The War against Fandom

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News Media Commentary
Title: The War against Fandom
Commentator: Steve Silberman
Date(s): 04 June 1997
Venue: Wired.com
Fandom:
External Links: The War against Fandom; archive link
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Contents

The War against Fandom is a 1997 article about the crackdown of big media companies on fansites in 1990s. The original topic line read: "Somewhere between big-media lawyers and obsessive fan sites lies a battlefield."

The article summarizes the problem as one of media companies wanting to parade their Web savvy in the marketplace and to funnel all the Net traffic into a few commercial sites, while the fans want to have freedom of speech and assembly in sites of their own choosing and to have fewer constraints on the use of copyrighted materials. It also refers to an incident in 1995 "when Jeanette Foshee was slammed with a cease-and-desist order for circulating a set of Simpsons icons she had drawn herself."

Excerpts

For months, webmasters of unofficial Star Trek sites have been embroiled in disputes with Paramount/Viacom - a clampdown that fans say followed on the heels of the launch of the official Trek site, Continuum, on MSN. Last October, Fox cracked down on the hosts of unofficial sites for Millennium - a show hyped with the slogan, "The Internet is buzzing." In early May, fans of the band Oasis got cease-and-desist letters from the band's management, which inspired one young aficionado, Jack Martin, to launch the Oasis Webmasters for Internet Freedom. The escalating battles between fans and media companies over copyright violations on the Web point toward a deeper issue - how we define the role of fandom in the making of pop culture.

The escalating battles between fans and media companies over copyright violations on the Web point toward a deeper issue - how we define the role of fandom in the making of pop culture.

The hurt feelings of fans may seem like a small price to pay to defend intellectual-property rights in the global network. The lawyers claim they are simply porting traditional copyright protections to the Web - a sign that the online world is finally being taken seriously as a brand-building medium.

The problem is that the nature of fandom has changed fundamentally in the past 30 years, while perception of the role of fan culture in marketing campaigns has not. No longer content to be passive consumers, fans - especially those on the Net - now expect to be listened to by those who create the culture they enjoy. They demand to be in the loop.

Both the fans and the media companies want to cheat a little. The media companies want to parade their Web savvy in the marketplace and they want to funnel all the Net traffic into a few commercial sites. The fans want to have freedom of speech and assembly in sites of their own choosing and to have fewer constraints on the use of copyrighted materials than in any other medium.

What is "just" a fan? One who doesn't allow their love for a musical group or a TV show to flourish into an expression of their own creativity? Someone who restricts their celebration to text commentary and a link to an official homepage, in a medium alive with images? Part of what makes a Star Trek site a Star Trek site is the universe of sights and sounds that greets you when you get there: the look of the data readouts, the swoosh of the turbolifts, the faces of Picard and his crew. That's the magic in it - a shared language of the imagination, which is the seed of community. To attempt to force a community to sprout only in an officially sanctioned garden is to wage war on the very strengths of the medium you're using to get your message across.

The most sane compromise I've seen is Chris Fusco and Peter Duke's notion of "Fan Asset" sites: archives of authorized downloadable files for use by fans to build their own sites, within approved guidelines. Fusco, one of the creators of the official X-Files site, tells me he hopes to launch the first such site for X-philes on the Fourth of July.

I wish him luck.