Sharing Deleted Fanworks
Sharing Deleted Fanworks is the activity of sharing fanfiction, vids, fanart or other fanworks that have been removed from public circulation. Fanworks may be removed either actively, through deletion, or passively, through abandonment, and there are different opinions of the decorum and protocols of viewing or spreading saved copies of these works. Works may be shared publicly or privately between fans.
Practices regarding deleted fanworks changed significantly with the advent of the internet, which fundamentally changed how fanworks could be published and kept track of.
Pre-Internet Attitudes and Background On Sharing In General
In the days before the Internet, fanworks existed in two main forms: published (in a fanzine or, in the case of a fanvid showed at a fan convention or put on a songtape collection) or unpublished (never put into circulation).
In media fandom, while published fanzines could go in and out of print, there was a strong prohibition against creating and sharing copies of these fanworks since their production and distribution usually involved significant costs (see Zine Pirating). Likewise, with fanvids, even when little or no monetary funds were exchanged, copying of videotapes was frowned on by vidders due to the quality loss when moving video from one videotape to another - most vidders wanted the highest quality video possible in circulation. (See songtape collections.) Fanart was rarely copied and shared due to the technological limitations of reproduction. It was either distributed as part of a fanzine or offered it its original format or via artist-authorized prints.
Throughout these early years, however, once a fanzine was published or a songtape distributed, it was understood that the creator no longer could control distribution within fandom. You could sell, loan or give away your original, even if you could not copy it. Sharing fanworks with non-fans was generally considered unacceptable, because it could possibly bring unwanted attention from the TPTB and lead to Cease & Desist notices. And although some fanzine publishers did attempt to control the lending of their fanzines (see Fanzine Library), this was generally felt to be an excessively restrictive position.
By contrast, unpublished fanworks were never considered acceptable to share without permission even if the original had been sold, gifted or loaned. They were considered private communications.
In fandoms other than media fandom, attitudes were sometimes different. For example, while copying doujinshi was generally frowned upon, many Anime Music Videos were copied to be shared among Anime Clubs. Fansub works were generally shared among fans if the original fansubbers gave permission for copying, though some groups did try to control distribution by only giving SVHS copies to a small number of known distributors. Some groups also shared scripts.
Internet Causes An Attitude Shift
When fans started posting their fanfiction, fan vids and fanart on the Internet, the line between published and unpublished works blurred and was eventually replaced by a more proprietary attitude towards all fanworks. Since access to fanworks was free (to anyone with Internet access), and there was no "sale", there was no "original" to distribute as one pleased. Instead, all sharing became "copying". If you sent a story to another fan you were engaging in "unauthorized distribution." If you reposted a vid or fanart to your website, you were at best accused of "unauthorized archiving" and more likely to be labeled a thief.
This led some fans to frame the question of sharing fanworks in moral terms, when in fact the shift in how fans accessed and shared fanworks was being driven technologically. At a time when access was being offered to more fans at no cost, some fan creators and communities began putting increasingly restrictive limits on their fanworks and began modeling themselves after the traditional copyright holders.
However, as long as fans could still access the fanworks at the source, the right to share, copy or distribute was not part of fandom's central debates. It is when the creators, either through gafiating or by design, removed their fanworks from public access that the debate over sharing deleted fanworks came into focus.
A few fans point out that fanfic does not exist in isolation, that it is a dialog not only between authors and readers, but also between readers in the community. As such it is part of our shared cultural experience.
"[The discomfort over wanting access to lost fanfiction] really resonated with me. Early in my fic career, I yanked something from the one public archive that had it. There were reasons, and at the time, they seemed good. It was a mistake though and eventually I rectified that and recently went back and put it on AO3 and ff dot net. In re-posting I learned that people from 15 years ago remember the trauma of the day that story, Stuff, disappeared, and how that felt. Fan fic does not exist in a vacuum of author and well, author. Readers build connections to each other, to the stories, and the authors. And so are communities born. As you say, you have many fond memories and personal connections to the work. Even if stories are flawed, well so is the creative space they inhabit. Enjoy, I say!"
Reasons For Deleting Fanworks
There are many reasons for fans to delete their fanworks:
- Gafiating (gafiating from fandom can lead to active deletion or passive deletion like when hundreds of thousands of fansites were taken offline when Yahoo ceased operating websites in 2009. See Geocities).
- Going Pro
- Damage control, e.g., real life identity and fannish identity becoming connected, (fear of) being harassed or stalked in real life
- Feeling pressured to finish a WIP that the fan writer has no time or interest in completing
- Fannish Regrets (embarrassment over early efforts at fan fiction or vids, embarrassment over having been interested in a fandom or fannish activity the fan now feels is juvenile or less worthy of admitting participation)
- No longer feeling comfortable (getting feedback about or being publicly associated) with a theme or genre the creator once made fanworks in, e.g., RPF, underage, noncon, etc.
