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Lucasfilm, best known as the controlling interest behind the Star Wars franchise, has a long history of trying to strike a balance between encouraging fan creativity and controlling what it perceived to be its copyrights.
A 2002 Statement by Lucasfilm
We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.
Lucasfilm and Fanzines
As of February 14, 1978, this is the official status of Star Wars fanzines. The Star Wars Corp. wants to keep track of what SW zines are coming out. They are not out to hassel [sic], sue, etc., anybody, they just want to convince 20th Century Fox legal department that there are more than five SW fans who are interested in publishing zines. If you are planning a zine, they would like to know about it. (For those of you who have already published zines, I was told in a telephone call—Craig Miller [at the time the fan liaison for Lucasfilm] stated that he was ‘certain that nothing would happen.’
Some zine editors did send them copies of their published zines (for which they were to be reimbursed -- which didn’t always happen, causing some zineds to stop sending their zines. Eventually the practice petered out). In an issue of the first Star Wars letterzine, Alderaan (#3, September 1978, Kzinti Press), this was reported:Neither Star Wars Corporation nor Twentieth Century Fox has come out with a clearly defined statement of policy towards fan-produced Star Wars items. Some people within Star Wars Corp. have stated unofficially that the corporation has nothing at all against fan magazines, fan clubs bulletins, and the like, but they have not stated anything officially in print. Until they do fans will be left up in the air over what should be considered legal and proper. Further developments on this matter will be covered in Alderaan when become available.
In #8 (June 1980) there was an interview with Craig Miller. Among other statements made, he said:
- Technically fanzines are in violation of copyright . . . . Right now we are unofficially ‘looking the other way.’ . . . [W]e see fanzines, but we’re trying to come up with something that our lawyers can agree with that won’t involve making people not publish fanzines.
Then, Linda D. and Cynthia L. published "Slow Boat to Bespin" in their mixed media fanzine, Guardian (#3, May 1981). Actually, they printed two versions of the story. "Slow Boat" 1 was written by Anne Z. and "Slow Boat" 2 by Barbara W. They depicted the authors' concepts of what took place on the Millenium Falcon after Han, Leia, and Chewie blasted off from the temporary base on the frozen planet Hoth, on their way to the rendezvous point on Bespin (this was an Empire Strikes Back story). Anne’s version depicted the story "as it could have happened" and Barbara’s version was "as it probably occurred." Not a slash story, but adult material nonetheless. And it was Anne’s version that caused a flap. It was . . . R-rated, I'd say. It did depict lovemaking between Han and Leia—very nicely, I might add.
It was after publication of this story that official Lucasfilm letters were sent to Linda and Cynthia and several other zineds (August 1981). They were from Maureen Garrett, Director of the Star Wars Fan Club and stated, in part,
"Lucasfilm Ltd. does own all rights to the Star Wars characters and we are going to insist upon no pornography. This may mean no fanzines if that measure is what is necessary to stop the few from darkening the reputation our company is so proud of." The threat of litigation was made (". . . the few who ignore the limits of good taste have been turned over to our legal department. . . .)"
Obviously, this became the Big Topic of Discussion in the letterzines. Lots of fans objected to what they saw as a rather high-handed approach, as censorship, and also objected to the characterization of material that they considered mature and adult as "pornography." However much a "kiddie" flick Lucas might consider Star Wars, the fact was that it had attracted a lot of adult fans, who wanted to write material appropriate for their level of understanding and maturity.
A lot of other fans insisted that it was Lucas’ universe and characters, and it was only reasonable to abide by his rules. (Although my observation, based on decades of fan-watching, is that fans are very territorial about what they do in fandom, and most don't really think TPTB have any place in dictating policy to fandom.)
Nothing was being settled at this point, however, because Garrett had told fans that "official guidelines" were being formulated and would be issued when done. So everyone was waiting to see what these guidelines would be. Some fans obviously expected detailed, point-by-point guidelines to take all the guesswork out of what would be considered acceptable and what wouldn't. Didn't happen.
