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Creator: whalehuntingboyfriends
Date(s): September 25, 2016
Medium: Tumblr post
Topic: Archive of Our Own, Fandom and Profit
External Links: whalehuntingboyfriends, Archived version
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PSA: DON'T MENTION COMMISSIONS/PATREON ON AO3 is a 2016 post by whalehuntingboyfriends.

Among other things, the post (and comments) address Patreon, Writing Commissions, and Fandom and Profit.

As of June 2017, it has 23,185 reblogs.

The Post

Hi guys! So I know we all don’t actually read the terms and conditions of things and just hit agree assuming there’s nothing important in there (I do it too oops) but if you take writing commissions or anything involving money, then there’s actually something in the AO3 terms and conditions to be aware of.

Linking to a personal website or blog/social network where you are taking donations, posting commissions or mentioning published works is permitted, but advertising it directly on the Archive is not, nor is using language which one might interpret as requesting financial contributions. For example, you can say something to the effect of “check out my Tumblr if you want to know more about me and my writing” and include the link to the site, but you cannot specifically state anything about donations, commissions or sales on the Archive.

Today someone reported one of my fics as violating this condition - presumably because I’d mentioned my patreon in the author’s note (I wasn’t actively requesting donations either… I’d literally just mentioned that it existed, and that the fic in question was written as a thank-you for hitting one of my goals).

I’ve written to AO3 to check whether just saying ‘thank you to those who support me on patreon’ is fine and I’ll let you guys know when they get back to me, but if it’s still going too far in terms of being a ‘commercial promotion’ then I’ll just avoid mentioning this in the future! :’)

As I said, someone did actually report my fic for this - so there are people out there who are noticing/reporting these situations. Please be aware of this if you take fic commissions, or use patreon or ko-fi, because your account could end up suspended, which of course no one wants!

<3 <3

#jos rambles #please send this to your friends if they take writing commissions

Excerpts from Comments: Tumblr

Please spread this around!! No one wants accounts suspended or stories deleted!!! [1]
UPDATE: AO3 got back to me - you’re not allowed to mention or link to patreon at all, regardless of how it’s phrased. Not sure if it’s the same for ko-fi but it might be better to be safe than sorry!<3 @kahnah23 relevant to you and possibly some others~ [2]
That’s a fucking bullshit rule, I’m sorry. They shouldn’t deny you the opportunity to advertise your own work. [3]

archive of our own is run by the organization for transformative works. ao3 and the other services that otw offers - including legal services for fan creators who get in legal trouble - are nonprofit organizations.

this isn’t just a self-determined descriptor; that’s a legal definition that requires adherence to specific rules and laws regarding income, profit, and donations.

this isn’t a “bullshit rule” just meant to prevent creators from advertising. in op’s post, the contact from ao3 offers a roundabout way to advertise. this rule ensures that ao3 and the organization for transformative works to stay a non-profit organization - this “bullshit rule” is essentially a way so that ao3 and the other services that the organization for transformative works can stay online.

#izzy talks #i can add specific tax law later but #this isn't any sort of freedom of speech thing or anything #this is meant to keep the site and organization alive #and let me tell you #as someone who spent a semester at a nonprofit #they are barely making it as it is #so [4]
it’s not just about maintaining nonprofit status. (i question if that’s even applicable here, since the profits in question don’t go to the organisation, but i know very little about nonprofit law. just a gut feeling.)

the actual point is, they run a legal services organisation for fans who get into legal trouble. they literally exist for the purpose of helping you not get into legal trouble. profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. they’re not going to let people do things on their website that they know will land them in exactly that trouble.

and to be clear, just because everyone who slaps a patreon button on their tumblr isn’t getting sued, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something for which they could be sued.

let me say it again: profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. here’s why.

[snipped] [5]

People also forget the reason why disclaimers on fics became so prevalent.

Please understand that profiting off fanfiction, fanart and all forms of fan-content is direct violation of copyrighted material.

Your commissions to draw popular characters? Direct violation of Copyright. AO3 works hard to maintain fandom expression protected. You hurt their cause by not adhering to their term of use.

