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"Small-Time Sites Meet Major Corporations"

It seems to be the trend here in the Soapbox to discuss issues concerning the corporations, which, prior to 1996 or 1997, had no idea the Internet existed, and their battles with the Internet upstarts who were leeching information and media off them, which they could be selling for a profit.

You may think this is getting repetitive, all this talk about piracy in the music industry, computer industry, and other such related areas. I think so too, but this just goes to show you that the legal battles are beginning to hit the Internet and are not restricted solely to the physical world anymore. Part of the comfort in the Internet was that there were no businesses taking the Internet too seriously yet and people finally had a place where they could participate in their interests without a bullying company ruining their fun. That comfort is soon to be gone, as cease and desist orders from businesses like Fox and Universal are getting more and more publicity and vehemence from the Netizens.

Offensive Use of the Word "Shack"
Bianca's Smut Shack vs. Tandy's Radio Shack

Remember Bianca's Smut Shack? It received a harsh letter from Tandy, owner of Radio Shack, stating using the word "shack" as the title for a site which had somewhat sexually-oriented material (not porn, just adult-oriented literature) would cast a negative light on the word "shack" in "Radio Shack." This is a little easier to discuss, since it's completely obvious that Radio Shack's gone nuts. Since when did Radio Shack define the meaning of a word in the English language, besides "overpriced?" Bianca's Smut Shack had nothing to do with Radio Shack except in this one word, a word with few appropriate synonyms to be used in its place. Radio Shack turned off even more customers than it already had, all because it took the Internet far more seriously than anyone else. Net result? Bianca's Smut Shack was placed on the map (I had never heard of it prior to all this) and Radio Shack lost respect. Was it worth it, guys? Always going out of your way to please your customers, right? In this case, I felt all the hate directed at Radio Shack by the Netizens was well-founded.

Later, Tandy and Bianca's Smut Shack settled and Bianca's is still online.

This was a cut-and-dried case. But that happened in the early days. Now conflicts are getting more controversial and complicated.

I think the most publicized event to occur first was Fox's shutting down sites which had sound clips and video clips from the wonderful show, The Simpsons. Star Trek sites which also had illegal materials were closed by the network which owns Star Trek.

These 'illegal materials' are mostly multimedia, since the big corporations contend that they created this content and that by reproducing it and distributing it on the Internet, people are threatening the company's ability to make money and are breaking copyrights by distributing information.

The problem is that the sites companies are going after are simply fans' sites which make absolutely no profit.

Another problem is that the backlash towards companies seems to be more often uninformed and unwarranted, as people don't get the facts first, and simply write off big companies as money-hungry lawyer-shark pools, which can be true, but not always.

Too Much Information
The Treehouse's Pam Smith vs. Fox

Case in point is Fox's recent attempts to shut down sites relating to the X-Files TV show. If you haven't checked, there are literally hundreds of X-Files sites, and most of them have plenty of images and scripts and reviews from and of X-Files episodes. Many also have plenty of sound clips and video clips which the authors of the sites somehow get a hold of. Fox, the TV network which shows the X-Files, sent cease and desist letters to those sites which had sound and video, claiming somehow that Fox would lose money if people could get video and sound over the Internet. There are currently several episodes of the X-Files now available on tape, and Fox apparently believes that devout fans of the show who take the time to download the rather large video and sound clips of the show will not buy the tapes because they can get it on the Internet. Fox also doesn't want material it created being distributed on the Internet without its consent or control.

The X-Files newsgroup is abuzz with people debating whether it was right for Fox to do what it did. At first, most people claimed Fox had no right to do what it was doing, and only a few actually thought Fox had a legal right to send out cease and desist orders. Right now, it seems as though most people think Fox is legally allowed to protect material it produces itself now. But, and this is my strong point of contention, Fox did not have to do what it did, and just because it had the right to stop its fans, it still had a choice to embrace the people who make it successful, instead of spurning them.

