In Defense of Starwars.com

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Title: In Defense of Starwars.com
Creator: James Karko
Date(s): March 24, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic: copyright, fanworks, ownership
External Links: In Defense of Starwars.com, Archived version
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In Defense of Starwars.com is a 2000 essay by James Karko.

It was posted at Echo Station and was a direct rebuttal to fans.starwars.con.

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

By now it is no secret that Lucasfilm has begun offering what essentially amounts to unlimited free web space for the creation of fan sites through their website at starwars.com. It is also no secret that under the terms of service, all material published on a fan site using the star wars domain can become the property of Lucasfilm if the work is derivative of Star Wars itself. This little catch recently prompted a rather vitriolic response from a contributor to Echo Station, which I felt was unfair to Lucasfilm’s intentions and a disservice to the fans for whom the new domain was intended.

I’d like to begin by examining the target audience for the new domain. While Lucasfilm does allow you to import existing material, the new domain is primarily aimed at fans who would not otherwise have a web presence. The homebuilder software allows you to build a pretty decent site without having any HTML programming knowledge. While HTML is not the most difficult language to learn, it is far more than the casual computer user is willing to bother with. This has quite naturally left the world of Internet fandom in the hands of a relatively small cross section of Star Wars fans. While I am fairly computer literate, I never bothered to learn HTML, and had little idea of how to get my own site up. While I know this could have been remedied with a few hours of study, I would have still had to secure web space, which could have cost a fair bit. Also, the point of having a website is to communicate with the rest of the Star Wars community. Having a domain name like localprovider/user/2234/fanpage.htm doesn’t exactly help guide other fans to my site. Using starwars.com’s service not only gives me an official Star Wars domain name, but puts me in a directory which is easy to browse and easy to find for the casual Star Wars fan. Existing fan sites like Echo Station and theforce.net already have affiliations with large entertain sites (like IGN) which gives them plenty of name recognition. There would be little point for these sites to move their content to starwars.com. There is also no way they can provide representation for all the fans out there, and these sites have the right to set their own editorial guidelines. Fan.starwars.com is for the little guys who love Star Wars too.

Of course, the main thrust of the argument against this new service has been the clause in the terms of service that gives Lucasfilm rights to all Star Wars derivative work that appears on the sites. This may seem a little Draconian until you realize what the language actually means. This is legalese for ‘Lucasfilm owns Star Wars’. That’s it. A failure to include this clause in the terms of service could actually have been grounds for Lucasfilm giving up their copyright to the Star Wars name and characters, at least as far as the internet is concerned. And make no mistake, Lucasfilm DOES own Star Wars, and will continue to do so for quite some time. Maybe 20-30 years from now they will allow it to fall into the public domain, but until then they have the legal and ethical right to do as they see fit with the property. Lucasfilm has made very few attempts to crack down on fanfics or the thousands of Star Wars sites offering original Star Wars images. But anyone who creates these stories or pictures has to realize that they do not own the rights to their creations. Lucasfilm has, to my knowledge, exercised their rights only in very specific situations: 1) When someone is attempting to make a profit through the use of copyrighted Star Wars property, 2) When they find content objectionable and damaging to the Star Wars name (an example would be a pornographic fanfic using the Star Wars characters), or 3) When the domain name of the site itself uses a Star Wars copyright. The creation of the starwars.com fan pages explicitly addresses the third of these by offering a Star Wars domain name to the public at large. Since only an idiot would use these fan pages for the other two, this new domain should have little effect on the Star Wars web.

So basically what we have here is a big flap over nothing. Lucasfilm owns Star Wars. This really shouldn’t come as news to anyone. The only thing this fuss is accomplishing is to discourage the casual Star Wars fan from participating in the online Star Wars community. If our concern, as fans, is truly for the other fans, then should we be attacking Lucasfilm for protecting their interests, or praising them for doing more than any other company in history to include and support their fans?

References