MPAA Knocks Movie Fan Site OfflineBy: WebProNews Staff - November 26, 2008
When the realities of business and art crash into each other, it’s usually art that suffers. Bulls and China shops come to mind, as does the MPAA and the Internet. The Motion Picture Association of America’s latest pile of previously beautiful bits: Fanedit.org.
It doesn’t help that the government stands to the side and eggs them on, a copy of the oft-abused Digital Millennium Copyright Act in its back pocket, the MPAA/RIAA-penned list of recently-increased infringement penalties rolled up as a makeshift megaphone curled over Uncle Sam’s lips. With all eyes on the election, nobody was looking anyway.
Fanedit.org, the world’s largest fan edit site at a whopping 1000 daily visitors, served a very specific and generally unthreatening function. In the same way the biggest fans of fictional characters gather online to write new storylines involving those characters—fan fiction, you’ve likely heard it called—movie fans gathered at Fanedit.org to showcase their re-imagining of their favorite movies. Perhaps they rearranged the scenes in a new order that altered or improved (or worsened) the movie. Maybe they cut scenes they didn’t find especially integral to the story or plot. Maybe they added back in deleted scenes or even scenes from other movies.
The practitioners considered it their art, and Fanedit.org along with participants had one very strict rule: re-imagined creations were to be shared, but not profited from. That means no passing off as the original, no selling of anything. The community there simply shared their new creations with one another, that’s it.
George Lucas seemed to get it, and passed on going after the site for making available The Phantom Edit, a new version of The Phantom Menace (apparently) absent of Jar Jar Binks. I’m with Lucas. I kind of liked Jar Jar, but a lot (a lot) of people didn’t. But whom does it benefit to take away the creative devotion of fans to your work? The end result, supporters say, is even more devotion and admiration. Joseph Campbell, who inspired the Star Wars series, would concur it is just an extension of the monomyth, just one of the thousand faces a hero can have. (That great literary mind, Jorge Borges, too, would certainly approve of how endless variations appearing in the great library that is the Internet are the necessary mirrors of ungraspable, unboxable reality.)
But that’s art theory type of talk. The MPAA is art business, not artistic idealism, and technically, this fan edit business is copyright infringement, profit or not. Pure piracy or not, MPAA lawyers doubtless would explain they are in the business of intellectual property protection, and not in the business of wandering artistic gray areas. That’s for a court to decide, if you can afford to get there, just ask J.K. Rowling.
The MPAA sent a DMCA notice, one of those government-issued golden flyswatters, to Fanedit.org’s hosting provider, effectively producing a final cut. Dumbledore’s dead. The end. No you can’t resurrect him, despite the irony that our clients recycle old story lines, revive and reinvent old characters, and rely on the crutches of formulaic structures.
After two days of downtime, Fanedit.org removed all download links and all links to Rapidshare, but posted this pledge at the website:
BUT: We will prevail. Even without the links we will continue to inform you about new releases, because one thing is for sure: FANEDITS ARE NOT DEAD. It is just a bit more difficult to get a hold of them. But the internet is a vast place and he who searches will find it somewhere else.
One hopes when they regroup in someone’s living room, the host exhibits deference and uncommon restraint in protecting his own property, if and when the MPAA comes bursting through.