Well, here are the facts in this whole mess. Fox relies on the X-Files fans to make X-Files Fox's highest-rated TV show. This is a very delicate relationship, because for die-hard fans of a TV show, they couldn't care less which network the show aired on, as long as the show airs. It takes a lot to alienate a fan from a show's writers and directors, but the network of the show does not have the same comfort. Fox destroyed the trust it had with its viewers, to not intrude on the fans' freedom to enjoy the show. But by ordering certain sites to close down, fans had one less resource to download that clip of Mulder dropping his gun again or Scully flatly refusing to believe in her investigative partner. The X-Files fans on the Internet, perhaps the strongest following the X-Files has, are now soured towards Fox and no longer care for it. They see a company which really has no part in the X-Files' success extending its lawyer-ridden hand into a world which it's unfamiliar with. I agree with this assessment, as you may have guessed.

Have you seen Fox's X-Files site? It's pathetic compared to the fans' sites on the Web. Fans have full reviews of every episode, multimedia of their favorite X-Files moments, and rumors about the X-Files movie and future episodes and whatnot, on their sites. Do you see what Fox is missing out on here? Fox, instead of letting fans distribute X-Files stuff for free, could be, you know, attempting to make money and release special outtakes and video clips on their site for reasonable amounts of money, the income going partially to the people working on the X-Files.

But no, Fox is stupid. Fox is stuck in this old thinking that any money it makes must be through conventional TV advertising and broadcasting. I find it amazing they figured out that print advertising in magazines like Rolling Stone was good business. Fox is incapable of considering the fact that it could be cashing in on the Internet, offering clips that viewers cannot get on their own.

X-Philes (fans of the show) would buy this stuff, even after Fox alienated them. All they want is X-Files junk. That's all. They don't want Fox threatening them or saying they can't enjoy the whole aura around the show. Fox doesn't recognize this.

So even though Fox is being an asshole by treating its fans (who make no money off the X-Files) like rival companies instead of cooperating with personal sites and licensing out material or something, it is not the only side to blame. There are plenty of X-Philes who now hate Fox simply because they believe they have the right to take other peoples' work and circulate it without permission. Truth be told, it's not easy to contact big companies about asking for permission, so most people don't, but Fox does have a right to have possession over what it created. Oddly enough, Fox has no problems with people talking about the show or using images which the X-Files owns -- it only dislikes sound and video now. You figure it out. At any rate, many X-Philes don't realize that Fox has legal protection here, and that issue should be dropped, but instead protest should be concentrated on pointing out how cold and clueless Fox is. Fox should be shown to be the shameless and ungrateful network it is. You can shut us down, Fox, but we're going to hate you for it. And that's what you're supposed to want least.

All this shows that the copyright laws don't cover video and sound transmitted over the Internet yet.

Okay, so blah blah. Jesus. That was tough to read, wasn't it? I wonder who's stuck with reading this far yet. Commendable. Sorry -- I'm trying to raise awareness, but it's difficult when there are no clear heroes and villains.

Meat of the Loom
Prehensile.com's John Halcyon Styn vs. Fruit of the Loom

And now, within the last week, Fruit of the Loom (yes, the underwear makers) have discovered the heathens lurking on the Internet. FotL discovered (I don't know how) that some individual posted a non-profit bit of humor congratulating Fruit of the Loom on managing to make money off commercials with men dressed in rubber foam fruit costumes. The counsel who wrote to the individual, John Halcyon Styn, immediately took an intimidating tone, threatening that Styn remove his article because he violated a trademark and defaced the esteemed Fruit of the Loom underwear reputation.

Other threats have included legal action and removal of the domain name prehensile.com. Styn has responded in a very conciliatory fashion, but he has been met with fear tactics and intimidation.

Styn still has his article up on the Web. Styn disagrees with Fruit of the Loom, saying he has no intention to harm Fruit of the Loom. He also disagrees with the censorship. He is currently gathering followers for his cause and raising awareness of this controversy.

Now...the important stuff. Prehensile.com, Styn's site, spoofs and humorously comments on various things, particularly those relating in some way to sex. It's obviously no business watchdog site. It's just one guy who wants to voice his mind. Same thing I do. What's wrong with that? He has no hidden and malicious agenda, nor does he want to be threatened by big corporations.

