What’s going on with all the “if you donate to AO3 you’re evil” posting on Tumblr?

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Title: What’s going on with all the “if you donate to AO3 you’re evil” posting on Tumblr?
Creator: u/xisaloser
Date(s): April 15, 2021
External Links: What’s going on with all the “if you donate to AO3 you’re evil” posting on Tumblr?; archive link
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What’s going on with all the “if you donate to AO3 you’re evil” posting on Tumblr? is a 2021 post on Reddit.

As of April 20, it had 366 comments.

The Question

I know that Tumblr is a trash platform to many but I’ve been on it for a decade now and curated my experience to the max. Still, I constantly see posts reblogged by people who I actually like and find level-headed that are extremely anti-AO3 and I’m kinda confused?

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from Fan Comments

In addition to what everyone else has said about the antis, I've also seen the argument that AO3 doesn't need or deserve the money, and that it should go to the authors who "actually make the site possible." Those arguments generally come from 12-15 year olds, and I assume that they don't realize AO3 is a nonprofit and that hosting a massive website costs money.

Anyone saying this seriously misunderstands the basic concept of fanfiction. Unless the writer is doing stories based on public domain fandoms, they're not supposed to be making money off fanfic. Period and end of story. Anyone who does is indeed infringing on the copyright of their fandom. If people want to make money from their stories, that's fine. They can write original fiction and take their chances (and good luck to them), or produce fanworks for public domain stuff by folks like Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickens, or based on ancient Greek deities. We're lucky AO3 is willing to provide a safe haven and legal support for those who post there. And even luckier that we don't get directly charged for what they offer us, that the support for the site is voluntary. Urgh. Double urgh.

Wow. Definitely a sign that those folks don't remember C&D letters from the likes of Anne Rice.

Fanfiction should always be nonprofit (unless it's sanctioned, like 'Wicked' or 'Slayer.') Fanfiction is already skirting a legal grey line, and making money off of it is a big giant no-no. That's specifically WHY I support Ao3 over FFN and Wattpad.

Ao3 not only understands the ultimate rule of fanfiction, but they go to bat for our rights to continue to create fanfiction for NO MONEY.

Hearing this crap makes me wanna donate to them even harder.

And don't forget that the money is going to The Organization For Transformative Works (OTW), which also provides legal representation for transformative work artists/writers! Fanfic writer getting sued for using a character in their fic? OTW's legal team goes to bat in court for fanfic rights. Fan artist get sued for posting a painting of a copyrighted/trademarked character on the net? OTW's legal team to goes to court to fight for fan art rights.

It's not just servers. Yes, servers eat up most of the cost (because they're extremely expensive!), but these Tumblr kids are so obviously clueless about how transformative work rights work, and what it takes to both host them and to fight for the legal right to create for one's self. They're obviously too young to remember the FFN Great Purge, or the later purge. They're too young to remember LJ Strikethrough/Boldthrough. They're too young to remember the Geocities shutdown. They're too young to remember the Tripod Massacre. They're too young to remember the Potter War. And now they must be too young to remember Tumbler's purge, which, I learned the other day, actually had to do with Apple kicking them off the Apple Store because of too much smut, not because of child porn and porn bots, like Tumblr told us at the time.

FFN will go through and purge their archives if it serves their bottom line. I know they will, I've seen it happen too many damn times. Almost every fan work hosting site will. But not AO3/OTW, because of what they were founded to do.

OTW protects all fan works. They step in when authors/content owners sue. They step in when content is deleted/destroyed by other sites. They are the saviors of the fan world. They deserve our love and support. Anyone who says that we shouldn't support them is ignorant of facts of internet history.

I'm actually really impressed with how Ao3 has held up.

They provide a highly in-demand service for fanfic readers/writers that is also extremely high quality, they have an on-site download function, the text editor is really easy to use, tags are a bit iffy if you're going really specific but nothing that hurts the experience, and alot more all out of the site runners' pockets and the occasional donation drive. And even then it is entirely free for most people there because not everyone is going to donate.

