Grants/Servers for A Torrent of Our Own (TO3); a project of the Organization For Transformative Works (OTW)

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Servers for A Torrent of Our Own (TO3); a project of the Organization For Transformative Works (OTW)

Applicants: Organization For Transformative Works
Affiliation: Organization for Transformative Works
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Allison Morris Development Officer, Organization for Transformative Works Board, Organization for Transformative Works
Coordinator: Dr. Francesca Coppa Board, Organization for Transformative Works Chair, Vidding Committee
Project Start: 2010/08/01
Project End: 2011/07/31,
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Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

The Torrent of Our Own (TO3) is a bittorrent tracker open to registered users to post torrents for fair-use transformative fanworks, including: fan vids, fic trailers, political remix, AMVs, machinima, and other forms of transformative digital remix. The TO3 will be built to integrate with the Archive of Our Own (the OTW's flagship project: a custom-built, fully functional, open source archive for fanworks designed and coded almost entirely by women) but can also be used to stream and embed fair use video in other social networking systems such as blogs, LiveJournal, etc. The current legal and economic climate in the United States necessitates the creation of a dedicated noncommercial and nonprofit network for fair use video. Large, profitable streaming sites such as YouTube have been forced to adopt content-filtering systems that cannot differentiate between fair and infringing uses of copyrighted material; smaller sites have been driven out of business by the resources (servers, bandwidth) sharing video demands. The system we envision--using a distributed system (torrents) to stream fair use video in an avowedly open source, noncommercial context--solves both the political and the resource issues currently plaguing various communities of fair use digital remixers.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

The Torrent of Our Own will adapt open source bittorrent technology for the purpose of sharing fair use video and be installed on a set of dedicated servers (with backups). The interface we will design will help users to embed and stream torrents within the searchable Archive of Our Own as well as other social networking sites. The OTW will also craft an educational campaign about fair use; before posting, uploaders to the TO3 will be required to read about fair use standards and agree that what they're uploading is a fair use. (We will also set up a system for reporting and banning infringing users of the tracker.)

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

This project was developed, first and foremost, to meet the needs of fan vidders: a thirty year old community of female video artists. While the work of vidders has been written about in scholarly journals, featured in museum exhibitions, and profiled in New York Magazine and on NPR, the vidding community has been increasingly disrupted by inaccurate content-filtering systems, the commercial failure of small streaming sites, bullying cease and desist letters, and wrongful DMCA takedowns. The TO3 would not only provide a stable home for vids, but a scalable home; because torrents work best when there are high levels of collaboration and participation, we can open the network to any and all forms of fair use digital video. We plan to do particular outreach to the anime music video community, the political remix video community, and machinima />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

The Organization for Transformative Works is a nonprofit organization created and run by fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures; we literally are part of the community we are targeting. Our chair, Naomi Novik, founded VividCon, an annual convention dedicated to vids that is now in its 9th year; board members Rebecca Tushnet and Francesca Coppa testified on behalf of vidders at the DMCA exemption hearings at the Library of Congress. The OTW also supports many other vidding-related projects, including an oral history project to document the practices of pre-digital vidders and a series of vidding-resource pages.

Project leader and vidding chair Francesca Coppa is a member of the board of the OTW and Director of Film Studies as Muhlenberg College. She has written several important scholarly articles on vidding for publications such as Cinema Journal and Camera Obscura and lectured about vidding at such venues as the "DIY 24/7" conference at USC, Media In Transition 5 at MIT, Digital Media and Learning at UCSD, the Open Video Conference at NYU, and IP/Gender at the American University School of Law/Center. She is the director of a six part documentary on vidding, Vidding (2008), made for MIT's New Media Literacies project.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

A successful torrent literally requires strong participation; we hope to provide a central and sustainable home for the vidding community in particular and fair use videomakers more broadly. We hope to be the internet's version of a public television station: a public-access site that is open to all digital videomakers and remixers. The TO3 will allow us to measure and chart the number of accounts, uploads, seeders and leechers. The AO3's tagging system will allow us to see how users label their work - fan vid, AMV, political remix, machinima, fic trailer, etc. - so we'll have a fairly good idea of who's using our system and how.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

Our flagship project, the Archive of Our Own, which has not yet come out of beta and which has been open to beta users for less than a year, currently has 7,522 users; moreover, the AO3 currently houses fan fiction only, which can be housed at many different places. Vidders, by contrast, have many fewer options as to how and where to archive their work: fan-favorite sites like Imeem and Ning have jettisoned user-generated content, and YouTube's content filtering system wrongfully prevent many vids from being uploaded. The "Vidding" community on LiveJournal currently has 2,035 members. [1].

