The latest fanfiction community scandal seemed to start with an app called Pocket Archive Library. Twitter and Tumblr users started sharing screenshots of the app a few weeks ago, claiming that it illegally copied fanfiction from AO3, and that it was tricking users into paying for fanfiction. It was later clarified that the app is simply a skin for the AO3 website–it doesn’t “steal” fanfiction per se, it’s just a very specialized browser for the site. but Pocket Archive Library does show ads, and ask users to tip the app maker or to subscribe to pro features, with the money going back to the app maker. There’s also a group called Woodsign j.d.o.o. that has produced a slew of fandom-specific fanfiction apps, that do seem to be copying and redistributing fanfiction from Archive of Our Own, and charge for access to these works.
The primary concern with these apps is copyright. Aside from the ethically-dubious act of monetizing something that’s actually available for free, fanwork creators don’t want their work being distributed without their permission, or for others to make money off of something they made. While a number of users on social media have made various legal claims, some of them less than accurate, the concern boils down to the fact that fans believe they own their fanfiction in some way. It’s not necessarily a controversial idea, or a new one, but it is one that has evolved over time, and isn’t black and white. So let’s talk about fanfiction and copyright.