They’re there so you won’t get sued. [6]
The OTW has done so much in getting non-profit transformative works to be legalized, especially getting copyright exceptions for vidding. Let’s not screw this up now, guys. [7]
The discussion of copyright could be refined a little here…but let’s be blunt, to some extent, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of the law, AO3 was established with a deliberately noncommercial ethos–in fact, in specific response to contemporary attempts to commercialize fandom. The rule exists in service of that ethos. Don’t like that “bullshit?” Well, then, I guess you should just go read and publish fic on that other free platform that doesn’t exist to turn you and your personal data into a product to sell off to capitalism’s highest bidders. What’s that? You say that doesn’t exist? Hmmmm, I wonder if that’s a coincidence. [8]
I am old and have an instant squick reaction to the current trend for profiting off of fan fiction because I saw how many sites came down and how many C&Ds I saw happen to friends. Not only that… I can just imagine some politician noticing people soliciting $$ for art or fanfic and going, how can I tax that and how can I get back taxes for all the previous? [9]
I donate to avoid ads. The whole point is to have somewhere with no ads. Why would I want some rando to use my nice ad-free space I have paid for as their personal marketing platform? [10]

So I saw this, emailed support with a further question on whether linking from original fiction to a Patreon exclusively for original fiction. That’s not allowed. 292 edits later and all mention of Patreon was removed.

The morning after I asked this question, I received a notice from Abuse that someone had reported my fiction and profile. (I have a feeling it was the same support person I talked to.) I emailed them back saying I’d already removed the Patreon links. According to the response I received back, even mentioning that you have professionally published not-fanfic works available on another website is not allowed.

Specifically, the objection was to these two lines:

Published works can be found at X. Check out my website for published works.

So, it’s not just fanfic. No user-generated content (I really hate that term) can have links that remotely mention something which you get paid for.

And now you know… and I have 292 edits to make [11]
Why is this? Honestly I think it would be amazing to be able to donate money as a thank-you for fics if the author says it’s okay, kind of like if someone is playing an instrument with a tip jar next to them? [12]
Yep, I didn’t know about this until somebody reported me for it, which in my case was SORT OF fair because I was linking to my Etsy shop in my “custom figures” fic…but taking out the links wasn’t enough, I can’t even say “this was a commission,” basically like what happened to OP. (For what it’s worth, based on my own conversation with support, I suspect that even mentioning Patreon or anything similar would also be considered a TOS violation.) [13]
I confirmed this with AO3 staff in an email. Links, graphics, or even mentioning that you accept donations or take commissions is against their terms. So if you’ve got a ko-fi button or even a link on your profile or one one of your fics, it’s best just to remove it. I think it’s kind of shitty but there you go. It’s their website and we get to play on it. #fanfic #fanfiction #ko-fi #psa [14]
Thanks for the update and I am going to use your post once again to also warn some people again!I’ve also been reported tonight! Guys be careful if you have a Patreon or Ko-fi and make sure to delete any link leading to it! #I'm sorry but that's such a dick move? #is someone going through the fandom and reporting fics? [15]
I had this happen, too! I went back and changed the infringements, since I’d mentioned my patreon as well as a few other things… but their crackdown makes sense, and I hope anyone that does get pinged can get things fixed before they get suspended. I’d hate for us to lose fic for something people may not have read about in the fine print (I know I didn’t read it). #ao3 #fic #fanfic #fanfiction #signal boost [16]
maybe you could put in a “thank you to those who are so supportive of me” so that theres still a shout-out but no mention of patreon specifically? #just be aware of this tho [17]
Question on behalf of some of my friends that do take commissions (because I don’t), if a fic IS a commission, is saying so allowed? Because I know a LOT of people mention that kind of thing in their author’s notes [18]
Yeah, that happened to me :/ I just got the email last night [19]
I got a warning today from AO3 too. Good to know it’s cracking down in general and I wasn’t specifically targeted. #ao3 #important [20]
I did not know this so it looks like I’m going to be doing some editing on AO3 to prevent any problems… [21]
Stupid question here: Is it ok to mention that a fic is a commissioned work when it is posted to the archive or is it in violation of the rules? (sorry my brain is completely wrecked atm) #Ao3 [22]
It’s any site that is for the express purpose of selling something or taking donations–so this includes links to/mentions of, say, amazon if you have something in their marketplace as well! [23]
Yeah, nor mention Kickstarters or even that we have original fiction for sale elsewhere. That’s a big part of why I always push people to follow me on Tumblr instead…I’m pretty sure it’s also okay to mention Goodreads accounts and FB accounts, which can also link to other works… #unforth replies #fandom #patreon #commissions #i don't know how to tag this [24]
And in a twist of irony I’m seeing this now- after someone reported all of my 48 AO3 works and my profile. Pretty sure the person got the idea after seeing this post (Yes, you. We both know it was you.) Anyway, thank you OP for sharing this and for providing the update: Just mentioning Patreon isn’t allowed either. And signal boost! #ao3 #archive of our own #Fanfiction #fan fiction #dragon age Fanfiction #swampy toad is swampy [25]
Ao3 is trying to protect itself in order to continue existing as an organization for transformative works, thus protecting everybody’s right to post fanfic. People can link to donations and commissions from their own tumblrs, for example, without endangering the archive. They can put links to their tumblrs and mention donations/commissions/etc on there. #ao3 #writing #signal boost [26]
And just so you guys know, the reason AO3 is doing this is to avoid any possible copyright issues. If it looks like you’re receiving revenue for fanworks, AO3 could get into some big legal trouble, because they’re not the meanies; The big companies that own your fandoms are. [27]
Yeah your right thats more important than pedophilia [28]
Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords used by ignorant, bitter people when they know nothing about the topic discussed but still pretend that what they say has a leg to stand on.In this case, what some people (one of them being you) don’t understand is how a no proffit organization for transformative works is supposed to exist in a world that runs on money. Also, fandom history.

