625 - Andrew Wiseman's Television Room
The Great BBC
Copyright Clampdown

- headline from .net magazine, August 1996.

On Wednesday April 24th, 1996, the unofficial Fast Show Homage Page disappeared from the internet. Its closure was forced upon its author by lawyers at the BBC. The site had notched up 20,000 hits before its demise. And this action came soon after the BBC launched its own official pages devoted to The Fast Show.
To draw attention to (what I believe to be) a wholly unnecessary and vindictive action by the BBC to eradicate competition with its own mediocre site, I started a thread in various Usenet newsgroups entitled BBC LAWYERS FORCE CLOSURE OF UNOFFICIAL WEB SITE. Some of those that responded thought that the BBC were right, and that using copyright material on web sites, is theft, pure and simple. Most, however, thought the BBC were unfair and many complained to them. BBC LAWYERS FORCE CLOSURE OF UNOFFICIAL WEB SITE
DON'T BE A FAN: BBC HITS COPYRIGHT VIOLATORS Just over one week later, it was announced that an amazing compromise had been worked out. Material from the unofficial web site would now appear on the BBC's own server. But at the end of June all the BBC had managed was a Coming Soon message asking readers to "please bear with us". The good news is John Arundel, the creator of the victimised pages, finally ran out of patience with Auntie Beeb and has now re-instated the site where it used to be, albeit in a slightly more "copyright-friendly" form. Visit the site and read what folk have been saying about the BBC's action, and enjoy the Fast Show with thousands of other fans.
It's not only humble surfers who have lent their support to the cause. As well as the Daily Telegraph's (and Electronic Telegraph's) Netlife (written by the editor of .net magazine), the magazine Multimedia Futures has also followed up this story. In Issue 33, under the headline DON'T BE A FAN: BBC HITS COPYRIGHT VIOLATORS, the editor found that

"BBC press officers, internet managers and on-line designers alike were unaware of the potential litigation that had been carried out in their company's name."

Meanwhile, it is said that Sky TV and Channel 4 privately think that the BBC is off its trolley!

July's .net magazine quotes a BBC spokesperson as saying:

"Using chunks of script or official photos breaks copyright laws. If a programme is made for or by the BBC, then we will pursue any copyright breaches."

In response to repeated questioning about whether fans could officially apply to use material, Ms BBC said:

"We're geared to supply material for the press, but fans should contact the relevant publicity section and the matter may be considered."

The magazine has a four page article on the subject in the August issue, in which Paul Whitehouse, currently working on the new series of the Fast Show with Charlie Higson, explains that he's aware that the Unofficial Fast Show web site exists, but hasn't seen it.

"We both think that if someone's spent the time and effort to do a Fast Show page, then good luck to them."

He adds that he doesn't use the internet and hasn't had any input into the BBC's official site.

It remains to be seen whether the BBC will be pursuing other sites, although there's news that a Red Dwarf site has suffered a similar fate. There are also rumours that Disney and NBC have taken action against Web sites. However, if other commercial concerns can act sensibly then the thousands of other TV sites on the web will be safe. If not then TV sites, sites devoted to song lyrics and with them a big piece of internet culture will disappear forever. ...the BBC is off its trolley!

>> For more information on big corporations getting heavy with web site authors, see Misha Glouberman's Trademark Wars site.

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