It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues

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Title: It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues
Creator: David R. Phillips
Date(s): September 1, 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Wars
Topic: copyright, fanworks, ownership, fandom and profit
External Links: It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues, page 1, Archived version
It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues, page 2, Archived version
It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues, page 3, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In Defense of Starwars.com is a very long 1999 essay by David R. Phillips.

an uncredited graphic used on the essay, portrays a Wookiee wrecking havoc on a VCR

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.

Header

"The 500-Pound Wookiee

Q. What Internet content does a 500-pound Wookiee own?
A. Whatever he wants."

Excerpts from the Essay

Tales of the LFL Attorneys

The other night on ICQ, I was chatting with a fellow Star Wars website operator in a conversation reminiscent of the 3-D HoloChess scene on the Falcon in A New Hope:

Webmaster: "Y’know, nobody even thinks twice about stealing stuff from my website to use on their own. They don’t do that to LucasFilm."

Me: "You don’t rip people’s arms off or shut down people’s websites. LucasFilm does."

In our corner of the world, LucasFilm has become the 500-pound wookiee.

The stories abound across the net, and fear strikes all of us -- another webmaster receives a Cease and Desist (C&D) letter from LucasFilm's (or an affiliated company’s) corporate attorneys to pull graphics or a storyline featured on his site. Even worse, when going through your bookmarks and hitting websites that worked only last week you get the dreaded "a domain name server for this site could not be found" or "you do not have permission to access" message in your browser -- and another one bites the dust. Yet another website gets the really heavy end of the hammer dropped on it and is gone, most of the time leaving behind no explanation. LucasFilm doesn’t stand alone in this regard -- Cease and Desist orders have hit Star Wars websites from places as unlikely as Toys-R-Us and Frito-Lay.

These webmasters' tales of woe could fit right into a collection of short stories as a sequel to "Tales of the Bounty Hunters," this one called "Tales of the LFL Attorneys." Over the last few weeks, I have spoken with a number of people who hold (or held) registrations for domains that contain within their URLs "starwars," some variation of "phantom menace," or a well-recognized character name from the Star Wars Universe. Nearly all had received the much-dreaded Cease and Desist letter at one time or another. Some still own the domains, but even those mostly result in "site not found" error messages. Other domains formerly held by individuals now bring you right to the official site at www.starwars.com itself after their takeover.

Is this a good thing for LucasFilm to be doing? Are they right to be doing it? Most importantly, do they have any legal standing to do it in the first place?

Ask not for whom the bell tolls ... until it tolls for thee

Let’s start with the websites that matter most (at least from my point of view) -- those of the fans -- the enterprising people who went out and registered a Star Wars related domain name and (in most cases) put forth the effort to build and develop a website. (You can see a list of all the websites I contacted here.) I spent the better part of three days tracking down websites that either contained the word "starwars," some variation of "phantom menace," or a character’s name from one of the films. Needless to say, this wasn't easy... but the fantastic responses made the time and effort worthwhile, and some have evolved into ongoing correspondence on various issues. The owners of the sites I found were, for the most part, extremely laid-back and willing to talk about the entire experience of running a domain that essentially has a bullseye painted across it’s homepage.

Of course, there’s an exception to every rule -- there was the one laughable death threat I got from an irate "fan" (and I use the term loosely) who felt this article would apparently bring legions of death-squad stormtroopers to his front door within 24 hours of publication. To him, and to all others that think my writing this article is in some way going to bring something to LFL’s attention they’re not already aware of, I have but one thing to say: "Get a clue." LucasFilm is (for the most part) a well-oiled machine, folks. They’ve got a whole group of people that have (at least as part of their job responsibilities) nothing better to do than track down sites just like the ones I’m talking about in this article, not to mention bootleg copies of The Phantom Menace and just about anything else out there that can get you hung upside down with hot irons applied to your feet by EV-9D9. Just because they’ve got a better track record of playing nicely with fans than some other corporate entities out there doesn’t mean they’re clueless, or entirely benevolent, either.
A domain by any other name would smell as sweet ...

Another response from a Star Wars webmaster, this one opening up another issue, came in from Jesse Malkin:

"I got a cease and desist letter by certified mail from a LucasFilm lawyer regarding my domain name www.quigonjinn.com. Apparently LucasFilm has numerous trademarks on the name Qui Gon Jinn, and these marks apply to the domain name. I consulted with a lawyer, who informed me that LucasFilm was on strong legal footing. So I decided to comply with LucasFilm's request by agreeing not to use the domain name and by offering to transfer the domain name to LucasFilm. Interestingly, LucasFilm never responded to my offer (that is, they never asked me to fill out the forms that would initiate the transfer), so I am still the owner of www.quigonjinn.com. However, I won't do anything with the name.

I also registered starwarscollectibles.com and starwarsmemorabilia.com, both of which I sold. Neither of these domains prompted a letter from LucasFilm. While I wasn't happy about receiving LucasFilm's letter, I am not interested in violating anyone's property rights. It appears that the law grants LucasFilm the right to the domain name www.quigonjinn.com, so I complied with their Cease and Desist request."

So now we enter another difficult realm...character names. Are character names fair game for anyone to get away with registering and running? Yet another series of internet support swelled up to surround the teenager nicknamed "Pokey" who ran a website at www.pokey.org when the owners of the trademarks for the cartoon characters "Gumby and Pokey" attempted to take the domain away from him. A similar circumstance arose with a domain given to a child to celebrate her birth -- www.veronica.org. Enter Archie Comic Publications (you remember them...Archie, Jughead, Veronica, Betty, and the gang) who claimed to own the trademark to the name "Veronica." Ludicrous, right? You might think so, but these folks still had to go through an amazing amount of effort and hassle to keep their domains alive. In the Star Wars realm, there are sites live and running at URLs like www.chewbacca.com and www.princessleia.com without headache or hassle, and at least to me, it stands to reason that character names invented for the movies are just as (if not more so) privately held and protected under copyright.

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