Digital Land Grab

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News Media Commentary
Title: Digital Land Grab
Commentator: Henry Jenkins
Date(s): March 2000
Venue: Technology Review
External Links: Digital Land Grab (Wayback,
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Digital Land Grab is a 2000 article by Henry Jenkins. It asks the question: "Media corporations are stealing our cultural heritage. Can we take it back?"

The article begins with historical context, going back to the 19th century, and positions fan activities firmly in this context.

Looking at how media companies try to expand their legal control, he addresses copyright issues and voices his concerns about corporations trying to restrict the ways we draw on our cultural experiences.
Rossetti’s descendants, now called “fans,” borrow characters, situations and themes from pre-existing works (more often television series than novels) and use them as resources for their own stories. Sometimes, such stories offer ideological critiques. Other times, fans recenter the plots around secondary characters or simply provide back story. [...]

These fans are also shock troops in a struggle that will define the digital age. On the one hand, the past several decades have seen the introduction of new media technologies (from the VCR to MP3) that empower consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate and recirculate cultural materials. On the other, the emergence of new economic and legal structures makes tight control over intellectual property the basis for the cross-media exploitation of “branded” materials. We can already see bloody skirmishes over intellectual property as these two trends collide. Not long ago, Fox’s lawyers took down dozens of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan sites, and nobody even blinked because such saber rattling has become a regular occurrence.

A year or so ago, J. Michael Straczynski, executive producer of the cult television series “Babylon 5,” was speaking to the students in my science fiction class at MIT. One student asked him what he thought about “fans,” and after a pause, he replied, “You mean, copyright infringers.” The remark was met with nervous laughter and mutual misunderstanding.