Why tf should the ones utilizing AO3's service (the writers) be the ones getting paid? Nobody's obligating them to stay on the site, if they really don't like AO3 anymore all they have to do is take their talents to some other places like FF.Net or Spacebattles or Sufficient Velocity or even Wattpad if their 'principles' are so rock solid. And if they really want to be paid without sacrificing their fanfic writing they should at least open up a Patreon or some other donation service.

Options. Exist. I can't stress this enough to most people.

Hell, they can even create their own spaces exactly like Ao3! Ao3 utilizes an open source code. You can literally copy Ao3’s code to host your own archive. You want a space you can drop your Patreon/kofi/cashapp directly in your fic so your readers know where to go if they want to pay you? Go ahead, the code is right there. Want a space with more moderation? Go ahead, the code is literally right there.

While I’m on the open source topic, just in case people don’t know, you can also customize your ao3 experience in more ways than just by the tags. You can also mod the site itself. You prefer night mode? There’s a skin for that. You don’t like scrolling through massive amounts of tags? There’s a couple different skins floating around that gives the tags their own scroll box so you only see the first few tags on the original page. You can even design your own.

Hell yeah, they have a legal team, right? AO3’s primary job is to protect fan content, no matter how “deviant” it may be (that’s considering FFN’s ban on smut a few years back).

It's been almost 20 years.
You're not old! If you're old, then I'm old, and that's not allowed! We're still 20, dammit!
Don't worry. They didn't really start enforcing it until, like, 2009. That's still 11 years ago, though.
Actually, everything under the NC-17 label got purged right away. Then, FFN asked everyone to report rule-breaking fics, which a lot of people did. The Christian idealism was hard-core at the time because 9/11 had just happened, and the purist army was out in full force. You think purity culture is bad now? It was like 10 times worse then. One of my friends, who was a die-hard Christian, reported some of my favorite Harry Potter fics, and those got deleted. I very much remember that, because I was really upset with her.
Well look on the bright side, with the current purity culture Harry Potter is getting banned again for being looks at notes problematic. Kind of hilarious that the edgy tween stuff became edgy mid life stuff.
No one is trying to ban Harry Potter, as far as I'm aware. Just trying not to give more money to Joanne.

I genuinely saw a whole tumblr thread of people bitching that AO3 should be paying them with all the money they got since they only reason they made so much was because the writers bring in traffic for them.

I'm on a desktop computer, so please imagine several of the eye-rolling emojis here. Speaking as one of those content creators, I don't want (or deserve) any payment other than freely-given kudos and comments. And how much money do they think that writers would get, anyway?
Legality aside, you've got to wonder if they even think about how that would work. Like, would AO3 just split it evenly for every account that's posted a fic? Divide it proportionally to hits? It just doesn't make a lick of sense, especially considering that any way you break it down, 200 grand split amongst all the writers on the site has got to amount to less than a dollar per person.
Well, naturally, no money would go to people writing evil stories. </s>
In a wild hypothetical, I'd love to see some of those antis faces when they realize that, in fact, some of the most popular writers on AO3, who would therefore be "earning" the money, actually write the very porn they disapprove of the most.
Add me to the list of people who wouldn't want that kind of payment. Aside from the legal issues involved, I really think mixing money and fanfic is just too messy an idea in general. If I want to get paid for my writing, I'll write original works and find ways to get those published.
lmao "I demand you expose me to more legal liability."
Honestly, I would prefer a couple comments more than a couple dollars.
It amuses me so much whenever this comes up. It's like telling a professional storage facility they should be paying you since the only reason they have business is because you decided to put your things in their storage.

Anyone who says this probably grew up with Influencer culture where sites pay content creators the big buck for views. For whatever reason, antis don't understand that YouTube/IG/whatever aren't paying these people simply for being popular, but because the site runs on ad revenue and increased traffic means more eyeballs means even more ad revenue. AO3 is purposely ad-free and more users actually costs them money without the increased traffic being offset by any line of revenue outside of donations (which are laughably low for a site its size). I mean... some of them even say that AO3 is overfunded while Wikipedia has to beg for a dollar so people should donate to Wikipedia instead, as if Wikimedia doesn't have $165M in reserve funds itself. Antis just hate AO3 and will use literally any argument, no matter how nonsensical.

