Viacom's Web Assault
By Jamahl Epsicokhan
December 23, 1996
Well, it's coming.
That's right, as many of you I'm sure have heard, Viacom looks to make some sweeping moves in limiting what fans post on their Web sites, on newsgroups, and elsewhere on the Internet where Star Trek is concerned, and it's already started.
I haven't received my letter yet—I'm not that high on the "Trek Web totem pole" I'm guessing (and hoping), but my understanding of the letter (which I have seen posted on other Trek sites) has me expecting that when and if Viacom ever becomes aware of my site, I'm going to get my own "personalized" copy, and, I'm sure, will be forced to significantly change the way my Web site looks.
Actually, what worries me is that I won't get the letter at all; the system administrator of my Internet provider will, and I can just foresee an immediate suspension of my account as a result. Since my Internet access is through a "free" (read: included in fees) student account at a state university, I can imagine a host of other bureaucracy that would accompany such an event. This is a lot of red tape for a simple review archive that uses a few attributed Trek-related images as a way of spicing up the look of its pages—images that may not be there much longer if Viacom attacks me the way they've attacked other fan contributors.
No, I am not happy with Paramount's sudden need to police the WWW for anything that might contain Trek material, especially when they're going to end up chasing fans who (1) are not making a dime with their use of Trek material and (2) are promoting Trek and all its incarnations with free publicity, not harming it. I'll agree that the leak of scripts like Generations and First Contact can potentially be damaging considering the nature of the motion picture industry, and I think Paramount was within its right to request that scripts be removed from WWW sites. But going out after fans who are using a few sound clips or video images from already-aired Trek shows just seems like a futile controlling measure for the sake of containing and regulating a huge and uncontrollable following to a multibillion-dollar franchise.
I am quite angry with Paramount's overly-strict notion, but I also see that it's all probably within their legal right—except one thing. In the letter, there is mention that "providing detailed summaries of the works" constitutes copyright infringement. I strongly disagree with this wording. Copying and posting excerpts of a script is one thing, but a synopsis—like the one of First Contact that Viacom forced many Web moderators to remove several months before the release of the film—is a completely different matter, especially if it is an original writing that is based on a reaction to such a Trek work. In other words, if I went to see First Contact at a movie theater (which I did), and wrote a review with some detailed synopsis in it (which I also did), and then posted that on the Internet (which I also did), does that constitute copyright infringement? No, it doesn't, but Paramount seems to want to imply so.
As a fan who has been reviewing Trek on the Internet for some time now, I'm most concerned about this aspect. I don't honestly think that Paramount is going to begin limiting what fans say in their reviews of Trek (I certainly hope it never comes to that), but for Viacom to suddenly take such drastic and seemingly overprotective steps regarding apparently harmless images and the like does not have me feeling reassured about the way the franchise views its own followers.
I guess I'll keep some new Web designs in mind for when Viacom comes knocking at my online door. I don't think I'll have much of a choice.