- Feeling under-appreciated and/or not getting enough recognition for their contributions (See Flounce). A subset of this is when a fanwork receives negative or critical feedback or reviews.
- Removing fanfiction with the intention of rewriting, expanding or improving the story
- Other Reasons
Why even discuss the reasons behind fans deleting their fanworks?
Because, in some fans' minds, the reasons for deletion can change how and when they choose to share deleted fanworks. For example, many fans would consider legitimate reasons to include being concerned about having one's real life and fannish identity connected or trying to break into professional writing, video editing or art. In the past, writers would often have to disavow any fannish writing if they were to be considered seriously for publication. Also, some fans choose to try to commercialize their fanfiction and believe that having the equivalent of a fannish first draft online may harm their profits. However, if a fan is deleting their work merely because they feel under-appreciated, their decision to delete may not be given equal deference.
Other fans react with puzzlement over the idea that anyone would believe they have the right — or the ability — to control the flow of information once it is posted on the Internet; these fans view attempts to delete fanworks futile and counter-productive.
Well. Published is published, electronically or not. So even if an author pulls their work, it's still out there, and people are going to want to read the copies that exist. I think putting an author's deleted stories up on someone else's webspace is wrong, because that's making it available to people who weren't seeking it out. But peer-to-peer trading of copies? That is absolutely within fandom tradition (zine trading), and within real-life media precedent (copies of out-of-print books), and I don't believe it violates any sort of author distribution rights. Comment made by eccentrikita on April 18, 2011 by vickyblueeyez
Some fans are worried about current and future privacy concerns and a potential chilling effect more centralized, obvious, and less-discreet means of sharing purposely deleted fic might have on posting fanworks publicly in the first place. However, to many fans, the reasons for deletion do not matter. And, furthermore, they believe these reasons should not matter to other fans; fan writers and fan creators have, in their minds, absolute control over their fanworks and this control should never be questioned or debated.
Given the wide range of opinions, it is not unusual to find the topic of sharing deleted fanworks discussed in absolute moral and ethical terms with little room for nuance, disagreement or compromise.
The reasons for deleting fanworks — and fans' reactions to the deletion — vary widely across the community, and deletion occurs more systematically in some fandoms than others.
At the same time, there is an entirely different situation when the CULTURE has become that fanwork is not created for any sort of archival purpose. Most popular fanfics in our fandom are removed from the internet within a few months of finishing. This has meant that readers save the fics as their default, and that they don't read stories in-progress because they're afraid they will be taken down. Because it hasn't become an issue of editing for publication or a chance of publication--if the fic is popular, it will be accepted, even recruited, by one of these micropresses--taking them down is the norm instead of having them available. Plus, anyone who takes her fics down for personal reasons ends up publicly crucified, which, IMO is a direct result of those who've removed their stories in order to sell them back to the fandom. No one trusts anyone to be telling the truth any longer. From a comment by giselle_lx
Approaches To Sharing Deleted Fanworks
A few writers who have deleted their fanfiction have tried to push the envelope further, asking that fans not recommend or discuss their deleted fanworks. Most fans find this to be a 'presumptuous' level of control and infringement on their speech.
On Livejournal and mailing lists Fic Finding communities sprang up where fans could request copies of fan fiction, artwork or vids. Fic finder blogs have also appeared on Tumblr, and occasionally desperate fans turn to Yahoo Answers for advice.
Some fic finding communities have stated policies about requesting copies of stories that have been taken offline by their authors; the communities that have such policies usually request that community users assume that the author had a reason for deleting and therefore they should not seek out deleted material. Other communities do not explicitly state that fans must cease asking for or sharing fan fic, preferring rather to address the issue from the request end: if an author has asked that their fiction should not be shared, their name will go on a list and fans are asked to check that list before making further requests. The majority of fic finding communities use an "opt-out" approach (a writer must state they do not wish their work to be circulated) and share an understanding that once a preference has been expressed that their fellow fans will — at least publicly — honor that request.
What happens privately between fans is another matter. As with fannish photocopy circles in the days of print fanzines, there still exists a robust underground of fans sharing deleted fan fiction with one another on a one-to-one basis.
There are many reasons this fannish underground exists: some fans view the posting of fanworks online as publication, and consider attempts to enforce deletion akin to entering someone's house and destroying the books and art they have collected over the years. Others cannot see the difference between an electronic copy and a print copy — if they printed out a copy of fan fiction that was once online, are they now supposed to trash the printed copy and never lend it again simply because the author asks them not to? Would authors make the same demand of libraries if their work had been published in print format? Other fans feel that, once in existence, the stories themselves have rights, particularly the right to continue to exist (advocating instead that the author pseudonymize the work so that it can continue to be read). Ultimately, the majority of fans who still share deleted fanworks against creator wishes are most likely doing it for more pragmatic and fannish reasons: they love the fanworks and want to share that love with others.