I remember a couple years ago before AO3 really used to rake in money over their budget (like... at the time it was only $38K over), there were a bunch of brain-dead tumblr users accusing the site of money laundering. It was like... are you being disingenuous or are you really this stupid? $38K extra for a nonprofit is nothing. If the founders were really trying to launder serious cash, they'd open a dry cleaners or something, and they'd be clearing way more than $38K. Even now, there are people trying to call for AO3, a *nonprofit*, to redistribute excess donations, as if that wouldn't be a misappropriation of funds and illegal. Honestly, half of them seem jealous that no one is sending them money directly, as if their personal donation post on a dying social media site has the same reach as a website that millions use every day. It's just ridiculous.

...do they even know what money laundering is? Because getting more donations than planned sure ain't it.
I suspect they just throw out words they don’t understand that sound shady and illegal and hope one of them sticks.
This is why I kind of just brush it off when I see kids being that dumb. I'm sure I was all kinds of dumb at 12-13 years old, too. Luckily, I just wasn't doing it online for the world to see.
it's also a bizarre the amount of people who think it's OK to ask for money (ie, financial gain) for what they have done with somebody else's copyrighted character. I'm all for absolute freedom of expression, but I really, really don't see how people think 1) they can charge for their art / fiction featuring these characters, but 2) the original author doesn't deserve money for it. Like, pick one or the other - or be a reasonable human and enjoy fan works without commercialising it
I'm an active fanfic writer on Tumblr and I've unfollowed a handful of people who come in, gain a sizeable following over 6ish months while writing/creating fanart, then comes the seemingly inevitable "join my patreon where I'll be posting exclusively now!". Like, no, absolutely not. You do not own these characters, they're someone else's intellectual property. If you want to get paid for what you're doing then come up with original characters in an original storyline.

I'm of two mind of this. First, I believe that people should follow the law and not rock the boat. Fan fiction is in a shaky place as it is, and it wouldn't take much for corporations to see these as lost revenue, and come down on the entire fanfiction industry.

That said, just because something is illegal doesn't mean we should consider it immoral. For most of human history, all fiction was fan fiction. People would make stories, and others would repeat those stories, making changes here and there as they saw fit. The concept of intellectual property is a modern invention, and has been extended to ridiculous lengths by corrupt corporations.

Morally speaking, you're not wrong for feeling as if you should get paid for the stories you write. It's the law that's the problem.

"it should go to the authors who 'actually make the site possible.'

Programmers, managers, support: Are we a joke to you?

Plus, you shouldn't profit from basically using someone else's work or characters (reason why 50SoG doesn't feature Twilight characters). Fanfics on Patreon are also a big nope for me. We should be happy that no one is running after fanfic author's with a lawsuit. Someone already mentioned Anne Rice, I shudder whenever I think of all fanfics becoming unavailable.

Also look at what trash wattpad has become. I actually subscribe to some of my favorite A03 authors patreon. People ask for money on the platform all the time and receive it.
Paying... For... Fanfic... Man even when i was like 10 and had very limited knowledge of fan works I was smart enough to know that's hella not legal. And yeah, servers hosting whats gotta be millions of fica, billions of words, and tons of users, 24/7 costs a lot of money. Smh I thought tumblr was smarter than this.
Have you seen Twitter though? It’s much worse.
I think a lot of Tumblr users migrated to Twitter after the porn ban a couple years back, and they sort of imported their "culture" of being complete assholes with superiority complexes.
You’d really think they’d learn about how dumb censorship is after that... guess not though.
Censorship is bad when it's censoring me. But it's awesome when it's censoring those people.
If they want to be paid, isn't that what wattpad is for?
I must've done a better job of curating my Tumblr experience than you because all of the commentaries I've seen about this has been "Here's why people with issues with AO3 are wrong" and I haven't seen a single person unironically state their opposition to AO3 as their opinion.

As I understand it, this topic comes up on Tumblr every time AO3 does a fund drive. Given what I've read, the folks who say this have totally and utterly no clue how a non-profit company (which AO3 is) works. Any and every non-profit does fund raisers and applies for grant funding: colleges, social welfare groups, fraternal societies, hospitals, business and labor organizations, even entities like PBS. Heck, Harvard University has an endowment bigger than the economies of some foreign countries and they fund raise all the time.

