Starwars.com Fan Homepages Protest Site

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Website
Name: Starwars.com Fan Homepages Protest Site
Owner/Maintainer: Elizabeth Durack
Dates: March 10, 2000
Type:
Fandom: Star Wars
URL: Starwars.com Fan Homepages Protest Site, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In early 2000, Lucasfilms Ltd., in attempt to control fanworks, offered fans free webspace for their fanworks with the caveat that they sign over all rights to it.

A fan named Elizabeth Durack created a website for Star Wars fans on March 10, 2000 in protest over actions by TPTB.

"I believe Lucas Online should, in the spirit of fairness and goodwill, revoke all legal and moral claims to the intellectual property of fans whose sites are or will be hosted on fan.starwars.com, including so-called "derivative works."

She urged others to boycott these official sites, and to sign a petition. The "Anti-Starwars.com Fan Homepages Petition" ended on April 18, 2000.

I urge fans to boycott Star Wars Fan Homepages, or at the very least to place no creative content there. Those who desire a fan.starwars.com address and dynamic news content should consider using a single page there as a gateway to a site hosted on another server. Starwars.com's Terms of Service applies only to works physically hosted on their servers.

All fans should understand clearly before having anything to do with the Star Wars Fan Homepages service that by accepting the Terms of Service they are giving up their legal rights to anything they post there, even if it is not Star Wars-related (section 8.6). Most will not read and understand the fine print. It is even more important that anyone who intends to archive other fans' creative work on their site understand this before moving in at fan.starwars.com, lest they give other people's work to Lucasfilm "in perpetuity" against the creators' wishes.

Inform other fans of this attempt to strip them of their rights...

The Original Essay by Elizabeth Durnak

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.

Excerpts

What's the big deal?

On March 8, 2000, the Official Star Wars Website began hosting fans' homepages, offering attractive features like 16 megabytes of web space, dynamic content, an official URL (fan.starwars.com), and a sweepstakes. They cite a desire to encourage fan creativity. But in their Terms of Service, which all users must agree to, they expressly forbid derivative creative works and take ownership of fans' intellectual property, particularly "derivative works," despite the fact that any Star Wars-related fan creativity is inherently a "derivative work."

The Terms of Service (section 8.4) states, "The creation of derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, including, but not limited to, products, services, fonts, icons, link buttons, wallpaper, desktop themes, on-line postcards and greeting cards and unlicensed merchandise (whether sold, bartered or given away) is expressly prohibited. If despite these Terms of Service you do create any derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, such derivative works shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. in perpetuity (note: that means forever)." And users of the service "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" (section 8.6).

It is my, and many other fans', strong belief that offering fans homepages and then claiming anything posted on that web space as the intellectual property of Lucasfilm, Ltd. "in perpetuity" amounts to a tactic being used by Lucasfilm to fight their ongoing trademark and copyright war against fans by luring fans into their territory and taking over explicit legal ownership of anything they display there. It is also my belief that this is a grave and devious disservice to fans.
Lucasfilm owns the copyright to the whole Star Wars concept; doesn't that mean they own all "derivative works" anyway? No. The fact that Lucasfilm owns the copyrighted Star Wars concept does not imply that they automatically own derivative works not created by or for Lucasfilm, whether or not those works are legal. Yes, I've asked real live copyright lawyers about it. Legal status of fans' non-profit "derivative works" is a gray area. Does a work of fan fiction, the author of which clearly states that Lucasfilm owns the characters and the Star Wars premise, and who is furthermore making no money from the work, infringe Lucasfilm's copyright? The "fair use" clause of US copyright law prescribes flexibility in the use of a copyrighted work by requiring that several things be taken into consideration -- is it commercial or non-commercial? Is it fictitious or historical? How much of the copyrighted work is used? Will it reduce the value of the copyrighted work? Perhaps needless to say, whether or not something is allowed under "fair use" is not at all clear-cut. There is a reasonable chance, perhaps even a probability, that if it ever came up in court, non-profit fan creative works such as fan fiction, which acknowledge Lucasfilm's ownership of some elements, would be allowed under "fair use." A law journal article, "Legal Fictions," argues strongly for "fair use" protection of fan fiction.
Why do you say Lucasfilm has an ulterior motive in offering fans homepages? I do not have the opportunity to ask Lucasfilm why they are doing so, so technically anything I say about their motives apart from the ones they themselves cite ("To encourage the on-going excitement, creativity and interaction of our dedicated fans in the online Star Wars community") is an educated guess. However, they very much appear to have some less-generous motives than the ones they suggest, even contradicting those. The fact that their Terms of Service (section 8.4) state that "the creation of derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties...is expressly prohibited" seems to very directly contradict their stated desire to promote fan creativity. It's a catch-22. It then goes on to say that if fans break this rule (which they inherently will in the creation of Star Wars-related homepages), Lucasfilm will own those derivative creative works "in perpetuity." I believe that this apparent paradox can be explained by a desire on their part to seize control of those very creative works as a part of their ongoing fight to protect their copyrights and trademarks.
Couldn't Lucasfilm shut down all fan sites on the Internet anyway? and Don't they understand that fan sites benefit them by promoting Star Wars? To answer the first question, no, the Internet was made to be impossible to regulate, in part because of its creators' dedication to principles of freedom of expression. No matter what resources were devoted to the task, there is no way Lucasfilm or anyone else could eliminate them all. But Lucasfilm doesn't want to eliminate fan sites! If they did, would they be offering free ones on their own official domain? Because yes, they do understand that fan sites can be good for them.
Why should EVERYONE care about fans' rights to create derivative works? Fan uses of Star Wars illustrate why allowing Lucasfilm and other companies the exclusive right to create anything derived from their properties would equate to making tens or even hundreds of thousands of creative artists' valuable and interesting non-profit derivative works illegal while nominally protecting a handful of large companies. When this happens it defeats the usefulness of copyright law to society. In that sense, this is an issue I (and many others, including many in the law community, though I am not a lawyer myself) have with excessively restrictive copyright laws and excessively restrictive interpretations of the law. Recent increases to the power of copyright law should be of concern to all Americans because they have the very strong potential to stifle rather than encourage creativity and new ideas, as well as discourage participation in popular culture. Fans should defend their right to create and own their work, and the right for everyone to freely participate in our culture rather than merely consuming the marketing that is fed to us. Of course, fans' derivative works are not explicitly illegal under current copyright law because the matter is untried in the courts, but obviously neither do copyright holders respect fans' rights to their work.
Why are you taking this so seriously?