In October of 1981, Garrett sent out the letter (co-signed by Frances Smith, Legal Counsel) with the "guidelines. The gist of it was that "Lucasfilm supports the publication of SW fanzines. . . ." but objects to "material that contains: pornography, vulgarity, or explicit gore and violence" as being unacceptable for the "wholesome nature and broad-based appeal of the SW Saga."Pretty useless stuff, overall. A vague policy letter, rather than useful guidelines. There was more grumbling about how these terms were supposed to be defined and interpreted (one person's "pornography" being another person's "mature theme"). But eventually, as with any fannish crisis, all the furor died down and life went on. Many a story slid past the Lucasfilm guidelines without repercussion. And Star Wars slash was being written, it was just underground. Nowadays, it is in open publication, with some Han/Luke zines (like Elusive Lover in the late 1990s, out of Germany, Cara Loup, ed.). And, of course, slash based on The Phantom Menace is everywhere. I remember hearing that some fans were writing it before the film even was released.
Lucasfilm and Fansites
In 2000, Lucasfilm angered many fans by stating that any derivative works posted to StarWars.com would become Lucasfilm's property. According to an article on ZDNetAsia:
The protesters are indignant over a provision in the contract's language that gives Lucasfilm sole control of the original designs people post on their fan sites. The studio's reins extend to "derivative works"--meaning that any content a person creates, from a picture of a Wookie to a plot line in a short story, becomes the property of Lucasfilm."This action by Lucasfilm does not connote respect...because it empowers Lucasfilm to more effectively regulate what fans can and cannot do, particularly if they have their sites on 'fan.starwars.com,'" a fan wrote on a site protesting the StarWars.com contract.
The article went on to describe other actions Lucasfilm had taken within the past year or so to control online content:
Lucasfilm has been notoriously protective of its copyrights and content online. Early this year, the company sent a letter to a Web designer asking him to relinquish the domain name Tatooine.com. Tatooine was the fictional desert planet where "Star Wars" character Luke Skywalker was raised.
And last year, before the much-hyped official debut of the "Star Wars: Episode I" movie preview, Lucasfilm sent letters to hundreds of Internet service providers warning that it would crack down on outlets that allowed unauthorized copies of the preview to be distributed online.The StarWars.com fan page terms of service reads: "You hereby grant to us the right to exercise all intellectual property rights, in any media now known or not currently known, with respect to any content you place on your Homestead-powered Web site."
In 2001, Lucasfilm sent a Cease & Desist letter to the Jedi Hurtaholics Archive. A few weeks earlier it had been linked in a non-fannish space and attracted some homophobic attention and apparently also the attention of the Lucasfilm legal department. The archivist was asked to remove all fanfiction (mostly Q/O slash) from the site.
It has come to our attention that you are using one or more of STAR WARS Copyrights and Trademarks on your website, www.ktnb.net. Specifically, we refer to the various stories derived from the STAR WARS Films that you have posted on the "Jedi Hurtaholics Archive" page.
Your unauthorized use of STAR WARS Copyrights and Trademarks dilutes the distinctive quality of those marks, tarnishes the reputation of Lucasfilm and misappropriates our valuable assets.We hereby demand that you and each and every person or company affiliated with you immediately and permanently discontinue the use of STAR WARS Copyrights and Trademarks and remove any and all stories derived from the STAR WARS Films including, without limitation, the content on the "Jedi Hurtaholics Archive" page from the website www.ktnb.net.
Lucasfilm and Fanfilms
In April 2002, the New York Times ran a column on Lucasfilm and fan videos, describing the clash between Lucasfilm and Star Wars fans. Lucasfilm had put the word out in December 2001 that it would co-sponsor a fan-film contest, with George Lucas as the judge; fans had reacted very positively, and had begun creating films. Things didn't stay rosy, though.
But when the winning entries are announced on Friday in front of some 20,000 fans expected at a Star Wars convention in Indianapolis, many of the most popular online movies will not be among them. As it turned out, they were not even eligible for consideration.
Citing a need to protect its copyrights, Lucasfilm limited the contest to spoofs and documentaries, shutting out some of Mr. Lucas's most ardent fans, many of whom have reinterpreted his famous storyline to create online comedies, dramas and light-saber duels of their own. Under the contest rules, Star Wars Gangsta Rap, a retelling of the original Star Wars trilogy in rhyme, is eligible, while Dark Redemption, set two days before Star Wars: A New Hope, with a girl Jedi, is not.The news didn't go over well. While some fans believed Lucasfilm was acting appropriately, others felt betrayed and angry. They pointed out that they weren't "asking for money, just recognition."We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line," said Jim Ward, vice president of marketing for Lucasfilm. "We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is." 