Fanfic sites have only four ways to make ends meet: fund raise, win grants, do advertisements, or charge users. There is no free lunch.

I'm gonna write some words about why ao3 is awesome on a technical level for those interested:

Accessibility and Inclusive Design:

I used a lot of fanfiction archives for so long because some of the content on ao3 was kinda disturbing to me. The boldly displayed warnings above darkfics pushed me away until I realised: You can filter and sort anything there. It is by far the most advanced search in any archive out there. And the warnings make sense to not trigger certain people with trauma etc. Much of the same content can be found on other archives without any warning. So thats a beautiful way to keep the content accessible to everyone.

Speaking of accessibility. The page is relatively good regarding web a11y for use with screen readers. Thats used by blind people (and other disabilities). I was able to navigate it easy with my keyboard. This is something even big companies (newspapers, social media, ff.net, etc.) are too stupid to handle. I did not run a complete test against it, but it looks okay on first glance. Even color contrast etc. looks good.

Open Source:

ao3 is non-profit, noncomercial and most important: OPEN SOURCE.

For those not knowing what that means: The code for archive is completely public and can be viewed and downloaded on github. You can even modify it and create your own ao3 if you want. Most people won't care about that but it brings a very important bonus: If the code contains spyware, tracking, etc. people will see that and call you them out.

Also they list their bugs and people can even fix them if they want. They have own guidelines for that and people do it. Just take a look at how much happens there.


ao3 acts like a good non-profit organization in every way and I don't understand why people would call them out.
In terms of avoiding harm to actual people, AO3's allow anything legal and tag it method of doing things is the most effective option. Hell, I use AO3 exclusively for reading fic exactly because there are things I don't want to see. Exclude a few things, and I don't need to worry. On any other site, I'd have to pay people to pre-read things for me or something.

Hell, fanfics are leagues better than official media in this regard- when I read some Manga or watch a new TV show, there's no way of knowing if you'll get slapped in the face with some fucked up stuff.

I've become a lot less tolerant of messed up content these days, and being able to exclude archive warnings that I know will hurt is a blessing.
...a vast number of people do not or cannot make distinctions between what is legal and what is moral. They have a moral stance, they cannot comprehend why any "decent" system of laws would allow for things that are in opposition to their moral stance. And that's about the sum total of the thinking on the matter. Again, this isn't a problem exclusive to fanfic, or a problem that's only cropped up in recent years. People demanding others change because "my morals are superior to yours" has been around forever. It's just that it's being encouraged so much in today's society. If you crusade for what you feel is right, you MUST be a good person and you MUST be listened to. We conditioned people to believe that and now we're stuck with the results.

I don't understand anti-AO3 sentiment either. It's for fans by fans. It's such an amazing accomplishment. I got into fandom/fanfic before AO3 and I remember the period where we started talking about having our own archive so we wouldn't have to deal with livejournal (and other) censorship. I remember thinking 'It would be nice but it's never going to happen. We're never going to get organized enough. It would take so much work and commitment and agreement. etc.' And yet we did it! I feel like it's just the greatest, most amazing thing. WE, the fans, did it!

Reading some of the other comments to understand the reasoning behind the anti-AO3, I'm reminded of problems we're having at my work due to the rise of the entitled mindset. I really hate the idea of blaming it all on young people. But it makes sense somewhat in that they haven't experienced what is was like not having AO3. And I don't want to be dismissive of important issues like racism/harassment/etc. in fandom. But those aren't specific to AO3 and I do think they're doing a pretty good job of being as responsive as they can, being an all volunteer force. Of course, there's always room for improvement but I believe they're trying.

They’re antis. Normally their big complaint is that ao3 allows content they don’t like, whether that’s underage sex, real person fic or fics with racist or sexist content.

Ao3 has always been extremely clear about their hosting policies but some people find this unacceptable. Which is fine - go somewhere else - but they tend to yell about it loudly instead of doing something useful like setting up their own archives.

There’s also a subset who don’t like that Ao3 hold decent amounts of money in reserve and invest in stocks. I’m not a finance sort but I am aware that non profits should have a large slush fund for emergencies; there’re very clear with their breakdown of where the money goes but again some people disagree with their spending and saving.