Because I own my work and desire to continue owning it, and so do others desire to continue owning theirs. Because I believe firmly that fans need and deserve respect, both self-respect and respect from others. 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. Because it stifles fan creativity (don't believe me? I've had lots of people describe to me how they will self-regulate their content in order to have a site on fan.starwars.com and not lose rights on things they value). Because the sneaky way they are grabbing fans' rights upsets me and a lot of other people. And because I consider what Lucasfilm is doing to be unethical.

I take my fellow fans' rights seriously, whether they do or not. I've found that many of them don't really understand what those rights are. For the most part, fans just want to have fun, and that means they avoid making waves (making people mad isn't usually very fun). And Star Wars fans like Lucasfilm (at least I do), so they aren't especially willing to do anything to hurt them. But as much as I respect George Lucas (a whole lot), and as much as I enjoy his Star Wars movies (also a whole lot), I feel a greater loyalty to fans and what I believe to be their best interests. Who am I to know what's in their best interests? Dunno, I just use the Force.  :-)

And, to quote Joseph Campbell gratuitously and doubtless mystifyingly, but only slightly out of context -- in the caverns of the mind, "dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives.... These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life..." (The Hero With a Thousand Faces)

Addition to the FAQ

On March 30, 2000, Starwars.com added a FAQ in which they ask, "Are the fan.starwars.com and www.starwars.com terms of service an attempt to control Star Wars fan sites?" Here's what they say:

"Lucasfilm has always been pleased with the enthusiasm and creativity of Star Wars fans and offering free webspace at fan.starwars.com is just another way to allow fans to participate in the Star Wars universe. At the same time, in order to protect that universe, Lucasfilm must request that you not create any derivative works based on Star Wars for anything other than personal, noncommercial purposes. It is the intent of this policy to avoid the possibility of future misunderstandings when projects developed by Lucasfilm’s professional staff might seem to others to be similar to their own creative work."

Fan Comments: 2000

From the Site's Discussion Board

Comments are at Protest General Discussion; WebCite.