Some fans felt that their films were truer to the spirit of Star Wars than documentaries ever could be. The paper also pointed out that fans took their digital-editing cue from Lucas himself, who was a champion of low-cost digital filmmaking.
"I feel like they're partially exploiting what we're doing to their gain, without any real reward back," said Chris Hanel, 21, who continues to field complaints about the contest on his Star Wars Internet radio show at http://www.digitalllama.com. "If you're going to honor fan films, do it right."
Even those who believed Lucasfilms was in the right saw a downside:
"Make you OWN FILM," Kevin Rubio wrote on TheForce.net discussion board. "Use your OWN CHARACTER. AND STOP PLAYING WITH GEORGE'S! Some of you may find the result's even more rewarding"Mr. Rubio helped found the fan genre with his 1997 film Troops, which featured storm troopers handling domestic disputes in the manner of the reality television show Cops. He allowed that the Star Wars convention audience could be "cheated out of a lot of great works" because of the contest restrictions."
In some cases, Lucasfilm accepted fan films only after they were edited to suit the company:
One fan film, Darth Vader: The Rudy Pirany Story, was accepted by the contest after its director, Victor Martin, agreed to edit out scenes in which his protagonist -- an actor with a permanent Darth Vader mask who can't find work after Star Wars -- buys cocaine from Yoda and takes a role in a pornography movie.Mr. Martin, 37, a graphic designer in Culver City, Calif., said it was worth it to qualify for the $5,000 prize and to have his film shown with 44 finalists at www.atomfilms.com. But, he added, "I thought it was funnier before."
Outside of the immediate Star Wars fan community, other fans reacted to the newspaper article, particularly Jim Ward's assertion that "We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is."}} One fan on the Vidder mailing list summed up the reaction:
This just pisses me off. Check out the Lucasfilm marketing hack telling *us* what fandom is. Grrrr.
- It's Not Wise to Upset a Wookiee: LFL and Internet Copyright Issues (September 1, 1999)
- Fox Takes On Fan Web Sites: Star Wars sites could see more legal action (February 13, 2000)
- Starwars.com Fan Homepages Protest Site (March 10, 2000)
- Fans.starwars.con (March 12, 2000)
- In Defense of Starwars.com (March 24, 2000)
- The Fandom Menace: an official site in fans' clothing (December 5, 2000)
- statement by Jim Ward, Vice-President for Marketing, Lucasfilm, FILM; 'Star Wars' Fan Films Come Tumbling Back to Earth, Archived version, dated April 28, 2002. Accessed April 2, 2009.
- Klangley56: "I researched the following when Mary Ellen C. asked about the origin of the term “slash” on one of the lists several years ago, and I realized from the subsequent responses that the older fans on the list (of which I am one) were relying on perhaps imprecise recollections—and I’m all about the documentation. So I researched thousands and thousands (and thousands) of pages in fiction fanzines, letterzines, adzines, newsletters, etc., spanning multiple fandoms. This was the result. Note: In some cases I refer to a fan by his or her full name, and in others not, because, as we know, some fans have issues with their names being on a public website. In the cases where I have indicated the full name it is because I know it is a pseudonym, and/or the fan does not have a problem with it, and/or is deceased, and/or already has been referred to by full name on [Fanlore]." Personal communication to Arduinna, March 28, 2009. Material quoted on Fanlore at Klangley's request.
- Lucasfilm takes flak from fan page builders, dated March 17, 2000. Accessed April 4, 2009.
- The Jedi Hurtaholics Archive has been shut down... (Accessed 30 January 2011)
- FILM; 'Star Wars' Fan Films Come Tumbling Back to Earth, Archived version, dated April 28, 2002. Accessed April 2, 2009.
- Laura Shapiro, responding to the NYT article on the Vidder mailing list, posted April 28, 2002. Accessed April 4, 2009; quoted with permission.