- See Orphan
A third approach has been pioneered by Archive of Our Own, a fan-run archive which aims to give fans more control of their content. In an effort to reduce the deletion of fanworks, the archive created a policy where fan writers can orphan their fanworks. Orphaning a fanwork will disassociate their username and account from a work - essentially removing their identity along with any credits associated with the fanwork, while leaving it up and available to readers.
Orphaning arguably addresses most of the fannish reasons for deletion (see list above), with the exception of fans deleting their work as punishment to other fans or entering into a professional publication contract that requires the fan fiction to be removed from the Internet, while allowing the fanwork to continue to exist. It therefore offers more flexibility to fans who might want to allow others to continue accessing their fic, but without having their identity attached to it.
However, some fan creators who are on the fence about removing their fanwork entirely may choose not to orphan it, as once a fanwork has been orphaned the original creator has no control over it anymore and cannot delete it (or comments on it) at a later point if they wish to.
The OTW's Open Doors initiative proactively offers creators the option of orphaning fanworks that are imported from an at risk archive to AO3 if they no longer want their fannish identity, or former fannish identity, attached to them. The orphan_account user on Archive of Our Own surpassed 100,000 works in March 2019.
Fanworks That Won't Delete
It should be said that on Tumblr the fate of fanworks can be very different. There is no way for users to delete reblogs of media (images, audio, video) they have uploaded to the site; even if they delete their original post, the reblogs all display the original content, and other users continue to reblog the reblogs, usually without noticing that the original has been deleted. Reblogging can be a deliberate as well as accidental method of preserving fanworks of interest.
For longer posts such as fanfics and gif-heavy masterposts, the poster might use the "Read More" function, which hides the content of the post in all reblogs and forces everyone to click through to the original post to see it. When the original is deleted, the reblogs still exist, but are essentially placeholders, tantalizing the viewer with what once was. However, even Read Mores are not fool-proof: any reblogger can theoretically still copy-paste the original post and add it to their reblog, and sometimes posts get saved by other websites. However, arguably any text on the internet is at risk of being copy-pasted.
Additionally, Archive Of Our Own's "Download" button makes it straightforward to download fanfics in MOBI, EPUB, PDF and HTML format to read later, easily creating copies that will not be effected if the original source is changed or deleted.
- Ephemeria and fandom; archive link by aelfgifu (2005)
- Who's fic is it anyway? by profshallowness (2005)
- Rights of a reader...; archive link by celisnebula (2006)
- Vickyblueeyez asks "Fic from deleted journals, fair game?" in the Fandom Lawyers LJ Community (2011) 
- For a more recent example of zine publisher attitudes, see the comments to the OTW post Announcing: The Fan Culture Preservation Project!. The varied reactions to the zine donations to the University of Iowa are covered in greater detail here.
- According to Wikipedia's entry on The Doctrine of First Sale, "The doctrine allows the purchaser to transfer (i.e., sell, lend or give away) a particular lawfully made copy of the copyrighted work without permission once it has been obtained."
- And if you didn't clearly label the fanfiction or vid as having been created by someone else, accusations of plagiarism were often heard. Sometimes these accusations were made even when clear labels were applied.
- comment in the I feel conflicted post dated May 27, 2013; WebCite.
- Deleted fic lost and found, poll about creating a deleted fic community and discussion dated April 12, 2011. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012) Contrast this opinion by afullmargin: "Honestly, I've kind of always felt that posting it online opens it up to passing (as long as all credit is given where due) but I understand an author's reasons for removing a piece or deleting entirely. I'd say go for it, I certainly know I'd use it from time to time - but if there happens to be an author that makes it known/has made it known that they don't want their fic shared it would be nice to honor their request." with this opinion by wingslapped: "I'm not enthusiastic about the sort of comm. IMO if an author deletes a fic it should be assumed permission to repost is not given unless they say otherwise via e-mail, lj, etc."
- at Deleted fic lost and found, with a poll about creating a deleted fic community and discussion dated April 12, 2011. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012)
- "Given today and tomorrow's technology, it's going to take more effort by everyone, writer and readers -- and continuing courtesy regarding fandom's culture of respected pseudonymity to make (more) sure fic writers feel comfortable enough to post their work at all. Creating a comm or any similar project that makes it seem as though, when writers deliberately take their fic offline it will still be easily findable and accessible, might stop some great fic writers from ever posting their stories." Comment by skaredykat at vickyblueeyez' Deleted fic lost and found post, dated April 13, 2011. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012)
- "There are so many different reasons for fanworks or journals or blogs to have been deleted and every one is legitimate even if you don't like it because that person owns those items and it's their right to do what they like with them. If the creator has explicitly said they don't mind copies being distributed, that's one thing, but that shouldn't be the default action or assumed to be the case. Personally, I think it's rude and entitled to override the creator's wishes..." From Very emphatically no post by danceswithgary, dated April 12, 2011, (Accessed 1 Jan 2012); WebCite.
