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The Great Fox Blackout

The Simpsons Fans Get Organized

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The Fox Network is at it again. They're sending out cease and desist letters to several Web sites that use media from any Twentieth Century Fox shows, such as The Simpsons or The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But, this time the fans are fighting back by coordinating an Internet protest.

Fox has been very aggressive in enforcing their rights to intellectual property since the first Millennium Web site was established (see previous article.) Almost immediately, they began sending cease and desist letters that requested pages be removed from sites.

Fans are confused by this affront because they feel that they are helping or promoting the show for free. Tony Krantz, CEO of Imagine Television, producer of Felicity, agrees. In the USA Today article on December 23, 1999, he was quoted as saying, "It's frankly the embracing of fans that is so much more important than trying to quash them." He continued, "An individual publishing photographs from Felicity is insignificant. It's not going to change our bottom line one penny."

Fox has asked fans to remove not only images and sound files, but also logos and certain pages that contain specific information. A Web site named The Homer Archive was forced to shut down when the owner, Matt, received his second cease and desist letter. Fox requested that he remove material because his site contained "unauthorized derivative works of The Simpsons Copyrights and Trademarks in the form of Homer Winamp skins, the Homer Files and Evil Homer." Matt emailed me, saying, "I have no interest in pursuing the fight against Fox. It's just a shame."

In return, the fans are responding to the copyright enforcement as a unified front. The first group to organize was Operation: Blackout. On May 13, the group's plan is to "shut down our sites for one day. One day to peacefully show Fox what the Internet would be like without fan sites." So far, there are over 136 participating sites, including such Simpsons heavy hitters The Simpsons Archive and Evergreen Terrace.

You may be thinking that a blackout not much of a protest, since shutting down fan sites is the goal of the Fox Network. Other site owners agree. The WAV King isn't participating in the protest because "blacking out fan-based Web sites only sends a message to the fans." He feels a better tactic would be a "good old-fashioned snail mail letter writing campaign." John Fiedler, of The Simpsons Sourcebook, says that for the network "this day will be a dream come true.. all Simpsons sites will shut down anyways.. and this is going to show Fox what again?"

Because many fans felt the blackout would not get the network's attention, Simpsons fans have organized The Great Simpsons Blackout of '00 for the entire week of February 21st. This blackout will attempt "to raise awareness and inform our visitors of what Fox is doing" by displaying a detailed FAQ (frequently asked questions) on fan sites for the week. As a web master, you can sign up to be a campaign member. You'll then be forwarded to a page where you can copy HTML code to display a banner announcing the protest. If you do not have a Web site, you can still fill out a form to add your name to the list of protestors. To date there are over one hundred sites participating.

Nate Gilmore, of I Can't Believe It's a Simpsons Site (ironically shut down since the posting of this article,) the largest Simpsons multimedia site on the Internet, says ICBIASS is participating in the newly established blackout. "Hopefully, if it's large enough, it will get some media attention." Fiedler agrees, saying, "I think that the other blackout planned is a good idea -- the most fans can do is make the public, and maybe the media, aware of the situation."

How can Fox and the fans resolve this problem? One solution is for the network to offer fans photos and other media in a controlled atmosphere. Warner Bros. Television (Friends, ER) set up AcmeCity, where fans can flock to create their web sites using photos, sounds, and video clips that the studio gives them.

Will the protest gain any ground for fans? As Gilmore says, "If it fails, there's little more you can do but sit back and watch these lawyers yank down sites."

If you don't have a site, but you love surfing the 'Net for fun Simpsons pictures and sound clips, send a letter to Fox to let them know how vital fan sites are.

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