[anon]:
Why would they do that? They've got plenty of people who can do the job better than we fans can. Look at the fan pages. There's not one piece of fiction or art worth stealing. So what's the big deal?
[MistressElizabeth]:
This is a misconception a lot of people are having. In no way have I ever suggested that Lucasfilm would *use* fans' creative work. Quite to the contrary, the copyright page on the Official Site says, "Lucasfilm's company policy does not allow it to accept or consider creative ideas, suggestions, or materials other than those it has specifically requested." I am suggesting a legal motive for gaining posession of "derivative works" as a strategy to protect their copyrights and trademarks. Gaining clear legal title to some "derivative works" eliminates the troublesome legal gray area around them and puts them clearly in Lucasfilm's posession. In that way it's a bit like a hostile corporate takeover -- if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.
[JediJosh17]:
This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. What's the big freaking deal? This is stupid, childish, and a waste of time. Any fan who doesn't read the ToS shouldn't sign up anyway. You should always read them or at least glance them for anything you sign up for. MistressElizabeth, put your creative work and effort towards something that matters. You're acting like a four year old who's mother won't buy her a toy from WAL-Mart.
[Faladen Sariana]:
It may not mean much to you, jedijosh, but there are some people who see things from a different perspective. I find it rather offending that Lucas and company would try to take away my fan fic without my permission! So much work, just to have it snatched back to the origional creator of the settings? It gets personal! And that is what makes this battle worth fighting: because it means something to ME. And all the others who think relatively the same way. Just different points of view that make all the difference...
[John2020]:
I am for the boycott of using Star Wars Fan Web Sites because of the evidence brought before me from people posting messages on this message board and other Internet resources brought to my attention. I believe that LucasFilm, Ltd. is backtracking what they have put up in their ToS (Terms of Service) in saying that they will allow "creativeness" in the fans' site, but at the same time their ToS says that they must not "infringe" on Lucasfilm's copyrights. Also if they do so such material, 'creative works', will become Lucasfilm's property and "in perpetuity" (forever). They hinder the creativeness for those writers who wish to contribute to the "Star Wars" saga in a noncommercial, personal use. In retrospect, Lucasfilm, Ltd. is hurting the growth of sentiment for the "Star Wars" saga on THEIR servers by implementing such restrictions in their ToS (Terms of Service). I also merit the comment by JediJosh17 that everyone should read the fine print in online contracts and the like before agree to them, but others wish to present the problems with the current ToS (Terms of Service) of the Star Wars Fan Sites.
[YodaJeff]:
We must unite to defeat the Empire. aybe we should create a anti-fan.starwars.com webring to unite and show that we don't want to budge. We've all spent too much time on our pages for LucasFilm to take credit for anything. Even if we don't use their service, someone can use our original content on a fan.starwars.com page and it becomes property of LucasFilm, even if we didn't authorize that other person to take it. That is why we must get the terms of service changed. 99% of us don't make money on our Star Wars fan pages, and I know I'm in the hole after InterNic fees and web hosting. LucasFilm can pay someone if they want information or page content. We've spent enough money on Star Wars related stuff (toys, movie tickets, other collectibles, etc.) to help pay for someone to create content for LucasFilms. Do we have to do everything for them? Much like the Empire, the official site is gobbling up Star Wars fan sites and taking control and possession of their content. The Rebels must fight together and win the battle.
[EHTheodore]:
The Copyright issue really concerns works based on Lucas**'s original ideas...anything directly copying those ideas is not new work and isn't copright protected to anyone but Lucas** The issues of concern arrise when any "new" material is based on the original ideas. The U.S. Supreme Court has looked to "parody" and "fair use" and determined the use and the level of change or interpretation can reach the level of "new" work thus giving the author copyright protection. Placing that "new" work on the fan site would possibly forefit that copyright and therein lies the problem. BTW...I do not believe there are ulterior motives here, Lucas' hired lawyers to protect him as best they can...I believe it is WAY overboard, but they have drafted terms which would protect Lucas' interests.
[BGSLP]:
Anyone that places "new" work on a site, by the nature of it, wishes the share that work with the public, so what's the big concern? If you want to make money off of your work, don't give it away for free. If you want to be guarenteed credit for your work, copyright it. Almost all web sites, especially "free" sites, make make money through advertising. That throws "fair use" out the window 'cause it is generating some kind of income (or has noone here ever considered that?). Seems better to have Lucas get the revenue than someone else such as Yahoo or GeoCities. Copyrighted work remains the property of the copyrighter, and the StarWars.com aggreement does not, and cannot change existing laws. Starwars.com is simply a marketing tool to get people to buy Star Wars products. If anyone believes LucasFilm is devius with the contract for the fan.starwars.com, maybe a lawyer should be consulted about it. All I have read here is "I am not a lawyer but, I think it means", which really means nothing. Lets hear from a lawyer! Anyway, I can't imagine a Star Wars story not being based on Star Wars, and so being property of LucasFilm. Seems some writers are really trying to gain plublicity from the Star Wars name without paying for it. I've read dozens of Science Fantasy novels, and none of them were even remotely similar to the Star Wars saga.
[MistressElizabeth]:
Actually, BGSLP, I have spoken with lawyers who confirmed that my understanding of the law is correct. But whether something is devious or not doesn't require an expert opinion. There's no litmus test for that. Most people will agree that Starwars.com's terms of service is not fair warning for taking rights. In question here is not the letter of the law, but fairness and ethics, and each of us is qualified to judge when someone is being unfair to us. Starwars.com isn't in this for the money (Lucas is richer than god already); it's costing them to pay Homestead to provide this service to them. And if they were in it for the ad $$ then they would have banners at the tops of pages where people will see them, rather than at the bottom. I never heard of any other free homepage provder inserting banners at the bottom, as a matter of fact. And *once again*, the fact of being derivative does not by any means make a work the property of Lucasfilm.

