Open Letter About AnotherSky.Net Fanfiction Piracy

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letter About AnotherSky.Net Fanfiction Piracy or The Agel Flyer
From: Kathy Agel (possibly)
Addressed To:
Date(s): flyer handed out at Vidcon and Eclecticon 2002 and also posted to various mailing lists such as Zinelist, Fanzine-L, and MostlyGenZines
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic: Zine Piracy
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Open Letter About AnotherSky.Net Fanfiction Piracy is an open letter to Star Wars fandom in the form of a flyer that was taken to Eclecticon 2002 as a flyer by fanzine publisher Kathy Agel.

It is unclear whether the flyer was written by Kathy Agel or merely handed out by Kathy at the convention. After the event, the flyer was then emailed to various mailing lists and also posted to Jedi Council Forums.[1]

The flyer (reprinted below) alerted Star Wars fanzine contributors that the owners of a Star Wars fanzine website AnotherSky.Net were offering to email "fan to fan" scanned copies of Star Wars fanfiction that had appeared in out of print fanzines. AnotherSky.Net had listed all the zines that the editors owned and included the tables of contents so that fellow fans could request a specific story. The site owners also posted stories from their own published fanzine Another Sky.

The open letter/flyer asked fans to contact the website's Internet Service Provider (ISP) to shut down the website for copyright infringement.

The AnotherSky.net website owners had raised the fic sharing concept one year earlier on the Zine Zone mailing list but had encountered stiff resistance. They then went ahead with the project, and this resulted in the Open Letter.

The Flyer

AnotherSky.Net: Fanfiction Piracy

Don't allow this unscrupulous website to set a precedent that could affect all fanzine editors and their contributors…

Against the express wishes, requests, and demands of many fanfic writers and fanzine editors, Melanie Guttierrez, the webmistress of AnotherSky.net, has been systematically converting fanzine stories ­indeed, the contents of entire fanzines ­ to electronic format, to e-mail to anyone who writes to her requesting a copy. She has developed an extensive listing, including fanzines still currently in print,and fanzines dating as far back as the early 1980's, before the possibility of widespread Internet exposure was even a consideration to `zine editors and contributors.

While the Internet has indeed become a fast and easy way to distribute large quantities of fanfiction, some people still do not wish their work to appear on the Internet or via electronic format, for various personal ­ and even professional ­ reasons. Their right to keep their material off of the Internet should be as respected as the right of others to post material to as many sites as they like. But as Ms. Guttierrez herself explains on her webpage, she considers the distribution of fanfiction to be more important than the wishes of the fanfiction's creators. Ms. Guttierrez has made it clear over the years that she does not recognize the validity of `zine editors' or fanfic authors' exclusive creative rights over their own material ­a principle of etiquette that has long been recognized in fannish circles ­ and she has a history of posting fanfic on her site even when the creators of that work have explicitly denied her permission to do so. Now she has expanded her effort to include entire fanzines of material.

A growing group of fanwriters and `zine editors have been protesting this practice, to no avail. Complaints made via her website's contact form result only in blank automated reply messages, or no response at all. Despite repeated requests, the unauthorized stories and fanzines have not been removed from the listing. This not only violates the creators' rights to their work, it is also a violation of current copyright law. Contrary to long-held beliefs, fanfiction is afforded specific limited protections under certain copyright codes. In the face of her refusal to respect other's rights, those fans who do not wish to have their works redistributed indiscriminately on the "Fan To Fan" site have been forced to take the issue of copyright violation to Another Sky's web-host and ISP. We have been told as of November 1, 2002, that her web-host is investigating the matter. More support, and more complaints, are needed!

We in the Star Wars fanfiction community urge fellow fannish creators of all genres to register their protests of this practice, lest www.AnotherSky.net set a damaging precedent for other unscrupulous and/or well-meaning-but-uninformed webmasters to follow. Please help support your fellow fans in their right to deny permission for Internet distribution of their works. It only takes a few minutes…

You can report this unethical activity and copyright violation to Another Sky's web-host by sending an e-mail to abuse@.... Please also e-mail your complaints to Ms. Guttierrez's ISP at abuse@... (using AT&T WorldNet to send copyrighted materials without permission is a violation of their Terms of Service.) And finally, please register your complaints about this practice directly on the "Fan To Fan" contact form at Another Sky's website, found at: www.AnotherSky.net/ftf. There is always the chance that if we can convey to her the extent and depth of fannish disapproval of her practices, perhaps Ms. Guttierrez will cease her unauthorized electronic redistribution of fanzine materials, and will limit her undertaking to such fanfiction and `zines as she has obtained genuine permission to use.

Thank you for your time and support!

Reactions

At the time the flyer was written, fanfiction had been online for less than seven years. Public and openly accessible fanfic archives for even fewer years. Most fans communicated via members only mailing lists and the use of public blogging platforms such as Livejournal to post fanfiction had not yet become widespread.

Small quantities of fanzine fanfiction had appeared online and when they did, it was usually with author permission and only after the story had timed out or the zine had gone out of print. The fic finder communities of the mid-2000s where fans could request deleted fanfiction were beyond fandom's imagining.