Personally, I don't think Styn should remove his article. The only thing I find wrong with what he did (and Fruit of the Loom I think feels this too, but expanded its desires to have the whole article taken down) is that he modified the trademarked Fruit of the Loom logo. That's bad, bad news if you don't want to get in trouble. You just don't mess with trademarks, commercial or not. Copyrights are one thing, but trademarks are fairly solid. Fruit of the Loom is right to be upset about the "Meat of the Loom" logo Styn made. If someone took an image off my site, changed it from "BenTurner.com" to "BentOver.com" or something without my knowledge and approval, I'd be pissed too. I'd want some sort of protection against that sort of thing happening. On the other hand, if someone chose to say even the most slanderous things about me on another personal site, I wouldn't pursue it legally. Would you? If I did, I'd probably be going after Sandra Stewart, but then I'd be overreacting. Like what Styn said about Fruit of the Loom, what Stewart said about me wasn't all that bad.

I'm currently listed as a site that supports fighting over freedom of speech, even against large corporations. How did that happen? Well, I decided I would send my comments (which were not posted in their completion) through a form on Styn's site, stating that both sides are overreacting and getting all huffy. There was a box on the form asking if I supported freedom of speech, which I do, so I checked it. And now I'm listed on a page which makes it look like I support Styn whole-heartedly and think Fruit of the Loom is completely out of line.

I'm listed with people who could think up only to do perhaps the most ineffectual thing they could do...boycott Fruit of the Loom. So many people who have their own web space to publish their thoughts to the world and the best they can do is stop buying products from Fruit of the Loom? Oh, not to mention they have a sole pop-up window (annoying in itself because pop-up windows are a nuisance) which is supposed to show their support in this cause. Pretty weak support, right?

Let's boycott something we don't even buy anyway! That'll show 'em! Really...even if all the Styn supporters DID buy Fruit of the Loom, FotL would lose maybe $9 per person for half a year to a year and a half. That's not going to drive someone out of business, nor will it intimidate that business. Boycotts are pretty useless unless implemented on a grand scale, a scale which sufficiently impedes on a business's ability to make money.

Come on guys, use your guns! Use your sites! If you really stand by freedom of speech, and you believe Fruit of the Loom is legally out of line, then do something constructive and meaningful, like distributing the offending essay among your sites. Post them up for everyone to see! Publicize this article and make it big news to all Netizens, not just those who happened across this movement. I'm not sure of the legal ramifications of distributing material requested to be removed, and it might even border on criminal behavior. I don't know. But doing something like that would actually do more than place a dent in the FotL executives' Infinitis. You have to make yourself heard, and you must be intelligent and creative in doing so. This boycott that everyone's firmly standing by (it's like Princess Di speaking out against land mines...damn, that's courage...) will accomplish nothing.

And if the decision reached in the Bianca's Smut Shack vs. Radio Shack debate was any example, my suggestion to distribute offending material has an actual precedent to support it.

Merely a suggestion, though. I would show more support, but since I disagree with Styn's modifying of a trademarked corporate logo, I cannot help whole-heartedly.

I suppose what the point of this whole Soapbox is is to raise awareness of these issues which are beginning to hit the Web more and more frequently. I also desired to show that if small non-profit personal sites want to compete with the big boys, they'll have to tread lightly, obey the law, react to cease and desist letters in a mature fashion, and protest the letters in manners which actually make a difference. Otherwise, it'll make it just that much harder for personal sites to avoid bullying by companies. It'll also push video clips, sounds, MP3s, pirated games, and all that illegal stuff farther underground, making it easier for companies to dismiss any free distribution of information as punkish activities done only by the scum of society. As much as companies try to scare you, responding with equally underhanded tactics is not the solution.

This is the time when we have to step up and play strong and fair. This sort of stuff will determine the sorts of freedoms we have in the future on the Internet. So stop whining and start thinking. There's a long way to go before corporations will have to keep their hands off censoring and dictating the ways of the Internet. Don't ruin it -- do your research first, please, to see just who's right and who's wrong, before you go accusing people.

Thank you. Regular content continues next week. Which officially begins today. So I posted a Soapbox a week late. Let's keep that quiet, eh?

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