#but pedophilia!!1! #why do i even bother #the moment a person goes when they understand shit about issue at hand #you lost your chance to have a productive discussion with them #ao3

Okay no again literally this sounds like a fucking donald trump argument

“Ao3’s stance on pedophilia is bad” “Buzzwords buzzwords buzzwords!” What does anything in this statement MEAN. “Ignorant bitter people” its pedophilia!!! Im talking about 600k 7 year old john watson/sherlock Little porn! Im talking about rapefics where sans the skeleton fucks a child to death!!! Archive of our own has a hard stance that u should be allowed to platform to share these but NOT to mention ur patreon. PLEASE. Fuck your fandom history who cares in this fucking context. Ill burn your goddamn fandoms to the fucking ground ya nasty shit #csa/ #pedophilia/ #rape/

charadreemurr reblogged charadreemurr </ref>
Wow that’s fucking anal and stupid. What the hell [30]
I think it’s slightly harsh to not be able to mention that something is a patreon reward–if you censor the word, does it still count as mentioning it?–but no one wants to have to go back to the days of cease-and-desist letters and all-caps “I do not own these characters” between every paragraph either. [31]
Welp, this is important to know. Going to remove ref’s to Patreon (which I am getting rid of after I get my final $16 at the first of the month, anyway…), and carefully reword notes on commissioned fics. Just in case. [32]
Ko-fi would be a no-go as well because it’s something you get money from. (A long time ago I didn’t know this either, and AO3 staff asked me to remove a Patreon mention from my fic.)

You cannot directly mention ANYTHING on AO3 that gets you money -whether it’s your shop, Patreon, a Kickstarter/GoFundMe/other crowdsourcing project, commissions, donation link, Ko-fi…anything that gets you money.

You CAN however mention your other social media: like, “Check out my tumblr/Twitter/Instagram” and if that happens to have a link to something that makes you money AO3′s stance is like “well…that’s not our business.” So, you can totally on AO3 direct people to your Tumblr, which could have a link to your Patreon, but you can not directly mention your Patreon on AO3. Even if your commissions, shop, Patreon, Kickstarter, etc are only original content that has nothing to do with your fanfic, you still can’t do it.

