved, the fic is still partially lost.

Some fans download certain fanworks to view offline, and others proactively download works they like to prevent them from becoming lost. Other fans may be able to find lost works by asking around to see if anyone has a copy.

Examples of lost media and fandom

  • Probably one of the most well known examples in fandom of lost media are the 97 missing episodes of the early eras of classic Doctor Who, after the BBC themselves wiped many of the films for reuse. However, Doctor Who was not the only BBC show to suffer with this issue, with episodes of Z-Cars, Dad's Army, The Quatermass Experiment and Top of the Pops, among many others, also having been lost.
  • ITV also followed this practise in the 60s and 70s too. The Avengers and Tiswas were two such shows that were affected by this.
  • BeyWheelz: Powered by Beyblade and BeyWarriors: BeyRaiderz were spin-offs of Beyblade following the end of Beyblade Shogun Steel. Beywheelz debuted in August 2012 and BeyRaiderz in January 2014 for North American audiences but then disappeared without premiering in Japanese. The series did receive an Italian dub, however, that had the credits for the Japanese cast. Through fan efforts, the Japanese dub was recovered in 2018 and uploaded to bilibili with Japanese audio and Chinese subtitles.
  • BeyWarriors: Cyborg was another Beyblade spin-off, in the same series as BeyRaiderz and BeyWheelz. An English dub aired in English speaking countries in Asia in 2015, and received no official home release, causing the majority of episodes to be lost. Through fan efforts, 3 episodes of the dub have been found in full and 12 have been partially recovered.

Lost Fanworks

Lost Archives

Lost Fannish Resources

  • The Crafting System, fandom themed podcast.
  • Unfiction, panfandom forum centered around emergent Alternate Reality Games, cross-media, and its namesake genre.