Clarity needed in Viacom-induced Web mess
By Jamahl Epsicokhan
Febuary 3, 1997
Okay. This has been going on for some time, but I still don't know what in the world is really going on. What exactly does Paramount want? I know it's easy to take an alarmist's attitude and say "They want to shut down ALL Trek sites so that everyone visits the one on MSN," but that's just too implausible for me to believe at this point. Viacom would have to be extremely stupid to believe that they could shut down all these thousands of sites; even if they had the means, they are eventually going to end up with a legal battle on their hands (I would hope somebody would take a stand if Paramount's actions became flat-out illegal) because there is a huge difference between "copyright infringement" and "free speech." Paramount doesn't seem to recognize this difference.
From what I gather at this point, Viacom wants to limit what "Star Trek" material ends up on the Internet. They seem to especially go after sites with a lot of images or sound clips, and, most of all, anything that threatens the well-being of their feature films (hence the "Generations" and "First Contact" actions). However, I don't think Viacom is being at all clear on their intentions or what they want the Internet community to do for them. NOTE: When I say "do for them," I am NOT implying a tone that sides with Viacom or their actions. I personally think Viacom is way out of line on what they're doing, but if we supposedly don't have a choice in it, we should at least know what is required of us before we decide how we intend to fight (or succumb to) their wishes.
I'm also wondering what it is that will attract Viacom into assimilating your site into their stupid collective. The Internet domain my site resides at (uiuc.edu) has already been hit. At least two Trek sites have been shut down at Viacom's insistence. I haven't been contacted (and I'm not saying I want to be). Is there something about my site that makes it more "acceptable" in the eyes of Viacom's lawyers, or have they just not gotten around to me? It could very well be either.
Sure, I've read the letter that has been sent out to "offending sites." But it's vague, and can thus be interpreted a number of ways. If I read far enough into it (especially the part that goes into "artistic renditions of copyrighted material" and "detailed plot summaries of the works"), then everything on the Net that has to do with "Star Trek" could be interpreted as fair game, and that's just plain false.
So then... what I want to know is: What exactly do they object to? Any image or sound that has been "lifted" from a copyrighted work? What about fonts? Paramount surely doesn't think that a font can be copyrighted. To my knowledge it can't. What about the use of the words "Star Trek"? Sure, I can use it as a reference, but does my site's name, "Star Trek: Hypertext," "cross the line" of copyright infringement? Damned if I know. Viacom is refusing to be remotely clear until the day they come knocking at your door, forcing you conform to their demands.
Before Viacom can go screaming "infringement," they need to make a general statement somewhere—hell if I know where; using the media, on the Net, somewhere—that explains what they're intentions are, what they're going to attack, and what they deem "OK" in the eyes of legality. Until then, I don't see how anyone could be prepared to be "legal" to Viacom, short of turning their site into a completely text-based, image-free, sound-free collection of dull, boring Web pages where 20% of each page's content is devoted disclaimer stating that "Star Trek" does not belong to them, but to Viacom.
That, my friends, is totally unacceptable. Viacom will end up doing nothing but angering their own fans—which they have already done to enough people—and they will end up with a bunch of bitter people who watched as a bureaucratic conglomerate organization turned a simple, affectionate fan following into a big, unnecessary headache.
I want clarity now. That way I can fight Viacom's offensive strike on a fair playing field, before it's too late.