AO3 does this not because they don’t care about their users and don’t want them making money, but it basically has to do with legal reasons that will allow them to stay up as a free site for people to post fanfic. If a bunch of people directly posted links to things like their shop or Patreon, etc, it could apparently potentially get AO3 in a legal bind. #signal boost #long post for ts #ao3 #fandom [33]
Another reason for me NOT to get on AO3. Final nail in that coffin I think. [34]
Because mentioning patreon actually is solicitation. Thats the whole point of the site. If you write a fic related to hitting a donations goal, that’s still a paid work. So if you post any patreon fics on AO3 just leave a note to link to your tumblr, and keep a link/mention of your patreon in your bio. If someone is interested in your works, they’ll definitely go to your tumblr. [35]
If you make a profit off of somebody else's intellectual property w/o permission you are guilty of plagiarism in the eyes of the law (even if it's transformative works). Fanfics occupy a grey area in that most authors have a don't ask/don't tell attitude as far as fanfics of their work are concerned, but if you're public about making money off their characters/premise, you can be sued and some fanfic authors HAVE been. AO3 will be shut down if they support this. They are protecting the site. [36]
Hey, folks! A bit of clarification on this point. Courtesy of the lovely people from our Legal and Abuse committees, here’s how things are:

What the TOS FAQ] says is: “We want the Archive to remain a non-commercial space. That means that it isn’t the right place for offering merchandise, even fan-related merchandise. Linking to your personal page (not, for example, an Amazon author page) is fine, even if the personal page includes some items for sale, but the Archive is not advertising space.”

We made this rule to keep the Archive focused on its original mission of protecting noncommercial transformative works, and to avoid confusion about the relationship between the Archive and individual creators. Donations to individual creators are not donations to the Archive, so they don’t affect our status as a nonprofit as such, but we still need a rule that enables our small, hard-working abuse team to enforce an anti-commercialization rule as fairly as possible.

It is acceptable to mention something like “This work was commissioned by Mary Sue,” but creators should not link directly to their fundraising pages or solicit donations on the Archive. We do not want to suspend accounts over this, and creators are given notice if there’s a problem. We presume good faith, and if you think Abuse has made a mistake about your work, you can appeal any decision requiring the removal of a link. #AO3 #abuse committee #Fanfiction #Legal Committee [37]
I’m glad AO3 has weighed in directly on this. Personally I am a really big believer in their TOS on this issue, and think that they find the best compromise possible to hold true to their original mission, while still allowing authors to have advertisements on their personal pages etc.

I wrote to AO3 about Patreon about two years ago (also reminder: getting paid for fanfiction on Patreon is against their Terms of Service too, and I was asking regarding original fiction hosted on AO3) and they were really wonderful about explaining and clarifying how it works, why it shouldn’t be mentioned, and that I can mention it on my Tumblr page. In the fairness of what the AO3 is trying to be - I actually have tremendous respect for how they enforce this, and hope others can also see the spirit of what the AO3 is trying to stay true to here.

#on fandom #on fanfiction #to say nothing of how i feel about people getting paid for fanfiction #which is also illegal on Patreon by the way #so if you're getting paid for fanfiction on Patreon well #here's hoping you don't get reported #i guess?? #the big big sites have to protect themselves legally #most of those places don't technically allow profit off fanfiction or fanart #anyway thanks again to the OTW #for all their incredible and tireless hard work #and for the opportunity to host our transformative works there for free #in a place that is run with a lot of love and hard work [38]
For the last comment. Also, on top of the non-profit status explanation, “transformative works” is a legal term, it’s a buzz word for the fair use defense under the copyright laws. And one of the factors for fair use is whether the author received payment or not. Meaning if you get paid, then it’s less likely to be fair use. Ao3 is rightly not perpetuating financial incentives to protect the authors and the site from copyright suits. #fandom is actually a very interesting legal issue #tumblr is basically all copyright infringement btw [39]
… I got an email from them and I’ve taken all of the mentions down already. Thanks for looking out for me! <3 #good for all creators to know [40]
I’d just like to give my opinion on this, because there are some younger writers out there who may not be aware of it. Remember the days when people used to get SUED and/or THREATENED with actual LEGAL ACTION for writing fanfiction? And all those little disclaimers before fics to the effect of “not my characters, I’m just borrowing them” that you see here and there?

When you use patreon or take commissions for fics, or even advertise your art patreon on a fic site, you’re advertising that you’re making money off of Nintendo/Disney/SqEx/WB/whoever’s characters. That pisses them off and makes it worse for the rest of us. I’m not saying artists and writers should do everything for free, because they shouldn’t. Art takes time, and time isn’t free. But profiting on fandom is a HUGE can of worms that you don’t want to open in the wrong place. Please be careful, we don’t want history to repeat itself.

