Fox Takes On Fan Web Sites: Star Wars sites could see more legal action

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Title: Fox Takes On Fan Web Sites: Star Wars sites could see more legal action
Creator: Loren Phillips
Date(s): February 13, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Wars and Buffy
Topic: copyright, fanworks, ownership, fandom and profit
External Links: Fox Takes On Fan Web Sites: Star Wars sites could see more legal action, Archived version
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Fox Takes On Fan Web Sites: Star Wars sites could see more legal action is a 2000 essay by Loren Phillips.

It was posted at Echo Station.

Related Star Wars Essays of the Time

The years 1999 and 2000 were a time of a lot of discussion about Star Wars fandom and profit.

The Essay

In an attempt to control the unlicensed use of copyrighted material on fan-produced websites, Fox has launched a legal campaign against "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" websites. A large number of Buffy sites have received Cease and Desist letters, such as the copy posted by, which involves 20th Century Fox and Dark Horse Comics, both of which own a large interest in Star Wars as well.

Items of note in the letter:

1) Fox did not say the site must be closed. The site's owners still have free reign to maintain their site and continue their community.

2) Fox requested the (valid, in my opinion) removal of "useable" features (as in things that people could download and use instead of just viewing on the site):

"...we must request that you remove all wallpaper, screensavers, desktop themes, fonts, skins, audio and video clips and the image galleries relating to "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" from your web site as soon as possible. In addition, we ask that you refrain from posting unlicensed merchandise and/or entire episodes from the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" television series on your web site."

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Distributing unlicensed materials has always been against the rules.

3) The "stationary-frame" images were identified as a copyright infringement. To me, this is the BIG issue. Picture You know all of those really cool looking graphics they have? How their site looks so "professional" because of their site design? Fox clearly states that doing this is copyright violation, but doesn't demand immediate removal. Here's the quote:

"In addition, we note that your site contains "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" stationary-frame images on other pages of the web site besides the image galleries. We must inform you that the unauthorized display and distribution of such images constitutes a copyright violation. While we are not asking you to delete these images at this time, we must nonetheless request that you revise your legal notice and disclaimer and prominently display the following on every page of your site exhibiting any "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" images..."

It appears that it will only be a matter of time before the use of those graphics comes under attack, as well.

4) Simply LINKING to a site with a copyright infringement DOES make you liable. This is the point we tried to make to our hosted Star Wars sites about things like posting the SW trailers and such...anyone who even linked to their site would be in violation as well. Here's the quote on that:

"Finally, we request that you please remove any and all links to other sites containing infringing "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" material. You are hereby put on notice that liability for contributory copyright infringement can emanate from your providing such links."

All in all, I totally agree with Fox's position. They did not request the site be closed. All they ask is that a site not provide unlicensed "useable" materials, not link to sites breaking copyright or licensing laws, and not use copyrighted images without the appropriate disclaimers.

This is EXACTLY the reason Echo Station is built the way it is. Sure, we could have those awesome graphic images like and look really cool, but we always agreed not to break copyright laws. That philosophy has carried throughout the site. Anytime we've used something that could even possibly be considered copyrighted material, we have given explicit information as to the source, to the best of our abilities. While running a site solely based on someone else's work is difficult to do without crossing the lines, we hope that we have been able to remain satisfactorily within them.

Fox is drawing ITS lines in the sand. I can't say that I blame them. And I certainly won't say that I disagree with them. They are simply attempting to keep what is rightfully theirs, without, in any way, denying fans the ability to maintain their devoted sites.

After all, no one would disagree that publishing chapters of books on a website would be a violation. Why do people feel that using photos, film clips, or transcripts would be exempt?

Buffy fan webmasters are organizing "Operation Blackout" on May 13, a one-day site shutdown that will "peacefully show Fox what the Internet would be like without fan sites." While I applaud their efforts, and hope this will bring attention to their cause, I regretfully doubt it will affect Fox in any way. Buffy would still have fans even if the websites didn't exist, and Fox is making no financial gain from fan sites. Website supporters would be better off organizing a boycott of the show to influence Fox, however, even Buffy fans wouldn't give up their love.

Just as Star Wars had millions of fans before the existence of the Internet, new shows and movies would have their own fan base without the web, as well. Perhaps many Buffy webmasters, like Star Wars webmasters, don't remember the days before the Internet, but no one needed websites in 1977 to be rabid Star Wars fans. If all of the fan sites disappeared today, Buffy and Star Wars would go on with plenty of supporters.

While it is a fantastic way to get fans together and learn more about your hobby, it is also a highly dangerous playground for those who fail to understand the ramifications of their actions while producing a publicly distributed presentation. We webmasters do not have the right to use someone's else's materials, we have the privilege of being allowed by them to focus our time and abilities on something we enjoy. While we the right to print anything we like about the shows, Fox and Lucasfilm have every right to instruct us on how we may use their legally-protected materials. We at Echo Station respect that right, and will continue to remain within the boundaries of legalities. We do, however, support the Buffy webmasters in bringing attention to this matter, and all of its complexities, as the world undergoes the push and pull of attempting to set guidelines on the world of the Internet.