In short, what AnotherSky.Net was attempting had no fannish framework except for the one found in print fandom, namely piracy. And that is how most zine fans saw the issue even though the scanned pages were being emailed for free.

However, some of the discussion surrounding the website was more nuanced and the arguments raised against it are very much similar to many of the current debates on sharing fanfic and fan art. Quotes are from the Jedi Council Forums, one of the few publicly accessible places where the open letter was discussed.[2]

Creative Control

"Well, personal reasons are people's own, I can't really presume to answer that part of the question (though some people may simply be embarrassed of stories they wrote years ago and don't want people to see them any more). Professionally, there are fledgling authors who flexed their muscles on fanfic and used their own names when writing who have now have become professional writers. Having their name attached to fanfic can bring up legal and moral publication issues. Some people want to keep their writing among a small group of people. Some people simply don't want to be associated with certain websites (my fic is available at a couple of pages, but many I have said no to because of the content of the site or the beliefs of the authors). Some people think it's an elitest zines-vs-net author debate, but it's not. It's about people retaining some say in what happens to something they've created."
"I think authors should have the choice whether or not they want their fic published in an internet archive. That also means they should have the right to put their fic on the internet, even if it has been in fanzines.

But I do think the level of control some authors desire is unrealistic. For instance, one internet site had some warning about 'don't print any of these fics without permission of the author'. That just seems petty to me - I don't see what possible damage printing the fic could cause an author. Suggesting that no one has the right to email your fic, or save it to their harddrive falls into that category as well, for me.

Another issue which comes up in these author debates, is what happens when the author has disappeared from fandom or the internet? Is it okay to archive without permission then, or is it better that no one reads them, rather than archive without author permission? I don't really know, myself.

Fandom's Pre-Internet Expectations

"Since much of this material was produced long before the Internet existed, there is no precedent for this situation. Authors who submitted to a hard copy zine had no expectation whatsoever that their material would be scanned, converted into an electronic file and then sent around the world."
"Many of the writers who distributed fiction in zines did not anticipate the enormous future of the internet and are not comfortable - for various reasons - with such vast arena. And that is okay too."
"Alot of the 'old school' fanfic writers, who published in zines in the late 70s and early 80s, used their real names. Not net names or nom-de-plumes. These people are now finding their names on the web without any say in the matter.

If people do not want their real names or their fic on the web (whether that be for personal or professional reasons is beside the point), they should be allowed to say no.

And those of us who are online by choice deserve the courtesy of control over where our fic goes and when.

Unwanted TPTB Attention

"We get away with fanfic mainly because the owners of the characters and settings turn a blind eye (or in some cases recognise fanfic as flattery and free advertising). Several authors don't want their work distributed without appropriate disclaimers and acknowledgement of the original creators. Some authors don't want high rated stories posted anywhere that doesn't have an age restriction, also to avoid legal complications.

If other people distribute said stories against the author's permission, and the stories end up attracting unwelcome attention, who gets the flak? The author or the person who distributed the story without permission?

There are good reasons for an author to want to have a say in what happens to their work!"

Only a few fans acknowledged some room for disagreement on the topic:

"Melanie's view, obviously, is different--she believes that she is sharing public works."
"I've been neutral so far, but I'll own up: I do disapprove of the practice of putting up fics without permission. I understand Melanie's point of view, but I don't agree with it. "
banner on the "Fan to Fan" page that reads: Because fan fic was meant to be read - not dead.: The banner remained online until 2008 when the site underwent an overhaul
.

And what did AnotherSky.net Have To Say?

From their website:

Frequently Asked Questions

"Why are you copying other people's work out of fanzines? Don't people have to buy the zines to read it? Isn't what you're doing illegal and/or unethical?"

"Ethics are subjective. We believe it is unethical NOT to share fiction we have enjoyed, and collected for years, with other fans who want to read it. Most of the zines in our collections are long out of print, their Editors and contributors no longer involved in fandom. We can't see how it's illegal, or unethical, to sit down with our own collections, at our own computers, on our own time and money, to share things we have read with others. If anything is unethical and illegal, in our opinion, it is charging exorbitant rental fees to read out-of-print fiction that was written, and given without charge, by the authors to be read." [3]

From their forum

"If fanfiction writers want full legal control over their fannish works, let them challenge LFL for it. When they have done that and won, then they can demand people not read something they wrote 20 years ago that was- and still is - in violation of a legal copyright. Until then, we WISH supposedly intelligent 'authors' would stop criminalizing the WISH to read their illegal, unauthorized by the legal copyright holder, fanfiction."[4]

Outcome

In the end, nothing much changed. In spite of near universal disapproval and repeated complaints to the Anothersky.net's ISP, the website and the owners continued to list out-of-print fanzine fic and offered it via email to fellow fans. As of 2013, the website is still online.

References

  1. reference link.
  2. reference link.
  3. The website owners are presumably referring to Ming Wathne's Fanzine Archives a fanzine lending library. They also had strong feelings about the high cost of print fanzines.
  4. 2002 post (now offline).