The Hugo Awards official website has made a fresh attempt to interpret the meaning of Archive of Our Own’s 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work and how individual participants ought to identify with it. However, the December 18 statement “2019 Hugo Awards Clarification” does not explain what need it’s supposed to meet or why it was issued at this time. In response, a number of fans have filled in the blanks with the worst motives they can conceive.
The “2019 Hugo Awards Clarification” post says —
We would like to clarify that the winner of the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work is Archive Of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works.
This category of the Hugo Awards is one which recognizes works that are non-fiction or which are notable primarily for aspects other than fiction. Thus, the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Related Work recognizes AO3 as a project and a platform; the fiction hosted on that site is not the award recipient, nor are the authors of fiction hosted on that site the award recipients.
Further, the only officially recognized 2019 Hugo Award Winner for Best Related Work is Archive Of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works. No natural persons can claim to be a Hugo Award Winner, Finalist, or Nominee for this award on behalf of AO3.
Individual works of fiction on AO3 are eligible for the Hugo Awards in the fiction categories of the corresponding length, for the award year in which they are first published. In addition, the Hugo Awards have Fan Writer, Fan Artist, Fanzine, and Fancast categories which recognize contributions that fans give freely to fandom.
Members of AO3 are welcome and encouraged to promote themselves as “participant in the Hugo Award-Winning project Archive Of Our Own” or “contributor to the Hugo Award-Winning AO3 website”.
The Hugo Awards site is created and managed by the Hugo Awards Marketing Subcommittee of the World Science Fiction Society Mark Protection Committee, who are responsible for the statement.
Renay, of this year’s Hugo-winning fanzine Lady Business, characterized the statement as an anonymous attack calculated to discourage AO3 participants from joining CoNZealand and becoming eligible to vote in the 2020 Hugos.
Many dissenting tweets have been appended to The Hugo Awards’ own tweeted link to the statement.
And here is a a sampling of related comments.
Also, Forestofglory, who wrote a post “Why I Like Taking Part in the Hugo Awards” a few weeks ago, tweeted the link again as part of the latest discussion. It begins —
Since Archive of Our Own (AO3) recently won a Hugo, and Lady Business the fanzine I write for also won its second Hugo I wanted to talk a bit about the Hugos and why I like taking part in them. I’ve been nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards for a while now and have had a really positive experience, of the Hugos as a fun communal event where a lot of people I like talk about media they like. I also enjoy the way the awards process lets me and others share and receive recs, and celebrate the SFF community….
The Hugo Awards are trademarked by the World Science Fiction Society (“WSFS”). A mark must be enforced against violators who come within notice of the holder in order to remain effective. The Mark Protection Committee’s report to the Dublin 2019 business meeting contended that they already had to take action against someone selling a pin on Etsy:
Also in June, we were notified of a violation of our rocket trademark by a group marketing a pin to content creators on the website, Archive of Our Own. While the website itself was a finalist for a Hugo Award this year, the individual content creators are not finalists in the same way that authors edited by Best Editor are not considered finalists. The main issue, however, was that the seller used our marks and created a derivative work of our rocket shape without our permission. The right to control derivative works is one of the rights and responsibilities of a mark holder, and the seller transformed our rocket ship mark without permission. We informed the Dublin 2019 Worldcon committee of this issue because even issuing a cease-and-desist order might create a ruckus for the Worldcon among fans who are legitimately excited and happy to celebrate that AO3 is a Hugo finalist for the first time. Dublin 2019 declined to issue any guidance. If the creator withdrew this merchandise and created other material, we would then react to that based on the new merchandise. The MPC determined that it was important enough to protect our mark that it sent a cease-and-desist letter asking them to withdraw the design. We also pointed out that Worldcons issue their own pins to legitimate Hugo finalists. Toward the end of June, after getting no response from the seller, we filed an intellectual property infringement claim with Etsy, citing both the U.S. and EU registrations. Within days, Etsy had removed the item from their site.
The members of the Mark Protection Committee (“MPC”) at the time of the business meeting were Judy Bemis, Stephen Boucher, John Coxon, Joni Dashoff, Linda Deneroff, Paul Dormer, Donald E. Eastlake III, Michael Lee, Tim Illingworth, Dave McCarty, Randall Shepherd, Kevin Standlee, Mike Willmoth, and Ben Yalow. Three seats came up for election and two of the incumbents were returned, with Tim Illingworth being superseded by Jo Van Ekeren. So with one exception the membership remains the same as it was in Dublin.
Although the new statement appears gratuitous to some and pedantic to others, a likelier motive is to lay a foundation for WSFS to do something about trademark violations without going straight to court, which it lacks the budget to do. Consider what Kevin Standlee, who chaired the Mark Protection Committee until Dublin 2019, wrote on his blog on November 4:
If you are someone who insisted that nobody would ever make commercial or professional use of the Hugo Award registered service mark to claim that they were individually and personally Hugo Award winners on account of having contributed to An Archive of Our Own, you are flat-our wrong. It’s happening, and I’m not talking about “jokes” or “one-two-millionth of a Hugo Award winner” statements. The WSFS Mark Protection Committee is doing what it can about such things. Despite what some people seem to think, the first step in such cases is almost never LAWYER UP and FILE A LAWSUIT. But it uses up resources that are rather limited. I wish we didn’t have to do so. I wish that I hadn’t been right about people doing what I predicted they would do.
However, waving the threat of litigation at a group of fans collectively, almost none of whom started out with any desire to violate the trademarks, will not only offend many of them, it runs the risk of inciting people who feel unjustly persecuted to act out in precisely that way.