Last Updated Sept. 10, 1997

Cease and Desist? The Web Resists

Only online can the dreaded "cease and desist" letter spark a populist campaign.

Outraged "X-Philes" are protesting Fox's crackdown on unauthorized fan sites. "Web terrorism!" is their battle cry, and the campaign rates a Yahoo category.

On a less grand scale, this "Simpsons" site exhorts others to complain to Fox. Presumably, sympathetic visitors will flood the company with protests.

E-mail from fans led Paramount to do some online public relations: an open letter to Trekkies explaining that it's not trying to be an ogre. (See a Post story about the rocky fan-studio relations.)

In its own attempt to reach the Net community, CBS has translated its policy "for all you netheads." They use words like "cool" and "uncool," just to make sure everyone gets it.

For the most part, these copyright tangles are polite, given the Net's tendency toward spontaneous combustion (see this former "Catcher in the Rye" site). But this screaming pink page makes its point.

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Copyright, Copywrong

Compiled by Kira Marchenese, Dan Pacheco, Michael Whitney Staff

Information may be loose on the Internet, but it still belongs to someone. The old copyright rules apply, and figuring out just how is giving heartburn to lawyers the world over.

If we're bound by the same old rules, why the fuss? Because now, any Joe can distribute perfect copies of songs and articles to thousands of people at almost no cost. Add to that the spirit of sharing information that dominates the Net, and you make authors, movie studios and record labels very nervous about protecting products that make them money.

Sure-Fire Ways to Attract Lawyers
A veteran who has received three "cease and desist" letters tells you how it's done. And here's how not to get sued.

Sorting It All Out

Concerns about copyright violations online led authors and artists to push for international protection at a U.N. conference last fall. Although the conference reached an agreement on global standards, the specifics are in the hands of lawmakers around the world, as this Post editorial points out.

Even within the United States, attempts to clarify the law have had limited success. For instance, it's still not clear whether online service providers are responsible for content that users post on the service. And lawmakers are stumped by the question: When customers post pirated sounds or words, whom can you sue?

The growing copyright quagmire also includes the issues of whether databases containing addresses and phone numbers can be copyrighted, and whether displaying others' Web pages in frames is legal.

The only thing we can say for sure: This is a profitable time to be an intellectual property lawyer.

Recent News and Opinion

  • Read recent stories about intellectual property from The Post.
  • Get news updated around the clock from the Associated Press.
  • Intellectual Property Owners offers daily copyright news.

    Further Reading

    These reports, guidelines and studies give more detail on the intellectual property debate:

  • The U.S. Copyright Office offers these guidelines for cartoons and comic strips copyright.

  • Read the international copyright treaty adopted by the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization in December 1996. The World Intellectual Property Organization's site has several other treaties and resources.

  • Find the text and analyses of proposed legislation at the Electronic Frontier Foundation's site.

  • Read a summary of the U.S. patent office report on the national information infrastructure, including sections on trademark and copyright law. (To access the complete text, you need the Adobe Acrobat Viewer. Find out how to get it from our Web Outfitter.)

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