Personally I find anti Ao3 bile a very useful guide to who to block and ignore.

It seems like a lot of money - but it really, really isn't. A solid three-quarters is eaten up by server costs, literally just keeping the lights on, for a text-only website.

That $260,000 they raised might pay for a single full-time sysadmin with nothing left over.

Websites are expensive.
Yep. A moment of silence for all those tiny fansites of 15-20 years ago where people run out of money one day and everything disappeared without trace.
Tiny fansites which AO3 actively works to archive so that those fanworks won't disappear when the sites go down. God AO3 is amazing.

I always get super happy when they announce they've archived a bunch of work from sites that were shutting down/very close to. All this stuff deserves to be archived because their works to preserve content and creators is vital to protecting what we enjoy so much. When another massive lawsuit happens and a purge is demanded, I feel AO3 would be our main blockade against it all and fight as hard as the creators would.

My point is that I just adore what AO3 is doing and, to be honest, I'd love to one day assist and join their team. For now, all I can do is donate, write, and advocate for antis to take a second look at the things they demand and how they won't just hurt AO3 and the people they hate, but they themselves.

Personally, I dislike a lot of the content on AO3, but I also dislike a lot of published books and don't attack libraries and bookshops over it. None of it's illegal under US law. I might criticise certain tropes etc that I see as romanticising abuse (on my own blog, not in comments, I don't give unsolicited concrit) but I don't understand why people think banning it or sending threats and harassment is the solution.

One of the popular anti-AO3 posts said "stop comparing it to libraries! libraries don't have child porn!" and like...

A) Written fiction is not legally child porn, at least in the US or UK (we have different laws about drawings but not writing). Much as I dislike a lot of these fics there's a huge difference.

B) Plenty of libraries and bookshops will contain content just as disturbing and explicit as the creepiest stuff on AO3. In plenty of countries, including the US and the UK, it's perfectly possible to buy or borrow copies of...say, books by the Marquis De Sade, which would have all 4 archive warnings and more. While that's an obvious extreme example, there's also all the (mostly older) books that treat teenage girls in relationships with much older men as normal, all the many books with racist/sexist/homophobic/etc stereotypes or language...there's a huge list of published books containing disturbing or offensive content and most of them are available in libraries and bookshops in most countries.

It's one thing to dislike these stories and to criticise them, the same as people criticise published fiction, but I don't see the point of demanding that AO3 take completely legal content down. Especially since in libraries and bookshops this stuff doesn't have trigger warnings.

I do think there are valid points to be made about racism--but not deleting fics. Some people are discussing adding extra archive warnings for things like "use of slurs" so people can more easily avoid fics with that if they are triggered by it. There have also been people who have received racist harassment on the platform and I would like AO3 to do more about that (the blocking feature should help). I know several volunteers last year tried to convince the board to hire an anti-racism expert but a small minority of the board didn't like the idea (I got the impression from the volunteer who was talking about this that some board members reacted like "are you calling us racist??", which is...not the best response). But I don't think that's "AO3 is evil and everyone who works there is a racist!", I think that's "AO3, like most organisations, is slow to make changes, and its board is majority-white, and they could have handled some things better".
It is true that libraries and bookshops don't have child porn, as in, NSFW photos of real minors (though I think there have been a few cases of "barely legal" girls turning out not to be legal). And in the UK, where NSFW drawings of minors are classed as child porn and are illegal, those would also not be found. AO3 operates under US law where iirc an NSFW drawing can only get in trouble if it can be proven to have "no artistic value", which sounds like a pretty hard thing to prove of any drawing. There's nothing on AO3 that's inherently illegal under US law, so...nothing that couldn't be found in a bookshop or a library in the US. (And less than 250 works that are illegal under UK law using the approximation of "fanart, rated Explicit and tagged Underage" [it will actually be less than that, because some of those will be fics with illustrations and the illustrations might not be of an explicit underage scene]. Which are all tagged and easy to avoid). Meanwhile bookshops/libraries have books like Piers Anthony's, which depict young girls in a very sexualised way, being treated as children's books in many places. At least AO3 has warnings and age ratings.