Moreover, through our education projects and legal advocacy work, the OTW has worked closely with many different communities of fair use video remixers. Many of us came together at the USC conference "DIY 24/7: A DIY video summit" [2] and have worked closely with groups like the EFF and the Open Video Alliance.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

All of the OTW's projects are about supporting free and public creative communities, and the TO3 is no exception. The OTW is a nonprofit organization of and for fans dedicated to the idea that copyright must not preclude creative remixing - and that remixes and fanworks are an important form of cultural commentary and are intrinsically of the commons. Our mission statement [3] articulates many of our values: our commitment to transformational fanworks as legitimate creative activity, our committment to our volunteer-based infrastructure and the fannish gift economy, our committment to protecting and defending our work from commercial exploitation and legal challenge. The Torrent of Our Own would literally allow fair use video to be disseminated and streamed to all outside of a commercial context: it would be a true "public access" video site.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

The TO3 team already includes torrent guru Leigh Honeywell and a digital librarian, April Steenburgh as well as members of our extant Accessibility, Design, and Technology committee currently engaged in building the Archive of Our Own in Ruby on Rails. We are currently researching the advantages and disadvantages of torrent packages (Tribler, the Ruby on Rails tracker plugin, etc.) and looking at streaming torrent technologies like the Swarmplayer. We will also need significant server space as well as secure backups.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

The torrent itself is a response to a particular challenge that vidding represents; typically, remixers and independent video artists are looking for ways to get traffic (and eyeballs) to their videos. Fan vidding has a different problem: a popular fan vid can go viral very quickly and use up an individual's - or an organization's - bandwidth overnight. Streaming torrents turn this "problem" into an asset: popular vids will get disseminated faster without taking the server down. Our job will make sure that even less popular vids have enough seeders to make them fully accessible.

The other challenge that OTW faces is that we are an all-volunteer organization. Most of us have full-time jobs or are full-time students in addition to the work we do for OTW; many of us - perhaps even more than is typical because we are overwhelmingly women - are also in caregiving roles: we are partners, wives, mothers, daughters. However, we are in our third year of existence and we have had record donations as well as strong ongoing levels of volunteerism. So we are optimistic that we will continue to attract new members and new staff.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

The OTW has an established fundraising system in place, with demonstrated successful growth over the course of the first three years of the organization's existence. In 2007, the year the OTW was established as a nonprofit, we raised $10,069 in the course of general funding drives; in 2008, we raised $22,074; in 2009, we raised $38,627. We expect that our general fundraising will continue to provide capital sufficient for the maintenance and growth of our existing projects, with room for further project development. Fundraising aimed specifically at vidding-related OTW projects has already been initiated from within the community; the Torrent of Our Own is particularly well supported by our membership, and is expected to attract additional supporters as it is realized and sees growth. Our expectation is to be financially prepared to replace or upgrade our TO3 servers within three years, and to continue doing so going forward in a manner that is responsive to both usage and to further developments in torrents and related technologies. Fundraising for specific project aims may be conducted as necessary to supplement organizational capital reserves, and we will continue to seek additional grant support to further this and other OTW projects.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

As we noted above, the entire idea of a torrent-based streaming video network is designed to address problems of scalability; the best part of the project as we envision it is that it can continue to support greater and great numbers of users and videos. We never have to exclude anyone who's doing anything that's original or fair use; we never have to say no. Moreover, more and more people are becoming digitally literate; we will surely see exponentially-increasing numbers of people communicating with and expressing themselves through video, even as mainstream sites are becoming more restrictive, professional, and commercial.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

The OTW is proud to already be using CC-licenses on many of its products; our academic journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, as well as its sister blog, The Symposium, are made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. The Torrent of Our Own is an opportunity to help our users learn more about CC, as well as open source and fair use, so they can make informed choices about what kind of licenses they might want to put on their vids or remixes. We are currently planning an educational campaign on fair use; before posting, uploaders will be required to read about fair use standards and agree that what they're uploading is a fair use. We also want to help our users understand the various rights associated with copyright and with various licenses. We ask that Creative Commons aid us in these goals by providing informational materials and public support for the project, and we would also like help with establishing an officer in the OTW responsible for liaising with Creative Commons, carrying out educational initiatives, and continuing to seek situations in which CC-licenses are appropriate to the organization and our membership.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

The OTW maintains a blog at with mirrors on various other sites. A full list of networks and communications methods can be found here: Contact forms for many of our committees can be found here: