Simpsons Fan Goes Too FarBy Frank Garcia
© The Computer Paper, January 1996.
20th Century Fox Television cried "Foul!" when they learned that Gary Goldberg, a die-hard fan of the animated Fox TV hit series The Simpsons, had assembled a very extensive Web site on the Internet devoted to the popular series.
How big is extensive? At its peak, The Simpsons Archive had 110 Quicktime/MPEG movies, hundreds of images and sounds, promotional materials, datafiles and trivia.
"I had an open door policy," says Goldberg. "Anything that anyone wanted to contribute was added, and I would give full credit for the submission."
Denizens of the alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup were staunch contributors and assisted Goldberg in co-maintaining the site.
Gary Goldberg, who lives in Bowie, Maryland and runs a computer consulting firm, had started building the elaborate Web page devoted to The Simpsons in July, 1994.
"I started DigiMark [the Web server] in order to host the Simpsons Archive," remarks Goldberg. "But DigiMark was growing, and I was becoming increasingly concerned that DigiMark was at real risk legally from the growing amount of copyrighted information stored. I started to feel like I couldn`t feel good about what we were doing unless we had some type of approval for it."
Goldberg opened dialog with Fox Television to avail them of this new resource, and discuss the possibilities of becoming a sanctioned, official site.
The Simpsons' publicist was receptive and helpful, says Goldberg. She recommended that he write and fax a letter. Along with the fax, Goldberg added a copy of a 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer article discussing the site; the first five pages of the alt.tv.simpsons FAQ, a photocopy of a 1994 Entertainment Weekly article indicating the Simpsons Archive as one of the five top Web sites of 1994, as well as the front page of the Archive.
"As an offer of good faith I removed access to all the copyrighted materials temporarily, with the message that we were negotiating with Fox over the possible expansion and official blessing on the site," says Goldberg. This was in May, 1995.
In his letter to Fox TV, Goldberg tried to say what he believed were all the right things to gain Fox's official blessing.
"I was pretty excited at this point, and I was positively bubbly to the other maintainers," Goldberg explains. "In my note, I had offered the free and complete resources of DigiMark to design and maintain an official site that would incorporate press releases, biographical information, interviews as well as question/answer feedback with the Simpsons production staff and pointers to other Fox shows and fan materials. "
The feedback from his proposal was not what Goldberg expected. "I didn`t receive any response for a week." When Goldberg followed up, the publicist was "completely frigid in her manner, and said that I would be receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the Fox legal group," says Goldberg.
But the letter never arrived.
Today, the Simpsons Archive still exists and runs at http://www.digimark.net/
but on a less grand scale.
The bulk of the copyrighted material (Quicktime/MPEGs, photos, etc.) has been removed.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Goldberg recalls that there was a lot of heated discussion between the members of the alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup. The Simpsons Archive continues to be popular with online users, but Goldberg sighs that it's all information and no style.
"We maintain a list of alternate Simpsons Web pages on the site, in a continuing attempt to be comprehensive," says Goldberg. "Many of them have copyrighted materials, including much of the stuff we used to have. For the most part, they seem unconcerned about the potential for suit."
"We forwarded all the information we had on what happened to the Electronic Freedom Foundation and I`m sure they filed them away, but their position was that it was copyrighted material. They didn`t address the issue of fan support."
The Simpsons Archive is not the only extensive and elaborate dedication to a favorite show or film property by fans. There continue to be sites available on the Web today aimed at viewers of Melrose Place, The X-Files and other shows.
Goldberg's thoughts about the issues he confronted deal with the role of the fan. How far can fans go to express their appreciation of entertainment? Armed with new technological tools, may fans use them as a form of expression?
"I have a lot of respect for the power of the copyrights, and the rights of the creators to determine what happens to their material, but, I still have a central point which I feel has not been addressed," says Goldberg.
"A production company develops a program for both business reasons (profit, advertising, etc) and for the entertainment of its viewers. When a program is successful, as The Simpsons is, there is an unspoken but clear offer inviting the viewers to come into the program universe, get comfortable with the characters, the plot and the world portrayed, and to make themselves at home.
"Fox needs to recognize the fan`s activities as legitimate, regardless of whether they fit into antiquated copyright laws. If they suppress it, they will drive the fan activities underground and squelch enthusiasm for the program simultaneously."
Last updated on August 15, 2000 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)