Other Sources

In an insightful essay, Durack argues that fans paying for culture and supporting entertainment should be allowed leeway in the use of copyrighted and trademarked properties.

The notion of fan "rights" is a growing political instinct online, where people feel passionately about their culture, from ground-breaking representational experiences like Quake, Doom, Ultima and The Sims to followers of Star Trek, South Park, The Simpsons, and Star Wars. These games, movies and television programs transcend mere entertainment; they are an integral part of people's cultural experiences the same way music is. Durack's essay reflects the growing tension between "fans" and the companies that want to take their money -- but otherwise keep them at arm's length.

Durack's point of view is radical. It isn't widely held in political and media circles -- especially not in Washington. [1]
Wow... Excellent article. I'd never intended to put my site up on fan.starwars.com anyway, but what you said really put it in a new light for me. I've been a member of the online Star Wars community for going on five years. I own a SW-based domain, and have lead or been a leader of a several-hundred member SW-based organization for two. We have custom missions and levels for SW games, countless graphics and pieces of fiction, and a storyline I write approaching three novels' worth of fanfic. I fully understand where you're coming from, and I agree wholeheartedly. I have a lot of the same sentiments you do, such as loyalty to the fans, and the emergence of Star Wars more as a public domain rather than a corporate copyright... I sincerely hope their ploy, whether to regulate SW content or whatever, will not be successful, and I'm going to prohibit any of my club material to be placed on LFL's server... Thanks for posting that article. It was very informative and logical. I hope more fans will stand up and stop the corporate domination and fear that the lawyers seem obsessed with. Keep up the good work and keep us informed! [2]
I LOVE... your editorial and informative essay. I've posted your URL to every SW message board and list that I belong to... I am utterly aghast that so many people will be taken in by the LFL "generous" offer. And I certainly appreciate you trying to peel back the layers to see what's really going on.

I've been actively involved in SW zine fanfiction for nearly ten years, involved with Net fanfic for just under six months. I've never seen anything so chilling as the ideas you've expressed about GL's motivations. The Paranoid Patty in me, tells me, that yes, he is after us- the fan-run sites, the enormous amount of fan fiction on the Net and he does, indeed, have ulterior motives here. The beginning of his full court press on his copyright... Most unsettling.

Darth Insidious indeed.:(:( [3]
thanks for all the info. the first day i heard about these homepages, i went and read all the legalese. and when i read the parts about usurping all fan creations, my heart sank.

first lucasfilm puts ad banners on their website, now this. they're starting to behave like so many other greedy corporations on the web.

i'd always hoped that lucasfilm, or at least lucas himself, was above squeezing their own fans for more profits. i still don't want to believe that lucas is personally behind all this. maybe it's just a bunch of overly aggressive marketing people and attorneys.

but i think we need to make sure george lucas knows how his loyal fans feel about this homepage fiasco. you mentioned on your protest page that similar attempts by other web hosts were thwarted when angry subscribers raised their voices. well, maybe it's time we do the same. [4]
What if...
the writers of the great Greek tragedies had still lived?
Akira Kurosawa had still lived? Wouldn't he sue Lucas for plagiarism?
Frank Herbert had won his claim that Lucas had stolen from his book Dune?
Gene Roddenberry had bothered noting the similarities between Star Trek and Lucas' creation?
the makers of the old 30s Flash Gordon serials had ever seen Star Wars?
Wouldn't they sue Lucas' butt from under him for plagiarism and theft? What I mean to say is that Lucas isn't a stranger to using other people's ideas as it is. First he stole from his heroes, now he steals from his fans. [5]
I'd like to thank you for posting the information on LucasFilm getting all legal rights to stuff posted on their free fanpages. I am currently running my own Star Wars related domain, and I figured out that there had to be a catch to the pages. The free sites may be tempting, but I'm not going to move. I've spent too much already. I have collected over 1300 Yoda pictures, along with a lot of movies and sound clips. I've put too much work into my page for it to be ruined by LucasFilm now.[6]

References

  1. In a Virtual World, Who Owns Ideas?
  2. Sauron at Reactions
  3. Beatkay at Reactions
  4. kwawin at Reactions
  5. Someone at Reactions
  6. anon at Reactions