- vickyblueeyez' Deleted fic lost and found post about fic-deletion practices in Twilight fandom, 18 Apr 2011. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012)
- "I've been informed that calamitycrow would prefer people not to recommend....her deleted fiction to others. Hawaii 50 ficfinder LJ moderator post dated August 9, 2012.
- "It's reasonable for authors to want to pull their fic from the internet. It's not reasonable to then expect the internet to never ever mention those fics' or that author's existence again. Fic writers are already getting more take-backsies than real world writers ever get with the ability to withdraw their fics from circulation (in the real world, writers can't get all copies of their books removed from libraries, etc., much less ask people never to lend someone else a copy of their out-of-print book). Expecting everyone else to never ever speak about their writing again is a ridiculous level of presumption." anonymous comment in the fail-fandomanon thread Just How Deep Does This Rabbit Hole Go? (Deleted FanFic) dated August 30, 2012.
- Claiming Works After an Automated Open Doors Import, Tutorials, Open Doors. Accessed February 23, 2019.
- orphan_account on Archive of Our Own, accessed March 26, 2019.
- "I know some people take the extreme view and might think sharing stories even on a 1:1 basis is wrong, i just can't subscribe to that view, since we all do it with books, cds, dvd, games etc. We buy them and pass them on to others when we've finished with them, we might even sell them on. I think it's unreasonable to expect readers not to pass on stories that you put online. Unless that is stated when the story is posted." Comment by the_physicist dated March 24, 2011 at Deleted Journals. Is the Fic Fair Game? Part 2 post. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012); (WebCite unavailable).
- WebCite for "Fic from deleted journals, fair game?" in the Fandom Lawyers LJ Community.
- "If all this LJ trouble has brought one thing in to sharp relief, it's that what worries me about losing access to LJ is the fic. Selfish, I know. But seriously. We'll probably find each other on DW or Tumblr or Twitter or something, and one way or another we'll get things worked out so we can talk to each other. I'm not too worried about that. And I might miss my old posts and comments, although honestly not enough to figure out how to do a real archive of my journal. But if spn_j2_bigbang disappeared tomorrow? I'd be like, where's that crossroads demon when you need to make a deal?" From If you love us, you'll archive your fic post by killa, dated April 6, 2011. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012); WebCite.
- "I just worry about the privacy issues that surround making their fic more obviously easily accessible again for that subset of writers for whom it is or would be problematic and against their wishes -- without checking with them first, and thus assuming an opt-out rather than an opt-in model. If the culture throughout fandom had always clearly been "once you post a story, know that it's going to be easily searchable and findable (and later possibly connectable to your other identity/ies) forever and will be actively, non-discreetly shared by readers even if you take the copies you as the writer have control over offline" I'd be more sanguine, thinking/hoping that more writers had always been aware of the not just present-day but later risks. But as it seems that that is not the standard that all parts of fandom have always operated by, creating a centralized multifandom resource that could (unexpectedly, to former writers) make a change in default assumptions and behavior around sharing more prevalent -- that (as you can no doubt tell from my going on about it) makes my privacy-concerns antennae come to unhappy attention." From a comment by skaredykat made on April 21, 2011 at When Stories Disappear - back again post. (Accessed 1 Jan 2012); WebCite
- "Recognize that before you publish (defined above), in return for your implicit copyright on your work, YOU ARE giving up something important. You are giving up the ability to make those words forever vanish from the face of the world. If some crazy real life library decided to start downloading, printing, and lending your fan fiction, that would be perfectly within their realm of rights and you couldn't make them stop even if you deleted the online version of your story. That paper copy would then exist as long as it existed. If some academic downloads and quotes your story with your name attached in a modern day analysis of the crazy world of fandom, that is perfectly within his or her rights. If I back up my archive to CD and my great-great-great (however many greats) grandchild gives that CD to a publisher in 200 years, it doesn't matter whether your story was removed after the backup was burned. It's in the public domain, because you published it. If that realization makes you not want to write or publish fan fiction--don't write or publish fan fiction." From Publication is Publication by cschick, dated April 18, 2011 (Accessed 1 Jan 2012); WebCite.
- "Abstract: The term infocide, and related neologisms such as cybersuicide, are identified and distinguished as a type of cyberlanguage. The complexities of infocide are then explored in open content communities with respect to reasons, enactment, and community reactions. I find that infocides are often prompted by the exhaustion of maintaining an online life, by discontent towards an online community, and over privacy concerns that one’s real and online identifies have intersected. Community responses are also varied: infocides might be ignored, lamented, sleuthed, and mitigated by preserving content that was taken down.