I guess another thing I wonder about is, what do the people who take issue with AO3 hosting fics that feature questionable content say about people who write for canons where the questionable content is part OF the canon? Are those writers just supposed to not write for those shows/movies/books? Or are they supposed to somehow avoid touching on the questionable content within the canon material? Should the site not host those shows/movies/books at all, so as to prevent people from writing and posting fics inspired by the content they provide? How exactly do the anti-AO3 people get around acknowledging that issue?

Such good points. And at the very least, making it an Archive Warning would give readers an option to escalate it to AO3 reporting if there is a genuine issue. Right now, there's no real point in reporting something like that because there's no requirement that it needs to be warned for.

AO3 abuse reports don't work that way, though. Writers don't have to warn for anything; "Choose not to warn" is not only an option, but the default in the event of a dispute. This is probably why I'm seeing an increase in "Unrated" and "Choose not to warn" stories already.
Here's the thing with adding more archive warnings. AO3's *default* is "Chooses not to warn." This in my view is what really gets up the antis' tailpipes. They can't make writers warn or tag, and they have to confine their harassment to third-party sites. Oh, the humanity.

Honestly, it boils down to A03 antis that usually complain during donation period and go silent after it’s finished. A03 is the site created to not censor any type of story and it involves fics that can be very questionable too, so it makes antis more vocal about gatekeeping. There was even one time where someone created website ‘better’ than A03 with policed content... it went down soon btw.

I also saw someone complaining they need to pay for original book, while Fanfiction is free without them even realising why fics are free in the first place.

So yeah, A03 has gained dedicated Antis and still keeps going on strong.
I've seen a couple different "AO3 but better" sites crop up over my years on this forum, and I have to say, every single one was just worse. Even without issues of stealing content, they all seem to be a clear case study in why you need money, resources, experience, and a host of volunteers to keep a website so big going.
AO3 and what it stands for needs to be protected against this new generation of outrage hysterics. I feel like it is one of the last places on the internet that still has the fun wild west spirit of how online fandoms used to be.

It all boils down to AO3 refusing to delete fics that those people believe should not exist, and let's be clear here, it's not only about 'pedophilic' (seriously this term has been misapplied to hell and back) and RPF content. Big age gaps between adults, enemies to lovers, whump, any kind of fic that only hints at dub-con/non-con, fics that feature relationships between teenagers of same age or with negligible age difference (think two to three years), or simply featuring characters that they believe are child-coded (possibly the stupidest thing I have ever heard) and therefore cannot consent no matter how old they are, author chose not to use archive warnings fics, or just stuff they plain old don't like. I have seen it all.

I have been on the platform for at least five years now, and even though Tumblr gained itself quite a reputation, I have to argue that it's not that bad as long as you know who to unfollow or block and what tags to blacklist. All the instances above I have seen because I either went looking for them or because the people I follow were reblogging them with rebuttals. Many members of the anti-crusade moved to Twitter after the infamous porn ban of 2018; Tumblr is really more of an apocalyptic wasteland now. You just move from one ghost town to another and hope that you'll find a settlement inhabited by sensible people.
When exactly did, “don’t like, don’t read” turn into, “I morally oppose this so it shouldn’t exist at all and the internet must accommodate ME? Like, it’s the internet. It doesn’t work that way.
These faux-woke idiots are acting like AO3 is Parler or something. Give me a fucking break.

I’ve come to the conclusion that many people on my dash are straight up unworthy of my respect.

They’ll pull this shit about ao3 but still use it. They will happily dogpile, doxx, and shame fanartist kids for shading a character too light or too dark and then squee over the next marvel villain of the day for being misunderstood woobies. They’ll use centuries of real racial pain and oppression like their own weapon to demonize a ship they don’t like.

Fuck them. Despicable people.

tumblr is extremely toxic. It's usually best to just back away slowly, try to avoid direct eye contact, and hope they don't decide to try cancelling you.

However, AO3 has refused bend to tumblr's will (probably because tumblr is chomping at the bit to purge what they deem wrongfic while AO3 literally exists in order to be a censorship-free place; AO3 was created in response to a FFN purge for fuck's sake.) so tumblr threw (and is still throwing, apparently) a huge tantrum.
Well if Tumblr's against it I suppose I had better go donate.