By now, it’s the internet equivalent of a rerun: Eccentric TV show (blank) debuts and quickly amasses a passionate following; fans build numerous Web pages devoted to (blank), complete with video, pictures, and sounds; (blank)’s studio sends threatening cease-and-desist letters, citing copyright infringement.
Filling in the blank this time around is The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Twentieth Century Fox, Buffy‘s studio, is producing bloodlust in online fans by targeting websites that feature Buffy video clips, sounds, and transcripts. Fox declines to comment, but the studio — which has waged similar battles against Simpsons and X-Files sites — issued a statement saying it ”appreciates” fan pages but asks that devotees ”comply with guidelines that protect the creative integrity of the series.”
Folks on the receiving end of the C&D letters, though, think that just sucks. ”They haven’t given much thought to how this affects the fan community,” says Alexander Thompson, whose popular episode transcripts were removed from Slayer’s Fanfic Archive (http://www.slayerfanfic.com) after the site was cited by Fox.
Since most (if not all) fan sites make no money, why would Fox want to alienate loyal Buffy viewers? For one thing, studios face a doozy of a legal technicality: Guild contracts require them to renegotiate permission with a show’s actors, directors, musicians, and writers every time an episode or clip is aired — even if that ”airing” is a grainy, 2- by 2-inch image on a PC screen. (Excerpts accompanying reviews are allowed under the ”fair use” clause of copyright law.) Until the rules are updated, some studios will continue to see homemade sites as a legal threat. ”The talent guilds need to rethink their relationship to this media so the Internet can grow and flourish,” says X-Files exec producer Frank Spotnitz. ”I don’t like to see fans punished.”
Like Spotnitz before him, Buffy creator Joss Whedon is now in the awkward position of wanting to support online acolytes while also having to defer to his employer. And it’s no wonder that he’s keeping mum: After telling a reporter last summer that fans with pilfered video copies of the postponed Buffy finale should ”bootleg the puppy,” Fox asked Whedon to limit his comments on the fan-site fracas to ”no comment.” But Netizens hoping to hear from Buffy‘s guru about the Internet brouhaha may not have to wait much longer: Whedon is currently talking to Fox’s legal department about establishing fan-site guidelines.
Until then, however, Buffy‘s online community has a plurality of opinions on how to proceed. One group conceived Operation: Blackout (http://www.geo cities.com/spookyshanahan/ blackout.html) — a one-day site shutdown that will ”peacefully show Fox what the Internet would be like without fan sites.” More extreme cyberfans have resorted to pirate tactics. Says Slayme.com (http://www.slayme.com) creator J.T. Tomarazzo, who revamped his site after receiving a letter from Fox: ”As we speak, [episodes and transcripts] are being uploaded and downloaded by hundreds of people — myself not included. By doing what they’ve done, Fox has almost created a black market.”