Fan fiction writers know that their work is being used to train generative AIs, and they’re not happy about it. Now, “Omegaverse” writers are participating in a week-long writing marathon called Knot in my Name to encourage the fan community to publish as much of their fan fiction as possible. It’s a long-shot attempt to mess with AI generators, but why not try?
As generative AI becomes more mainstream, numerous communities of writers and artists have spoken out against the technology’s appropriation of original creative works, from striking TV writers to record labels. Fanfic writers had their own moment of reckoning when Sudowrite, an AI-powered fiction writing tool, was found to be trained on Omegaverse fan fiction.
“Can we get [Amazon] fixating on knotting toys? Can we make slickmats a [Google] keyword?” asked fanfic writer MotherKat, who organized the event. “No idea.”
If phrases like “knotting toys” and “slickmats” sound incomprehensible, that’s because they’re not supposed to sound like real things if you haven’t read Omegaverse fic. And that’s also why it’s so obvious to fic writers when AIs have been trained on their work.
The Omegaverse is a subculture within a subculture. Writer Rose Eveleth describes it best as “an act of collective sexual worldbuilding.” The Omegaverse, which spans multiple fandoms, imagines a sexual dynamic in which society is divided into Alphas, Betas and Omegas (another way to refer to the Omegaverse is Alpha/Beta/Omega, or A/B/O). Alphas are more dominant, Omegas are more submissive, and Betas are neutral; it’s a variation on supposed wolf pack dynamics. The Omegaverse is most visible on platforms like Tumblr, where users reacted to Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid by making memes about how he wishes he was an Alpha, but he is, in fact, an Omega.
There’s an entire lexicon of Omegaverse-specific language, which would never appear organically outside of fandom spaces. Some generators, like Open AI’s ChatGPT, are trained on variations of datasets like Common Crawl, which scrape the web to make massive archives of the internet. With more than 3 billion webpages in the Common Crawl dataset alone, it’s inevitable that creative works would be swept up in the archives, unbeknownst to writers and artists. So when platforms like ChatGPT-powered Sudowrite start waxing poetic about the power dynamics in Alpha-Omega relationships, it’s not hard to guess where the AI is being trained.
While fan fiction stories are derivative works themselves, these hobbyist writers aren’t trying to profit off of their legal creative outlet. This makes it all the more insulting to fan writers and IP holders alike, who watch as their work becomes fodder for synthetic texts. According to MotherKat, morale has been low among fanfic writers, especially as readers boast about getting ChatGPT to write hyper-specific fanfic for them.
“I have a few fandoms I’m involved in, and everyone was really low. No one was writing, a lot of people were taking their work down,” MotherKat told TechCrunch. “Most of us aren’t aspiring writers. This is our hobby, the space we go to escape the misery of our jobs being automated away.”
When she’s not hanging out in online fandom spaces, MotherKat is a professional voice actor; she says she’s feeling the threat of AI on all fronts, both at work and in her free time. That’s why she wanted to create “a movement designed to make scraping our content for sale as unpalatable as possible.”
“We have found that a lot of people had no idea that they were training the machine by putting in incomplete stories, so in a way we have helped with that,” MotherKat said.
Two days into the Knot in my Name campaign, fandom writers have published 64 stories across 51 different fandoms. This amounts to roughly 450,000 words of fan fiction; that’s about the size of Stephen King’s “It,” or “Moby Dick,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Jane Eyre” combined.
“We can’t fix what they have already done,” MotherKat told TechCrunch. “But if we can have this irreverent little moment, maybe we can make scraping in the future less palatable to the venture capital guys if they know we, well, we got slick all over it.”