#fanfiction [41]


#i find this mercantile use of fandom despicable [42]
Honestly, the AO3 is perfectly reasonable and suprisingly lenient here. I’d hate to see its non-proft status and existence as a resource endangered so that a few creators can benefit financially. Also, I have to say that the entitled responses I’ve seen from some creators, who expect to be able to use a collective, non-commerical resource for their own private benefit despite the risk that creates for all users has made me seriously rethink my willingess to support *any* writiers or artists on patreon and kickstarter, etc. in future. [43]
I feel like it’s one thing to want payment, it’s another entirely to take advantage of and attack a volunteer run website designed to do the very thing on the very site that isn’t about actually making money. To be honest I think it’s disrespectful. Take it to Livejournal or Dreamwidth or Tumblr or Facebook etc. or one of the places that not many other readers comparatively flock to because OTW have created such a wonderful space of free exchanges of ideas - you can do as much spin as you want elsewhere. #...I mean I do as much spin as I want over on Tumblr #it's great #I just innately knew it would be disrespectful when I thought about mentioning Patreon #which is why I wrote to them #I mean unlike many huge conglomerations #the OTW/AO3 actually does have a mission statement #if you're going to put your life's (fandom) works on there #maybe learn it? #trust me it's not like the iPhone TOS #respect the site that hosts you #and respect what it's there for
Fwiw, in my experience, they warn you and ask you to take down the link before they suspend or ban. But it’s still bullshit. AO3 is the main fanfic hub right now, and it’s preventing fanfic writers from making money off their fic the way fanartists do. We can’t even ask for donations. Hundreds of non-profit organizations allow their users to make money. Non-profit doesn’t mean no income, it means no profit. And as a user of the site, you aren’t part of the non profit, you aren’t registered with your home country as a nonprofit. You’re not a member of AO3 anymore than you’re an employee of Tumblr for using this site. There is no legal basis whatsoever for what they are saying. #ao3 #patreon #nonprofit #long post #tos #it's queue sir [44]
I think people often forget that fair use =/= making profit out of something that isn’t inherently yours. Selling fanart and fanfiction is still in a very gray area legally (unless you’ve bought the rights to the original author, of course… which no fanartist ever does, but who cares? right?).So please, don’t be entitled little shits and criticize the AO3 for doing exactly what they advertise they are doing. #AO3 [45]
Yet another example of a host of fans (particularly younger fans) and AO3 users not knowing fandom history. OTW/AO3 were created by older, professional fans after years of the blogging platforms and archives we were using to post fic deleting our work, our blogs, etc, and the lawyers within fandom working to defend us from accusations of copyright infringement, etc.

Fandom has not always been mainstream and paid artists whose work we were transforming have not always been accepting of it. We had to create our own spaces and surround ourselves with legal defences to ensure we could continue participating in fandom activity without fear of legal repercussions or of having the carpet pulled out from under us at any time. You have no idea how long it took older fans to create safe spaces of our own that let you not ever worry about having to put disclaimers on every chapter of your fic or putting it behind a friends lock or in a members-only community. You don’t know what you’ve been given with AO3.

And honestly? This Patreon thing is asking for trouble. If the artists whose works you’re transforming knew you were accepting any form of compensation – monetary or otherwise – for your fanfic/art you would be in serious hot water. It’s one thing to accept money for self-published fiction/art but it’s quite another to accept “donations” for fanfic/art. To anyone who is using Patreon for that purpose, heads up. #fandom #fandom history #ao3 #patreon #copyright #fanfic #fanart #legal system #law #copyright law #transformative works


Other Fan Reactions

Anons at fail_fandomanon discussed the tumblr thread: Re: Tumblr Bumblr, Archived version; archive link with expanded comments (May 10-11, 2017)


  1. ^ achievemen-puns reblogged whalehuntingboyfriends
  2. ^ whalehuntingboyfriends reblogged whalehuntingboyfriends
  3. ^ comment by sinningsleepingandshitposting at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  4. ^ comment by softpunkbucky at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  5. ^ comment by ratherembarrassing at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  6. ^ comment by jeremy rennerd at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  7. ^ comment by sophia helix at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  8. ^ comment by harriet spy at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  9. ^ comment by leafquake23 at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
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